Semi-retired president slammed by natsec insiders for poor coordination with Pentagon over ISIS war

I’m as surprised as you are.

In all seriousness, I wonder if some of this sloppiness and insularity is a habit born of the fact that Obama’s gotten used to “fixing” problematic legislation. He fixed the employer mandate by delaying it for a few years even though the text of ObamaCare specified that it was to take effect on a certain date. He fixed the fact that Congress never voted to authorize war in Libya by claiming that the U.S. wasn’t really engaged in hostilities there for purposes of the War Powers Act. In a few weeks, he’s going to fix the fact that Congress can’t agree on comprehensive immigration reform by unilaterally amnestizing a few million people. If he can do all that, why would he be a stickler about statutory language that would protect American soldiers from renegade Syrian rebels or that would, in theory, provide the authorization for the new mission in Syria? He’s going to do what he’s going to do. You nerds in the Pentagon legal department and the Armed Service Committee can worry about the textual niceties.

According to multiple sources, behind the scenes a few things went badly awry in the launch of Obama’s new policy [to train the Syrian rebels]. First, the Pentagon was surprised by the president’s timing, according to a senior defense official. “We didn’t know it was going to be in the speech,” he said, referring to Obama’s Sept. 10 address to the nation. Second, the White House neglected to give Pentagon lawyers a chance to revise and approve the proposed legislative language before it went to the Hill, which is considered standard practice. Staffers working for Rep. Buck McKeon, the Republican chairman of the Armed Services Committee, said they were appalled by what they saw: language so sloppy that it failed to mention adequate protections against so-called “green-on-blue” attacks by trainees on American troops, and effectively left the Defense Department liable for funding the mission against the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL)—even though the president was telling members of Congress he didn’t need money for this new mission, since the Saudis were putting it up. “What came over would have not have been a mission the DoD could have executed,” says a senior Republican committee staffer.

The Armed Services Committee later went directly to the Pentagon and worked out new language, the White House approved it, and Obama signed the legislation as part of a new Continuing Resolution on Sept. 19. But that was hardly the first instance in recent months when the White House failed to consult with the Pentagon. The office of Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel was taken by surprise as well last July, when national security adviser Susan Rice sent a letter to House Speaker John Boehner requesting a withdrawal of the Authorization for the Use of Military Force (AUMF) passed in 2002 to enable U.S. military action in Iraq. This letter came after Mosul, a key northern Iraqi city, had already fallen to ISIL and the scale of the threat was becoming clear. The letter was never acted on, and in fact the AUMF that Rice wanted withdrawn is now part of the very authority the administration says it is operating under, along with the 2001 AUMF against al Qaeda. The Pentagon was not given a heads-up about that letter either, according to multiple sources. “We didn’t know it was going over there, and there were significant concerns about it,” said the senior defense official. “We had these authorities to go into Iraq under the 2002 AUMF, which is what she wanted repealed. We believed the authorities were still needed.”…

Both examples cited to me by well-placed sources close to the Defense Department offer new evidence of a criticism that has dogged this administration for most of its six and a half years: that Barack Obama’s White House is so insular and tightly controlled it often avoids “outside” consultation—including with its own cabinet secretaries and agencies. That’s especially true when the issue is one of this president’s least favorite things: opening up new hostilities in foreign lands. To his critics—and I spoke with several for this article inside Obama’s administration as well as recent veterans of it—it’s all a reflection of the slapdash way a president so vested in “ending wars” has embraced his new one.

“Pathetically weak” says one retired general of Obama’s top natsec deputies, with Hagel having all but vanished from the public eye during a time of high anxiety internationally and Susan Rice guilty of, well, being Susan Rice. It’s tempting to believe that this is a problem stemming from Obama’s views of national defense. As Politico suggests, he’s clearly unenthusiastic about dealing with ISIS; respected defense analyst Anthony Cordesman dismisses the last six weeks of airstrikes as “an unfocused mess” and our core allies, Syria’s “moderate” rebels, claim they’re losing territory due to lack of U.S. aid. So far, at least, O’s merely checking the box against ISIS. The truth, though, is that this sort of thing isn’t limited to defense issues. Just this afternoon, WaPo is reporting that Janet Napolitano, then secretary of DHS and the woman in charge of implementing immigration law, never actually met with Obama about his big amnesty for DREAMers in 2012 before he announced it. She was left to debate the policy with advisors. Is that because Obama was busy with more important matters at the time, namely, his own reelection, or is it because he’s so removed from the nuts and bolts of policy at this point that he won’t even consult with his amnesty czar to discuss a big upcoming change in policy?

In lieu of an exit question, read this NYT piece from over the weekend about the latest development in ObamaCare. The statute says that insurers need to provide data about their coverage in the name of transparency. Insurers don’t want to provide that data (yet). Any guesses how the White House has resolved the matter?