Obama’s Military Judgment

Although a Democrat, I have no intention of voting for Sen. Barack Obama in November. My primary objection has to do with his position on abortion, an extreme leftwing position. Not only does he have a 100 percent pro-choice voting record in the U.S. Senate, but when he was in the Illinois Senate he voted against requiring that medical care be given to infants who survive an abortion. More, he promised Planned Parenthood that as president he would sign a Freedom of Choice Act (FOCA), which would enact into federal statutory law all the abortion “rights” currently provided by Roe v. Wade — just in case the Supreme Court happens to overturn Roe. This latter, of course, would be an unlikely eventuality, since Obama has also vowed to appoint only pro-Roe justices to the Court. You can’t get much more pro-choice (or pro-abortion, the same thing) than Senator Obama.
But my secondary objection is that Obama — who, if elected, would be the commander-in-chief of the most powerful military machine in the history of the human race — has very poor judgment when it comes to military affairs.
I don’t say he has poor judgment generally. Far from it. His political judgment, for instance, is superb — as indeed it had to be to defeat his chief rival for the Democratic nomination, Sen. Hillary Clinton. Obama understood even better than Hillary and Bill (of whom we used to think that no one was politically more clever) that it is impossible to win the Democratic nomination nowadays unless you have three credentials: (1) you have to be solidly pro-abortion; (2) you have to be solidly anti-racist; and (3) you have to be a near-pacifist when it comes to military matters.
With regard to these three points: (1) Although Hillary is solidly pro-abortion, she made the mistake of uttering from time to time words of sympathy for persons holding pro-life views. (2) In one of the most hard-to-believe developments of the campaign, the Obama people made the utterly preposterous suggestion — and got away with it — that Bill Clinton is something of a racist. (3) Obama endlessly touted the superiority of his “judgment” over Hillary’s by pointing out that, while she voted in the Senate to authorize the war in Iraq, he was opposed to it from the beginning.
This brings me back to the question of Obama’s military judgment. The proof of this, he says, is that he was against the Iraq war from the time he made a speech against it in 2002 (when he was still a state senator). Now, even if we grant (if only for the sake of argument) that the war was a mistake, one’s having been opposed to it isn’t necessarily a sign of good judgment. It may simply be evidence of a lucky call. The man who bets on a 100-to-1 horse at the track because he happens to like the horse’s name cannot claim good judgment when the horse wins. The man was just lucky. Or maybe some heavenly power provided him with the gift of clairvoyance.
But who actually had the better judgment, Hillary (and Sen. John McCain, who also voted to authorize the war) or Barack Obama? If judgments ought to be conclusions based on a study of the facts of the case, then Hillary’s judgment was better. She studied the facts (or at least what everybody at the time believed to be the facts), and she concluded that Saddam’s Iraq was a serious and more or less imminent threat to American interests. Obama’s anti-war judgment was based not so much on facts as on the anti-war ideology of the Democratic Party’s left wing.
And then there’s the question of the “surge” that President Bush ordered in 2007. Obama, again basing his judgment on the semi-pacifist ideology of the Democratic Left, pronounced that the surge was sure to fail — but it didn’t. A second case of bad military judgment.
Finally, the third and most egregious case of military bad judgment. For well over a year, Obama (along with many of other Democrats, Hillary included) has been arguing that a withdrawal of American combat troops will force the various power groups in Iraq — the Shias, the Sunnis, the Kurds, and subgroups of these main groups — to cooperate and get their house in order. This is at best a very dubious psychological judgment, but I’ll waive that point. When asked what he would do if, American combat troops having been withdrawn, the Iraqi factions don’t work out their differences and Iraq degenerates into civil war or genocide, Obama has at times offered this scenario: After we withdraw our combat troops, we’ll keep them stationed nearby (just beyond the horizon, so to speak), and if things break down in Iraq we’ll send them back to restore order.
To offer a plan like that you have to be either very stupid or very insincere. Is there anybody in his right mind who believes that the president of the United States — whether that person be Bush or Obama or McCain or Hillary or Donald Duck — will re-send American troops into Iraq once they have been withdrawn? The notion is utterly absurd.
Obama isn’t stupid. And so, given the disjunction offered above, he must be insincere. He is bound by the anti-war ideology of the Democratic Left, according to which the United States must get out of Iraq regardless of consequences; and if embarrassing questions arise, just cook up an answer that will fool some of the people some of the time.
It can be argued, I suppose, that it was a mistake in the first place for us Americans to create the world’s greatest military machine. But to create that machine and then place it in the hands of a man who is in thrall to an anti-military, semi-pacifist ideology that causes him to make one bad military judgment after another — that way lies madness.


David R. Carlin Jr. is a politician and sociologist who served as a Democratic majority leader of the Rhode Island Senate. His books include "Can a Catholic Be a Democrat?: How the Party I Loved Became the Enemy of My Religion" and "The Decline and Fall of the Catholic Church in America." Carlin is a current professor of sociology and philosophy at the Community College of Rhode Island at Newport.

  • Theo

    But to create that machine and then place it in the hands of a man who is in thrall to an anti-military, semi-pacifist ideology that causes him to make one bad military judgment after another — that way lies madness.

    And to create that same machine and put it in the hands of a man in thrall to Teddy Roosevelt’s aggressive militarism – and who jokes about bombing sovereign nations – is suicidal. That way lies apocalypse.

  • BenK

    Just a question to Theo…

  • Kevin

    That was very well written, David.

  • Hank

    In 2002, Obama said that he is NOT AGAINST all wars, just dumb ones…like the invasion of Iraq.

    We know now that the sole purpose of the invasion was to regain access to Iraqi oil by U.S. oil companies. Mission accomplished as of the end of June 2008.

    From The Audacity of Hope:

    “What I could not support was ‘a dumb war, a rash war, a war based not on reason but on passion, not on principle but on politics.’ And I said: I know that even a successful war against Iraq will require a U.S. occupation of undetermined length, at undetermined cost, with undetermined consequences. I know that an invasion of Iraq without a clear rationale and without strong international support will only fan the flames of the Middle East, and encourage the worst, rather than the best, impulses of the Arab world, and strengthen the recruitment arm of Al Qaeda.”

    In 2002, could Obama have made all those lucky calls about the invasion of Iraq? I don’t think so. I call THAT good judgment! Otherwise, it’s prophecy.

    David, how about providing direct quotes from Obama to support your conclusions about the faults in his military judgment? I have a few quotes lined up in further support of his superior military judgment. But, I’d like to see your documentation first.

  • L.B.

    During the recount of 2000 Al Gore attempted to block the absentee ballots of servicemen serving overseas. It has already been rumored that Obama will make attempts to block these votes. Especially in Florida (a swing state) where a large number of servicemen and women have residency due to the lack of a state income tax.

    Democrats have just recently blocked measures to protect military voters – the Military Voting Protection Act (MVP Act), S.3073

    It is unconscionable that someone who seeks to be Commander in Chief would deny to those protecting our nation the right to vote. I think Obama meant what he said when he called their lives wasted.

  • R.C.


    You say,

    We know now that the sole purpose of the invasion was to regain access to Iraqi oil by U.S. oil companies. Mission accomplished as of the end of June 2008.

    To which the only imaginable response is, what?!

    How did you get so convinced of such an implausible notion, as to be willing to say it in print on a public website?

    Have some respect for the truth, sir…or if not, for the limits of the ability of your readers to suspend disbelief. Of all the mantras chanted by those unacquainted with fact, the phrase “war for oil” is the one most thoroughly disconnected from reality. I can’t even call it discredited; no serious observer gave it credit to start with.

    There were dozens of reasons for the invasion, of widely-varying quality. They range from G.W.Bush wishing to pay back the man who tried to assassinate his father, to a genuine belief that Saddam had WMD, to finally being fed up with Saddam’s constant violations of the cease-fire agreement, to a collapse of confidence in the inspections regime, to the knowledge that enough of the U.N. Permanent Security Council Members were being paid off through Oil-For-Food that the inspections regime would certainly be terminated within the year, ending Saddam’s containment, to the fact that Saddam’s was a terrorist-supporting and -harboring regime, and susceptible under the Bush doctrine for the same treatment as the Taliban, to the idea that Iraq was the best starting-point for a hoped-for domino effect of replacing Middle Eastern tyrants with democracies.

    But oil? Had the U.S. been interested in oil, it’d have done business with Saddam, not removed him. The invasion did nothing for U.S. access to oil, except reduce overall supply.

    And even had the U.S. actually captured all the oil wells in Iraq and restored them to full production, and directed all proceeds into Federal revenues, the sheer cost of the war would have still nullified the gains! But of course the U.S. has not done that; the oil of Iraq has been left to the Iraqis.

    No, the last “war for oil” was the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait. Prior to that, it was 1956 in the Suez. And I don’t suppose there were any, before then.

    But Iraq? All about oil? No reason to think so. The mere fact that the country has a lot of the stuff matters little if U.S. forces don’t actually steal any. Iraq has vast silica deposits, too; and U.S. soldiers have brought home far more of that in their belongings, than they have of Iraq’s oil.

    Maybe that’s the dark secret motive for the war?

    Yes, that must be it. The Secret Motive of the Iraq War, revealed at last: A Dark Conspiracy of Computer-Chip Manufacturers and Glaziers!

  • Jenna

    I agree with Hank — can you show some documentation to shore up your claims?

    Obama isn’t a perfect candidate; granted. We can certainly raise grievances about his abortion record. But are you actually criticizing him for wanting to avoid the violence of war? For having the foresight to see that such violence would not accomplish what it is meant to accomplish? I would think that a Catholic website would be glad to see him showing a judicious, peaceful side.

  • Miguel Miramon

    You beg a number of questions about supposed American “progress” in Iraq. Aside from that, where you really need to question Obama’s judgment is his desire to jump both feet into Afghanistan. This will be his and this nation’s Vietnam. It is lunacy.
    What is not widely discussed is these two war’s contribution to the present fiscal crisis of this nation. We are bankrupting ourselves. Neither McCain nor Obama is the answer

  • Claire

    Even if you want to defend Obama’s view of the Iraq war (which I think, going in you can, but he was totally wrong on the surge, and continues to be wrong), that is not the only area where his views are questionable.

    For example, when Russia invaded Georgia, first he drew a moral equivalent between that and our involvement in Iraq (apparently he has no idea that you should try and save face at least in foreign affairs). The next day he suggested the UN security council should handle it. Apparently neither he nor his 300 foreign policy advisers knew that Russia has a veto on the council. On the third day out, he finally came around to McCain’s point of view and condemned Russia’s actions.

    Next, he wants to pull out of Iraq on a timeline regardless of conditions on the ground. That is stupid. They are already withdrawing troops and moving them to Afghanistan, but in such a way that the fragile peace and justice that has been made there can still be reinforced if insurgents regain strength again. It is a decision for generals and military strategists, not an academic.

    Third, he wants to sit down sit Ahmedinejad and other dictators who hate us, and have presidential talks without preconditions. He even had audacity (he has that in spades) to claim Henry Kissinger said that should be done. Kissinger has corrected the record. He said that if talks at that level fail you have recourse. However, he is fine with sending troops or missiles into Pakinstan (or bombing a sovereign nation), which at least on paper is coopoerative with us. That is who you sit down with.

    I could go on. his military judgement is bad all around. And again, I would like anyone to give me actual evidence that McCain is pro-war. By the way, willing to fight is not what I mean.

  • Fred

    I can’t believe this article criticizes Obama for having the foresight to vote against this misguided war. Talk about spin! His good judgment is now being twisted into a character flaw? What are we in, Bizarro World???

  • Bruce Roeder

    I believe Obama was a Illinois State Senator in 2003, so he had no vote on the war. He was not briefed beyond what any other layman knew from the news, so his opinions were based on what he knew.

    He also had no responsibility tied to his opinion. How would he have voted if he was briefed and the majority of Democrats were voting we will never know for sure. He has never voted against his party that I am aware of, although with the most liberal voting record in the Senate, he probably would have voted against approving military action in Iraq.

    Whether or not we should go into Korea was a moot point in choosing a President in 1952; whether or not we should go into Viet Nam was irrelevant in choosing a President in 1972, and and whether or not we should go into Iraq is irrelevant now.

    What is relevant is how both candidates approach the use of military power, how effectively they can understand the situatin, visualize what needs to be done, communicate the vision effectively and make decisions to direct its execution. How can each person build coalitions, both politically here and internationally?

    Under what circumstances would they act unilaterally, either against their party here at home or if international partners refuse to make a decision?

    It’s not about the last decision, it’s about the next one.

  • Michael Healy, Jr

    What is truly bizarre is that whereas the Church and her saints have supported and developed Just War Theory for more than a thousand years, many American “Catholics” have a knee-jerk reaction against war as if neither Just War Theory nor the Church nor St. Augustine nor St. Thomas Aquinas ever even existed.