In the wake of frequent criticism that the Obama administration is obsessed with micromanagement to forward a political agenda, special operators and defense officials have issued some advice to the next president: keep out of our business and let us get the job done.
In a report conducted by CNA, a research organization in Virginia, the anonymous special operations forces commanders, along with dozens of active-duty operators, said in an interview that while policymakers need to set the rules of engagement for missions, they “should trust SOF’s record of success and their ability to adapt to overcome.”
These special forces experts gave the example of assisting an ally with counterterrorism operations. In that case, policymakers need to get out of the way and allow special operations forces to stick with the host nation forces right up until the point that they execute the actual mission.
“Knowing that U.S. SOF are there if needed has a big impact on host nation forces’ confidence to execute the mission,” the report noted, summarizing the views held by the special operations community. “Participants recognized that there will be a temptation to limit SOF ROE in order to reduce the likelihood of casualties. However, attendees argued that the next administration should avoid this temptation and associated micromanagement of SOF, and instead trust SOF’s well-earned reputation for success.”
A common complaint over the last few years has been that the Obama administration is hell-bent on centralizing authority, in order to carry out a consistent political agenda, even if that means running roughshod over agency independence and what special operators are dealing with on the ground.
The president’s National Security Council, for example, has been targeted by military officials and enlisted troops for trying to give detailed instructions on which rebels in Syria can be trained, which can be attacked and when that’s also supposed to occur.
“We are getting a lot of micromanagement from the White House. Basic decisions that should take hours are taking days sometimes,” one senior defense official told The Daily Beast.
Former Secretaries of Defense Leon Panetta and Robert Gates took aim in 2014 at the Obama administration for ramping up the amount of micromanagement to a point of insanity.
“It was the micromanagement that drove me crazy,” Gates said, referring to his time as secretary of defense.
“For the past 25 to 30 years, there has been a centralization of power in the White House,” Panetta noted. “Because of that centralization of authority at the White House, there are too few voices that are being heard.”
In 2016, former Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel joined Panetta and Gates in criticizing the Obama administration for “operational micromanagement.”
The idea behind the CNA report is to give the next president a good idea of how to manage missions relying heavily on special operations personnel, of which they now number 70,000.
Besides micromanagement, special operators wanted the administration to know they’re suffering from serious burnout because of increasing reliance on quick strikes and covert missions, as opposed to large conventional ground forces.
“SOF have shouldered a heavy burden in carrying out these missions, suffering a high number of casualties over the last eight years and maintaining a high operational tempo that has increasingly strained special operators and their families,” the report notes.
To help ameliorate burnout, the SOF community suggested that basic training of foreign militaries should be offloaded to other services.
“Teaching foreign militaries rudimentary skills such as shooting in straight lines at short distances may be more fitting a task for (general purpose forces) to handle,” the report states.
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