Though civilians direct military operations, there can be no substitute for the knowledge of military leaders when undertaking armed operations.  The President has access to the chiefs of staff of each branch of the military as well as the Chairman of the Joints Chiefs when making decisions, but, ultimately, it is the president’s decision.

When President Obama announced the troop surge at West Point in 2009, many were stunned by his declaration that the U.S. would begin to draw down troops in July of 2011. A goal as to when to begin a withdrawal is fine, however lines drawn in the sand, without consideration as to the effects upon the operation seems to point to a motive other than victory.

It took the President 92 days to make his decision to deploy the surge troops in December 2009, yet a month shy of the date he stated he’d begin to withdraw troops he’s announced he will remove 10,000 troops from Afghanistan by the end of this year and the remaining 23,000 surge troops by September 2012, however his top military officers are not in total agreement.

The Chairman of the Joints Chief, Adm. Mike Mullen and Commander of Afghanistan operations told members of Congress today that the President’s decision was “more aggressive” than they would have preferred. Adm. Mullen went on to say that though he supports the President’s decision, his “decisions are more aggressive and incur more risk than I was originally prepared to accept.”

Gen. David Petraeus, Commander of U.S. and allied forces in Afghanistan, in his confirmation hearing for Director of the CIA told the senators, that, “the ultimate decision was a more aggressive formulation than what we had recommended.”

He also said that over the past month he had recommended a number of different options for reducing the U.S. forces in Afghanistan, each with its own risk assessments.

General David Petraeus

It was clear from Petraeus’ testimony that he preferred a more gradual withdrawal started after the conclusion of next year’s fighting season in Afghanistan. Military operations become more challenging during the winter months in the country because of the rugged terrain and harsh weather. Yet he conceded that no general ever has all the troops and resources he wants, but when the president makes a decision “it is the responsibility of the military to salute smartly.”

Rep. Buck McKeon, R-Calif., Chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, said the President’s decision “could jeopardize the hard-won gains our troops and allies have made over the past 18 months and potentially the safety of the remaining forces.” He added the announcement sends a signal to the enemy “who will now believe they can wait out the departure of U.S. forces and return to their strongholds.”

The President is in a no-win situation heading into an election as members of his own party are incensed by what they consider an insignificant withdrawal. Sen. Barbara Box, D-Calif. complained, “What are those 70,000 [remaining] troops going to do? I thought since we have trained all these Afghans, we turn it over to them.”

Rep. John Garamendi, D-Calif., told reporters he is “profoundly disappointed the President and his top military advisors have decided to stay the course.” Garamendi said he believes the U.S. has inserted itself into a “five-way civil war” between various tribal factions with a long history of violence. “We will ultimately not succeed,” he declared.

Rep. Randy Forbes, R-Va., was furious that Adm. Mullen refused to state what he believed the troop levels in Afghanistan should be, but was quite willing to offer his personal views on gays serving in the military.

“It just astounds me that when we had ‘don’t ask don’t tell,’ you were willing to come before a committee unsolicited and say, ‘I’m willing to state my personal opinion, and this is what I think it should be,’ but yet when we’re talking about potential risk to the troops that this committee has to make, which is our number one concern, that you’re not willing to say what those individual commanders were willing to say or — or your personal recommendations,” Forbes said.

In matters of war, politics has no place, yet clearly politics played a large part of Mr. Obama’s decision; ordering the complete removal of all surge troops immediately before the 2012 election, regardless of the recommendations of the commanders on the ground, shows that political expediency ruled the day.

The President is the Commander-in-Chief, and, as such, he may cast the opinions of his senior military commanders aside; however the wisdom of such is questionable at best. Should the Taliban decide to sit back and wait for troop levels to return to pre-surge levels before their next offensive might mean the loss of hard-won territory or worse yet the loss of American lives. If the Taliban becomes emboldened by the President’s firm dates and bides their time we may well be forced to send more troops in, with all the risks endured this past year.

The public has become war-weary; the polls make this clear. Ten years of war with more than 1,500 U.S. lives lost and more than a trillion dollars spent will wear on a country. A loss to the Taliban, that welcomed Al Qaida to train and operate from their territory, would pose the greatest possible threat to the U.S. Should the Taliban regain control over the country the sacrifice of our heroic troops and their families could be all for naught.

Democrats want the Afghanis to defend their own country, yet Afghan leaders and our military commanders state they are still several years away; deserting them before they are ready could spell a slaughter of the first order followed by an emboldened terrorist government sharing a border with Iran. There is nothing the Iranian government would like more than to have a government to their West which they can control as they do Lebanon and Syria.

Presidents must run the military, but no one man’s judgment should supersede that of those who have faced the challenge first hand.  Good counsel is of no value if a President chooses not to follow it.