TCS Daily

Take the Commander in Chief Test

By Philip R. O'Connor - July 21, 2004 12:00 AM

As Washington pastimes go, Monday morning quarterbacking intelligence matters is overtaking second-guessing the Redskins. So now it's time for the rest of us to test our Commander-in-Chief decision skills. The Commander-in-Chief test lets you be the history maker. No fair consulting your high school history book or calling up Oliver Stone or other experts.


General Washington in 1776. You've lost every battle and the Revolution seems a bust. Your spies tell you that the British officers are wintering in New York City and you think that means the Hessians will get falling down drunk on Christmas Eve and sleeping it off next morning. However, they are the world's best soldiers and will beat you if they are awake, sober or not. Also, the Delaware River is full of ice and your guys have no food or shoes. And many New Jerseyites are Tories who might rat you out. Do you roll the dice to change the course of the war, figuring the Germans don't like fighting on Christmas, or do you wait for spring time rather than risk what little is left of the Continental Army?

Abe Lincoln in July 1863. General Lee has crossed into the North but no one knows where he's going. The Union Army has been beaten in most every battle so far and if you lose on your own ground the Union is likely lost. Do you keep the Army away from Lee until he gets tired and heads back South or do you send General Meade out looking for Lee -- even if they find that old rascal in some little crossroads town in Pennsylvania?

The duty officer in Honolulu on December 7, 1941. Two soldiers manning the newly invented radar call to report a lot of blips on the screen. HQ had already advised you to expect a flight of American bombers from California that morning. Do you sound the alarm to the fleet, scramble the fighter planes and hope Admiral Kimmel and General Short don't yell at you if you're wrong? Or do you tell the radar guys that their shift is ending anyway and not to worry about it?

FDR in 1939.You've received a letter from the famous, quirky physicist Albert Einstein recommending building an "atomic" bomb in order to beat the Nazis to the punch. Not really knowing what an atomic bomb is, and not yet at war do you ask Congress to study the matter and ask your intelligence operation to confirm if the Nazis are building one of this Buck Rogers weapon or do you order secret development with money skimmed from other projects and hidden through phony Congressional appropriations?

Admiral Nimitz in 1942. Navy Intelligence has intercepted coded messages they believe reveal Japanese plans to seize the American island of Midway. But they also tell you that the Japanese could well be planning attacks elsewhere. You know that banking on Midway would leave the door open elsewhere. Do you risk your aircraft carriers that escaped the Pearl Harbor attack, perhaps leaving virtually no US fleet in the Pacific? Or do you try catching the stronger Imperial Fleet with its kimono open and reverse the course of the war?

Ike in June 1944. Your weatherman tells you he sees a break in the bad weather and a narrow window for your landing forces to get on to the beaches of Normandy. You hope, but can't confirm, that Allied disinformation has convinced Hitler the real invasion will be north -- at the Pas de Calais. Do you risk a quarter million troops and the possibility of a stalemate in Europe? Or do you say, "Let's go," rather than wait another month or two for D-Day?

Ike in late December 1944. Intelligence says the Germans are on the run, low on gasoline and ammo. The men deserve a break and many officers want leave for Christmas in Paris. How can the Germans possibly break through the dense Ardennes Forest? And, knowing what we know from test question #1, the Germans don't like to fight on Christmas. Do you go ignore the intelligence and figure that Hitler will try to catch YOU with your pants down and inflict on the American Army its worst-ever disaster?

Harry Truman in August 1945. FDR's atomic bomb has tested successfully and you've got two more ready to use. Scientists who built the bomb are opposing its use and intelligence reports suggest the Japanese are starving and on their last legs, ready to talk turkey. American bombers are already turning many Japanese cities into cinders. Do you secretly advise the Japanese they can surrender now before you drop the bomb or do you drop the bomb and ask questions later?

JFK (the original one) in the Fall of 1962. The intelligence community gives you aerial photos they believe show Soviet missile installations being built in Cuba. But they do not know how close they are to being operational, whether they are armed with nuclear warheads or whether the crews and workers are Soviet. Do you go on national TV, deliver a withdrawal ultimatum, threaten mass retaliation and set up a naval quarantine, thus risking World War III? Or do you quietly work behind the scenes at the UN, get more information and try to convince the Soviets they've done the wrong thing?

President Bush in early 2003, just months after 9/11 and anthrax. The Clinton administration had indicted Osama bin Laden, citing ties to Saddam Hussein and had bombed a suspected al Qaeda bio-weapons plant in Sudan with ties to Iraq. Czech intelligence insists that 9/11 plotter Mohammad Atta met with Iraqi intelligence in Prague. UN weapons inspectors are being frustrated in Iraq. British intelligence says that Saddam was trying to buy uranium in Africa. Saddam had invaded Kuwait a decade before and had used chemical weapons on his own people. One of the perpetrators of the first World Trade Center bombing had taken refuge in Baghdad and families of Palestinian suicide bombers were paid by Iraq. The CIA Director, originally appointed by Clinton, tells you "it's a slam dunk" that Saddam has WMD. The French, strongly opposed to war with Iraq, say their intelligence service believes Iraq still has WMD. Russian President Putin, opposed to war with Iraq, tells you that Russian intelligence believes Iraq has plans for terror assaults on the U.S. Most of the CIA's human assets in Iraq have been discovered and murdered. Do you wait to get more spies into the country to confirm the other intelligence? Or do you go to Congress for a resolution supporting the use of force and then use force?

Bonus Essay Question: President (Plug in Name of Your Choice) in February 2005. The CIA and South Korean and Japanese intelligence agree that radio traffic and satellite photos of North Korea, where no one has human spy assets, is facing a famine and that it has massed troops to invade South Korea in a few days, after smuggling a nuclear bomb into a major Japanese city to blackmail Japan and the US into giving them a free hand. What do you do?

O'Connor is the author of a "Loyola Rome Student's Guide to World War II in Rome and Italy" available for free downloading at


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