If Bob Woodward’s newest book, Obama’s Wars, is anything like his prior inside accounts of previous administrations, there will be plenty of quotations without sources, lengthy accounts of private conversations that seem too detailed to be believed as totally accurate, and an untold number of back-biting comments about administration officials by other administration hacks. But, if the book is even half accurate, and Washington Post and New York Times accounts of the book’s content are on the mark, then the president is a far more feckless chief executive than any of his most ardent critics could ever have imagined.
What comes across time and time again is that domestic politics overrides his responsibilities as commander-in-chief—be it, the need to get out of Afghanistan as soon as possible to avoid upsetting his domestic agenda, his silly browbeating of his military advisors with OMB and self-authored memorandums, fears about being criticized by his fellow Democrats over fighting the war, and/or allowing staff politicos, like David Axelrod, to have a say in matters of grave national security importance.
In this week’s edition of THE WEEKLY STANDARD, I argue that the Afghan effort needed more combat troops. In discussing why, I note that the 40,000 additional troops then ISAF commander Gen. McChrystal had argued for back in the fall of 2009 was cut back to 30,000, with the deficit supposedly being made up by contributions from allies. Not a sensible expectation I suggested but one not totally unreasonable either. But now, if Woodward’s book is accurate, it appears the real reason for shorting the war effort was that Obama simply split the difference between McChrystal’s request and a more limited option of 20,000 put forward by Vice President Joe Biden.
This means, in effect, that the president ignored the advice he was getting from the Pentagon and the senior commander in the theater of war about what was the bare minimum needed to succeed in Afghanistan. Instead, Obama came up with his own game plan based on nothing more than that he wants to avoid “another Vietnam.” In the article, I quote respected defense analyst Michael O’Hanlon from the Brookings Institution on the president’s decision to send 30,000 additional troops to Afghanistan as his “attempt to have his cake and eat it, too.” “Obama tried,” according to O’Hanlon,” to be muscular enough to create a chance to win the war while at the same time keeping the war’s critics acquiescent.” Sadly, this gives Obama too much credit. Winning the war seems to be the last thing on the president’s mind.