Bob Woodward’s new book, _Obama’s Wars,_ provides an inside account of the decision making of President Obama. Unfortunately, it shows a pattern where the president refuses to exercise the necessary force as recommended by his proven military leaders. With an additional 30,000 soldiers in Afghanistan, the stakes could not be higher and they deserve every measure to protect them and help them succeed.
Secretary of Defense Bob Gates is being forced to reiterate his support for President Obama’s conduct of the war in Afghanistan after Woodward’s book revealed major disagreement between the President, Vice President Biden and General Petraeus, Gates and other military leaders. Vice President Biden supported sending a small force to expedite the training of Afghan security forces and limiting the U.S. role, rather than fighting for a decisive victory over the Taliban and like-minded extremists.
General Petraeus felt that Biden’s plan was insufficient and even counter-productive. “It would alienate the Afghan people whom U.S. forces should be protecting. You start going out tromping around, disrupting the enemy, and you’re making a lot of enemies…So what have you accomplished?” Petraeus asks. He instead argued that a strategy should be based on the successful “surge” in Iraq, embracing a broad counter-insurgency campaign that guarantees the security of the Afghan population.
The military leaders advocated sending 40,000 soldiers for a surge-like campaign. President Obama, seeking to find a middle ground between the military and Biden, chose to send 30,000 soldiers and request that additional forces be sent by our allies. During the policy debate, President Obama was frustrated at the military’s lack of flexibility and angrily said to Secretary Gates, “Can you support this? Because if the answer is no, I understand it and I’ll be happy to just authorize another 10,000 troops, and we can continue to go as we are and train the Afghan national force and just hope for the best.”
This type of attitude provides some context for the comments made to Rolling Stone by General Stanley McChrystal and his aides, remarks he was subsequently fired for. McChrystal had previously been reprimanded for calling Biden’s position “short-sighted.” In the article, General McChrystal called the time during Obama’s review of the war strategy “painful,” as he was “selling an unsellable position.”
The President ended the debate, deciding on a strategy opposed by Biden but sending fewer soldiers than requested by the proponents of the strategy that he did choose to follow. He also was fixated on having a firm exit strategy, establishing a timeline requiring that a withdrawal begin in July 2011. One of the reasons Obama stated for this was that he “can’t lose the entire Democratic Party.” The current commander of Central Command, James Mattis, has admitted that intercepts of Taliban communication show the group is encouraged by the timeline, believing that they can outwait the American forces.
President Obama appears to see the war in Afghanistan as a distraction from tackling other issues. He told Woodward that although he’d do everything he could to stop another terrorist attack on the U.S., the country can “absorb a terrorist attack.” The President is not indifferent to the damage an attack can cause, but seems to view the threat as not nearly as pressing as other issues.
“What worries him most, it seems, is the ‘opportunity cost’ that the war exacts — the money and attention it’s diverting from other, more important priorities,” writes Doyle McManus of the Los Angeles Times. “For much of the past year, it’s been difficult to determine exactly what Obama wants in Afghanistan. But it’s now clearer than ever that what he wants, above all, is to get out.”
The U.S. military has identified 150 terrorist camps in Pakistan. The Obama Administration has reacted by putting pressure on the Pakistani government. Top officials have warned the Pakistanis that should another attack on the U.S. happen, “all bets are off,” in the words of CIA Director Leon Panetta to Pakistani President Zardari. A secret contingency plan has been written to prepare for the bombing of these 150 camps in a massive campaign if an attack occurs. The Washington Times has reacted by saying, “It’s a mistake to wait for an attack on our homeland. If the plan is in place and the targets selected, why not attack them now?”
“If America suffers a major terrorist attack on President Obama’s watch that could have been pre-empted, he won’t be able to count on the national unity Mr. Bush enjoyed nine years ago,” the editorial continues.
Furthermore, it should be recognized that the Obama Administration has sent 30,000 more soldiers to Afghanistan without taking out the terrorist camps that will send operatives to kill them. With such a massive infrastructure in Pakistan, the U.S. forces will be vulnerable and unable to decisively strike back to protect themselves.
President Obama’s unwillingness to provide adequate resources and exercise the necessary force jeopardizes the war in Afghanistan and puts our soldiers at increased risk. If the mission fails, it will not be because of a flawed strategy put forth by the military leaders, but because the President was not willing to give what it takes to win.