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The Irresponsible Commander in Chief

The Washington Post is teasing the release of Bob Woodward’s newest book, Obama’s Wars, which focuses on the war in Afghanistan. Usually in Woodward’s offerings, those who cooperate with the author come off the best, and those who don’t — well, don’t. But in this case, Obama did agree to be interviewed, and it is therefore surprising, at least from the Post‘s telling, how poorly Obama comes across. And frankly, those who are forever  searching for some sign of maturity in the commander in chief and pronouncing that he really “gets it” look rather silly themselves.

First off, Obama was obsessed with an Afghanistan exit strategy, determined to get out no matter what the advice of his military advisers:

According to Woodward’s meeting-by-meeting, memo-by-memo account of the 2009 Afghan strategy review, the president avoided talk of victory as he described his objectives.

“This needs to be a plan about how we’re going to hand it off and get out of Afghanistan,” Obama is quoted as telling White House aides as he laid out his reasons for adding 30,000 troops in a short-term escalation. “Everything we’re doing has to be focused on how we’re going to get to the point where we can reduce our footprint. It’s in our national security interest. There cannot be any wiggle room.” … Obama rejected the military’s request for 40,000 troops as part of an expansive mission that had no foreseeable end. “I’m not doing 10 years,” he told Secretary of Defense Robert M. Gates and Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton at a meeting on Oct. 26, 2009. “I’m not doing long-term nation-building. I am not spending a trillion dollars.”

The disregard for his responsibilities — the equivalent of putting his fingers in his ears and humming — is stunning. It also stands in sharp contrast with his predecessor, who insisted on a review of flawed policy and ultimately the implementation of a winning one:

The president is quoted as telling Mullen, Petraeus and Gates: “In 2010, we will not be having a conversation about how to do more. I will not want to hear, ‘We’re doing fine, Mr. President, but we’d be better if we just do more.’ We’re not going to be having a conversation about how to change [the mission] … unless we’re talking about how to draw down faster than anticipated in 2011.”

Imagine FDR telling General Eisenhower, “I don’t want to hear things aren’t going well in Italy.” It’s inconceivable that Obama’s supposed role model, Abraham Lincoln, would have said, “No more news about McClellan’s shortcomings.” But then Obama’s not much for “victory”:

Obama told Woodward in the July interview that he didn’t think about the Afghan war in the “classic” terms of the United States winning or losing. “I think about it more in terms of: Do you successfully prosecute a strategy that results in the country being stronger rather than weaker at the end?” he said.

After Obama, it is his political advisers who come off worst:

National security adviser James L. Jones privately referred to Obama’s political aides as “the water bugs,” the “Politburo,” the “Mafia,” or the “campaign set.” Petraeus, who felt shut out by the new administration, told an aide that he considered the president’s senior adviser David Axelrod to be “a complete spin doctor.”

But then it is the president who put political hacks in the thick of war-planning.

Obama’s peevishness and determination to avoid facts that conflict with his ideological disposition are chilling. His apparent disinclination to pursue victory should frighten both allies and foes. Has he matured since the events detailed in the book? We have no evidence of that. I think it’s time to stop pretending that Obama is “growing” in the job and that he understands the responsibilities of a wartime president.


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