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The Hacks Weren’t the Problem

Michael Gerson sums up Bob Woodward’s portrait of Obama:

The more we know about Obama’s views of the Afghan war, the less confidence he inspires. Is there a historical precedent for an American president, in time of war, hoping to convey an impression of studied, professorial ambivalence about the war itself? Is it possible to imagine Franklin Roosevelt or Harry Truman purposely cultivating such ambiguity?

Yes, President Obama has sent more skilled, well-led troops to Afghanistan. But he has also created a strategic challenge for America. Our enemy is patient and determined. Our president, by his own account, is neither.

Gerson describes Obama as “reluctant,” which is a generous characterization of a commander in chief who never seemed to grasp the distinction between political horse-trading and military strategy. (“Are we supposed to be reassured that a president, of no proven military judgment, driven at least partially by political calculations, imposed a split-the-difference approach only loosely related to actual need or analysis?”)

It’s neither sufficient nor accurate to blame the political hacks in the room. Granted that “Generals” Emanuel and Axelrod had no business dragging political concerns into war-planning. But the biggest problem was the president himself. As Gerson notes:

It is the most basic duty of a commander in chief to pursue the national interest above any other interest. The introduction of partisan considerations into strategic decisions merits a special contempt.

So it wasn’t reluctance on Obama’s part so much as dereliction of his duties. We all would like to think that our presidents behave admirably in matters of war and peace, and that they understand the grave responsibility that goes with the office. But it’s time to give up the fiction that Obama is thoughtful or nonideological. He’s neither. He’s simply a Chicago pol who has risen above his abilities.



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