Commentary Magazine


Why Woodward’s Portrayal Is So Devastating

Eliot Cohen’s must-read column looks at the way various figures — from President Karzai to Bibi to our generals — would regard the portrait of the White House painted in Bob Woodward’s book. The most compelling comes from a hypothetical general. A sample:

The president fired one of our truly great commanders not for things that he said but for tolerating indiscretion, disloyalty and disrespect among his subordinates — but do these people apply anything remotely like that standard to themselves?

If the president felt he was getting bad advice, why didn’t he just stop his review until he got real options? Or fire the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff? Why does he write a six-page memo that reads more like a prenuptial agreement written by a pessimistic lawyer than a strategy document?

… He says that if he continues with the war he can’t carry the Democratic Party with him. Has he tried? When was the last speech he gave on Afghanistan? Does he understand that leading soldiers, including generals, means not just being smart and picking an option as if he were ordering from a menu at a Chinese restaurant but also giving us some steel in the spine and fire in the belly when we begin to lose hope?

Other fictionalized reactions include Ahmadinejad and Bibi, who both must regard Obama as weak. It also, most poignantly, includes the father of a lance corporal. (“They’re sending my son where a bomb or a bullet may tear a limb or his life away. Do the people in the White House still believe in this ‘war of necessity’? And if not, can any of them look me in the eye?”)

Cohen captures the sense of bewilderment experienced by serious people (determined enemies, stressed allies, beleaguered generals, etc.) upon recognition (or confirmation) that our president is decidedly unserious.

Obama, in his public actions, has confounded supporters and infuriated critics. Why set a counterproductive deadline? Why beat up on our allies? Why telegraph that we want out of Afghanistan? He has confused supporters and opponents because they have given the president, to be blunt, too much credit. What Woodward has shown us, by pulling back the curtain, is a president who is exceedingly indifferent to facts, unmoved by professional advice, and driven almost entirely by concerns for managing his liberal base. In short, he behaves as if he is still running for the Democratic presidential nomination.

Couple that with an excessive stubbornness, and you have an administration that refuses to adjust to reality. The settlement-freeze moratorium has driven Middle East talks into the ground? No, never mind. Keep at it. The generals and his cabinet insist the Afghanistan war troop deadline is helping our enemies? Whatever. Repeat it in a nationally televised speech. The same is true in domestic policy. The stimulus is a bust? Come up with a slogan instead. (“Recovery summer.”) The public hates ObamaCare? Assume the voters are dolts and tell them they’ll learn to love it.

It is ironic. The left painted George Bush as an inflexible and hyperpartisan. He was portrayed as an isolated know-nothing. In reality, he was none of these things. But Obama certainly is. And once you understand that, it becomes a whole lot easier to predict and understand what he’s up to.

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