FrontPage Magazine | 9.23.10
By Alan W. Dowd

Bob Woodward’s new book, Obama’s Wars, offers us a glimpse behind the curtain, and if excerpts leaked to The New York Times are any indication, what Woodward reveals is not pretty.

Not only does the book, according to the Times, depict “an administration deeply torn over the war in Afghanistan,” it seems to suggest that the primary motivation of this president is not victory in Afghanistan but rather holding his political base together. “I can’t lose the whole Democratic Party,” the president is quoted as saying, trying to defend his withdrawal timetable.

That says it all, doesn’t it?

It pays to recall that to win the 2008 election and take the oath as commander-in-chief, this president defeated a man who declared, “I’d rather lose an election than lose a war.” And this president succeeded a commander-in-chief who lost much of the Republican Party, most of the country and virtually everyone except Joe Lieberman and John McCain—not to mention “the whole Democratic Party”—but won a war because he didn’t care what the polls said or what the press advised.

Given that the White House granted Woodward “extensive access,” including interviews with the president, the administration could be using the book to send a signal to the anti-war left. But that could backfire.

First, with U.S. troops still shooting, fighting and dying in Afghanistan and Iraq, the anti-war left isn’t going to be energized into voting or mollified into keeping quiet by a wink-and-a-nod promise that the war in Afghanistan will end sometime in July 2011.

Second, the book may confirm what some hinted at after the Rolling Stone fiasco: that the administration is at best divided and at worst halfhearted about the war effort.

The Rolling Stone article that took down Gen. Stanley McChrystal reported that the president “didn’t seem very engaged” during his early meetings with McChrystal. The general was frustrated by Obama’s slow-motion review and re-review of the administration’s own stated policy of an Afghan surge.

It pays to recall that the president entered office by firing McChrystal’s predecessor, Gen. David McKiernan, ostensibly to shake things up and goad the military into action in Afghanistan. But when McChrystal, following the president’s lead, asked for the resources necessary to win what the president called a “war of necessity”—including 40,000 additional troops—the president blinked and balked, ruminated and reviewed.

The president ultimately concluded that “it is in our vital national interest to send an additional 30,000 U.S. troops to Afghanistan,” before promising that “after 18 months, our troops will begin to come home.”

Now we know why the president dithered over McChrystal’s request. It simply wasn’t what he wanted.

“I want an exit strategy,” Woodward quotes him as saying. Note that the president isn’t talking here about Iraq—the war that, in his words, “distract[ed] us from Afghanistan and the real threat from al Qaeda.” He’s talking about Afghanistan, “the good war.”

As a candidate and as a commander-in-chief, the president has often employed this politically effective, if disingenuous, argument that Iraq was a war of choice that diverted attention and resources from a war of necessity in Afghanistan.

It was a politically effective argument because it allowed him to brandish a tough position on national security. But it was disingenuous because he is now and always has been uncomfortable with the application of U.S. power anywhere, as underscored by his demand for an exit strategy from Afghanistan, his embarrassingly drawn-out response to McChrystal’s request for more troops in 2009, his timetable for withdrawal, and his bizarre notion that it’s somehow in America’s “vital national interest” to fight for Afghanistan—but only until next July.

What this president apparently doesn’t understand is that vital national interests don’t have expiration dates, and letting the Taliban know when the U.S. military will end its offensive makes victory difficult, if not impossible, to achieve.

But thanks to Woodward, we are learning that losing Afghanistan is apparently no more important than losing the Democratic Party.

The sooner the president realizes that his primary job is no longer leading his party but rather leading the country—especially as commander-in-chief—the better.