Bob Woodward’s Obama: Holding office trumps U.S. lives and security

Since publication of Bob Woodward’s Obama’s Wars the pro-Obama media have claimed U.S. generals “boxed in” the president in terms of sending additional troops to Afghanistan. Neil Sheehan (, 3 October 10), Tom Ricks (, 4 October 10), and Melvin Goodman (consortiumnews, 5 October 10) have all portrayed poor ol’ Barack as being surrounded by big bad generals who want to continue the Afghan war on an ever larger scale. On the basis of what actually is in Woodward’s book, this is nonsense. Indeed, Woodward amply demonstrates that Obama bases his Afghan policy on what is good for his political fortunes, and that his concern for U.S. lives and security is nil.

Let us deal with the U.S. generals first. There is no doubt that this generation of U.S. generals is not the stuff from which legends — or victories — are made. With exception of one Army and one Marine general, Woodward’s book describes generals who know they are losing in Afghanistan; know that the three levels of troop reinforcements being debated — 40,000, 30,000, and 11,000 — are inadequate; and know that even the high end, tabled-but-never-discussed option of 85,000 troops would be insufficient. Rather than “boxing in” Obama, the generals appear to cower in his presence and refuse to speak frankly; they instead compete with each other to tell Obama what he wants to hear, which is: “We can make do with whatever number of troops you decide, Oh Genius Leader.” In other words, they throw the welfare of their soldiers and Marines to the wolves to please Obama and the political jackals who surround him, a crew of conspiracy-loving men led by the new National Security Adviser Thomas Donilon who quickly decide the U.S. military is Obama’s enemy. (pp. 81, 121-22, 195, 197, 313-15, and 319-21)

The generals peopling Woodward’s book appear as calculating civil servants and not soldiers, and, counter-intuitively, this is most true of generals who belong to the Special Forces or other elite military units. Indeed, these men — especially Petreaus and McChrystal — seem to have no real grasp on what they are doing; no real concern about what the enemy is doing, motivated by, or how many of them U.S. troops confront; and no idea of how idiotic it is to imagine an infidel occupier can win the hearts and minds of a conservative and tribal Islamic people. One lesson of Woodward’s book is that America’s elite soldiers are equipped with too much theory and social science; too little reality and history; and too much moral cowardice to lead American armies in the field. That job ought to be left to traditionally trained generals who know wars are won by killing, and lost by the application of social-science experiments.

But in Woodward’s book it is Obama who runs the show, and he makes it clear from the start that he wants no part of the Afghan war and would prefer to simply withdraw from it. The reason he does not do so has nothing to do with being “boxed in” by generals (p. 281), but by his concerns about the coming mid-term and 2012 elections.

Woodward makes clear that Obama cares neither for U.S. security nor for the men and women serving in Afghanistan. Whatever I do, Obama twice tells Senator Lindsey Graham, it cannot be something that costs me support in the Democratic party. (p. 336) In other words, Obama places his party’s hold on political power over U.S. national security.

Now if these were the only two occasions in Woodward’s book where Obama said his Afghan policy is meant to hold political power, not to defeat America’s enemies, it could be attributed to slips of the tongue. But they are not.

President Obama, throughout Woodward’s book, browbeats the military into a number of reinforcements for Afghanistan that will protect his Democratic base and will allow him to campaign in 2010 and 2012 on the claim that he did his best to prevail in Afghanistan. The number of troops Obama decides will meet these goals is 30,000, this after learning that even 85,000 more troops would “protect” only 60-percent of Afghans, which is the key to his administration’s policy. Oddly, Obama and his advisers never discussed how many troops would be needed to meet this central policy goal.

Having thus made his administration’s goal unattainable by choosing a reinforcement package of 30,000 troops, Obama proceeds to make it clear that he is ready — in order to protect his political future — to deliberately orchestrate a disaster for the United States in Afghanistan.

After the 30,000 figure is agreed, for example, Secretary of Defense Gates continued to seek to augment that number, which Woodward’s book shows Gates thought inadequate. Obama reacted with multiple warnings that if Gates and others continued seeking more troops he would make sure America lost in Afghanistan.

—”Referring to Gates and the uniformed military [trying to get more troops], he [Obama] said, “They [the military] think its the opposite [that he would not send fewer than 30,000 troops]. I’d be perfectly happy …” He stopped in mid-sentence. “Nothing would make Rahm [Emmanuel] happier than if I said no to 30,000. … Rahm would tell me it’d be much easier to do what I want to do [domestically] by saying no,” the president said.” (pp. 303-04)

—”Can you support this [the 30,000-troop addition]?” Obama asked [Gates]. “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.” (p. 309)

—”If you [Obama is speaking to his senior advisers on Afghanistan] have any personal misgivings or any professional doubts about what were about to do [authorize 30,000 troops], tell me know, because I need to hear it, he [Obama] said. ‘If you don’t think this is the right approach, say so now. the only alternative is just to go with the trainers’ — the 10,000 to 11,000 option that in the military’s judgment carried the most risk.” (p. 326)

—”Even with a narrower [Afghan] mission and resourcing, there is [,Obama said,] still no appetite here for doing this [sending 30,000 troops]. So there cannot be any dogfights between you [McChrystal], Petreaus, Mullen, and Biden, and that includes you, Karl [Eikenberry, U.S. ambassador in Kabul].” Addressing Eikenberry, he [Obama] said, “If this is not the case, I will go with” the 11,000 trainers only.” (p. 230)

Obama is nothing if not consistent. Having never considered a troop augmentation big enough to have even a chance of securing U.S. interests, he constantly threatened the military with scrapping the inadequate 30,000 number and replacing it with a defeat-ensuring 10-11,000 total. It is hard to see how Obama’s complete unconcern for U.S. interests amounts to the generals boxing him in.

Finally, Woodward reveals the best evidence of Obama’s unconcern for the lives of U.S. troops and all other Americans. Since his election, Obama and his senior advisers have known the location of a large network of facilities in Pakistan used by the Islamists to train fighters to kill U.S. and NATO troops in Afghanistan and to attack in Europe, the United States and elsewhere. Per Woodward:

—”Priority one for the DNI [Director of National Intelligence], and now [after his election] Obama, had to be the ungoverned tribal regions along the Pakistan-Afghanistan border where Osama bin Laden, his al-Qaeda network, and branches of the extremist insurgent Taliban had nested 150 training camps and other facilities.” (p.3)

And what have Obama and his national-security team done about these 150 camps. Nothing. Again, Woodward:

—”The United States military did not have “war” plans for an invasion of Pakistan. Instead, it had and continues to have [when Woodward’s book was published in September, 2010] one of the most sensitive and secret of all military contingencies, what military officials call a ‘retribution’ plan in the event of another 9/11-like attack on the U.S. by terrorists based in Pakistan. Under this plan, the U.S. would bomb and attack every known al-Qaeda compound or training camp in the U.S. intelligence database. Some locations might be outdated, but there would be no concern, under the plan, for who might be living there now. The retribution plan called for a brutal attack on at least 150 or more associated camps.” (p. 46)

There you have it. Since Obama’s election, he and his advisers — military and civilian — have maintained a list of 150 or more facilities at which Islamists are now being trained to kill Americans and their allies. Faced with a war Bush and Obama have chosen not to win, Woodward points out that Obama has a plan to retaliate after — repeat after — an unknown number of Americans are killed by al-Qaeda inside the United States.

Yes, you have got it straight. Those 150 camps and facilities are now producing the men who are defeating us in Afghanistan and those who will kill Americans at home, and Obama is not hitting them because he wants to have targets to attack after al-Qaeda demonstrates he has utterly failed. And now, thanks to Obama’s jackals leaking this “retribution” plan for Woodward to write about and al-Qaeda and the Taliban to read, the camps and facilities will be moved and there will be no targets to strike after al-Qaeda slaughters Americans in the United States.

At the end of his book, Woodward quotes Obama as saying he thinks “that we can absorb a terrorist attack.” (p. 363) Sadly, Obama clearly and deliberately has created the circumstances that will allow his thesis to be fully tested.

Author: Michael F. Scheuer

Michael F. Scheuer worked at the CIA as an intelligence officer for 22 years. He was the first chief of its Osama bin Laden unit, and helped create its rendition program, which he ran for 40 months. He is an American blogger, historian, foreign policy critic, and political analyst.