“How did the Obama administration’s foreign policy process get so broken?” said David Ignatius in The Washington Post. In a “devastating” memoir published this week, former Defense Secretary Robert Gates gives a firsthand account of the internal infighting, indecision, and political calculations behind Obama’s confused policies regarding Iraq, Afghanistan, and the Middle East. (For a review of the book itself, see Books.) In what has to be “the least surprising bombshell ever to appear in a tell-all Washington memoir,” said Rich Lowry in NYPost.com, Gates reveals that President Obama was deeply ambivalent about his own decision in 2009 to send 30,000 more troops to Afghanistan. At the time, Gates says, he realized that Obama “doesn’t believe in his own strategy and doesn’t consider the war to be his. For him, it’s all about getting out.” One can only imagine how this news will be received by the families of the roughly 1,500 U.S. troops killed in Afghanistan since Obama took office. “If you don’t believe in it, don’t fight it.”
But Gates doesn’t argue that Obama was wrong about Afghanistan, said Rod Dreher in TheAmericanConservative.com. In fact, he acknowledges that Obama turned out to be right in his big foreign policy decisions. Gates praises Obama’s courage and decisiveness, especially in ordering the raid that killed Osama bin Laden. His main criticism seems to be that Obama was not “a True Believer,” with a passionate commitment to waging war. But isn’t the commander in chief supposed to be torn about sending more Americans into harm’s way? Gates seems to prefer the leadership style of President Bush, said Andrew Sullivan in Dish.AndrewSullivan.com, who, Gates writes, “had no second thoughts about Iraq, including our decision to invade.” This assessment is “close to deranged.” Surely we’re better off with a president who’s a “sober skeptic” about the ability of American military action to fix the Middle East than a “True Believer pursuing impossible goals.”
Ambivalence and political expedience, however, make for bad policy, said Matthew Lee in RealClearDefense.com. Obama seems to have “settled on a largely hands-off, do-no-harm approach” to the Middle East that has left the U.S. “rudderless and reactive” as Islamic extremism returns with a vengeance. Obama’s “lack of commitment to the war on terror” has had dire results, said Michael Goodwin in the New York Post. Thanks to his failure to keep any troops in Iraq or intervene in Syria, al Qaida now controls a 400-mile swath of territory from Aleppo to Fallujah.
Nonetheless, Obama’s foreign policy vision has been clear and consistent from the start, said Marc Ambinder in TheWeek.com.After the catastrophe of Iraq, and the endless war in Afghanistan, in 2008 the American people elected a man who openly disdained the neoconservative enthusiasm for “getting into these wars and staying, leaving a big American footprint.” Obama’s no isolationist, but he believes that reckless, indefinite, and bloody overseas adventures leave the U.S. weaker, not stronger, and most Americans agree with him. Gates admits he does, too, said Jay Bookman in AJC.com. His main complaints seem to be about Obama’s cool, controlling style, and his lack of fervor for the wars he inherited. But after the last decade, anyone who could be confident about “military victory” in that part of the world “just wasn’t paying attention.” Here’s to second thoughts.