Feature

Obama’s Wars: The politics of ‘the surge’

Bob Woodward’s new book, Obama’s Wars, reveals how President Obama decided on the surge in Afghanistan.

So now we know how President Obama cooked up his half-baked Afghanistan strategy, said Jed Babbin in The American Spectator. In Bob Woodward’s new book, Obama’s Wars, the president is revealed as worrying mostly about the political fallout in deciding whether to send more troops to Afghanistan last year. During Obama’s agonizing, five-month review of the war strategy, Gen. Stanley McChrystal, then the commander in Afghanistan, and his boss, Gen. David Petraeus, essentially told Obama that without a surge of 40,000 to 60,000 additional troops, the war would be lost to the Taliban. In mounting a “general’s revolt,” they cut off other options, insisting that without additional troops, the Obama administration would be waving the white flag of surrender. The frustrated president tells advisors he has, at most, two years before the American public completely sours on the war, saying, “I can’t lose the whole Democratic Party.” So he goes with a Surge Lite of 30,000 troops and announces that the U.S. withdrawal will begin in July 2011.

It’s not Obama’s conduct in that process that’s alarming, said Andrew Sullivan in TheAtlantic.com. It’s Petraeus’. “Canonized” after the illusory “victory” in Iraq, Petraeus is seen in Woodward’s book blatantly leveraging his popularity to blackmail Obama into sending more troops to Afghanistan. Under our Constitution, it’s civilian authority that determines military and foreign policy, and Petraeus’ role is to offer “private and confidential” military advice, then shut up and follow orders. Harry Truman didn’t put up with Gen. MacArthur’s imperious antics. Obama, or someone, should put Petraeus “in his place.”

Obama will get that chance soon enough, said the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette in an editorial. Look at how well Petraeus’ surge is going: No matter how many Taliban they kill, U.S. and NATO forces can’t keep them from returning to large swaths of the rural country. The Afghan government is deeply corrupt. Fewer people than during last year’s scandalously fraudulent presidential elections even bothered to vote. This state of affairs “bears out the wisdom” of Obama’s decision to limit the surge to one year and then begin reducing our involvement. If only he’d set that course more forcefully, said Robert Haddick in Foreign Policy. Obama’s “muddled compromise” with his generals put 30,000 more Americans in harm’s way. Too bad the president didn’t directly confront “the surge faction” before committing “so many lives to a strategy he never had the resolve to properly see through.”

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