Bob Woodward's latest publishing event, "Obama's Wars," includes maybe the most significant scoop of his career: Directing not only Obama's wars, but also America's, is a veritable military junta.
I exaggerate -- some. Frankly, I don't know how else to assess the information in Washington Post excerpts of Woodward's coverage of the deliberations leading up to President Obama's decision last year to send 30,000 additional troops to Afghanistan. The stories -- anonymously sourced as usual and, as such, questionable even as they undoubtedly influence subsequent coverage -- describe a president frustrated, ill-served and finally overwhelmed by military muscle concentrated in the hands of Defense Secretary Gates, Joint Chiefs Chairman Mullen and then-CENTCOM chief Petraeus (all longtime regulars, if not favorites, of this column). Headline No. 1 says it all: "Military thwarted president seeking choice in Afghanistan." If the military "thwarts" a president, the president isn't in charge, which is not a good thing unless military dictatorships are your bag.
As Woodward frames the behind-the-scenes struggle, Obama "was looking for choices that would limit U.S. involvement and provide a way out." Meanwhile, "his top three military advisers were unrelenting advocates for 40,000 more troops and an expanded mission that seemed to have no clear end."
But the problem wasn't that the military men pushed their pet strategy, it was that they failed to present the president with alternatives as asked, bidden and ordered.
For example, Woodward writes: "When Mullen learned of the hybrid option" -- Vice President Biden's plan to eschew nation-building and focus on Taliban-hunting and training Afghans -- "he (Mullen) didn't want to take it to Obama. `We're not providing that,'" he told Joint Chiefs Vice Chairman Gen. James E. Cartright.
"We're" not? Who do "we" think "we" are?
Obama heard about the option anyway and "instructed Gates and Mullen to present it." Woodward continues: "Mullen had other ideas" -- namely, a war game exercise "to support his case against the option." What comes next describes something rotten in the chain of command. According to Woodward's reporting, the Joint Chiefs Chairman went on to rig the wheel, in effect, against the hybrid option by failing to take it completely through war game exercises -- a halfway effort attended by Mullen and, not incidentally, Petraeus. At a meeting with Obama a few weeks later, Woodward writes, "Petraeus cited the war game as evidence that the hybrid option would not work. ... 'OK,' Obama said. `If you tell me that we can't do that, and you war-gamed it, I'll accept that.'" Then: "No one contradicted the claim."