Excuse me while I defend President Obama.
To be sure, this doesn’t happen often, if ever. But this Robert Gates story, whipping through Washington like wildfire, feels like smoke in our eyes.
It all started with an article by Bob Woodward in the Washington Post about the former secretary of defense’s new memoir, “Duty: Memoirs of a Secretary at War.” Gates, Woodward writes, had concluded “by early 2010 (that) the president ‘doesn’t believe in his own strategy, and doesn’t consider the war (in Afghanistan) to be his. For him, it’s all about getting out.’”
Getting out: my one, probably accidental, convergence with Obama. But I digress.
Woodward continues: “Leveling one of the more serious charges that a defense secretary could make against a commander in chief sending forces into combat, Gates asserts that Obama had more than doubts about the course he had charted in Afghanistan. The president was ‘skeptical if not outright convinced it would fail,’ Gates writes.”
A commander in chief sends Americans to war “convinced it would fail”? The ensuing dudgeon has never been higher among Obama’s critics, which, of course, should include me.
But there are a couple of points to take into account about this particular revelation from the Gates book via Woodward (the book’s release date is Jan. 14).
First, I found myself lingering over Woodward’s description of “the president’s own strategy.” To be sure, any war Obama fights as president belongs to him, but there is more to this story. Back in 2010, I recall reading a shocking insider account about how the military brass virtually imposed the Afghanistan “surge” strategy on Obama. The headline over this earlier Washington Post story was: “Military thwarted president seeking choice on Afghanistan.” The writer was again Bob Woodward. In fact, the earlier article, one of a three-part series, was adapted from Woodward’s 2010 book “Obama’s Wars.”
I wrote about this series at the time (“Hail to the Junta?”), noting: “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.”
The other side of the new Gates assessment, to be sure.