Obama’s Conflicts

Bob Woodward’s book, Obama’s War, hit shelves this week amidst turf wars in the White House between war advisors and political advisers. This is wholly appropriate. While the book paints Obama as a strategic war president, a man dedicated to closely considering all strategies before independently creating his own policy, the book’s main aftershock is to impress its readers with the depths of the infighting between advisers, preventing the unfolding of any true independent strategy: Biden shouting comparisons between Vietnam and Afghanistan; Obama’s hard stance on withdrawal and his struggle with McChrystal; and the tempestuous relationship between General Patreus and David Axelrod. All debate in the White House, covered over the course of this 464 page book, is focused on Obama’s six page plan for Afghanistan, which calls for withdrawal in July 2011. The policy doesn’t take into account military demands because military leaders didn’t want to negotiate. Their commitment to an indefinite time line along with added troop support was and still remains unwavering.
The elements mentioned above are the major talking points on Woodward’s tour to promote the book, an inside look at Afghanistan policy and Obama’s abilities as a war president. My main criticism is not of the book itself but of Obama’s performance, portrayed in the book — specifically, of his apparent ignorance of the link between lawlessness in Afghanistan and potential attacks on the U.S. In the book Obama claims that a nuclear attack is at the top of the list of things he worries about. He also mentions the resiliency and ability of the American people to “absorb a terrorist attack.” Obama seems to be in a permanent state of worry about the inevitably of a terrorist attack on US soil. He claims in an interview with Woodward that “we’ll do everything we can to prevent it, but even a 9/11, even the biggest attack ever that took place on our soil, we absorbed it and we are stronger.” Obama’s attitude seems to be in line with his plans for withdrawal.
The potential threat of a terrorist attack on US soil will increase when the US leaves Afghanistan, and if Obama’s plan is executed, the US will leave Afghanistan in a lawless state. The threat of nuclear attack becomes even more tangible when we take into account the use of Pakistan, a nuclear nation, as a safe haven for Taliban fighters. As presented in Woodward’s book, Pakistan is the home base for the Taliban and Afghanistan is the front line. What is difficult to reconcile is Obama’s plan for what can only be described as premature troop withdrawal and his worries on national security. The state of national security and the potential for terrorist attacks is highly contingent on the United State’s initiatives in Afghanistan. This seems to be something that Obama realizes given his words on America’s resilience, but it is not reflected in his policy decisions.
Photo credit: Simon & Schuster

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