Woodward Reveals Obama Wars Truths
Wednesday - July 13, 2011
In his book Obama’s Wars (September, 2010), Robert Woodward describes in great detail the process by which President Barack Obama and Defense Secretary Robert Gates, Gen. David Petraeus, Chief of Staff Adm. Mike Mullen and their respective staffs and advisers negotiated a strategy and time line for the Iraq-type “surge” and ultimate withdrawal of U.S. troops in Afghanistan.
Through Woodward’s narrative, the president made it clear the domestic political outcome was more important to him than the ultimate military outcome in Afghanistan.
Woodward describes the December 2009 scene where the president has summoned moderate Republican Sen. Lindsay Graham to the Oval Office to solicit his support in closing the terrorist prison at Guantanamo. Graham told him, “I don’t know if I can.” And furthermore, that to try any of the 9-11 suspects in civilian courts would be “a strategic blunder.” While leaving the Oval Office, Graham complimented the president on his speech at West Point, in which he had said U.S. troops would begin withdrawing from Afghanistan in July of 2011. He went on to ask, “But tell me about July, 2011. Is it a goal, which I would share, or is it a withdrawal date no matter what?”
Woodward, of Watergate fame, writes: “Obama didn’t answer immediately.”
“Let me tell you what Secretary Clinton said,” Graham explained standing in the doorway to the Oval Office. “She said it’s a policy based upon conditions.”
“Well,” the president said, “if you’d asked me that question, what I would say is, ‘We’re going to start leaving.’ I have to say that. I can’t let this be a war without end, and I can’t lose the whole Democratic Party.”
“Mr. President,” Graham said, “let’s just don’t let that statement get so much attention.” (Woodward: “That acknowledgement would make it difficult for the president to get Republican support.”)
“This is tough,” Obama replied, repeating his concern. “I can’t lose all the Democratic Party. And people at home don’t want to hear we’re going to be there for 10 years.”
“You’re right,” Graham said, “But the enemy is listening too.”
“Thank you,” the president replied.
End of scene!
Woodward makes it quite clear the president’s goal was to weaken the Taliban to the point they would be willing to stop fighting and negotiate a role in the Afghan government. Then elaborating further on the West Point speech: “The plan was for Afghanistan to eventually stand on its own two feet so the U.S. could ‘begin the transfer of our forces out of Afghanistan in July of 2011,’ he said. Without irony, Obama held up what was happening in Iraq as a model. ‘Just as we have done in Iraq, we will execute this transition responsibly, taking into account conditions on the ground.’
“There was no talk of victory or winning.”
Just as Graham implied, to give the enemy the impression that we are going to withdraw in a certain time frame is the most irresponsible thing we can do. They will simply bide their time. Any strategy that does not honor the sacrifices already made ensuring they were not made in vain is even more irresponsible; a strategy aimed at victory. And negotiating with the Taliban is like negotiating with a cobra. The Quran gives them permission to promise anything in the furtherance of Islamism. (The concept of Altaqiyya allows lying to one’s enemies in wartime ... which would be always in the extreme Taliban view. America learned this the hard way in trying to negotiate with Muslims on the release of captured ships’ crews in Tripoli in the 1800s.)
And using Iraq as a model of success is still “iffy.” As should have been expected, emboldened by the drawdown of American troops, Iran is now training sectarian fighters and suicide bombers to cross back into Iraq to raise havoc, seriously complicating the government’s effort to provide the necessary security for the consolidation of that nascent democracy.
What the president fails to understand is what the American people do understand: This war against fanatical Islamic terrorism has no end in the modern historical sense. Victory is measured not in peace or surrender treaties, but in the minimization of the threat by eliminating its roots, and lengthening times between successful major terrorist attacks, by whatever means necessary.
Mr. President, the American people of all political stripes are prepared to support you. The consequences of losing the war in Afghanistan would be far greater than “losing the Democratic Party.” And winning it would be the best re-election campaign strategy possible.
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