Obama’s Wars is the newest installment on Presidents and politics by Bob Woodward.
True to his reputation, Woodward gives a fly-on-the-wall perspective to the wars that President Barack Obama is waging. Woodward gives an inside view into combat operations in Afghanistan and Pakistan as well as the ongoing war within the Obama administration itself.
Woodward earned fame and wealth for his investigative reporting which helped bring down President Richard Nixon and lead to a best-seller he co-wrote with Carl Bernstein, All the President’s Men. That book shocked America.
Obama’s Wars is not as surprising as it is dismaying. It is a 428-page partial indictment of the Obama administration that is losing — yes losing — the war in Afghanistan and more importantly, it shows a President that may not be able to protect us.
According to the book, the Obama administration believes that Osama bin Laden is not only alive and well but he remains the principal architect engineering a Jihad that is of a greater threat to America now than it has been at any time since 9/11.
This comes to light after the newly formed Obama administration commissions top secret reports, one by CIA analyst Bruce Riedel. According to Woodward, the Riedel review states that key elements of the enemy reside in Pakistan; a superpower with 100 nuclear weapons that is fearful of India, paranoid about America and has an inept leader in President Asif Ali Zardari.
Woodward reveals that Pakistan’s intelligence services and members of its military are not only providing safe havens for Jihadists to train but, “that at least 20 al-Qaida converts with American, Canadian or European passports were being trained in Pakistani safe havens to return to their homelands to commit high-profile acts of terrorism.”
Woodward collected his information from insiders within the Obama administration and oftentimes provides too much detail, along the lines of a Tom Clancy novel.
Still some passages jump out, including interviews with the important players in administration even the President. We see in the President a man much more in tune with the political intrigues of a city like Chicago than he is with Pentagon planning for military strikes near Kabul.
In the book Obama spoke on the record:
“What you’ve seen is a metastasizing of al-Qaida, where a range of loosely affiliated groups now have the capacity and the ambition to recruit and train for attacks that may not be on the scale of a 9/11,” said the President, adding, “one man, one bomb… which could still have, obviously, an extraordinary traumatizing effect on the homeland.”
Tribal Warfare (Inside the Administration)
Woodward reports on infighting within the Obama administration. Senior military leaders describe the politics of the administration — politics for the Democratic Party and even personal politics.
Obama’s Wars includes insights from members of the administration like Lt. General Douglas Lute, President George W. Bush’s “war czar” and senior military advisor to Obama.
Lute spelled out the disharmony in Afghan terms:
“The Hillary Tribe lived at the State Department. The Chicago Tribe occupied (Senior Political Advisor David) Axelrod’s and (White House Chief of Staff Rahm) Emanuel’s offices. The campaign tribe was at NSC offices and included former Obama campaign aids, who flaunted their relationship with the President.”
Playing a leading role in this soap opera is Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. Many questions continue to swirl around Washington as to whether she is a team player after her bitter defeat to candidate Obama in the 2008 Primary. Her actions, even in the face of a national crisis, have done little to quiet such speculation.
In Chapter 19 in Obama’s Wars we see Secretary Clinton’s true colors:
“It was a crisis meeting on October 9, 2009 which Ms. Clinton opened with these words: ‘Mr. President, the dilemma you face…’
“On the back bench, press secretary (Robert) Gibbs noted that she said ‘you’ as if there was only one person in the boat and she and the others were at a pleasant distance…
“Clinton’s use of ‘you” also floored (Special Representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan Richard) Holbrooke, since she should have said ‘we’… It was a ‘Freudian giveaway,’ Holbrooke later told others. He thought Clinton felt detached from both the policy and the process.”
There are no White Knights in the book, not even Holbrooke who Woodward tells us is petty about such things as whether the President addresses him as Richard rather than Dick in front of Mrs. Holbrooke.
Holbrooke has other issues as well and they call into question the competency of the administration. According to Woodward, Holbrooke astounded members of the administration who were in the midst of a crisis meeting on Pakistan and India:
“Holbrooke introduced a new angle. ‘There’s a global warming dimension of this struggle, Mr. President,’ he said.
To a baffled room he continued:
“There are tens of thousands of Indian and Pakistani troops encamped on the glaciers in the Himalayas that feed the rivers into Pakistan and India, he said. Their encampments are melting the glaciers very quickly. There’s a chance that river valleys in Pakistan and perhaps even India could be flooded.”
After the meeting a lot of important people wanted to know if Holbrooke was kidding. To their shock it turned out he wasn’t.
Woodward also provides insights into a Federal government that is simply falling short.
We learn that Emanuel is shocked when he learns the latest intelligence on bin Laden. “What do you mean we don’t know where he is?” Emanuel explains to Bruce Riedel that some $50 billion a year is spent on intelligence. Then he repeats the question: “And you don’t have a clue where the most wanted man in the history of the world is?”
Woodward is somewhat critical of America’s intelligence services as well as the Bush administration. He points out we let the trail (on bin Laden) go cold back after 9/11 when the Bush administration turned to Iraq.
With Friends Like Pakistan Who Needs Enemies?
After reading Obama’s Wars you get an understanding that the political situation in Afghanistan, Pakistan and India is close to chaos. Little has changed with regard to that region in more than a century.
In the 19th Century, alliances were clouded and identifying the enemy was next to impossible. So too were strategic solutions which were sought unsuccessfully by the best and the brightest of that age.
Woodward takes us into the 21st Century and raises the stakes by including two explosive new elements: Global jihad and nuclear weapons. We learn that terrorists have come dangerously close to occupying areas near some of Pakistan’s nuclear arsenal.
And we also learn that America’s most strategically important alliance is with Afghanistan; a country whose President, Hamid Karzai, is a corrupt and paranoid manic-depressive. We also find out he may be a drug addict. Still, Obama continues to pour money and men into Afghanistan; to fight a war that many within the administration now admit can’t be won.
As a writer Woodward has come full circle. His career began when he became a reporter for The Washington Post in 1971. Early on he covered the events surrounding the Vietnam War; a conflict which the press revealed was unwinnable.
Almost 40 years later Woodward has written Obama’s Wars, a book about another untenable war with no clear objectives being waged by an incompetent commander in chief.