In a new memoir, former defense secretary Robert Gates unleashes harsh judgments about President Obama’s leadership and his commitment to the Afghanistan war, writing that by early 2010 he had concluded the president “doesn’t believe in his own strategy, and doesn’t consider the war to be his. For him, it’s all about getting out.”
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 in “Duty: Memoirs of a Secretary at War.”
Obama, after months of contentious discussion with Gates and other top advisers, deployed 30,000 more troops in a final push to stabilize Afghanistan before a phased withdrawal beginning in mid-2011. “I never doubted Obama’s support for the troops, only his support for their mission,” Gates writes.
Well, knock me over with a feather! You mean to tell me that Obama, who had run as an anti-war Democrat, turned out in office to be... an anti-war Democrat? Do tell!
Look, I think Obama is a terrible President. And I think he has absolutely screwed the pooch across the Middle East from Libya to Palestine to Syria to Iraq to Iran. But what do we really learn here? That Obama was skeptical about whether the surge of 30,000 troops in Afghanistan would work? Hmmmm... pretty much everyone was skeptical, including yours truly. That Obama didn't consider the war to be his? Again, Obama is terrible, but in fairness this revelation by Gates was just over a year into his Presidency and he had, in fact, inherited the war from George W. Bush. That it was all about getting out for Obama? Sheesh.... who didn't know that? He had promised that in his campaign, after all.
Again, I hold no brief for Obama whatsoever. But the Afghanistan War was a lose-lose proposition for him. Surge 30,000 troops, or 300,000 for that matter, take thousands of casualties, or tens of thousands, and you still can't civilize a fundamentally tribal and pre-modern culture... you can't "nation-build," because there's no "nation" there to begin with. Or... withdraw immediately and have American look even weaker and have Republicans (like me) lambaste you as a coward and surrender-monkey.
Frankly, I sort of sympathize with Obama on this one. What should have happened in Afghanistan should have happened seven years before he became President. Bush should have gone in, taken down the Taliban, captured a couple of hundred al Qaeda and then, on worldwide TV, he should have announced that the al Qaeda fighters are lawless, un-uniformed combatants in violation of the Geneva Convention and all civilized laws of war and, under those laws, are subject to summary execution upon capture. And then (this part not on TV), he should have ordered their execution. Then he should have gone to the Saudis and demanded complete transparency and access to their financial records, and said that, if they didn't comply, he would order the destruction of all of their oil fields if so much as a dollar of their money found its way into the hands of any terrorist or terrorist front organizations. Then he should have gotten out of Afghanistan.
But we didn't do that. And so we are in the second decade of a war in Afghanistan that we are going to end up losing. And, frankly, I find it hard to blame Obama too much for that, as much as I would like to.