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Obama is the most poignant figure in Woodward's story

The poignant figure in Bob Woodward's story about Afghanistan is Barack Obama, the president who boasted during the campaign that he was going to fix Afghanistan and then discovered, month by month, just how hard that would be. By Woodward's account, Obama was looking for an exit from Afghanistan even as he sent 30,000 more U.S. combat troops there.

That's an untenable position. If the president doubted his strategy, he shouldn't have sent the troops. If he believes his war plan stands a chance of stabilizing Afghanistan so that he can transfer responsibility to the Afghans starting next July, then he must rally the public so that it understands and supports what he's doing.

Woodward shows us an Obama who is halfway to war, doubting his strategy even as he asks young men and women to die for it. That's the one thing a president must not do: Sacrifice lives for a policy he doesn't think can succeed.

This ambivalence is reflected all over the government.

It turns out that Gen. Stanley McChrystal, the former commander of NATO troops in Afghanistan, was the fall guy who took the rap for the Obama administration's backbiting on the war there. Woodward has documented that this internal feuding has been going on at every level of the government -- at the National Security Council, in the State Department and at the Pentagon.

President Obama has called his national-security leadership a "team of rivals," which gave this process of unending internal dissent a better name than it deserved. Even as Obama decided to take the country deeper into war in Afghanistan, officials continued to badmouth each other and give public support to a policy they privately doubted.

McChrystal's biggest mistake was simple inexperience with the media: He assembled a staff that, however adept it might have been at special operations, was dumb enough to let a reporter from Rolling Stone take notes while aides sat around in Paris drinking and taking potshots at administration officials back in Washington. Wrong, but hardly unique: Some of us wrote at the time that a fly on the wall at the NSC or State would have picked up remarks at least as bad. Woodward shows this.

Obama has tolerated this national-security food fight for longer than he should have. Now it's time to fix it, before the Afghanistan effort is completely lost. Gen. Jim Jones, the national security adviser, is likely to leave his post by the end of the year. That's a moment for making some other changes to deal with the frictions that Woodward's book describes.

The first priority is to fix the unwieldy structure known as the Office of the Special Representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan, headed by Richard Holbrooke. Woodward's book recounts what every observer of this process has known, which is that there has been a running battle between Jones and Holbrooke, whose aides and acolytes regularly hurled insults at the other.

But, in truth, this would have ended in a feud even if the two positions had been held by Mother Theresa and Mahatma Ghandi. Holbrooke's "Af-Pak" cell was assigned a job of inter-agency coordination that, in our government, should be the work of the NSC staff, headed by the national security adviser. Holbrooke has rare gifts as a diplomat, but next year he should be in a different job -- and the Af-Pak cell should be part of the NSC, where it belongs.

By David Ignatius  | September 22, 2010; 3:48 PM ET
Categories:  Ignatius  | Tags:  David Ignatius  
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Next: On terrorism, Barack Obama is no George W. Bush

Comments

This isn't "poignant" it's tragic. It shows that on Af-Pak he is out of his depth.

Putting American service personnel in harms way is not a political exercise. It is a matter of defining national goals and either achieving them, or being defeated.

A nation can not declare victory according to a time table and go home, and expect any other international player to respect that course of action.

Posted by: ArtieS1 | September 22, 2010 6:07 PM | Report abuse

Why do even the very smartest, most interesting writers around, including this one, keep spelling Mahatma Gandhi's name wrong?

Here is how to spell it correctly: Gandhi

You can even here the "h" in the second syllable if you listen carefully.

And yet, this is how it is spelled here, incorrectly: Ghandi

Why does this always happen? It seems like an incredibly simple name to spell. Six letters!

Posted by: fairfaxvoter1 | September 22, 2010 6:14 PM | Report abuse

Woodward shows us an Obama who is halfway to war, doubting his strategy even as he asks young men and women to die for it. That's the one thing a president must not do: Sacrifice lives for a policy he doesn't think can succeed.

=========================================

This is why there are all the nutty stories about people thinking he's a Muslim or not a Christian. The bottom line is that many Americans have their doubts about him; Does he really give a damn about our fighting men and women or what's best for America?

(Waiting for someone to make an irrelevant and asinine comparison to Bush......)

Posted by: bbface21 | September 22, 2010 6:16 PM | Report abuse

If it was easy to determine outcomes, or deal with insurgencies, then nice tidy binary decisions would what we have seen.

This isn't easy stuff we're doing. Combating insurgencies has a 7-15 year timeline in many cases. We're fighting imperialists, who basically are our enemies, the enemies of all their neighbors, and are even the enemy of those who they sucker into claiming alliance with.

While the "food fight" as it was derisively referred to might seem like a bad idea, the fact is we need debate. Sometimes it's coarse, sometimes it's gone too far in either direction, but we damned well need it. That's one of the things that goes with agility and adaptability. Disasters result when everyone is "on message" to the exclusion of dissent. That was one of Bush's huge errors. The fact is, our enemies don't want us working on this stuff in that manner because it helps us to win wars. They'll use whatever means they can to prevent that, and to steer our thinking away from rational examination of problems.


50 cent army fodder:
专制邪恶共惨党群體滅絕共匪九评共产党

Posted by: Nymous | September 22, 2010 6:44 PM | Report abuse

I quote Ignatius's comment. It's ridiculous:

"By Woodward's account, Obama was looking for an exit from Afghanistan even as he sent 30,000 more U.S. combat troops there. That's an untenable position."

Quite apart from any other thing, the military -- disloyally, insubordinately -- was refusing to supply suggestions for the sought exit. Again, the military -- disloyally, insubordinately -- was leaking to the US public its demands for more soldiers in Afghanistan, trying to create disaffection between the American people and the commander in chief. And succeeding, let's not forget.

On October 1, 2009, we learned that McChrystal didn't expect a military win in Afghanistan. After early excerpts from the new Woodward book, we know Petraeus and Obama don't expect it, either (September 2010). General McKiernan nearly two years ago was suggesting that victory was impossible, due to shifting Pentagon directions.

So what the hell are we really doing there? Helping generals keep up the defense budget?

Posted by: kunino | September 22, 2010 6:51 PM | Report abuse

Let me echo what another already has said: How is Obama "poignant" in the context of this story. I'll buy irresolute, incompetent, indefensible and, probably most apt, in over his head. But poignant? Please.

Posted by: TheEmpiricist | September 22, 2010 6:58 PM | Report abuse

Mullen should resign.

Posted by: GaryEMasters | September 22, 2010 7:22 PM | Report abuse

Obama is a craven, cynical community organizer civilian play acting as commander-in-chief.

Posted by: rdklingus | September 22, 2010 7:32 PM | Report abuse


Obama is not a leader. He is a politician.

What was left out of this blog was that Obama was asking for the exit strategy because he was worried of losing his Democratic base in the next two years.

That should send chills thru the bodies of those families who have troops in Afghanistan, that our troops are being used as political pawns.

And the book also revealed Obama doesn't care about winning the Afghan war.

I wonder what our troops risking their lives there are thinking now?

Posted by: janet8 | September 22, 2010 7:44 PM | Report abuse

Mother Teresa and Mahatma Gandhi

Posted by: VoterfromIL | September 22, 2010 7:53 PM | Report abuse

You don't bring together people of strong mind on serious matters without expecting arguments and fights over influence and policy. Strong personalities can take it. Ignatius, never a fan of Obama, wants the president to treat them like school kids, tell them to sit in their desks and be nice. I'd like to see Ignatius try that.

McChrystal's error was to let his dissing of the Commander in Chief go public. It's a bit different from insulting your rival advisers.

Only a childlike innocent would not have doubts about any approach to Afghanistan. Ignatius is saying in essence that the naive bravado of Bush was morally superior to Obama's careful attempt to find the best solution to a bad situation.

Let's be blunt. Ignatius is pugnacious; one of those toughies who is willing to commit others to bear the risk. If Obama were to follow the Ignatius/military line, we'd have twice the troops, twice the cost, twice impact on deficits, for the kind of illusory pursuit of 'victory' that characterized Vietnam, with the same outcome. If Ignatius is so concerned with the troops, he should start thinking of 50,000 dead. But the public, uncertain of the goal and the cost, would probably force and end long before - again a feckless exercise.

Obama believes it is possible, and worthwhile, to pursue a middle-range strategy that doesn't produce a total victory but keeps Afghanistan out of the Taliban's control at a cost acceptable to the public. It's an achievable end, a sustainable end. And that's a better end than tragedy following bluster.

Posted by: j3hess | September 22, 2010 8:36 PM | Report abuse

REGARDING CRITICISMS OF PRESIDENT OBAMA AND ADMIN BASED UPON EXCERPTS OF WOODWARD'S BOOK:

It is not "Dysfunctional" for the War Cabinet, who have ultimate responsibility to advise the Commander In Chief, to have differences of opinion in executing war plans before president has final say.

It is not unusual for a president to be concerned about his supporters when engaging American troops ....Public Support - Public Opinion Remember Vietnam? Lincoln, Roosevelt, Johnson, Nixon, Bush was also concerned about Public Opinion and Support...Remember?

Lincoln sent to General McClellan and a few of his other Generals a list of particulars, so did Roosevelt, Truman? Remember?

Presidents' are not always certain a strategy will win overall, but the overall goals must be attended until costs are weighed...this is what leadership is about?
This is why War is the last option....no guarantee of victory, only loss of lives....Someone has to lead!

Bob Woodward also published Bush at War....beginning and during War....Remember?

President Obama wrote his strategy for withdrawal and overall goals.....Didn't Lincoln do the same?

President Obama has a analytical and dispassionate outlook on assessing dangers to our society, thus the comments of worst case terrorists outcomes....
Would you folks prefer that he EMOTE?

Media are educated, but slow in understanding President Obama's over arcing reasoning ..acting more like help mates to the slow and biased thinking of Right Wing Lemmings.....

We expected better....These intellectual deficiencies of Media may cause all of us to lose by opening doorway to home grown demagogues.

Posted by: october30 | September 22, 2010 8:47 PM | Report abuse

REGARDING CRITICISMS OF PRESIDENT OBAMA AND ADMIN BASED UPON EXCERPTS OF WOODWARD'S BOOK:

It is not "Dysfunctional" for the War Cabinet, who have ultimate responsibility to advise the Commander In Chief, to have differences of opinion in executing war plans before president has final say.

It is not unusual for a president to be concerned about his supporters when engaging American troops ....Public Support - Public Opinion Remember Vietnam? Lincoln, Roosevelt, Johnson, Nixon, Bush was also concerned about Public Opinion and Support...Remember?

Lincoln sent to General McClellan and a few of his other Generals a list of particulars, so did Roosevelt, Truman? Remember?

Presidents' are not always certain a strategy will win overall, but the overall goals must be attended until costs are weighed...this is what leadership is about?
This is why War is the last option....no guarantee of victory, only loss of lives....Someone has to lead!

Bob Woodward also published Bush at War....beginning and during War....Remember?

President Obama wrote his strategy for withdrawal and overall goals.....Didn't Lincoln do the same?

President Obama has a analytical and dispassionate outlook on assessing dangers to our society, thus the comments of worst case terrorists outcomes....
Would you folks prefer that he EMOTE?

Media are educated, but slow in understanding President Obama's over arcing reasoning ..acting more like help mates to the slow and biased thinking of Right Wing Lemmings.....

We expected better....These intellectual deficiencies of Media may cause all of us to lose by opening doorway to home grown demagogues.

Posted by: october30 | September 22, 2010 8:49 PM | Report abuse

The root of all evil is the creation of Pakistan. A country created 63 years ago by design, which is unable to establish itself after all these years of support from the powers that created it. It is shame that Pakistan calls itself as a Islamic country. Other developing countries with majority Muslim population are charting a path of development, this country is trying to survive by aligning with which power needs them. People of Pakistan are as much eager to develop as any other people in the world but they are held hostage by the destiny created by shortsighted and ignorant powers using a feudal structure to control one of the oldest civilizations. Mr. Obama's vision is clear and beyond the understanding of many citizens of his own nation. He has understood the problem very well and he is on his path to a solution which will minimize the loss of life of his countrymen. I admire his wisdom and wish him all the best in his endeavor.

Posted by: GlobalCitizen3 | September 22, 2010 9:50 PM | Report abuse

And let me add as well that when I first saw the reference to Obama as a "poignant figure," I was equally baffled. Poignant? A guy who sends young people to die simple to further his political posturing? A guy who says that this country can "absorb" terrorist attacks, even on the scale of 9/11? One cannot be a sociopath and be "poignant," and Obama is a sociopath...except, of course, for things that affect him personally. It truly is mourning in America.

Posted by: RedderThanEver | September 22, 2010 9:53 PM | Report abuse

I suppose I'm condemned to be behind the curve on this one, as I don't expect to read Woodward's book for weeks. I keep thinking that Richard Nixon could have saved himself a lot of trouble by giving Bob Woodward the access the last two Presidents have. Given the choice between digging up real secrets and assembling a best-seller, there's no way Woodward would have gone for the first.

On one point Ignatius makes....look, it was pretty clear right from the start that some aspects of President Obama's administration were organized with a view toward ego management. He wanted Holbrooke on his team, Mitchell on his team, Hillary Clinton on his team, but Clinton had the "star power" -- i.e. celebrity -- and needed to be Secretary of State. Holbrooke, who should have been Secretary of State, wouldn't have accepted a mere Assistant Secretaryship, and so had to be made a Special Envoy with authority that overlapped established lines of authority inside and outside of the State Department. Mitchell didn't want to be an Ambassador or Assistant Secretary either -- he'd been a big wheel in Washington for too long, and had laurels from the peace negotiations over Northern Ireland -- so he had to be made a Special Envoy too.

Naturally a team assembled in this way was going to have devote a huge amount of time to the task of getting along with one another. We don't need Bob Woodward to tell us that Obama's team has had to do just that. But on the specific question of handling the Afghanistan/Pakistan portfolio, it doesn't matter so much which office is charged with coordinating policy. It could be the NSC, or the Pentagon. It ought to be the State Department -- which would require a strong Secretary of State charged (and seen by officials of other departments to be charged) with running foreign policy. We don't have that kind of Secretary now, and aren't going to. What's required for any arrangement to work is for Obama to get behind one official and give that official authority to make it work. That means throwing ego management over the side.

Posted by: jbritt3 | September 22, 2010 10:52 PM | Report abuse

Technicality is my speciality.I am some one who met or was at closest proximity within feets of Mother Teresha and Mahatma Gandhi.On question whether Prez Obama is unilateral convert or Moses was a Muslim who designed Muslim 5 prayers /day in time travel at Alaqsa.This happened in splits of second travel journey worth many years by earth calculation.Prez had both Muslim Parents and had early quran learning.Later he was raised by Christian Grand parents and he married a Christian wife.This makes President Obama a presumed Christian Convert.Prophet of Islam jointly with Moses got 50times /day prayer had it reduced to 5/day (even each for couple of minutes Fard(manadatory)after Jerusalem's Alaqsa joint prayer episode with other top figure in Theology.Prez did start dialogue with Muslims but not quite in withdrawal technicality.

Posted by: zakaria_belal | September 23, 2010 2:11 AM | Report abuse

Technicality of Quran Theology of Bible Torah can be proven as genuine if scientists on earth prove that Time travel resulting in
muslim prayer with Moses was or is possible by human understanding of time travel called Islamic Miraj or relativity.If not above is false and people need not be religious.

Posted by: zakaria_belal | September 23, 2010 2:26 AM | Report abuse

More evidence... that VP Joe Biden's observation: "Obama is not ready to be Commander-in-Chief" during the Dem campaign was spot on.

Soldiers are dying not for victory but withdrawal and defeat ?

Tragic.

Posted by: pvilso24 | September 23, 2010 12:11 PM | Report abuse

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