The war at home
Obama's team of Mean Girls exposed in new Bob Woodward book
It's pretty obvious that Bob Woodward's book, an inside look at the Obama administration, isn't just called Obama's Wars because of Afghanistan.
With The New York Times and The Washington Post both publishing excerpts before the book's official release on Monday, there are so many scoops it's hard to keep up.
Among them are that Afghan president Hamid Karzai is manic depressive and that the CIA in Afghanistan has a highly-trained 3,000-man "covert army" known as the Counterterrorism Pursuit Teams what conduct classified missions against Al-Qaeda and Afghan Taliban pockets in Pakistan.
But the thrust of Woodward's book is the intense disagreement and frustration among White House and Pentagon policymakers as to the direction of the near decade-old war in Afghanistan.
Obama is shown as persistently wary of creating another Vietnam, and his frustration with Pentagon officials mounted when they didn't provide him a military exit strategy after repeated requests and instead stuck with demands for a broadly-defined conflict that was estimated to last another 10 years and cost $889 billion.
Woodward says Obama finally designed his own policy, with the troop increase of 30,000 and a withdrawal timetable to begin in 2011, a smaller force than the 40,000 the Pentagon officials publicly demanded but more than the 20,000 recommended by Vice President Joe Biden as part of an alternative counterinsurgency strategy.
Military officials were so persistent in trying to increase the troop commitment and mission that Obama finally issued a six-page sheet of terms, reprinted in the book, delineating exactly what what the strategy's objectives are and what the army should and should not be doing in an attempt to prevent the military from expanding the mission.
Obama is quoted telling Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates, General David Petraeus and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs Adm. Mike Mullen that, "In 2010, we will not be having a conversation about how to do more. I will not want to hear, 'We're doing fine, Mr. President, but we'd be better if we just do more.' We're not going to be having a conversation about how to change (the mission) ... unless we're talking about how to draw down faster than anticipated in 2011."
Woodward names politics as part of Obama's motivation for the more limited increase, quoting Obama as telling Republican South Carolina Senator Lindsey Graham that “I can’t let this be a war without end, and I can’t lose the whole Democratic Party.”
Woodward also focuses on the unending conflicts between the president's advisers. Biden called special representative to Afghanistan and Pakistan Richard Holbrooke "the most egotistical bastard I’ve ever met.” National Security Advisor Jim Jones is particularly unpopular, and he returns the feelings, referring to the President's political advisors as "waterbugs," "Mafia," and the "Politburo." He is perhaps fortunate, then, that the only person more disliked is his deputy, Thomas E. Donilon, whose potential promotion Gates described as a "disaster."
Petraeus told aides he hated talking to Obama's political aide and former campaign director David Axelrod, describing him as "a complete spin doctor." Chief of Staff Rahm Emmanuel has conflicts with former national intelligence director Dennis Blair, who also fought with counter-terrorism advisor John O. Brennan before being forced out.
The titles may be important and the subjects they quarrel over might be vital to national security, but in some respects the men seem to be no different from the mean girls of the world, gossiping, name-calling and fighting for influence and power.