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The Mystery behind ‘Obama’s Wars’

Everybody loves a good mystery, so Robert Woodward’s new book ‘Obama’s Wars’ should be a big hit. “Wait,” you may say. “I thought this was a factual account of the deep division in the Obama administration over Afghanistan war policy.” You would be correct, and it is well documented, detailed, and devastating.

But, what is the mystery?

The title. Yes, the title says ‘Wars’ but it is really about just one war, Afghanistan, and specifically about the decision to increase troop levels—the surge.  So why did Woodward call it ‘Wars’?

The book reveals a wide chasm between the core of the Obama administration and the Pentagon, a rift that is much more serious than previously disclosed. It also reveals a President lacking in leadership, in over his head, squeezed between his political impulses and a sobering reality. In many ways, Obama makes former president Jimmy Carter look like a genius.

One side of the divide is the civilian administration headed by vice-president Joe Biden who is pitted against Generals David Petraeus, Stanley McChrystal, and the rest of the Pentagon. To call the atmosphere  contentious would be an understatement.

The portrayals are vivid. Obama comes off as detached and naïve, Biden pontificates, Hillary floats like a butterfly, and [Richard] Holbrooke stings like a bee.

One character who appears throughout  the narrative is former Fannie Mae in-house counsel Tom Donilon who is portrayed as a political hack and a loose cannon. After reading this book, I saw clearly there could not be a worse candidate for National Security Adviser than Donilon who just got a recess appointment. But Obama seems to like incompetence and arrogance, and Donilon has both.

In one exchange, then National Security Adviser Gen. Jim Jones told Donilon that he was too quick to "sound off with absolute declarations" about places he had never been and leaders he had never met, in addition to a disturbing tendency to make negative comments about his colleagues. 

Sec. of Defense Robert Gates said that Donilon would be a “disaster” as NSA.

Donilon is an Obama insider who had greater access to Obama than anyone else, including his boss, NSA Jones. And Donilon is portrayed as highly suspicious, distrustful and jealous of the military.

The book is a good read, and I highly recommend it.

The mystery in the plural ‘Wars’ is revealed as applying not to conflicts in Afghanistan or Iraq, but to the wars between the Obama administration and the military establishment.  And judging by the book, those wars are likely to intensify. [Review by Gene Retske/Oct.12, 2010]

Guest columnist Gene Retske is a professional journalist who has written for a variety of trade and general interest publications, including Newsweek. He is a long time member of the National Press Club of Washington, DC and the Society of Professional Journalists. 


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