Obama the Military Strategist?

Posted by Bridgette

Obama’s Battles With Advisers Over Exit Plan For Afghan War

Bob Woodward’s Book Details

By Steve Luxenberg, Washington Post
September 22, 2010

President Obama urgently looked for a way out of the war in Afghanistan last year, repeatedly pressing his top military advisers for an exit plan that they never gave him, according to secret meeting notes and documents cited in a new book by journalist Bob Woodward.

Frustrated with his military commanders for consistently offering only options that required significantly more troops, Obama finally crafted his own strategy, dictating a classified six-page “terms sheet” that sought to limit U.S. involvement, Woodward reports in Obama’s Wars, to be released on Monday.

According to Woodward’s meeting-by-meeting, memo-by-memo account of the 2009 Afghan strategy review, the president avoided talk of victory as he described his objectives.

“This needs to be a plan about how we’re going to hand it off and get out of Afghanistan,” Obama is quoted as telling White House aides as he laid out his reasons for adding 30,000 troops in a short-term escalation. “Everything we’re doing has to be focused on how we’re going to get to the point where we can reduce our footprint. It’s in our national security interest. There cannot be any wiggle room.”

Obama rejected the military’s request for 40,000 troops as part of an expansive mission that had no foreseeable end.  “I’m not doing 10 years,” he told Secretary of Defense Robert M. Gates and Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton at a meeting on Oct. 26, 2009. “I’m not doing long-term nation-building. I am not spending a trillion dollars.”

Woodward’s book portrays Obama and the White House as barraged by warnings about the threat of terrorist attacks on U.S. soil and confronted with the difficulty in preventing them. During an interview with Woodward in July, the president said, “We can absorb a terrorist attack. We’ll do everything we can to prevent it, but even a 9/11, even the biggest attack ever . . . we absorbed it and we are stronger.”

But most of the book centers on the strategy review, and the dissension, distrust and infighting that consumed Obama’s national security team as it was locked in a fierce and emotional struggle over the direction, goals, timetable, troop levels and the chances of success for a war that is almost certain to be one of the defining events of this presidency.

Obama is shown at odds with his uniformed military commanders, particularly Adm. Mike Mullen, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and Gen. David H. Petraeus, head of U.S. Central Command during the 2009 strategy review and now the top U.S. and NATO commander in Afghanistan.

Woodward reveals their conflicts through detailed accounts of two dozen closed-door secret strategy sessions and nearly 40 private conversations between Obama and Cabinet officers, key aides and intelligence officials.

Tensions often turned personal. National security adviser James L. Jones privately referred to Obama’s political aides as “the water bugs,” the “Politburo,” the “Mafia,” or the “campaign set.”

Petraeus, who felt shut out by the new administration, told an aide that he considered the president’s senior adviser David Axelrod to be “a complete spin doctor.

During a flight in May, after a glass of wine, Petraeus told his own staffers that the administration was “[expletive] with the wrong guy.” Gates was tempted to walk out of an Oval Office meeting after being offended by comments made by deputy national security adviser Thomas E. Donilon about a general not named in the book.

Suspicion lingered among some from the 2008 presidential campaign as well.

When Obama floated the idea of naming Clinton to a high-profile post, Axelrod asked him, “How could you trust Hillary?”

Can’t afford any mistakes

Among the book’s other disclosures:

— Obama told Woodward in the July interview that he didn’t think about the Afghan war in the “classic” terms of the United States winning or losing. “I think about it more in terms of:   Do you successfully prosecute a strategy that results in the country being stronger rather than weaker at the end?” he said.

— The CIA created, controls and pays for a clandestine 3,000-man paramilitary army of local Afghans, known as Counter-terrorism Pursuit Teams.  Woodward describes these teams as elite, well-trained units that conduct highly sensitive covert operations into Pakistan as part of a stepped-up campaign against al-Qaeda and Afghan Taliban havens there.

— Obama has kept in place or expanded 14 intelligence orders, known as findings, issued by his predecessor, George W. Bush. The orders provide the legal basis for the CIA’s worldwide covert operations.

— A new capability developed by the National Security Agency has dramatically increased the speed at which intercepted communications can be turned around into useful information for intelligence analysts and covert operators.

“They talk, we listen. They move, we observe. Given the opportunity, we react operationally,” then-Director of National Intelligence Mike McConnell explained to Obama at a briefing two days after he was elected president.

– A classified exercise in May showed that the government was woefully unprepared to deal with a nuclear terrorist attack in the United States. The scenario involved the detonation of a small, crude nuclear weapon in Indianapolis and the simultaneous threat of a second blast in Los Angeles.

Obama, in the interview with Woodward, called a nuclear attack here “a potential game changer.”   He said:   “When I go down the list of things I have to worry about all the time, that is at the top, because that’s one where you can’t afford any mistakes.”

Afghan President Hamid Karzai was diagnosed as manic depressive, according to U.S. intelligence reports. “He’s on his meds, he’s off his meds,”

Woodward quotes U.S. Ambassador Karl W. Eikenberry as saying. ‘The cancer is in Pakistan’

Obama campaigned on a promise to extract U.S. forces from Iraq and focus on Afghanistan and Pakistan, which he described as the greater threat to American security.   At McConnell’s top-secret briefing for Obama, the intelligence chief told the president-elect that Pakistan is a dishonest partner, unwilling or unable to stop elements of the Pakistani intelligence service from giving clandestine aid, weapons and money to the Afghan Taliban, Woodward writes.

By the end of the 2009 strategy review, Woodward reports, Obama concluded that no mission in Afghanistan could be successful without attacking the al-Qaeda and Afghan Taliban havens operating with impunity in Pakistan’s remote tribal regions.

“We need to make clear to people that the cancer is in Pakistan,” Obama is quoted as saying at an Oval Office meeting on Nov. 25, 2009.  Creating a more secure Afghanistan is imperative, the president said, “so the cancer doesn’t spread” there.

The war in Iraq draws no attention in the book, except as a reference point for  considering and developing a new Afghanistan strategy. The book’s title, “Obama’s Wars,” appears to refer to the conflict in Afghanistan and the conflicts among the president’s national security team.

An older war – the Vietnam conflict – does figure prominently in the minds of Obama and his advisers. When Vice President Biden rushed to the White House on a Sunday morning to make one last appeal for a narrowly defined mission, he warned Obama that a major escalation would mean “we’re locked into Vietnam.”

Obama kept asking for “an exit plan” to go along with any further troop commitment, and is shown growing increasingly frustrated with the military hierarchy for not providing one. At one strategy session, the president waved a memo from the Office of Management and Budget, which put a price tag of $889 billion over 10 years on the military’s open-ended approach.

In the end, Obama essentially designed his own strategy for the 30,000 troops, which some aides considered a compromise between the military command’s request for 40,000 and Biden’s relentless efforts to limit the escalation to 20,000 as part of a “hybrid option” that he had developed with Gen. James E. Cartwright, the vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

In a dramatic scene at the White House on Sunday, Nov. 29, 2009, Obama summoned the national security team to outline his decision and distribute his six-page terms sheet.   He went around the room, one by one, asking each participant whether he or she had any objections – to “say so now,”  Woodward reports.

The document – a copy of which is reprinted in the book – took the unusual step of stating, along with the strategy’s objectives, what the military was NOT supposed to do. The president went into detail, according to Woodward, to make sure that the military wouldn’t attempt to expand the mission.

After Obama informed the military of his decision, Woodward writes, the Pentagon kept trying to reopen the decision,  peppering the White House with new questions.   Obama, in exasperation, reacted by asking, “Why do we keep having these meetings?”

Along with Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal, the top U.S. commander in Afghanistan at the time, they kept pushing for their 40,000-troop option as part of a broad counterinsurgency plan along the lines of what Petraeus had developed for Iraq.

The president is quoted as telling Mullen, Petraeus and Gates:  “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.”

Petraeus took Obama’s decision as a personal repudiation, Woodward writes.  Petraeus continued to believe that a “protect-the-Afghan-people” counterinsurgency was the best plan. When the president tapped Petraeus this year to replace McChrystal as the head of U.S. and NATO forces in Afghanistan, Petraeus found himself in charge of making Obama’s more limited strategy a success.

Woodward quotes Petraeus as saying, “You have to recognize also that I don’t think you win this war.  I think you keep fighting.  It’s a little bit like Iraq, actually.

. . . Yes, there has been enormous progress in Iraq. But there are still horrific attacks in Iraq, and you have to stay vigilant. You have to stay after it. This is the kind of fight we’re in for the rest of our lives and probably our kids’ lives.”

13 responses to “Obama the Military Strategist?

  1. Can you imagine the arrogance of this man that he writes a strategy for the military to follow? The man who has no background or knowledge of how the military conducts their business, is presenting to the generals his grand ideas! Does he think war is like playing basketball and so as the coach he wrote the plays for them to follow? Can you imagine how aghast they were in being handed a six page military “play book”?

    He puts his leftist politics above US safety as well as our troops. He is unfit to be the CIC, and it is no wonder there were problems dealing with him. Why listen to the military generals? He didn’t want to talk to them. He just wanted his playbook used. He wondered why they wanted more meetings …with a war going on?

    This is shocking. I was glad to read that the generals kept calling meetings to try to educate and put some sense into his head.

    Expect heavy downplaying by the White House while they are shaking in their boots. Then they will be dealing with Pres. Karzai as well; who may or may not be on his meds today!

    And what is Obama doing today…trying to sell the friggin’ health care bill once again. The last polls revealed that 70% of the US want it repealed. He doesn’t get it! He still thinks the masses are stupid and he has to educate them as to the brilliance of his bill that no one in Congress read or wrote.

  2. I just heard this on FOX that Obama is now working in “Bunker” mode. In other words, he is relying less and less on fewer and fewer people. He is acting impotent in foreign affairs etc. This is not good for the country.

  3. One thing is perfectly clear: Obama does not want ANY US “victory” over ANY Muslim country. End of story. btw, which country is he interested in making stronger? Not this one, apparently. You don’t make a country stronger by acting like craven cowards, running from your own shadow. Bowing to foreign potentates.

  4. Woodward book: Obama wanted too much for too little in Afghanistan
    Thursday, September 23, 2010 Snips

    The White House is attempting to make the President Obama sound heroic for insisting on an exit strategy, when in fact the president’s behavior — as described in Woodward’s book — betrays a discouraging incapacity as commander in chief. The president repeatedly presses for an exit strategy and resents the military for not “giving him options.”

    White House aides during the review talked resentfully of the military “boxing the president in.” What Woodward’s book makes clear is that the president’s own rhetoric about Afghanistan boxed him in. Obama is blaming the military for the difficulties in achieving the objectives he set — the objectives he solemnly told the nation were crucial for our national security.


  5. Giuliani criticizes Obama’s handling of Afghan war
    The former New York mayor says the president’s focus on an exit strategy emboldens the enemy.
    September 22, 2010

    Reporting from Washington — Former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani used revelations in a new book about the Obama administration to criticize the president’s handling of the war in Afghanistan, saying his insistence on an exit strategy has put American forces at greater risk.

    Giuliani also took issue with a quote attributed to President Obama by author Bob Woodward that the country could “absorb” another terrorist attack like the one suffered in September 2001.

    “I don’t know that I would have said that,” Giuliani told reporters on a conference call Wednesday. “The country has to be prepared for anything that can happen, and will deal with anything that would happen. I would prefer the president would put his efforts into doing everything to prevent another September 11.”


  6. If D.C. Can Leak, Why Can’t WikiLeaks?
    September 23, 2010 – 6:23 PM Snips

    And then there were Woodward’s revelations about politically sensitive conversations between Pakistan President Asif Zardari and the CIA about the escalating assassination campaign of Al Qaeda leaders by CIA drones in Pakistan’s tribal areas.

    “Kill the seniors,” the Pakistan President reportedly told the CIA chief. “Collateral damage worries you Americans. It does not worry me.”

    The White House actively cooperated with Bob Woodward even ordering some in the Pentagon to talk to the Washington Post journalist. Sources tell Fox that classified conversations from inside the Situation Room were so detailed they could have only come from a transcript.

    In the past Secretary Gates has ordered a crackdown on leakers following a spate of classified revelations during his tenure, but there was no outrage today because in this case it was the Pentagon and White House, officially, that provided the leaks.

    Read more: http://liveshots.blogs.foxnews.com/2010/09/23/if-d-c-can-leak-why-can%E2%80%99t-wikileaks/#ixzz10P4XvLq0

  7. So, a big dumb question from me:

    The WH actively participated in getting this stuff published. Why do that? It’s not flattering stuff. Well, not what I’ve seen so far.

    • I agree Ladysforest it is so odd. I guess it depends on if the a team is controling or the b team. If it is to someone’s advantage something comes out or to smear someone in particular, it is on the front page. If something someone wants covered up, it gets hidden. The volley ball game has started now. The smeared people will get fed up and start spiking the ball back. I keep thinking a hand is making these things happen to paint things a certain way but we can soon judge for ourselves. I hate manipulators.It is a royal mess.

    • because they’re idealogs…there is no connection with reality…they thrive on themselves. He is pacifying the left.

  8. Yes, it definitely smacks of mass manipulation. There is something weird behind this stuff being “leaked”. It’s way too tidy.

  9. O’Reilly interviewing Bob Woodward tonight

    Tension between Biden and Obama? Does Obama trust Biden’s opinion? Obama trusts his own abilities to figure out how to solve the Afghan war. Obama thinks he is the smartest guy in the room per Woodward!

    60 “verbatim” quotes in his book reveal how Obama thinks.
    Is Obama fighting to win? Obama said, ” I don’t look at winning or losing the war..”

    Contrast Pres. Bush, who was a gut player. His people around him knew the world. He was focused on the threat and Iraq war. ” I believe we have a duty to free people, to liberate them.” Obama does not have that viewpoint. After 40,000 troops are sent to Afghanistan, Obama said if he didn’t send any, nothing would make Rahm happier!

    Obama does not listen to Hillary …and Woodward said that is absolutely true. She has no impact on him on any issue. Obama relies on Panetta.

    Obama told Woodward, that “you have better sources than I do.” Have you ever thought of being in the CIA? [My, that is comforting, isn’t it?]

    What the hell does he look at if not winning or losing is my own question. Just getting out of Afghanistan is it? Therefore, it is…a loss.
    Obama’s “I wants” get in the way of “WE want.” What a smuck !

  10. Just after Woodward, it was announced that Obama gave an interview to “Rolling Stone”! The rag, er magazine that brought down Gen. McChrystal gets an interview with Obama. How astounding! How low class.

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