Today’s front-page Washington Post story on Bob Woodward’s book, Obama’s Wars, scheduled for release next week, provides disturbing revelations about President Obama’s views on terrorism and his lack of commitment to securing Afghanistan. The book apparently details how Obama is desperately seeking to get out of the war in Afghanistan, regardless of the consequences for U.S. national security, and is quoted as telling Woodward, “We can absorb a terrorist attack.”
The article reveals that during the drawn-out Afghanistan strategy review last fall, Obama was more interested in mapping out an exit plan than in achieving U.S. goals in the region that would help avert another terrorist attack on U.S. soil. It is now clear that the U.S. military has been asked to achieve its goals in Afghanistan without the level of troops they requested and in an unrealistic timeframe. General Petraeus will continue to seek gains in Afghanistan with the resources at hand, but will likely balk at any suggestion of a major drawdown of U.S. troops next summer.
The article does not spell out why President Obama is so loath to live up to his campaign calls for strengthening U.S. commitment to stabilizing Afghanistan. Any argument that the U.S. military is over-stretched has been blunted by the draw-down of troops in Iraq, which is providing breathing space for the U.S. military to sustain a long-term commitment to Afghanistan. So one reason for his ambivalence may be a desire to avoid being viewed as a “war-time” president and instead make his mark through a broad-based domestic agenda.
The tragedy is by under-resourcing and de-prioritizing the Afghanistan war, Obama is sacrificing crucial U.S. national security interests and leaving the American people more vulnerable to future terrorist attacks. An early exit from Afghanistan would shore up al-Qaeda and like-minded terrorists and once again provide them with a safe-haven from which to conduct their deadly attacks against the U.S. and other nations.
Woodward’s book shows President Obama is deeply at odds with his military leadership over the way forward in Afghanistan. Unless a new page is turned in the Afghanistan war effort, these divisions will increasingly demoralize U.S. troops and deepen the American public’s confusion and frustration with the war. To avoid this disastrous situation, the Obama administration could follow through with the suggestion of respected Virginia Congressman Frank Wolf to establish a bipartisan, non-government Afghanistan-Pakistan study group, along the lines of the Iraq study group. This kind of group would have the advantage of providing recommendations that are untainted by political calculations and premised only on U.S. national security interests. The establishment and work of such a group could help restore an elevated debate on what exactly we are trying to achieve in the region and how best to do so.