If what Robert Gates says about commander-in-chief Barack Obama is true, it is very troubling indeed.
Robert Gates, of course, was Secretary of Defense between 2006 and 2011. He was the only cabinet member from the George W. Bush administration to remain at the White House following Obama’s election in 2008. Mr. Gates earned the respect of Democrats and Republicans alike for his reputation as a level-headed and pragmatic military leader and he oversaw the troop surge in Afghanistan during the president’s first term in office. He is currently promoting a new book due to be published on January 14th, called Duty, in which he describes his experience serving as Secretary of Defense and eviscerates the current president for failing to truly support the mission in Afghanistan.
I must candidly inform Newsslinger readers that because I neither possess advance proofs of the memoir nor a time machine, I have not read Duty. (I’m presently slogging my way through Uncle Tom’s Cabin, which is written in a sentimental prose style that was popular in the 19th century but makes for slow going these days, if you’re curious.) What I have read are the numerous synopses of the book which reference Gates’ issues with Obama over the war in Afghanistan specifically, and the military in general (no pun intended).
Gates specific allegations include claiming that President Obama neither trusted General David Petraeus nor believed in his own military strategy, being “skeptical if not outright convinced it would fail.” He claims that Obama did not consider the Afghan war “to be his” and was focussed primarily on getting troops out of Afghanistan rather than defeating the enemy. Gates writes that he was “deeply uneasy with the Obama White House’s lack of appreciation – from the top down – of the uncertainties and inherent unpredictability of war.”
The strategy in question allotted some 30,000 troops to Afghanistan prior to a staggered troop withdrawal to begin in 2011. It may behoove us to recall that as a presidential candidate, Barack Obama claimed that the Afghanistan war was the one worthy of his military attentions, not the Iraq war. Yet once in office Obama’s relationship with the military was characterized by discord and distrust.
So on the one side we have candidate Obama’s bellicose exhortations in favor of the troop surge, coupled with the support of the civilian and military political establishment for the same. On the other side, of course, is the President’s personal view that the surge is a doomed strategy, a view fed in no small part by Vice-President Joe Biden, for whom Gates apparently reserves some of his most venomous rhetoric.
The reason that all of this is deeply troubling is not because the president wanted to draw down troops in Afghanistan. It is disturbing because it paints a picture of a man who has a dysfunctional relationship with the armed forces and seems willing to forgo his own convictions for the sake of political expedience.
President Obama believed that the surge was a mistake, yet he was willing to let American men and women die for it. To paraphrase Secretary of State John Kerry, how do you ask someone to die for a mistake?
You lie about it. You lie about your support for a war and a military strategy rather than resign or take a different path, one in which you believe.
Since 2011, 857 troops have died in Afghanistan, out of a total of 2303. This means that more than a third of these deaths occurred after the president implemented a miitary strategy that he did not support. Perhaps the president would care to explain to the parents, children, or other associated loved ones exactly why he acted so.
One clue lies elsewhere in Gates’ book. Gates alleges that both candidate Hilary Clinton and candidate Barack Obama expressed their opposition to the Iraq surge purely for political reasons, trying to woo primary voters to their respective sides. The war in Iraq was deeply unpopular at the time, while the war in Afghanistan was still seen by many as “the good war,” the one justified by the terrorist attacks of September 11th, 2001. So to oppose one and support the other was good political “strategery,” as a former Republican president might have called it.
What does the man Barack Obama really believe about other major initatives of his administration? Does he secretly believe that Obamacare is doomed to fail, yet willing to drive up health care costs in order to see it through for political ends?
No matter what the remaining years hold for President Obama, we can expect that other soothsayers will emerge to lay bare the pure cynicism that underlies the president’s happy talk of hope and change.
When LBJ realized the war in Vietnam was unwinnable, he declined to run for another term as President. He was unwilling to live with the blood of any more American boys and girls on his hands. If President Obama had any character, instead of merely being a character (a distinction Quentin Tarantino was happy to make for us in his timeless classic Pulp Fiction), and had refused to cooperate in a strategy he didn’t support, he should have resigned or demanded a withdrawal. A military strategy executed by a president who doesn’t believe in it isn’t just doomed to fail. It’s doomed to cause more causalties for American troops on the battlefield and more protest at home. How many of the 855 soldiers who have died in Afghanistan would be alive today had the president believed in his own plan, or else abdicated his throne rather than participate in such hypocrisy?
A White House divided against itself cannot stand. We shouldn’t stand for it either. Gates is no Edward Snowden, but he is still blowing a whistle, if we can hear it.
Thomas Davis – NEWSslinger Contributor