previous post next post  

Obama's Wars, a guest book review.

I was offered a review copy of Obama's Wars, but decided since I knew someone who had a "been there, done that, got the t-shirt" perspective on Afghanistan, the Heartless Libertarian, I would forward the book on to him for his take, which will have the advantage of not being purely Fort Living Room, like mine would be.  I'll let HL pick up the thread from here.

(Note: the author of this review provided information for GEN McChrystal’s 60 day review while serving as a staff officer in Regional Command – East in Afghanistan, and later was a minor participant in the development of ISAF’s operational campaign plan in the summer-fall of 2009.)

With Obama’s Wars, Bob Woodward brings us his latest installment in his series of looks inside White House national security decision making. The title is a bit misleading, since the focus is almost entirely on Afghanistan, with the war in Iraq playing only a cameo role.

Woodward is, by training and experience, a newspaper reporter, and this book, like its predecessors covering the Bush administration, show that. Reporters like to say that they are “writing the first draft of history,” but a prospective historian, I find the lack of sourcing for many of the assertions made in the course of the book frustrating. I can only hope that, at some point in the future, Mr. Woodward will make his notes available to historians writing the history of America’s first war of the 21st century.

Somewhat disappointingly, the book focuses almost exclusively on the people immediately in and around the National Security Council – those in the Defense and State Departments, intelligence community, military commanders, and National Security Advisor Jim Jones and his deputies, plus President Obama and Vice President Biden. Other key members of the Administration who undoubtedly influenced the President’s decisions – especially White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel and senior advisor David Axelrod. Woodward at one point records complaints from NCS personnel about the political team – who liken them to “waterbugs” – but the conversations and interaction between the political advisors and the President are never detailed. This omission is disappointing.

What is outright disturbing is the fact that Woodward admits, in print, that at least two administration officials knowingly broke the law by giving him classified documents. The fact that the Obama administration made no effort to prosecute these individuals is even more disturbing.

The book, like Woodward’s previous efforts, reads extremely well. Woodward assembles the many threads of the story extremely well. In the end, both supporters and opponents of President Obama will find support for their views in this book. Opponents will find evidence of a decision making process on a critical foreign policy issue that is backward, disorganized, and beholden to partisan political interests. Supporters will see the President telling the military that there would be no blank check, and asserting his authority by imposing terms. Like most things in Washington, indeed in life, there is truth to both point of view.