Bob Woodward has written books on the foreign policy decisionmaking processes of the Clinton and Bush administrations, and it’s a good bet he’s working on a similar book about the Obama administration. In the past, the Washington Post has run articles by Woodward based on his book research, and this morning his byline appeared on a front page story headlined, “McChrystal: More Forces or ‘Mission Failure.’”
We have read before accounts of the report prepared by General Stanley McChrystal, the general Obama and Defense Secretary Robert Gates installed to replace another general who under the normal rotation would have remained in charge for another year. Reading between the lines, it seemed likely that Obama would approve McChrystal’s recommendations for an increased number of troops. Gates seemed amenable and such recommendations seemed a predictable result of Obama’s decision to put McChrystal in charge of the theater.
Woodward’s account suggests that Obama is balking. And that McChrystal, or whoever provided Woodward with his 66-page recommendation, is pushing back. McChrystal is quoted, in the second paragraph of the story, as saying, “Failure to gain the initiative and reverse insurgent momentum in the near term (next 12 months) –while Afghan security capacity matures—risks an outcome where defeating the insurgency is no longer possible.” The Post has placed McChrystal’s report online, with some deletions urged by the government.
Some interesting facts emerge from the story and from an accompanying front page story by Rajiv Chandrasekaran and Karen DeYoung, headlined “Changes Have Obama Rethinking War Strategy.” McChrystal’s report was delivered to Gates on August 30, 23 days ago. But “he has held only one meeting of his top national security advisers to discuss McChrystal’s report so far.” There’s time for five Sunday interview shows (but not Fox News Sunday), but not for more than one meeting on this report, apparently.
And while Obama seemed to endorse a strong effort in Afghanistan in March, an endorsement strengthened by the McChrystal appointment, now apparently other factors have become more important. They are, according to Chandrasekaran and DeYoung, “a dispusted presidential election [in Afghanistan], an erosion in support for the war effort among Democrats in Congress and the American public, and a sharp increase in U.S. casualties.”
It’s interesting that Obama clung to his policy of negotiating with Iran despite a “disputed presidential election” there, one which threatened to undermine the mullah regime, but is apparently considering changing policy in Afghanistan despite entirely predictable election irregularities there. And that he is apparently if not following the polls, at least paying great heed to them—polls which show wide support for our military efforts in Afghanistan from Republicans and Independents but not from Democrats.
There are serious arguments for not doubling down in Afghanistan and for rejecting General McChrystal’s advice. But those arguments don’t appear among the three stated reasons for the change in course that Obama is apparently considering. This is a disquieting picture of this administration’s decisionmaking process.