Jacob Heilbrunn

Bob Woodward's War

[amazon 1439172498 full]There's something a little odd about seeing Bob Woodward's new book on the Obama administration, which is available today, being discussed in a front page article in the Washington Post, the newspaper where Woodward serves as associate editor. But then again, Woodward occupies a kind of totemic position in Washington, DC. The appearance of a tome by him is a chance for administration officials to settle scores, point fingers, and offer their own spin.

Which is why I'm not unduly troubled by the huffing and puffing among various pundits about dissension within the ranks of the administration that Paul Behringer chronicles in his own post about Woodward's book. Like most wars, Afghanistan looks pretty awful. It would be easy to have written a similar book about the Civil War or World War II, both of which had a number of rough patches. What does emerge from Woodward's account, at least as mediated by Steve Luxenberg, is that the Obamaites are scared silly about the Vietnam analogy, including the president himself.

It's not hard to see why. The parallels are all there--a corrupt president, a lackluster local army, if it even deserves the term, no real exit strategy, and so on. Or are they? It seems more likely that the war could simply grind on as a stalemate. The Taliban do have outside support, mostly from our putative ally Pakistan. But they haven't been able to arouse any real nationalism among Afghans to kick out the Americans. Nor is there that much anti-war sentiment in America. Instead, there is war fatigue.

Obama instructed Defense Secretary Robert Gates and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in October 2009, Woodwards says, that

I'm not doing nation-building. I'm not doing long-term nation-building. I am not spending a trillion dollars.

Good luck on that. Obama, of course, desperately wants to extricate himself from the Afghan morass before the 2012 election. Is it any wonder, then, President Hamid Karzai is apparently a manic-depressive?

Absent a real American commitment, Afghanistan will fall to the Taliban. But getting committed is precisely what Obama has been telling the Pentagon he doesn't want. It looks as though Obama has been fighting a two-front war: one against the Taliban and al-Qaeda, the other against his own military. Given the state of affairs in Afghanistan, it may be surprising that America's president hasn't become a depressive as well.