Anyone who lives in Washington is liable to be captured by the town CW. And because bipartisanship isn’t really the flavor of the day, there aren’t a lot of reality checks. Mid-level people in the White House are afraid to be seen talking to Republicans, reporters, or lobbyists. So I have wondered over the last year whether the president is really indifferent to victory in Afghanistan, really isn’t preoccupied by national security and terrorism, and really is dominated by the political hacks that make up his inner circle. But Bob Woodward’s new book, Obama’s Wars, highlights of which are covered in today’s Washington Post, goes a long way toward confirming the CW. It’s not that Woodward is the gospel; he is telling, in part, the tale the White House wants told. But that’s what’s staggering: the tale the White House wants told is so damning.
Here are the money quotes verbatim from the Post piece:
• “This needs to be a plan about how we’re going to hand it off and get out of Afghanistan,” Obama is quoted as telling White House aides as he laid out his reasons for adding 30,000 troops in a short-term escalation. “Everything we’re doing has to be focused on how we’re going to get to the point where we can reduce our footprint.”
• Woodward’s book portrays Obama and the White House as barraged by warnings about the threat of terrorist attacks on U.S. soil and confronted with the difficulty in preventing them. During an interview with Woodward in July, the president said, “We can absorb a terrorist attack. We’ll do everything we can to prevent it, but even a 9/11, even the biggest attack ever . . . we absorbed it and we are stronger.”
• Obama told Woodward in the July interview that he didn’t think about the Afghan war in the “classic” terms of the United States winning or losing. “I think about it more in terms of: Do you successfully prosecute a strategy that results in the country being stronger rather than weaker at the end?” he said.
• The president is quoted as telling Mullen, Petraeus, and Gates: “In 2010, we will not be having a conversation about how to do more. I will not want to hear, ‘We’re doing fine, Mr. President, but we’d be better if we just do more.’ We’re not going to be having a conversation about how to change [the mission] . . . unless we’re talking about how to draw down faster than anticipated in 2011.”