Monday, December 20, 2010
Bob Woodward's Obama's Wars
I finished Obama's Wars over the weekend. Before I talk about the book, I need to make a couple of disclaimers.
First, I love Bob Woodward's reporting. I've read several of his books from Veil, to All the President's Men, to the Bush trilogy and finally to Obama's Wars. I find his reporting to be factual and understandable. He makes the complex subject matter easy to follow.
My timing for this book worked out better than I imagined. The book focuses on the decisions that went into Obama's sending 30,000 troops into Afghanistan. After months of discussion, and the President receiving approval from all the principals responsible for the decision, several of the principals immediately tried to find ways around their decision. When you have people who say one thing and then do something else, the program overall could be doomed to failure.
The main thrust of adding new military personnel in Afghanistan was a program called "clear-hold-build-transfer." This means NATO troops, mostly from the U.S., would clear a city/region/town of Taliban and other insurgents, hold the position, build support from the populace and transfer the region to the Afghani army or police.
After a year, this program is barely out of clear and hold. Few territories have been transferred to the Afghanis. Why? Think about a corrupt government at all levels. Think about Afghanis entering the army and refusing to fight. Think about our warfighters on the front line fighting the insurgents and then also having to train local police and army, who don't want to take over. Why should they do any work when we are there to do it for them?
And then there is Karzai. Unstable. Off his meds too frequently. Contradictory. Supports a corrupt half-brother. And "duly elected." Even though the election was corrupt, NATO embraced Karzai. He's "our guy," and we are stuck with him.
How I wish Woodward could have reported that the Bush team looked for an end game before committing to an endless war in a region that no outsider has ever conquered.
I now know how badly we need Richard Holbrooke. His work is done, but the job goes on. I hope that the person who steps into his shoes is half as good.
Oh my, I started to write about Woodward's book and ended up talking about the mess we are in. Maybe that's the point of the book: Get people thinking about what went into decisions, what that means to the U.S. long term, why the end-game is murky. It worked.