Robert Stein 1924-2014

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Thursday, September 23, 2010

The War Behind the Endless Wars

From reports on Bob Woodward's new book, an old story emerges--how wars now take on a life of their own with the military pressing for more troops, handcuffing even a President desperate for a way out.

"I don't think you win this war," Woodward quotes Gen. David Petraeus. "I think you keep fighting. It's a little bit like Iraq, actually...Yes, there has been enormous progress in Iraq. But there are still horrific attacks in Iraq, and you have to stay vigilant. You have to stay after it. This is the kind of fight we're in for the rest of our lives and probably our kids' lives."

If that choice were put to a vote, how many Americans would support it?

Yet, under threat of even a single domestic attack, large or small, no President--particularly one under siege by Tea Party patriots--has the freedom to make rational decisions about Afghanistan and Iraq.

President Obama sounds like a man trying to persuade himself as he tells Woodward, "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."

But from reports of internecine struggles among Administration, diplomatic and military brass emerges the picture of a Commander-in-Chief politically trapped, against his better judgment, into investing more American lives and treasure in an endless and futile enterprise, held hostage by the threat that any terrorist act would translate a withdrawal into treason.

There is a nightmarish quality to Woodward's picture of the President pressing the Pentagon for an exit strategy without ever getting one and finally resorting to his own patchwork decision of sending more troops but putting an artificial and unrealistic expiration date on their stay.

There is an unnerving picture of the Mideast War poster boy, Gen. David Petraeus who, Woodward says, took Obama's decision as a "personal repudiation." Ironically, Petraeus, who later replaced Gen. Stanley McChrystal after being fired for allowing derisive comments about Administration figures, is quoted as saying he dislikes talking with David M. Axelrod, the president’s senior adviser, because he is “a complete spin doctor.”

As details of the Woodward book emerge, real spinning begins with Republicans claiming it shows the President as weak and political, while the White House insists that he comes across as "analytical, strategic, and decisive, with a broad view of history, national security, and his role."

But from the perspective of the rest of Americans trapped by all this posturing, Woodward's book has no winners or losers, only victims.

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