When Bob Woodward's book hits the stands, most of the attention will no doubt turn to Afghanistan - "Obama's war," as the Washington Post has for some time been styling it. Indeed, based on published excerpts, the Times of London is already drawing conclusions, in an editorial entitled Obama's Civil Wars:
"President Obama resented the two wars that he inherited, as a distraction and a drain of billions of dollars. He loathed the idea of sending more troops to Afghanistan. From the moment that the first four-star general marched into the Oval Office, the President felt boxed in by the Pentagon: told that he would lose the war if he did not send more, but reckoning that he would lose the Democratic Party if he did.
His response combined the worst of both worlds. He held too brisk a review of policy in the spring of last year, to which (as some of his closest advisers have told The Times, the White House gave too little attention). By commissioning General Stanley McChrystal, commander of forces in Afghanistan, to conduct a second review, he set a trap for himself - and fell into it. He gave the resulting proposal more public status than he need have done. When the general recommended a surge of troops (as generals are often inclined to do), Mr. Obama left himself little room to disagree.
This is inept politics. The months he let pass while mulling over his response compounded the fault. Soldiers died, and the Taliban laughed, as the world watched the leader of the world's most powerful country try to make up his mind. The outcome was a fudge: fewer troops than requested, with an exit date of 2011 attached."
And if you think that editorial is just a another example of Rupert Murdoch/Fox News-speak, here's the Guardian's take, in an editorial entitled Obama and Afghanistan: Credibility gap:
"Barack Obama inherited both the war in Afghanistan and the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression. Now he tells critics, somewhat late in the day, that a Republican president's response to resurgent Taliban and bankrupt bankers would have been worse. True, but that does not mean that his response to both - a troop surge in Afghanistan and an inadequate stimulus package - were the right ones….
It has been just over a month since the last of those 30,000 troops were deployed, and it is only three months until the review of that decision has to take place. Yet we hear that Obama wants out of Afghanistan at all costs ("I am not doing long-term nation-building"); that David Petraeus, since appointed the commander of ISAF, says that the U.S. will be in the fight for the rest of his life and probably his children's; and that they think that Hamid Karzai, the bearing on which the whole creaky wheel turns, is a manic depressive.
How much more difficult will it be for Obama when he has to stand up, some time before July 2011, and say the U.S. is in Afghanistan for the long run? His only hope is that, by next July, the tide will have turned sufficiently for Gen. Petraeus to say that counter-insurgency is working. Failing that, a recalcitrant president will have been drawn ever deeper into a war he does not believe in, and which he cannot get out of. He would have been better off trusting his instincts."
For Canada - and for MPs in particular - this debate is timely, as we can expect pressure to leave some troops in Afghanistan to increase significantly between now and the NATO meeting in November. But, for Canadians, there's also, according to the New York Times, a real shocker in the Woodward book - one that should be factored into the debate on Afghanistan as well as other national debates:
"A 2009 President's Daily Brief and another highly restricted report, Mr. Woodward writes, 'said that at least 20 al-Qaeda converts with American, Canadian or European passports were being trained in Pakistani safe havens to return to their homelands to commit high-profile acts of terrorism.'
'They included half a dozen from the United Kingdom, several Canadians, some Germans and three Americans,' the book continues. 'None of their names was known'."