In a point-blank confrontation in the Oval Office on the day before
Thanksgiving last year, President Obama gave Defense Secretary Robert
Gates a gun-to-the-head choice on Afghanistan.
Obama told Bush Administration holdover Gates he could either endorse
the president's idea of 25% fewer new troops than the military wanted
- or the president could go with what he described to Gates as a "hope
for the best" plan of "10,000 trainers," under which Afghanistan would
almost certainly be lost to the Taliban.
The meeting was recounted in the first of three planned excerpts in the Washington Post from Bob Woodward's new book, "Obama's War," which appeared in the newspaper on Monday.
"Can you support this?" Woodward quotes Obama as asking Gates.
"Because if the answer is no, I understand it and I'll be happy to
just authorize another 10,000 troops, and we can continue to go as we
are and train the Afghan national force and just hope for the best."
Woodward then commented: "'Hope for the best.' The condescending
words hung in the air."
Condescension seems to be Obama's modus operandi in regard to the
military, if Woodward's account can be believed. Obama's deputy
national security adviser Thomas E. Donilon warned that "Gates might
resign if the decision was 10,000 trainers, an option the military
leaders had all rejected in the early stages of the review," according
In Woodward's account, Obama told his National Security Adviser James
L. Jones and Donilon at an Oval Office meeting, "It'd be a lot easier
for me to go out and give a speech saying, 'You know what? The
American people are sick of this war, and we're going to put in 10,000
trainers because that's how we're going to get out of there.'"
And so Gates was apparently faced with accepting what Obama called a
"hard cap" of 30,000 added troops in Afghanistan - far less than the
40,000 new troops that Obama's "top three military advisers were
unrelenting advocates for," according to Woodward - or perhaps having
to resign in protest at a strategy sure to lead to another Vietnam-like defeat.
As Woodward describes it, Obama's 30,000-troop plan was a compromise
between the 40,000 new personnel the military wanted and a "hybrid
option" being touted by Vice President Joseph Biden.
Gen. David Petraeus, who managed President Bush's successful surge
strategy in Iraq, believed that Biden's plan wouldn't work. "It would
alienate the Afghan people whom U.S. forces should be protecting,"
Woodward quoted Petraeus as warning. "You start going out tromping
around, disrupting the enemy, and you're making a lot of enemies. . .
. So what have you accomplished?"
Last month, Petraeus - named commander of NATO forces in Afghanistan
in June - told the BBC, "The momentum that the Taliban have
established over the course of recent years has been reversed in many
of the areas of the country and will be reversed in the other areas as
But Petraeus warned that when President Obama's planned withdrawal
begins next year, there should not be a sudden exodus of troops from
Afghanistan. His forces won't be looking "for the exit and a light to
turn out," Petraeus told the British media outlet.
Petraeus on Monday told reporters that high-level Taliban leaders have approached the highest levels of President Hamid Karzai's Afghan government about negotiating a reconciliation.
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