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8:34AM

Woodward's latest makes the Rolling Stone piece look tame by comparison

Reading through the excerpts, about the only people who come off as calculating and restrained are Clinton, Gates and Petraeus. Obama and his civilians, to including his retired generals, all come off as rather interpersonally nasty, quick to panic, quick to point fingers, etc.

You read the Rolling Stone piece now and you can understand why there was/is so much enmity on the military side.

As always, we're stunned to hear what figures are willing to say to Woodward, but this makes Team "no-drama" Obama look awfully disunified.

My take-away: if voters don't like or don't trust Obama on the domestic/economic side, then this book does a number on any perceived salvation to be found in his foreign policy.

Heads rolled for the RS piece and frankly this seems a lot worse at first glance--like the crew as a whole is more interested in turning on each other than making something work in Afghanistan.

What I still don't get: if there is this level of in-fighting and pessimism with the current track, why aren't we speaking and dealing more plainly with regional powers, all of whom grow increasingly more concerned and seem willing (not eager) to step in and salvage something better while our troops are still on the ground? If there is this much pessimism and seeming political desperation, why aren't we seeing a more daring and aggressive foreign policy to regionalize the solution?  Where are the bold steps, the secret diplomacy, the break-through agreement?

I see a lot of energy being directed toward this book by insiders eager to be viewed positively by history (although none will on this score), but I don't see any of that anguish leading to any innovation.

Instead, we get the same tired tracks from Bush-Cheney on Israel-Palestine, NorKo, and Iran, plus relying too much on Pakistan, and the sum effect of those choices means we appear unable to generate any breakthrough diplomacy with Turkey, Iran, Russia, India and China--all of whom are naturally tapped for a suitably successful wind down of this conflict.  All of them will be forced by various circumstances to enter this arena directly or via proxies if and when we pull out under duress, so you know they'd all be interested in slipping into it while we're still making some effort because it would avail themselves of additional selfish opportunities.  But we don't see to be drawing them in on any serious level, preferring to keep everybody on their separate tracks with their separate issues and--sure--inviting them to open their wallets at donor conferences but not much else.

I just don't get this hesitancy and lack of strategic imagination and boldness if everybody is really as panicky as Woodward's book makes them sound.  These people need to get their inner Nixon on and start acting on their desperation instead of simply running to Woodward to complain.

It is a self-defeating mix to tell the world that "America can't do it all" and then act like that's the case in Afghanistan.  We get this picture of an Obama administration eager to bail on the country but not eager (can anybody point me to anything on this score?) to go to regional powers and say baldly, "Listen, I'm failing here with my small coterie of friends and this thing is going to be a disaster that we'll walk away from unless we can agree on whatever it takes to get your public help and support.  Tell me what it will take to get you inside Afghanistan, making something work for the long haul, and I will deliver it."

Because what is the alternative?  "Standing firm" on all these bilateral issues with these countries, going down the toilet in Afghanistan, and then . . . what exactly?  Somehow getting our way on these bilateral issues with these players because now we seem so much weaker and in political disarray?

Right now all we're signaling is that we want out but we're not going to compromise at all to make it happen, and for the life of me I cannot see how strategists inside this administration think that's going to work out for Team Obama politically.  The comparisons to the arrogant inflexibility of the Carter administration are apt. Listening to Obama lecture yesterday at the UN was disappointing in the extreme; he seems content to play professor while his date with history is asking the waiter for the check.

We've heard this question asked time and again, "Who is the Kissinger in this crew who's going to push the president to make the tough foreign policy calls and lead when he has to?"  And there doesn't seem to be anybody--just a lot of egos versus sycophants.  "Amateur hour" is not too harsh a phrase.  We keep receiving this image of Obama being so self-confident in his own judgment that he's not receptive to that kind of dynamic, but a book like this begins to help us understand how much that hubris limits his action and his imagination. It just seems like he keeps waiting on the world to recognize the genius of his unassailable logic--buttressed by his Nobel.

And it ain't working.  Not at all.

And frankly, at some point, Clinton needs to start thinking about what's good for her country and not just this administration, because she's big enough to force the issue.

Time to stop being satisfied with "keeping all the balls in the air," Madame Secretary.  Time to issue some ultimatums--as in, "Either we get bold on this or I get gone and make my own case to the American people."

Woman-up, Hillary.  Because you will be judged severely for not doing more.

Reader Comments (11)

This entry is a good reason why you can't stop blogging. I don't agree with all of it, but it certainly made me think.

The US as an institution is very uncomfortable about ceding any kind of control. That goes back to WWI (and I think I commented on an earlier piece how TR and the US foreign/military policy for WWI need a lot more study.) If the generals are uncomfortable about US relationships in South West Asia, they'll be a Heluva Lot Less comfortable bringing in outsiders. Even the Brits often make the US military uncomfortable, due to differences in military philosophies/experiences, and substantial differences in political/military affairs.

Clinton can threaten to go it alone, but I'm not sure that's a really viable threat. She might well be able to beat Obama in the primaries, but I think a large number of people just won't vote for her (unless the Republicans put up a real moron.) You know, though, a Clinton/Palin contest would be a lot of fun from a historian's perspective.

September 24, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterDavid Emery

Hear hear!!

September 24, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterTian

Yes, please keep at it. No one else is going to write sensible, big-thinking and clear commentary like this. Few are even capable of it...

I wonder if Clinton would or could pull a Ted Kennedy... Interesting thought. She and Bill seem to embrace the party line. But if anyone has a chance at mustering the resources for something like that, it would be Team Clinton.

Thanks again for posting.

September 24, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterAJ

Another IW initiative? Desired domestic and international audiences and results? It will be an interesting information topic for our grandkids.

September 24, 2010 | Unregistered Commenterlouis Heberlein

Dear Dr. Barnett,

I have been a huge fan since I first stumbled across your brief on C-SPAN while ironing shirts. Really.

I am thrilled to learn that reports of your Blog's death have been greatly exaggerated.

September 24, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterMarcC

I'd also prefer that you keep the blog running, none of the Foreign Affairs alternate sources I've looked at have come close to your insight.

I'd still be satisfied if you slashed the volume. Come here just once a week and post something you wanted to say, but that the various editors had no interest in.

September 25, 2010 | Unregistered Commenterjnutley

Tom,

As a previous commenter stated, "Reports of your blog's death have been greatly exaggerated."
.
This post deserves to be the lead Op-Ed piece on WAPO or NYT Sunday Edition. Best initial analysis of Woodward's book I've read so far.
.
Dialing back the blog to cover the issues that really stimulate your spleen will generate bigger waves to impact opinion in a substantive way. Your readers wait with anticipation for the next nugget of clarity to be dropped as we follow you along your new track.

September 25, 2010 | Unregistered Commenterhistoryguy99

Let Obama be a great one-term President, pull an LBJ and choose not to run for good of party and country. Run Clinton with Elizabeth Warren as VP. If successful Obama to Supreme Court. Well you can dream.....

September 26, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterMike Trier

Obama is clearly over his head in my view.

Tom, I can't see you not blog at some level... it's in your blood.

I know many may not want to hear this, but I would pay for an ongoing dose of your comments. Not always in agreement, but you certainly are worthy of thought provoking grand strategist arguments.

Go man go!

September 26, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterDan Hare

My father and I would also like you to keep blogging Tom. You have an excellent sense of the world, where it was, and where it is going.

All this bickering in government really makes me sick. I feel like this nation hasn't done much since the sixties and seventies for both foreign and domestic affairs (yes that is an oversimplification but that's my gut feeling). Lately I've been thinking a brief dictatorship is what this country needs. Someone with the brains and the courage to get things done. Then we can return to a democracy and argue for another few decades. Of course this didn't work out too well for Rome. :-/

September 27, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterJoshua Sterns

Tom: A continuing weekly post would be great. Who else will knowingly chronicle "The Long War"?

September 29, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterPilgrim

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