Former defense secretary Robert Gates’s book, as reported by The Post’s Bob Woodward, is filled with startling and not-so-startling revelations. In the “no surprise” department is Vice President Biden’s alleged bullying and disrespect of our military. Biden opposed a counterinsurgency surge and likely pulled out all the stops to discredit military officers’ recommendations. That said, the book poses problems for the administration, the media and Hillary Clinton.
With regard to the president, the assertion that President Obama did not believe in the surge in Afghanistan but nevertheless sent 30,000 additional Americans into battle is perhaps the most serious charge one can level against the commander in chief. He, in essence, betrayed the fighting men and women and misled the country, if Gates is to be believed, that the military offensive would succeed. Leftists never found proof that President George W. Bush “lied [about Iraq WMDs] and people died” because members of both parties and allies’ intelligence services all believed this was true; but this really does fit that taunt.
Former CIA director Michael Hayden, acknowledging that he couldn’t read what was in President Obama’s mind, told Right Turn that “if this is true, it is really concerning since sending people to kill (and perhaps be killed) needs to be done with absolute conviction. In these matters, the moral bond between commander and commanded has to be absolute.”
On the Hill, Republicans fumed. An aide to a senior senator slammed the president, saying, “Americans thought the President had hit a new low lying and playing politics with their health care. Sadly, he has hit rock bottom by doing the same with our military.”
For the left, growing increasingly disenchanted with the president, this is a stinging reminder that he abandoned his base on key decisions (e.g. Gitmo, drones, National Security Agency surveillance and — now we know — Afghanistan). Moreover, at a time that Obama’s Iran policy is under siege, this revelation will only heighten concern in Congress that he is not being candid and is undeserving of delays in sanctions legislation based on “trust me” pleas. And it rekindles conservatives’ ongoing suspicions that, on matters like Benghazi, the president was derelict on national security and obsessed with his own electoral fortunes.
The reaction of Danielle Pletka of the American Enterprise Institute was typical of the chatter among conservative policy wonks: “I’d like to say I’m amazed this president would be so cynical as to send men and women to fight a war he didn’t believe in, but I’m not. We know this is the most cynical, narcissistic administration in memory.”
As for the media, when Scott McClellan, an out-of-the-loop spokesman made dramatic and rather incredible allegations against Bush after leaving office, the media swarmed, gleeful to find any corroboration for their worst attacks on the administration. So what do they do now? Will they pepper the president, root out other sources and run with the story for weeks on end? I rather doubt it. But the conservative media and a few dogged reporters in the MSM will no doubt be a thorn in the president’s side on this. (It is odd, of course, that left-leaning pundits would not be outraged, but then carrying water for the White House always takes precedence over intellectual honesty.) If it is true, it is an extraordinary indictment of this president.
Then there is Clinton. She is accused of shooting the breeze with the president, admitting that she opposed the surge in Iraq for political reasons (as did Obama). Pletka cracks, “As to Hillary, she opposed a strategy for victory in Iraq for political reasons? Duh.” A Republican former key national security adviser told me he was more surprised by Obama and Hillary’s “apparent honesty” in confessing their political motives. On Afghanistan the book demonstrates that Obama “didn’t want to win the war, he wanted to get out of it. If you’re a Secretary of Defense who wanted to win the war, as Gates was, you were going to be isolated and resentful.”
Of all those involved, the Gates book may be most harmful to Clinton and her presidential ambitions. (Obama is a lame duck already underwater in the polls.) Hillaryland is most concerned that she will be unsatisfying to the left; this will stoke those fears. A reminder that Clinton supported the Iraq war initially and in her heart of hearts would have favored the surge is political TNT in the hands of a capable liberal attacking her from the left (if such a figure can be found). It also highlights that Clinton’s biggest liability may be her tenure as secretary of state, a disaster-strewn adventure that included the Libya debacle, stormy relations with Israel, misreading of the Russians and a lack of coherent response to the Arab Spring.
Richard Grenell, who served as a spokesman for multiple ambassadors to the United Nations and has been a vocal critic of the administration, e-mails Right Turn: “Bob Gates served both Republicans and Democrats as a nonpartisan defense expert. His concern that Hillary openly admits she played politics with the US military’s surge strategy should be a concern for every American as she ponders another run for the White House.” He adds, “It’s shocking she used the US military in such a political way but frightening that she thinks she can joke about her decision.”
The president hoped to get back on track in 2014. The year starts, however, with the prospect of a deeply worrisome account of a president willing to sacrifice our military for personal political advantage. Liberals complain Obama’s critics are conspiratorialists, unduly suspicious of the president’s motives; perhaps conservatives haven’t been suspicious enough.