The media, you might remember, praised former White House spokesman Scott McClellan, who left his job in the administration of George W. Bush and then wrote a book. Truth teller! Important for the public to know! The book, as it turned out, was un-enlightening, in large part because McClellan wasn’t a policy person and really didn’t know much about the flashy snippets he used to sell books. But along comes a highly respected senior policy adviser who has served two presidents during critical war years and the media elites cluck — he is disloyal, premature and unfair in writing an important book directly relevant to decisions of war and peace. Go figure.
Gates, of course, has an explosive story to tell about a “reluctant commander.” (If it was alright for sources to speak to Bob Woodward — or reporters for that matter — during their own service, why is it a problem for the source after leaving to tell his story? Maybe this is an effort to discourage competition for the full-time authors.) And it could not be more relevant at this precise moment to explain President Obama’s indecisive, half-hearted decision-making and that of perpetually wrong Vice President Biden, from whom the president takes advice.
Gates makes the case that Obama was unconvinced about the surge in Afghanistan, although he sent 30,000 men and women into battle. We had an inkling, since the president simultaneously announced a withdrawal date, thereby undermining his own policy. Gates in his detailed telling makes clear this was not by accident. Fast forward to Sunday. Gates explained on “Face the Nation“: “My one concern was that over the course of 2010 and early 2011, the president began to have his own reservations about whether it would all work. And I think that is not an unfair thing to say.”
More to the point, it is not irrelevant to the disasters that are the result of Obama’s ambivalent policies and equivocal language. It relates directly to the president’s current decision to whittle down the troop strength in Afghanistan. And it relates to the current disaster in Iraq, where al-Qaeda has been given the chance to win back what it lost to U.S. troops.
Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) observing the implosion in Iraq, another place where Obama chose to yank out every American, explained the president’s troubling foreign policy:
I think for many of us it confirms our worst fears. And that is that this is an administration full of people that either have the wrong convictions or in the case of former secretary [of state Hillary] Clinton, lack the courage of her convictions. You see that, for example, the motivations in Afghanistan was primarily political. And the idea that the president had that this is not his war. And you saw that reflected in the decision that he made at the same time that he announced the surge, he also announced an exit date and strategy, thereby emboldening Taliban to believe they can wait us out. And the result is now evident across the globe. Our allies see us as unreliable and our enemies feel emboldened. And I think that this is — confirms our worst fears that this is an administration that lacks a strategic foreign policy and in fact largely driven by politics and tactics.
SCHIEFFER: What happens now in Iraq? It looks like it may fall back in the hands of the rebels. Is this war going to turn out to be a tragic waste?
RUBIO: Well, first of all we need to understand that much of what has happened in Iraq lately has been the result of poor leadership within Iraq. I think contributing to that is the fact that U.S. does not have long-term status in Iraq. As a result, you know, air space used by Iranians and others to do all sorts of things. Ultimately whether it’s Afghanistan or Iraq, future of those countries is in the hands of their own people. And the U.S. can’t rescue them from themselves. But I do think we have a strategic interest in what happens there. And it poses a real challenge, because if you start adding it up now, Bob, you have an ungoverned space in Iraq, ungoverned spaces in Syria, potentially ungoverned spaces if Afghanistan begins to fall back, ungoverned spaces in Africa. This is all fertile territory for al-Qaeda and other radical elements to set up training camps and plot attacks against the homeland and our interests around the world.
This is why Gates’s book is so critical. At the very time we are dealing with the aftermath of Obama’s flawed foreign policy, Gates gives a definitive explanation for how we got where we are and why the president didn’t do more. We can hereby inform the public and Congress (even the administration, perhaps) to deal with the current mess and, if possible, avoid equivocating in other contexts in the name of “nation building at home.” At the very least, we should learn that whatever Biden says is 180 degrees wrong.
As David Ignatius puts it, “Reading the devastating memoir by former defense secretary Robert Gates, people are likely to ask the same troubling questions that emerge from the morning newspapers these days: How did the Obama administration’s foreign policy process get so broken, and how can it be put back together?” Having an authoritative figure like Gates tell the story gives the story heft and may prompt a redo (we can only hope) of policy and/or personnel.
(As an aside, Rubio’s expressed concern that al-Qaeda rebels in Syria are partly responsible for the trouble in Iraq is precisely why he should have supported more robust action in Syria. He did not and thereby annoyed serious foreign policy experts who implored Congress to see the connection between Syria and Iraq and between Syria and Iran.)
Likewise, Rep. Adam Kinzinger (R-Ill.), an Air Force veteran, appearing on ABC’s “This Week” observed that it was important to see the degree to which political decisions override military ones in the Obama White House. And he pointed to Obama’s ongoing lack of leadership, reminding us that the president rarely talks about the mission in Afghanistan and is ordering troop levels far below what the military says is needed: “This is important today because America is paying for this, and it’s our men and women over there.”
Frankly, if a Bush national security official wrote a book this damning while Bush was still in office, the media and liberal elites would be calling for Bush’s head and, at the very least, a full inquiry to the politicization of national security policy. It is episodes like this that convince one that the media aren’t interested in informing the public so much as they are interested in running interference for the White House.