Thanks to Bob Woodward's forthcoming book, we know the Obama Administration was seriously divided (some would say dysfunctional) in developing their strategy for the Afghan War. According to Mr. Woodward, the President avoided mention of "victory" in crafting a plan for prosecuting the conflict, focusing instead on getting out of the conflict and handing it over to the Afghans.
To be fair, there are always sharp disagreements in policy formulation at the highest levels of American government. Put a collection of massive egos in the White House Situation Room, and sparks are bound to fly. And that can be a good thing, giving the Commander-in-Chief access to alternate points of view and policy options that may not immediately come to mind. During the Cuban Missile Crisis, it was Attorney General Robert Kennedy who first suggested a naval quarantine, while members of the Joint Chiefs urged military action. Ultimately, the quarantine convinced Soviet leader Nikita Kruschev to back down, and the showdown ended without a nuclear conflict.
But the environment described by Mr. Woodward goes well beyond a healthy debate. President Obama dismissed the military's request for 40,000 additional troops in Afghanistan, telling Defense Secretary Bob Gates (and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton) "I'm not doing 10 years"..."I'm not doing long-term nation-building"..."I am not spending a trillion dollars."
Worse yet, Mr. Obama appears to view the conflict only in political terms. In a meeting that included Republican lawmakers, Obama told South Carolina Senator Lindsey Graham "I can't let this be a war without end and I can't lose the whole Democratic Party."
Let that sink in for a moment, and consider it's impact on the War on Terror, or whatever the administration is calling it these days. No wonder that so many officials were glad to talk to Bob Woodward; while the White House claims that Mr. Obama appears decisive and analytical in the book, it's equally clear that members of his team can't stand one another, and are attempting to distance themselves from a likely policy failure, with enormous implications for our long-term national security.
But the bad news doesn't end there. Mr. Woodward's latest volume also raises serious questions about the administration's ability to deal with terrorism here at home. From the Washington Post preview of the book:
A classified exercise in May showed that the government was woefully unprepared to deal with a nuclear terrorist attack in the United States. The scenario involved the detonation of a small, crude nuclear weapon in Indianapolis and the simultaneous threat of a second blast in Los Angeles. Obama, in the interview with Woodward, called a nuclear attack here "a potential game changer." He said: "When I go down the list of things I have to worry about all the time, that is at the top, because that's one where you can't afford any mistakes."
Yet, in his same conversation with the journalist, President Obama bragged about our ability to "absorb" terrorist attacks here at home, claiming they make us stronger. We haven't read the Woodward book, but the comment does beg an interesting, two-part question: What does Mr. Obama view as the most important element of his strategy, and doesn't his rush to get out of Afghanistan increase our threat here at home?
With the departure of our troops from that region, Al Qaida will have greater opportunities to plot and train, dispatching more terrorists to carry out attacks on U.S. soil. President Bush understood the nexus between Afghanistan and potential strikes on our homeland, but Mr. Obama's position is stunning short-sighted. In the name of party unity, he's willing to make a short-term exit from Afghanistan, even if means a greater risk here at home.
There's also the matter of formulating (and executing) a coherent, domestic counter-terrorism strategy. It's hardly reassuring that many of the same officials battling over Afghanistan are also in charge of keeping the homeland safe.
And, their dysfunctionality couldn't come at a worse time; testifying before Congress today, FBI Director Robert Mueller, Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano and Counter-terrorism Chief Michael Leiter said the recent spike in "home-grown" terrorist attacks is indicative of an evolving threat. In fact, Mr. Leiter described them as the "most significant developments in the terror threat to our homeland since 9-11." From the ABC News report on today's testimony:
"Groups affiliated with al Qaeda are now actively targeting the United States and looking to use Americans or Westerners who are able to remain undetected by heightened security measures," Mueller said. "It appears domestic extremism and radicalization appears to have become more pronounced based on the number of disruptions and incidents."
Leiter told the committee. "The attack threats are now more complex, and the diverse array of threats tests our ability to respond, and makes it difficult to predict where the next attack may come.
For those brave enough to connect the dots, the narrative goes something like this: our national security "team" is badly dysfunctional, and pursuing a strategy in Afghanistan (at the direction of the Commander-in-Chief) that is likely to fail. Our rapid exit from that conflict will give Al Qaida more opportunities to plan new attacks, recruiting Americans--and other westerners--who are more difficult to identify and apprehend before they strike. Meanwhile, the menace from these terrorists is growing, and senior officials charged with keeping us safe are the same ones leading our policy in Afghanistan.
Sleep well, America.