In Woodward book on debate over Afghanistan war, was Obama audacious?(Read article summary)
Excepts from the Woodward book on Obama's decisions on the Afghanistan war reveal the qualities of mind in the president. How do those fare against recommendations of the great historian of war, Carl Von Clausewitz?
TOPSHOTS/AFP PHOTO/Yuri CORTEZ/NEWSCOM
Excerpts from Bob Woodwardâ€™s new book, â€śObamaâ€™s Wars,â€ť reveal a President Obama and his security team arguing in 2009 over a new strategy in the Afghanistan war. My first impression after reading these insider comments was this: Why wasnâ€™t this debate more public?
If Congress is the branch of government that declares war (and guides it), why werenâ€™t lawmakers more involved in forming this new strategy? The answer may lie in the 20th-century drift to give the American commander-in-chief more authority in war.
In the end, Mr. Obama rejected the militaryâ€™s request for a surge of 40,000 troops and went for 30,000. And he set a date of July 2011 for the start of a troop drawdown. Perhaps that was the smart move in terms of domestic politics. More than 100 Democrats in the House voted against their presidentâ€™s request for funding the war.
The ultimate touchstone for judging a war decision remains Carl Von Clausewitz, the 19th-century German war theorist. (He is most well known for saying that war is politics â€śby other means.â€ť)
Clausewitzâ€™s study of the history of war â€“ he was involved in defeating Napoleon at the Battle of Waterloo â€“ remains the standard in military schools. In his â€śPrinciples of Warâ€ť essay, he writes that a war leader can prevail by remaining calm and firm while making decisions based on reason. Without those qualities, he wrote, â€śthe most brilliant qualities of mind are wasted.â€ť
Still, he advises one other critical quality:
In any specific action, in any measure we may undertake, we always have the choice between the most audacious and the most careful solution. Some people think that the theory of war always advises the latter. That assumption is false. If the theory does advise anything, it is the nature of war to advise the most decisive, that is, the most audacious.
Make your choice, therefore, according to this inner force; but never forget that no military leader has ever become great without audacity.
History will tell whether Obama has been audacious enough in Afghanistan. That quality is not unfamiliar to him â€“ his most famous book is "The Audacity of Hope."
The Woodward book is only the first draft of that war's history. The final draft is still being written â€“ in the hills of Afghanistan.