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Obama’s Waterloo

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Is Obama at war with the military?
Mark Mardell blog #1 18:12 UK time, Wednesday, 22 September 2010
I am sure Bob Woodward's Obama's Wars will be a riveting read, but does it tell us anything new about the president's Afghan policy?
I can't help feeling the headlines about "in-fighting" are a bit lazy. When big egos debate big policies, tempers are bound to fray. It's soap opera for the political classes but only matters if the relationships become so bad they are dysfunctional, or the disagreements about policy are profound and lasting.
I think we are not yet at the former stage but the second is much nearer the mark.
The book paints a picture of a president determined to get out of Iraq, telling one meeting: "I'm not doing 10 years. I'm not doing long-term nation-building. I am not spending a trillion dollars." He is also quoted as saying: "This needs to be a plan about how we're going to hand it off and get out of Afghanistan."
Another quote - "I can't lose the whole Democratic Party" - suggests his enthusiasm for an exit strategy was partly fuelled by domestic politics. If I was a Republican strategist I would make a meal of this, although they don't yet seem to have noticed.
The White House has not quarrelled with any of substance, saying Obama's Wars portrays a commander-in-chief who is analytical, strategic and decisive.
But it is the way the military apparently pushed back against a clear exit strategy that is important, and critical for the future. The relationship with General David Petraeus comes across as particularly bad, with the man who was then head of US Central Command and is now the big chief in Afghanistan telling his staff the administration was "expletive deleted-ing with the wrong guy".
Obama is portrayed as deeply frustrated with the constant military desire to expand the mission, eventually issuing a six-page document attempting to tie its leaders to the agreed policy. When they then tried to get more troops he responded, according to the New York Times, "I'm done doing this!" - which the Washington Post renders as an exasperated "why do we keep having these meetings!"
This clash with the military matters for the future. Given that US special envoy Richard Holbrooke is quoted as saying the current strategy "can't work". What happens if he's right and by this time next year it obviously hasn't worked?
Here I have to enter a note of caution. The BBC hasn't been able to get hold of a copy of the book yet, so it all feels a bit post-modern, working off two subtly different reports of an invisible text.
But in the original report of the New York Times (published and then pulled from its website), Gen Petraeus is quoted as saying that once the mission was in place he could get "more time on the clock". Obama's top adviser tells him that is seriously misreading the president. Why this has disappeared from the current report, I have no idea. But if true, it seems to me really important, a suggestion that Obama's wars, with the military, are not at an end.
Newspapers dance around Obama's War
Mark Mardell blog #2 13:53 UK time, Wednesday, 22 September 2010
Oh what late-night shenanigans there must have been between America's two great newspapers last night.
The journalistic world has been on tenterhooks awaiting the book Obama's War from Bob Woodward, the Watergate veteran, who over the years has had superb access to all the main players in several presidents' administrations and has now emerged with a scathing portrait.
Politico has an excellent description of how he gets the scoops.
But the New York Times cheekily got hold of a copy of the book by Woodward, who just happens to be an editor of the Washington Post.
The Times's story was published online around 2200 local time. About an hour and a half later, it had been pulled.
Then the Post published its own less exciting but longer take on the book.
At 0011 the New York Times story reappeared with a few of the more interesting quotes absent.
All very "inside the Beltway" I know - and a field day for lawyers - and a big plug for the book.
More later on the importance or otherwise of the revelations.