Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Book Review: Obama's Wars

I read quite a bit, though my interest is highly concentrated in history, finance, current events, and derivations on those three subjects. I usually go through 1-2 books a week depending on my reading load for classes, and one of the challenges is remembering what the key points that I learn in each book. Since I've been a lazy blogger, I'll start trying to do a quick synopsis of each book here. 

I recently finished Obama's Wars by Bob Woodward. For those of you who don't know the name, he's one of the more famous investigative journalists of our era and was at the center of the Watergate scandal. The book is a narrative of the national security council's actions/thought process as they develop Obama's strategy for Afghanistan which was later announced in a speech at West Point on 01 December 2009.

As with any Woodward book, Obama's War does not seek to do more than simply record what happened. There's little analysis by the author, which may be just as well considering the subject matter. The most astonishing aspect of the Afghanistan saga is the degree of petty behavior exhibited among those who should represent the best of their respective fields. In every one of Woodward's books, senior military officers and Pentagon officials appear to consider their duty to country a distant second to their own parochial interests. General Petraeus, the former commander of CENTCOM and current commander of the fight in Afghanistan, as well as Admiral Mullen appear to brazenly defy the President's wishes on a number of key strategic issues, not least of which is providing neutral advise. 

The difficulty in evaluating in the actions of individuals within the story is that Woodward is well known for playing favorites. Certain individuals receive very complimentary portrayals based upon what appears to be their assistance to Mr. Woodward. That Petraeus is viewed in a less than positive light in this most recent book after Woodward's glowing reviews in four previous books should tell you something about the current administration's view of the general.

A new Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff will be nominated this summer, I sincerely doubt that General Petraeus will be the one taped by the administration for the job. Far more likely it seems is the promotion of the current Vice-Chairman, Marine General James Cartwright. The only reason I would see this not occurring is that it would interrupt the otherwise steady rotation of the chairman's office from service to service, see here.

All in all, a good read. But if you're a current service member, this is yet another example of why the wars we fight seem to be run by a pack of schizophrenics.

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