Updated: February 11, 2014 6:21AM
‘The bottom line is we shouldn’t ask brave U.S. troops to put their lives on the line when it appears the administration has already written off Afghanistan.”
Those words concluded a column I wrote more than a year and a half ago observing that President Barack Obama, according to news reports at the time, had reduced the Afghan war goals to the level of “good enough for Afghanistan.” That seemed to me then (May 22, 2012) and now as a cause not worth the loss of another American life.
Now we have the new memoir, “Duty,” from former Defense Secretary Robert Gates, confirming that Obama had lost faith in the surge of 30,000 troops he dispatched to Afghanistan.
Gates praises Obama for ordering the surge. Then he describes a tense 2011 meeting involving Gen. David Petraeus, the commander of coalition forces: “As I sat there, I thought: The president doesn’t trust his commander, can’t stand (Afghan President Hamid) Karzai, doesn’t believe in his own strategy and doesn’t consider the war to be his. For him, it’s all about getting out.”
Gates also says he “never doubted Obama’s support for the troops.”
The obvious questions are: Why not get out? Why have more troops die in a mission the commander in chief no longer believed in?
The White House responded to Gates by saying Obama “has great faith in the troops that carried out the mission and in the mission itself.” That rings hollow since in 2012 it was obvious the administration had pretty much written off Afghanistan.
Mostly the White House’s response to Gates has been to focus on deflecting his criticism of Vice President Joe Biden being “wrong on nearly every major foreign policy and national security issue over the past four decades.” That seems like a diversionary tactic.
That distraction ploy benefited from the news media’s concentration on the disclosure that an aide (now fired) to New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie closed down a couple of lanes on a major bridge to create traffic chaos for political reasons.
Still, the questions for Obama will remain. They are uncomfortable questions. They come at a bad time for him. He was tagged with telling the lie of the year by the fact-checking organization PolitiFact. That’s a brutal judgment for a president of the United States. But other groups delivered the same verdict on Obama’s promise that, under the Affordable Care Act, if you like your health insurance, you can keep it.
Obama’s credibility has taken a big hit. Coming on the heels of the IRS, NSA and spying-on-journalist scandals, Gates’ revelation only raises new credibility issues for Obama.
Gates faces uncomfortable questions of his own. Obama defenders wonder why he didn’t resign at the time. Why write a book now? I think generally that presidential advisers should wait until the leader they served leaves office before penning memoirs. But Gates didn’t wait.
So we have these questions. It seems to me Obama would have a hard time giving answers that would satisfy the families of thousands of troops sent in harm’s way on his orders. We probably won’t get answers until Obama writes his own memoir.