By David K. Shipler
President Obama deserves praise, not criticism, for the views on Afghanistan attributed to him in former Defense Secretary Robert Gates’s memoir. In the book’s most quoted lines, Gates writes of a meeting in March 2011, “As I sat there, I thought: the president doesn’t trust his commander, can’t stand [Afghanistan 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 doesn’t mean this as a compliment, but if it’s accurate, then two cheers for Obama. It’s just too bad his actions didn’t coincide with his doubts—a familiar pattern.
Let’s take Gates’s observations one at a time:
Obama was obviously right to distrust his commander, David Petraeus, who was felled the following year as CIA director by an extra-marital affair, and whose counterinsurgency brilliance was always overstated. Petraeus was a charming man of poor judgment.
Obama was justified about Karzai, who has proved to be a puppet without strings—a self-absorbed enabler of corruption who cannot govern his country or practice sensible diplomacy with his chief benefactor.
Obama was correct in not believing in “his own strategy” of beefing up troops in Afghanistan, articulated during his 2008 campaign.