And when he finally terminated the surge, he did so in the middle of the 2012 fighting season. Militarily incoherent — but politically convenient. It allowed Obama to campaign for re-election proclaiming that "the tide of war is receding."
One question remains, however. If he wasn't committed to the mission, if he didn't care about winning, why did Obama throw these soldiers into battle in the first place?
Because for years the Democrats had used Afghanistan as a talking point to rail against the Iraq War — while avoiding the politically suicidal appearance of McGovernite pacifism. As consultant Bob Shrum later admitted, "I was part of the 2004 Kerry campaign, which elevated the idea of Afghanistan as 'the right war' to conventional Democratic wisdom. This was accurate as criticism of the Bush administration, but it was also reflexive and perhaps by now even misleading as policy."
Translation: They were never really serious about Afghanistan. (Nor apparently about Iraq either. Gates recounts with some shock that Hillary Clinton admitted she opposed the Iraq surge for political reasons, and Obama conceded that much of the opposition had indeed been political.) The Democratic mantra — Iraq War, bad; Afghan War, good — was simply a partisan device to ride anti-Bush, anti-Iraq War feeling without appearing squishy.
Look, they could say: We're just being tough and discriminating.
Iraq is a dumb war, said Obama repeatedly. It's a war of choice. Afghanistan is a war of necessity, the central front in the war on terror. Having run on that, Obama had a need to at least make a show of trying to win the good war, the smart war.
"If I had ever come to believe the military part of the strategy would not lead to success as I defined it," writes Gates. "I could not have continued signing the deployment orders."
The commander in chief, Gates' book makes clear, had no such scruples.
Charles Krauthammer's email address is lett...@