Questioning the merits of war through books
Washington is abuzz today amid reports that Bob Woodward’s first book on the Obama administration will reveal division amongst top White House officials about whether the U.S. military effort in Afghanistan can succeed.
As Peter Baker explains in today’s New York Times, “The book, “Obama’s Wars,” by the journalist, Bob Woodward, depicts an administration deeply torn over the war in Afghanistan even as the president agreed to triple troop levels there amid suspicion that he was being boxed in by the military. Mr. Obama’s top White House adviser on Afghanistan and his special envoy for the region are described as believing the strategy will not work.” The Washington Post’s coverage of the book portrays the president as determined to ensure the United States was not mired in Afghanistan, particularly on the heels of Iraq war.
The Post also captures a president and his military frequently at odds.
Woodward’s book is one of many coming out this fall in which key decision makers retell their role in the run up to the wars, namely Iraq. Former Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld has a book coming out, Known and Unknown. So do former President Bush and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice. They will all attempt to redeem themselves for the sake of history, all insisting they asked the right questions.
H. Hugh Shelton, the former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, also has a book coming out, Without Hesitation: The Odyssey of an American Warrior, in which he lays the blame at Gen. Peter Pace, Sen. John McCain and Donald Rumsfeld, among others. (As an aside, you can find draft copies of book throughout the Pentagon, namely in the offices of staffers who are hurriedly reading it and making sure it doesn’t bash their boss. I know because I have seen them do it myself.)
There is a connective thread that runs through all of them; Key questions about the veracity of the reasons for the wars, the need to engage in them and the likelihood of success don’t come up until after U.S. troops are put into harm’s way. Obama has increased U.S. troop presence by 250 percent. And now it seems, according to this book, there are serious doubts about the war itself by the very people who ordered more troops into Afghanistan.
Last month, the administration declared the end of major combat operations in Iraq. And now, through these books, former Bush administration officials will attempt to defend whether it was worth it.
These books offer far more detail than most people will ever learn about the decisions behind these wars.
More than 5,000 U.S. troops have been killed in Iraq and Afghanistan; another 30,000 plus have been injured. The number of Iraqis and Afghans killed and injured far surpass those numbers. I wonder when it became acceptable to engage in a serious debate about war, not in real time, but in books, precisely when it is too late to save and protect the lives of troops, Afghans and Iraqis alike.