Robert Gates’ memoir criticizes everyone else and doesn’t acknowledge facts about our involvement with Afghanistan.
Robert Gates served as Secretary of Defense for both George W. Bush and Barack Obama, and has recently rolled out his tell all memoir Duty: Memoirs of a Secretary at War in which he criticizes President Obama, Vice President Joe Biden, Congress, the military, and, well, everyone now that I think about it, for our problems in Afghanistan. In their review of the book The New York Times quoted a typical critical passage:
“At a pivotal meeting in the situation room in March 2011, Mr. Gates said, Mr. Obama opened with a blast of frustration over his Afghan policy — expressing doubts about Gen. David H. Petraeus, the commander he had chosen, and questioning whether he could do business with the Afghan president, Hamid Karzai.
“As I sat there, I thought: The president doesn’t trust his commander, can’t stand Karzai, doesn’t believe in his own strategy and doesn’t consider the war to be his,” Mr. Gates writes. “For him, it’s all about getting out.”
Gates apparently meant that as an indictment of Obama’s lack of moral courage or something. But it strikes me as a good example of Obama coming to his senses and realizing that continued western occupation of the country is unlikely to change anything.
For the record Obama was right not to trust Hamid Karzai, after all we’ve known for some time that he is, “weak, indecisive, paranoid and beholden to criminals to maintain power.”Not to mention his extended family that seems to be halfway between a mafia crime family and a Washington based consulting firm. Furthermore, Obama was probably right to be skeptical of David Petraeus, after all his meteoric rise was derailed by a sex scandal.
It’s pretty unfortunate Gates doesn’t seem to acknowledge these stubborn facts.
The implied argument that Gates is making is that with a little more effort and “presidential leadership” Afghanistan could have been turned into what author Rajiv Chandrasekaran called a “Little America.” But that idea is based on the flawed assumption that Afghanistan was simply clay in American hands. If we’ve been unable to transform Afghanistan after 12 years of military occupation and billions of dollars spent, we probably should accept that there are reasons for that, reasons that can’t be overcome with more “trust” or “belief.”
Or to put it another way, if we can’t build effective public institutions, if we can’t change Afghanistan’s political culture, and we can’t find effective leaders after 12 years, maybe just “getting out” is the best strategy after all.
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–Photo by Virgina Mayo/AP