Obama's Wars and National Security

Bob Woodward's latest book, Obama's Wars, is irresponsible reporting on many fronts. He leaked stories, people's confidential thoughts, and important information that should have never been made public. Many feel that this book will have a negative effect on America's national security. 

Woodward throughout the book brags about how he received classified information and made it public, yet he appears to be unconcerned about America's national security. Two examples illustrate this point. About the McChyrstal "Command Summary," Woodward states that "I went through the 66 page confidential assessment." Later in the book, he comments that "Gates sent Obama a two page SECRET memo [the caps were exactly how Woodward wrote it]." Woodward should not have received any of this information without top-secret clearance, which is highly unlikely. Many of those interviewed agreed that he has a "very strange and unusual level of access to policymakers."  

A former Bush official also felt that there was information which should not have been made public. Readers of the book were told how the CIA tracked terrorist survivors of Predator attacks and apprised of comments about Hamid Karzai being delusional and paranoid, the 3,000 Afghan counterterrorism unit, and that the Taliban would never try to attack America's homeland. Woodward should have taken note from what he wrote in the beginning of the book: that Mike McConnell, President Bush's Director of National Intelligence, was directed that in any briefing, only the president-elect (Obama) and those designated to take a top security cabinet post would be allowed to get "any information about our sources and how this works." It is interesting that somehow, the information fell into Woodward's lap. A former high-ranking Bush official felt that Woodward's book is very destructive since "we can only strive for perfection. The odds of preventing another terrorist attack are improved with good intelligence, not with giving away our strategy."

In this book, the military leaders time and again state that if Afghanistan is perceived as being lost, then the Islamic extremists have won. In fact, the Secretary of Defense was quoted by Woodward from a top-secret memo saying that Gates changed his goal from "defeating the extremist insurgency" to "disrupting and degrading the Taliban." The question is: could this information possibly empower the Taliban?

Surprisingly, Woodward seems to admire that President Obama kept pressing the military for his desired option, not one that was realistic. He reports that the president stated that "none of the options looked good ... it's unacceptable. He [Obama] wanted another option ... They are not going to give me a choice." Why didn't Woodward criticize Obama for constantly pressing the military to give an answer the president wanted? Fran Townsend's opinion, as a former homeland security advisor to President Bush, is that after presenting all realistic options, "you owe the President your honest assessment even and especially when it is not what he wants to hear." Although the president kept pressing the military to give a number he wanted, at the end of the day, the military refused, since advisors must stick to their realistic opinions.

Maybe Americans should be grateful to Woodward since he points out that President Obama does not want advice unless it fits into his assumptions. Woodward also highlights all the infighting among the advisors and displays how cutthroat they can be. John Podesta, a member of Obama's transition team, referred to Obama as "Spock" since "[h]e was unsentimental and capable of being ruthless." Jim Jones, the former national security advisor, was constantly described as being weak and not proactive, and he was constantly circumvented. Dennis Blair, the former Director of National Intelligence, described the CIA and Panetta as "an organization that's like a really fine trained, not very smart, dangerous animal that needs to be controlled very closely by adults." Ambassador Eikenberry refused to allow the new CIA Kabul station chief, an operative who saved Afghan President Hamid Karzai's life in 2001, to meet with Karzai alone. Even though powerful people in the Obama administration told Eikenberry to stand down, he initially refused because of his petty power plays. 

Townsend is completely correct that Woodward "might have been irresponsible for publishing the information but someone had to actually give it to him. I still think we need to prosecute those for leaking national security information." This general breakdown of security should have never happened, and it is inexcusable that the Obama administration even allowed Woodward access. A former CIA official aptly summarized "that many people have simply lost sight of the fact that secrecy is sometimes valuable and required, even in an open, transparent, and free society."
Bob Woodward's latest book, Obama's Wars, is irresponsible reporting on many fronts. He leaked stories, people's confidential thoughts, and important information that should have never been made public. Many feel that this book will have a negative effect on America's national security. 

Woodward throughout the book brags about how he received classified information and made it public, yet he appears to be unconcerned about America's national security. Two examples illustrate this point. About the McChyrstal "Command Summary," Woodward states that "I went through the 66 page confidential assessment." Later in the book, he comments that "Gates sent Obama a two page SECRET memo [the caps were exactly how Woodward wrote it]." Woodward should not have received any of this information without top-secret clearance, which is highly unlikely. Many of those interviewed agreed that he has a "very strange and unusual level of access to policymakers."  

A former Bush official also felt that there was information which should not have been made public. Readers of the book were told how the CIA tracked terrorist survivors of Predator attacks and apprised of comments about Hamid Karzai being delusional and paranoid, the 3,000 Afghan counterterrorism unit, and that the Taliban would never try to attack America's homeland. Woodward should have taken note from what he wrote in the beginning of the book: that Mike McConnell, President Bush's Director of National Intelligence, was directed that in any briefing, only the president-elect (Obama) and those designated to take a top security cabinet post would be allowed to get "any information about our sources and how this works." It is interesting that somehow, the information fell into Woodward's lap. A former high-ranking Bush official felt that Woodward's book is very destructive since "we can only strive for perfection. The odds of preventing another terrorist attack are improved with good intelligence, not with giving away our strategy."

In this book, the military leaders time and again state that if Afghanistan is perceived as being lost, then the Islamic extremists have won. In fact, the Secretary of Defense was quoted by Woodward from a top-secret memo saying that Gates changed his goal from "defeating the extremist insurgency" to "disrupting and degrading the Taliban." The question is: could this information possibly empower the Taliban?

Surprisingly, Woodward seems to admire that President Obama kept pressing the military for his desired option, not one that was realistic. He reports that the president stated that "none of the options looked good ... it's unacceptable. He [Obama] wanted another option ... They are not going to give me a choice." Why didn't Woodward criticize Obama for constantly pressing the military to give an answer the president wanted? Fran Townsend's opinion, as a former homeland security advisor to President Bush, is that after presenting all realistic options, "you owe the President your honest assessment even and especially when it is not what he wants to hear." Although the president kept pressing the military to give a number he wanted, at the end of the day, the military refused, since advisors must stick to their realistic opinions.

Maybe Americans should be grateful to Woodward since he points out that President Obama does not want advice unless it fits into his assumptions. Woodward also highlights all the infighting among the advisors and displays how cutthroat they can be. John Podesta, a member of Obama's transition team, referred to Obama as "Spock" since "[h]e was unsentimental and capable of being ruthless." Jim Jones, the former national security advisor, was constantly described as being weak and not proactive, and he was constantly circumvented. Dennis Blair, the former Director of National Intelligence, described the CIA and Panetta as "an organization that's like a really fine trained, not very smart, dangerous animal that needs to be controlled very closely by adults." Ambassador Eikenberry refused to allow the new CIA Kabul station chief, an operative who saved Afghan President Hamid Karzai's life in 2001, to meet with Karzai alone. Even though powerful people in the Obama administration told Eikenberry to stand down, he initially refused because of his petty power plays. 

Townsend is completely correct that Woodward "might have been irresponsible for publishing the information but someone had to actually give it to him. I still think we need to prosecute those for leaking national security information." This general breakdown of security should have never happened, and it is inexcusable that the Obama administration even allowed Woodward access. A former CIA official aptly summarized "that many people have simply lost sight of the fact that secrecy is sometimes valuable and required, even in an open, transparent, and free society."