The President Is Playing War Games

Aug 4, 10 | 7:41 AM   byMichael Wolff
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Is it my imagination, or does the president seem less than sincere and quite to be holding his nose as he manages—not too competently—a task, our continuing war efforts, for which he has little heart or aptitude?

Now, in theory, he once had heart for getting us out of Iraq—and, indeed, he’s now claiming that’s what he’s accomplished. By the end of the month, the 144,000 troops there when he began his term 18 months ago will be down to 50,000. So why does this feel less like progress and more like a ploy?

He’s claiming victory, of course. But, confusingly, this is on the basis of the 2008 “surge”—a tactic Obama has now adopted in Afghanistan—making it something of a George Bush victory. Except, of course, it’s hardly victory at all—there is no government in Iraq, minimal public services, and, in fact, a continuing war.

Still, as the Times noted yesterday, Iraq is now the “political selling point” for the war in Afghanistan: If we could prevail, however questionably, in Iraq, why not Afghanistan, where, as it happens, we suffered in July the highest casualty toll of the war, and where, I suppose, we would rejoice if we could even questionably claim to be on top.

It seems like a pyramid scheme, or a zero sum game: drawing down the troops in Iraq (this is a notable change of language: “withdrawal,” now becomes “drawing down”), merely means filling up Afghanistan with them.

The White House claims this is not true, rather, that the number of troops when the president took office stood at 177,000 and is now down to 146,000—which is meant to be reassuring, but which is clearly not.

The anti-war candidate is, it turns out, only about 12% less pro-war than the pro-war candidate.

Is it worse having a president who, however wrong-headedly, believes in the war he is fighting, however incompetently, or having a president who doesn’t believe in it, and would like to get out of it, but who, nevertheless, believes that for exigent reasons he must fight on, albeit also incompetently?

Who morally tops the other?

The White House is naturally arguing that, given the intractability of the situation (that being, I suppose, that if we got out now, we would lose now, rather than if we got out later, we would lose later), even incremental progress is real progress, or some such. (Obama: “It’s important that the American people know that we are making progress.”)

Oh, and apparently the goals have changed. We don’t want, it turns out, victory in Afghanistan or to return Afghanistan to the Afghan people. Instead, we just want to destroy al-Qaeda in Afghanistan, which has, we believe, only 100 members. And which, as I seem to recall, we destroyed once before.

It’s not just that he’s in over his head. But he’s become kind of creepy, too.

More of Newser founder Michael Wolff's articles and commentary can be found at, where he writes a regular column. He can be emailed at You can also follow him on Twitter: @MichaelWolffNYC.
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