'Obama's Wars," Bob Woodward's latest epic of insiderdom, quotes National Security Adviser James Jones telling his deputy, Tom Donilon, that he had made a mistake—"he had never gone to Afghanistan or Iraq, or really left the office for a serious field trip. As a result, he said, you have no direct understanding of those places. . . . The White House, Situation Room, interagency byplay, as important as they are, are not everything." Good advice. Too bad Mr. Woodward hasn't followed it himself.
While chronicling the Obama administration's Afghanistan policy, Mr. Woodward apparently visited Afghanistan only once, traveling with Mr. Jones. His description of the trip is inadvertently hilarious and revealing. He recounts flying "into the heart of the Taliban insurgency in Helmand province." Here, he proclaims, "was the war without the filter of a Situation Room briefing. The cool evening air hit my face as the plane's rear loading ramp was lowered. . . . All that was missing was the haunting and elegiac theme music from Oliver Stone's movie Platoon." The experience, he continues, is "exhilarating and frightening." The camp is "supposedly safe from sniper and mortar fire," but when he makes a midnight head call, he is decidedly nervous, "anticipating a random shot."
You would think that Battlefield Bob had bivouacked in a foxhole a few hundred yards from an enemy position. Actually he is in Camp Leatherneck, a giant Marine base (1,500 acres housing 10,000 personnel) in the middle of nowhere. The greatest danger at Leatherneck is overeating in the chow hall. That Mr. Woodward makes it seem like a frontline position is indicative of how far removed he is from the war.
To read "Obama's Wars" is to feel trapped in a daylong meeting in an airless room. That's because much of the book consists of a near- verbatim account of meetings—specifically the National Security Council meetings last fall where the administration hashed out its Afghanistan policy. As we know, the president ultimately decided to send 30,000 additional troops while pledging to start pulling them out in the summer of 2011. More at: