22 Sep 2010

US ‘infighting’ over Afghanistan strategy

Some of President Barack Obama’s chief advisers do not think the current strategy for Afghanistan is going to work, according to a new book.

US 'infighting' over Afghanistan strategy (Reuters)

The book, Obama’s Wars, by journalist Bob Woodward, describes how President Obama’s national security team have been battling over Afghanistan policy for much of the last 20 months.

There are doubts about his “troop surge”, when 30,000 more soldiers were sent to Afghanistan, and about plans to begin withdrawing by next year, according to the New York Times, which obtained a leaked copy of the book.

The book also suggests that the CIA has a 3,000-strong covert army in Afghanistan, comprised mostly of Afghans, which battles the Taliban. It also says that the United States has intelligence suggesting Afghan President Hamid Karzai is on medication for manic depression.

The president’s special envoy for Afghanistan and Pakistan, Richard Holbrooke, is quoted in the book as saying the current strategy “can’t work”. Vice-President Joe Biden is also suggested as having doubts about the strategy, and is quoted as saying Mr Holbrooke as “the most egotistical b*****d I’ve ever met”.

While many of the internal divisions over Afghanistan are already public knowledge, the book – by the reporter who made his name exposing the Watergate scandal which led to President Richard Nixon’s resignation in 1974 – suggests the debate was much more serious than previously thought.

The book describes Obama as a “professorial president” who assigns “homework” to advisers, but does not like being forced into decisions by military commanders.

The White House declined to comment to the New York Times on the book, which is due to be published on Monday next week.

Obama’s Wars also includes criticisms from a variety of administration officials aimed at the president’s national security adviser, James Jones, who in turn is quoted as describing the other aides as “the water bugs” or the “Politburo”.

It also suggests that General David Petraeus, now the most senior military commander in Afghanistan, said he disliked talking to President Obama’s most senior adviser, David Axelrod, because he was a “complete spin doctor”.

The book says the president knew from the start that he had “two years with the public on this” and did not want a big escalation.

Challenging day for Obama
The publisher of Obama’s Wars – Simon & Schuster – said the book draws upon classified documents and interviews with key players in the administration, including the president.

The book leak comes on a challenging day for President Obama, as a key economic adviser resigned and he continues to face slumping poll ratings in the run-up to the November mid-term elections.

Former Treasury secretary Larry Summers, President Obama’s director of the White House National Economic Council, has quit. He will return to his teaching job at Harvard by the end of the year.