Is the Military Undermining the Constitution?
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Article introduction by TomDispatch.com editor Tom Engelhardt -- Andrew Bacevich's article below:
We know the endpoint of the story: another bestseller for Bob Woodward, in this case about a president sandbagged by his own high command and administration officials at one another’s throats over an inherited war gone wrong. But where did the story actually begin? Well, here’s the strange thing: in a sense, Woodward’s new book, Obama’s Wars, which focuses heavily on an administration review of Afghan war policy in the fall of 2009, begins with... Woodward. Of course -- thank heavens for American media amnesia -- amid all the attention his book is getting, no one seems to recall that part of the tale.
Here it is: President Obama got sandbagged by the leaked release of what became known as “the McChrystal plan,” a call by his war commander in the field General Stanley McChrystal (and assumedly the man above him, then-Centcom Commander General David Petraeus) for a 40,000-troop counterinsurgency “surge.” As it happened, Bob Woodward, wearing his Washington Post reporter hat, not his bestselling book writer hat, was assumedly the recipient of that judiciously leaked plan from a still-unknown figure, generally suspected of being in or close to the military. On September 21, 2009, Woodward was the one who then framed the story, writing the first stern front-page piece about the needs of the U.S. military in Afghanistan. Its headline laid out, from that moment on, the president’s options: “McChrystal: More Forces or ‘Mission Failure’” And its first paragraph went this way: “The top U.S. and NATO commander in Afghanistan warns in an urgent, confidential assessment of the war that he needs more forces within the next year and bluntly states that without them, the eight-year conflict ‘will likely result in failure,’ according to a copy of the 66-page document obtained by The Washington Post.”
The frustration of a commander-in-chief backed into a corner by his own generals, the angry backbiting Woodward reportedly reveals in his book, all of it was, at least in part, a product of that leak and how it played out. In other words, looked at a certain way, Woodward facilitated the manufacture of the subject for his own bestseller. A nifty trick for Washington’s leading stenographer.
The set of leaks -- how appropriate for Woodward -- that were the drumbeat of publicity for the new book over the last week also offered a classic outline of just how limited inside-the-Beltway policy options invariably turn out to be (no matter how fierce the debate about them). As one Washington Post piece put it: “[T]he only options that were seriously considered in the White House involved 30,000 to 40,000 more troops.” All in all, it’s a striking example of how the system really works, of how incestuously and narrowly -- to cite the title of Andrew Bacevich’s bestselling new book -- Washington rules.
Prisoners of War: Bob Woodward and All the President’s Men (2010 Edition)
-- Andrew Bacevich
Once a serious journalist, the Washington Post’s Bob Woodward now makes a very fine living as chief gossip-monger of the governing class. Early on in his career, along with Carl Bernstein, his partner at the time, Woodward confronted power. Today, by relentlessly exalting Washington trivia, he flatters power. His reporting does not inform. It titillates.
A new Woodward book, Obama’s Wars, is a guaranteed blockbuster. It’s out this week, already causing a stir, and guaranteed to be forgotten the week after dropping off the bestseller lists. For good reason: when it comes to substance, any book written by Woodward has about as much heft as the latest potboiler penned by the likes of James Patterson or Tom Clancy.