We've come under fire at The Daily Banter for being a 'pro Obama' site in recent times, largely because we've refused to join the increasingly militant civil libertarians who insist Obama's sole purpose in office is to drone Arab babies and listen to your Facebook conversations.
There is much wrong with the US government, and much wrong with Obama. But the extremist factions in the almost irreversibly fractured political spectrum in America make it incredibly difficult to work out what the valid criticisms of the government actually are.
Personally, I have a lot of respect President Obama. I think he's an intelligent, thoughtful leader heading up a very troubled government in a very troubled time.
I'm not a fan of US foreign policy, I think America's obsession with unfettered capitalism is one of the greatest threats to the environment and the fabric of society ever created, and many institutions in America are inherently inefficient, racist, and corrupt. I believe that Obama has let us down on occasion (like his tragic failure to stand up to Wall St and his illegal drone assassination policy), and he does deserve to take some serious heat for those things, but I also think that deep down, Obama shares many of the same concerns that I do and uses his power, when he can, to address those issues.
I also believe that history will show that Obama's inability to enact all the 'Change' he promised in 2008 was largely due to the institutional hurdles he faced internally, and the extremist Republicans in Congress.
Take for example the revelation by former US defense secretary Robert Gates, who accused Obama of not believing in their own strategy for conducting the war in Afghanistan. Reports the Guardian:
In a forthcoming memoir leaked to the New York Times and Washington Post that threatens to exacerbate current criticism of US policy in Afghanistan and Iraq, Gates – who was first appointed to his post by former President George W Bush – reveals, in a series of swipes that are surprisingly combative coming from such a senior former official, problems between the White House and the Pentagon that have made for troubling relations at the very highest levels.
“All too early in the administration,” adds Gates, “suspicion and distrust of senior military officers by senior White House officials – including the president and vice-president – became a big problem for me as I tried to manage the relationship between the commander in chief and his military leaders.”
Perhaps most damagingly, he also alleges that Obama did not believe in his own strategy for ending the war in Afghanistan, which he was “skeptical if not outright convinced ... would fail,” and that he was skeptical at best about the leadership of the country’s president, Hamid Karzai.
“The president doesn’t trust his commander, can’t stand Karzai, doesn’t believe in his own strategy, and doesn’t consider the war to be his. For him, it’s all about getting out,” writes Gates.
The accusations will no doubt harm Obama politically as war hawks will use it as an opportunity to paint Obama as a weakling, anti-war President who lacks good ol' American fightin' spirit. For everyone else with a brain, it reveals what many of us have always believed: that Obama has always known that continuous war in the Middle East is a very, very bad idea and if given the opportunity, he would get us the hell out of there.
Gates's revelations should serve as a reminder that what we see of Obama in public has little to do with how he actually thinks. Take this observation from Gates's book:
“[Obama's] fundamental problem in Afghanistan was that his political and philosophical preferences for winding down the US role conflicted with his own pro-war public rhetoric (especially during the 2008 campaign), the nearly unanimous recommendations of his senior civilian and military advisers at the Departments of State and Defense, and the realities on the ground....Obama was respectful of senior officers and always heard them out, but he often disagreed with them and was deeply suspicious of their actions and recommendations.”
Gates's criticism of Obama should not come as a surprise. A life long Republican, former CIA director, and military man, his entire life revolved around exercising American power around the world. Gates is an obviously intelligent man who understands how to gather intelligence, fight wars, and project US power abroad, but his political criticism of Obama should be taken for what it is: irrelevant. A President's job is to take political, economic, and geo-political strategic considerations into account when making military decisions - a far more complicated and nuanced job than Gates's relatively limited scope as Secretary of Defense.
As Robert Parry writes in Consortium News, Gates and General Petraeus essentially bullied Obama into a troop surge in Afghanistan, stating:
Mouse-trapped by this maneuver – and realizing the political damage that he would face if he spurned the recommendations of Gates-Petraeus-Clinton – Obama accepted a counterinsurgency “surge” of 30,000 more troops into Afghanistan but he pushed back by trying to limit the mission and insisting on withdrawal by the end of 2014.
Gates continued to undercut the President by briefing reporters during a flight to Afghanistan that “we are in this thing to win” and presenting the war as essentially open-ended.
While Gates may have believed 'winning' in Afghanistan served US long term interests, his President did not - a view point held by the majority of Americans at that time. But of course, he knew best, as all military leaders feel they do.
Ultimately, history will judge whether Gates or Obama was right about extending US troop presence in what is now the longest war in American history. Given American troops are scheduled to return home at the end of 2014 and Afghanistan is still facing continued violence, Islamic extremism, famine, and poverty, it's hard to point out how, or where, US involvement has been a positive.
As Gates points out, Obama was convinced that the strategy he was forced to commit to 'would fail', and early results indicate the President was right.