On Obama’s wars vs. the Middle East

Obama's wars

The day he became president, President Obama’s opponents started calling America’s wars in the Middle East “Obama’s wars.” So how has Barack Obama fared?

After doing some Mulder-and-Scully-type investigation, this Obama Files investigator discovered key evidence concerning the way the president has handled his role as commander in chief, specifically the surge in Afghanistan ordered by Obama shortly after becoming president in 2009.

The evidence comes from a new book called America’s War for the Greater Middle East: A Military History by Andrew Bacevich, a soldier turned scholar, and a revealing interview about said book in the Salon piece, The scope of our failure: The real story of our decades-long foreign policy disaster that set the Middle East on fire.

Obama’s wars, or every presidents’ wars?

The big picture, according to Bacevich: the series of recent American wars in the Middle East have not been one singular event after another; rather, America has been involved in one, long retracted war (in different theaters) that may one day be called the United States-Middle East War.

Side note: it wasn’t called the Hundred Years War during the Hundred Years War.

America is currently engaged in a roughly 36-years war (and counting), says Bacevich, and it’s important to understand this fundamental fact to wrap one’s mind around any of this chaos and disorder. As proof, he draws a line from Jimmy Carter, to George Bush I, to George Bush II, to Barack Obama, with each president is starring in his own game within the game, or war within the war, as it were.

With that in mind, let’s jump to the Obama saga within the America-Middle East War saga (potential known someday as the more-than-100-years war).

How much of the chaos and disorder in the Middle East is on Obama?

It’s a fair question. Of course, Obama inherited two wars, one of them both a war and a war crime, and Andrew Bacevich delves into that, too, quite insightful. (If there were ever a couple of paragraphs that sum up the way that Iraq war was drummed up, they’re in this article.)


So Obama becomes president in 2009 and doesn’t know squat about foreign policy, says Bacevich (who points out this is often the case with our president).

And while candidate Obama ran for the presidency promising to end the war in Iraq and de-escalate the war in Afghanistan, President Obama sent a surge of 30,000 troops to Afghanistan. How and why? The answers, according to Bacevich, lie in the minutiae of what are essentially high-level office politics. Here’s his account in the interview:

“Obama fires General David McKiernan, the Afghanistan commander—actually Gates does the firing—replaces McKiernan with General Stanley McChrystal, who at that moment is seen to be kind of a clone of David Petraeus—this at a moment when Petraeus’s stock is at its absolute height.

“So Gates sends McChrystal to Afghanistan and says, ‘Give me a plan for how we should conduct this war.’ And McChrystal comes up with a campaign plan that is leaked to the Washington Post before the president has ruled on it.

“McChrystal appears on ’60 Minutes’ touting his plan before the president has approved it. McChrystal gives a speech in London to some high muckety-mucks touting his plan.

“Petraeus, who has now been elevated to Centcom commander, gives an interview with Michael Gerson, in which he, Petraeus, says, ‘The answer to the war in Afghanistan is counter-insurgency with more resources.’

“So this set of actions basically boxes in the president before the president has made a decision.

“The president makes a decision and the decision is to give McChrystal virtually everything McChrystal wants.

“My point there is, at that moment early in 2009, [the see-saw of civil-military relations] had shifted so that within the national security apparatus, the military is in a position, not entirely but to a very considerable extent, to call the shots regardless of what the president wants.”

This see-saw, says the soldier turned scholar, is always at play in any president’s war.

Obama’s wars with the military industrial complex.

He was backed into a corner, unaided by his naivety. Sounds like the most plausible explanation for Obama’s surge, if there ever was one.

At the core of the Bacevich’s viewpoint is the nuanced relationship between the military-industrial complex, the president, and foreign affairs. It’s office politics, literally, on steroids, meth, and perpetual DEFCON infinity.

That being said, here’s what Bacevich has to say about Obama’s evolution as commander-in-chief:

“The president is showing himself to be someone who, over the past seven-plus years, has actually acquired a very sophisticated understanding of statecraft and of the world, as it is. When he became president, he knew next to nothing about foreign policy. I think he’s learned a lot, and I found that to be very impressive.”

It’s not Obama’s wars. It’s not even Bush’s wars, as I’ve often joked. Or the military’s wars. It’s America’s wars. Our wars. Our American-Middle East wars.

It’s nuanced.