He (former President Gerald Ford) made it very clear that he did not agree with the reasons President Bush laid out for the war, namely the belief that there were weapons of mass destruction in Iraq or that there was some obligation that the United States or the president had to expand democracy.
I'm done doing this!' Obama said, finally erupting. 'We've all agreed on a plan. And we're all going to stick to that plan. I haven't agreed to anything beyond that.' The 30, 000 was a 'hard cap, ' he said forcefully. 'I don't want enablers to be used as wiggle room. The easy thing for me to do - politically - would actually be to say no' to the 30, 000. Then he gestured out the Oval Office windows, across the Potomac, in the direction of the Pentagon. Referring to Gates and the uniformed military, he said. 'They think it's the opposite. I'd be perfectly happy -' He stopped mid-sentence. 'Nothing would make Rahm happier than if I said no to the 30, 000.' There was some subdued laughter. 'Rahm would tell me it'd be much easier to do what I want to do by saying no, ' the president said. He could then focus on the domestic agenda that he wanted to be the heart of his presidency. The military did not understand. 'Politically, what these guys don't get is it'd be a lot easier for me to go out and give a speech saying, 'You know what? The American people are sick of this war, and we're going to get out of there.
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Almost everything about Afghanistan was troubling Mullen. As Obama was giving intense focus on the war, Mullen was feeling more personal responsibility. Afghanistan had been marked by 'incredible neglect, ' he told some of his officers. 'It's almost like you're on a hunger strike and you're on the 50th day, and all of a sudden you're going to try to feed this person. Well, they're not going to eat very quickly. I mean, every organ in the body is collapsing. The under-resourcing of Afghanistan was much deeper and wider than even I thought. It wasn't just about troops. It was intellectually, it was strategically, it was physically, culturally.
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Maybe that would be less crucial under Obama, Podesta thought, because Obama's approach was so intellectual. He compared Obama to Spock from Star Trek. The president-elect wanted to put his own ideas to work. He was unsentimental and capable of being ruthless. Podesta was not sure that Obama felt anything, especially in his gut. He intellectualized and then charted the path forward, essentially picking up the emotions of others and translating them into ideas. He had thus created a different kind of politics, seizing the moment of 2008 and driving it to a political victory.
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During an hour-long conversation mid-flight, he laid out his theory of the war. First, Jones said, the United States could not lose the war or be seen as losing the war. 'If we're not successful here, ' Jones said, 'you'll have a staging base for global terrorism all over the world. People will say the terrorists won. And you'll see expressions of these kinds of things in Africa, South America, you name it. Any developing country is going to say, this is the way we beat [the United States], and we're going to have a bigger problem.' A setback or loss for the United States would be 'a tremendous boost for jihadist extremists, fundamentalists all over the world' and provide 'a global infusion of morale and energy, and these people don't need much.' Jones went on, using the kind of rhetoric that Obama had shied away from, 'It's certainly a clash of civilizations. It's a clash of religions. It's a clash of almost concepts of how to live.' The conflict is that deep, he said. 'So I think if you don't succeed in Afghanistan, you will be fighting in more places. 'Second, if we don't succeed here, organizations like NATO, by association the European Union, and the United Nations might be relegated to the dustbin of history.' Third, 'I say, be careful you don't over-Americanize the war. I know that we're going to do a large part of it, ' but it was essential to get active, increased participation by the other 41 nations, get their buy-in and make them feel they have ownership in the outcome. Fourth, he said that there had been way too much emphasis on the military, almost an overmilitarization of the war. The key to leaving a somewhat stable Afghanistan in a reasonable time frame was improving governance and the rule of law, in order to reduce corruption. There also needed to be economic development and more participation by the Afghan security forces. It sounded like a good case, but I wondered if everyone on the American side had the same understanding of our goals. What was meant by victory? For that matter, what constituted not losing? And when might that happen? Could there be a deadline?
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