Monday, October 11, 2010

A European defense intellectual on Obama's resolve: “An America that debates whether it should win a war it’s in is a very frightening prospect”

Bob Woodward’s new book, “Obama’s Wars” … tends to reinforce the questions of some of the allies about the Obama administration’s resolve to stop the mullahs’ drive
writes John Vinocur in the International Herald Tribune.
… in describing how the administration’s goals became fixated on finding a date when U.S. forces would begin to leave the country, and how the original objective of “defeating” the Taliban became “disrupting” them, and then “degrading” the insurgents, the book’s essential meaning for allied governments is likely to be in the indications it provides of a United States for which “winning” has become a soft notion, open to interpretation.

…a notion of nonurgency concerning Iran — while “Obama’s Wars” quotes Mr. Obama’s maxim for Afghanistan as being “Faster in, faster out” — has not gone down easily with countries like France, Britain and Israel who rely on their own estimates of a narrower time frame for confronting Tehran.

Indeed, it contrasted with a statement from a high official of a European allied nation three weeks ago that, in relation to Iran’s nuclear plans, any “further loss of time will be disastrous.”

As for the book, it goes to doubts — expressed semi-privately by President Nicolas Sarkozy of France — about the U.S. president’s basic views of the world and America’s concept in 2010 of victory and defeat.

the author told of asking the president directly, “You can’t lose a war or be perceived to lose one, can you?”

Mr. Woodward said Mr. Obama replied: “I think about it not so much in the classic, do you lose a war on my watch? (sic) I think about it more in terms of, do you successfully prosecute a strategy that results in the country being stronger rather than weaker at the end of it?”

The remark might sound vague in relation to America’s presumed instincts. It is neither the omnipresent win or lose of American sports, nor the profit-and-loss, black-ink, red-ink ledgers of American business and American life.

I asked someone who might be called a European defense intellectual with close ties to the French government about that. The reply: “An America that debates whether it should win a war it’s in is a very frightening prospect.”

Readers of Mr. Woodward’s book will also note that it does not prophesy less ambiguity soon about the United States’ level of military determination.