Obama's Wars, Bob Woodward's new book about the President's management of the Afghanistan War, exposes some pretty significant divisions between Obama's civilian advisers and the U.S. military on strategy concerning what is now America's longest war:
Book excerpts published yesterday suggest lasting scars from the infighting through last summer and fall could force exits for several Obama aides already rumored on the way out. Among them are national security adviser Jim Jones and Richard Holbrooke, the big-footing special envoy for Afghanistan and Pakistan who is a favorite of Secretary of State Clinton.
Vice President Biden calls Holbrooke "the most egotistical bastard I've ever met." Holbrooke told NPR yesterday, "I think the best thing for me to do is to duck and just say I'll look at the book."
The book describes Obama as torn between the generals' advice to surge 40,000 troops and commit to 10 more years in Afghanistan, and the pleas of his civilian aides for a quick exit. Obama reluctantly decides on a "hybrid option" and writes up a six-page memo spelling out what he wants to avoid more argument - 30,000 more troops and a vague deadline for the beginning of a withdrawal in July 2011.
The conflict, which goes by the groan-inducing official name of "Operation Enduring Freedom," was kicked off less than a month after the 9-11 attacks in order to dislodge the Taliban and put an end to al-Qaeda's ability to stage terrorist attacks.
Call me sentimental, but I choose to remember a time when the Taliban weren't primitively equipped terrorists waging an insurgent campaign against freedom-loving American troops, but were instead primitively equipped freedom fighters waging a guerilla campaign against the atheistic Soviet hordes. In other words, when they were our slightly backwards yet noble-hearted friends taking up the struggle against the global Communism. Good times.
This cordial state of affairs isn't something that can be swept under the rug of history by future generations, either, for all the evidence is there for your perusal on Netflix.
Rambo III (1988)
Why is John Rambo such an asshole? Everything's out there for all to see, him playing that sheep carcass game with the Mujahideen and earning their trust, then leading them in battle against the Soviets. Hell, the last thing on screen before the credits roll is a dedication to "the gallant people of Afghanistan."
So why is it, 20 years later, he's a recluse in Thailand who eventually has to be coerced into annihilating the entire Burmese army by a pretty girl? What, there aren't any newspapers in Phuket? He didn't hear about the World Trade Center going down? There were pretty girls in Manhattan that day, too. Or was he just unwilling to face the consequences of his actions and admit that he weakened the noble Soviet efforts in Afghanistan, enabling the rise of the Taliban and al-Qaeda?
Whatever. Trautman knows the score.
The Beast (1988)
Released the same year as Rambo III, this story of a Soviet T-62 separated from its unit after an attack on a Pashtun village goes the unusual route of depicting the majority of Soviets and Afghan fighters as *gasp* human beings. Jason Patric's character Koverchenko even uses his new-found knowledge of Pashtuni customs to spare (most of) his crew.
Sorry, but Daskal's a lost cause.
Spies Like Us (1985)
This one didn't win any critics' awards, but it still has its moments. There's the "doctor" scene, of course, and Greg Marmalard as a KGB agent (spoiler!), and Vanessa Angel in her underwear.
The Afghans depicted here aren't so much the noble freedom fighters shown elsewhere as much as they are (mostly) well-meaning savages. Their reaction to Fitz-Hume telling them "We're Americans" should have served as a chilling harbinger of things to come.
Charlie Wilson's War (2007)
This one has the virtue of being pretty much true. (And, by that measure, pretty depressing.) Well, unless you choose to stick your fingers in your ears and leave things at the film's ending, which remains pleasantly ambiguous because of producer/star Tom Hanks' "uneasiness" about dealing with 9-11.
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The Living Daylights (1987)
As we learn in this, the 15th Bond movie, 007 is just as -- if not more -- responsible for the Soviet defeat as Rambo. Frankly, it's a bit disheartening that an MI6 agent can so easily be duped into thinking a planeload of opium was intended for sale by the Soviets and not the Mujahideen, who funded their regime largely through the export of the same. I guess Maryam d'Abo is more distracting than I gave her credit for.
I like how the Soviet assassin Necros is wearing Levis in this scene. Those Commies never could resist our superior trouser products.