Obama, Afghanistan and Domestic Politics

The excerpts from Bob Woodward's book, Obama's Wars, have raised the question of whether President Barack Obama inappropriately let domestic political concerns determine or guide his military strategy in Afghanistan. I wanted to comment on that yesterday, but didn't have time to. In the meantime, Stephen Biddle got there first, and covered some of the ground I had in mind. Biddle argues that in a democracy, popular support is necessary for waging war, so considering whether a strategy will enjoy that support is perfectly legitimate.

Biddle frames the argument by reminding us that strategy is "the art of the possible," and that popular support is the disadvantage that democracy places on military strategists. That's part of what I had in mind, so obviously I agree with him. But I'd go further.

Strategy is more than just the art of the possible. It's also the art of discerning and prioritizing the necessary within the possible. And if you assume, rightly or wrongly, that politicians are driven by more than just vanity, ambition and a thirst for power, but also by a sense that their broader political agenda is in the best long-term strategic interests of their country, then domestics politics doesn't just drive strategy, but is in a sense the goal of strategy.

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