Bob Woodward’s book Obama’s Wars should scare the hell out of you. It is essential reading—between the lines—for anyone seeking a map out of Afghanistan and Pakistan. Here is one example: if and when a terrorist attack occurs in the United States that can be traced to Pakistan, the American military response will be a "retribution plan" to bomb at least 150 targets in Pakistan. The plan is "one of the most sensitive and secret of all military contingencies," Woodward writes. There is no discussion of The Day After in this scenario of saturation bombing. That’s another secret.
Such an attack on American soil was attempted this year, when Faisal Shahzad, who was funded and trained by the Pakistani Taliban, placed a car bomb in Times Square on May 1. Last year the FBI arrested an Al Qaeda operative, Najibullah Zazi, for planning to blow up New York subways with backpack bombs, as well as Chicago resident David Coleman Headley, for planning an attack in Europe. Both were trained in Pakistan. In addition, Woodward reveals a secret May 26, 2009, presidential briefing charging that at least twenty Al Qaeda cadre with Western passports were training in Pakistan for high-profile attacks in the West. He also says Al Qaeda is recruiting and training people from the thirty-five countries whose citizens don’t need visas to enter the United States.
The reader is left with the impression that another massive and traumatic assault is to be expected in the near future. "We’re living on borrowed time," says National Security Adviser James Jones. President Obama himself says, in his low-key manner, that "a potential game changer would be a nuclear weapon in the hands of terrorists, blowing up a major American city." Such is the new realism. As we await the "game changer," we learn that the Pentagon is already protecting us with a top-secret war in Pakistan, the new "center of gravity," plus an expedited escalation in Afghanistan featuring nightly raids by Special Forces. Between 2004 and 2007, there were only ten drone strikes; there have been seventy-eight in Pakistan so far this year, twenty-one in September alone—the most of any month. Night raids in Afghanistan have risen from 100 per month in May 2009 to 1,000 per month this past summer. The savagery is kept secret from the American people but not from the Muslim world.
That’s not all. Woodward neglects to describe, at least for this book, the secret Long War already unfolding in at least nineteen countries, under a classified order signed by Gen. David Petraeus last year. But he does quote Petraeus saying, "This is the kind of fight we’re in for the rest of our lives and probably our kids’ lives." Even more disturbing is the strategic thinking behind the policy, as described by Jones in an interview with Woodward. According to Jones, the war is "certainly a clash of civilizations…a clash of religions…a clash of almost concepts of how to live." If the United States is not successful, NATO, the European Union and the United Nations "might be relegated to the dustbin of history." This passage underscores how the new "best and brightest" are so trapped in their assumptions that our future looks like a dead end. Only an intervention by the American people can save us from this combination of blindness and paralysis, once described by historian Barbara Tuchman as "the march of folly." We need an urgent change of vision and strategy among Congressional doves and peace activists. Leadership and pressure will have to come from outside the circle Woodward depicts.