We're shocked, shocked there's infighting in the Obama White House over the way forward in Afghanistan.
The disagreements in the White House, driven by personality and policy disputes, appear to take front stage in Bob Woodward's newest insider look at a presidency in progress, "Obama's Wars" which officially goes on sale Monday. I base that on news reports about the book.
Woodward's books have long been received as media events in of themselves, with a lot of what publicity agents call free media, as journalists rush to report the juiciest tidbits from the volumes. The latest book follows the established pattern.
As I indicated above, it's not really unexpected that there'd be headbutting and backstabbing galore in a White House.
That goes with the territory when you get many powerful and ambitious people all trying to win the ear and commitment of the most powerful and ambitious among them — the president.
Indeed, Obama let it be known from the start of his presidency, even before the start actually, that he favored the "team of rivals" approach of Abraham Lincoln when it came to his cabinet and, presumably, the other advisors.
But Obama may have said that fully knowing that such rivalries would exist whether he wanted them or not. It's just the reality of the White House. Or corporate boardroom. Or church boards, for that matter. It's part of human nature, in other words.
But to paraphrase and adapt Leo Tolstoy, all unhappy White Houses are unhappy in their own ways and that's what makes Woodward's books ultimately so interesting.
For instance, it's entertaining to be told that National Security Advisor Gen. James Jones calls some of his White House colleagues "the water bugs," and "the Politburo" and "the Mafia."
Then, there are bits of "new" news. As the New York Times' Peter Baker reported:
Beyond the internal battles, the book offers fresh disclosures on the nation’s continuing battle with terrorists. It reports that the C.I.A. has a 3,000-man “covert army” in Afghanistan called the Counterterrorism Pursuit Teams, or C.T.P.T., mostly Afghans who capture and kill Taliban fighters and seek support in tribal areas. Past news accounts have reported that the C.I.A. has a number of militias, including one trained on one of its compounds, but not the size of the covert army.
The book also reports that the United States has intelligence showing that manic-depression has been diagnosed in President Hamid Karzai of Afghanistan and that he was on medication, but adds no details. Mr. Karzai’s mood swings have been a challenge for the Obama administration.
Wow. That may be one of the most important pieces of information in the book. If Karzai is truly a manic-depressive, that could go a long way towards explaining much of the Afghan president's erratic behavior.
Of course, Lincoln and Winston Churchill are thought to have experienced mental illness, too, so it's not necessarily mean Karzai can't be an effective leader.
But it certainly would heighten concerns that Karzai may ultimately be unable to provide the U.S. with the kind of partnership that would make the way ahead clearer for American policymakers.