Published for Foreign Policy, August 8, 2012
My August “beach” reading plans got waylaid when I picked up David Sanger’s remarkable book, Confront and Conceal: Obama’s Secret Wars and Surprising Use of American Power.
This is one of the most gripping “first draft of history” kind of books I have read in quite some time. It reads like a Tom Clancy novel, perhaps too much like one since it offers dramatic revelations on some of the most sensitive operations of the U.S. government. Many of the revelations paint President Obama in the most favorable light possible, but the cumulative effect might ironically be damaging to the administration, precisely because the reporting on sensitive matters is so extensive.
Sanger is a gifted reporter, and he is also an honest one. While it is obvious that he views the Administration favorably and he goes to some lengths to highlight positive angles where he can, he also includes items that don’t reflect so well on the administration.
One of those in the Afghanistan section really struck me. Sanger describes the internal debate over the Afghanistan surge and reports that both Secretary of Defense Gates and Secretary of State Clinton considered it a mistake to announce an artificial timeline for ending the surge at the same time that the president authorized the surge. I knew about Gates’ position, but I didn’t know about Clinton’s.