Monday, December 14, 2020

the last book I ever read (A Promised Land by Barack Obama, excerpt seven)

from A Promised Land by Barack Obama:

Trim and fit, with a PhD in international relations and economics from Princeton and an orderly, analytical mind, Petraeus was considered the brains behind our improved position in Iraq and the individual to whom the White House had essentially contracted out its strategy. We took a helicopter together from the Baghdad airport to the heavily fortified Green Zone, talking all the way, and although the substance of our conversation wouldn’t appear in any press write-ups, as far as my campaign team was concerned that was just fine. It was the photographs they cared about—images of me seated next to a four-star general aboard a Black Hawk helicopter, wearing a headset and aviator glasses. Apparently it proved a youthful, vigorous contrast to an unfortunate depiction of my Republican opponent that happened to surface on the very same day: McCain riding shotgun on a golf cart with former president George H. W. Bush, the two of them resembling a couple of pastel-sweatered grandpas on their way to a country club picnic.

Meanwhile, sitting together in his spacious office at coalition headquarters, Petraeus and I discussed everything from the need for more Arabic-language specialists in the military to the vital role development projects would play in delegitimizing militias and terrorist organizations and bolstering the new government. Bush deserved credit, I thought, for having selected this particular general to right what had been a sinking ship. If we had unlimited time and resources—if America’s long-term national security interests absolutely depended on creating a functioning and democratic state allied to the United States in Iraq—then Petraeus’s approach had as good a chance as any of achieving the goal.

But we did not have unlimited time or resources. When you boiled it down, that’s what the argument over withdrawal was all about. How much did we continue to give, and when would it be enough? As far as I was concerned, we were approaching that line; our national security required a stable Iraq, but not a showcase for American nation-building. Petraeus, on the other hand, believed that without a more sustained U.S. investment, whatever gains we’d made were still easily reversed.

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