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These are minor blemishes in an important book. I raise them mainly because of the warning signal they send about civil-military relations under President Obama. White House mistrust and suspicion of generals is not a recipe for an effective use of military force because it impedes the candid sort of discussion that consciously brings to the surface differences, examines assumptions and hammers out sustainable strategies.
Rather, it suggests that Mr.
Obama and those around him are repeating some of the dysfunctionality that characterized the dealings of Presidents Kennedy and Johnson with the Pentagon during the descent into the Vietnam War.
With Syria hanging fire, a nuclear-armed Pakistan on the brink and the Afghan war dragging on, that is not a reassuring state of affairs. In Syria as well, the US refuses to be drawn in, for if the Turks and Saudis have the most to gain from rolling back Iranian influence, let them take the risks.
This then is the vital third element in the Obama doctrine — give allies a longer leash to pursue their own interests and agendas while continuing to support them behind the scenes.
There are two great challenges for the Obama Doctrine that exposes its limitations and might well determine his legacy.
One is the rise of China. The other is the decline of Pakistan. What no one seriously doubts is that if China sustains its peaceful development for another generation, the US sphere of influence in East Asia will be history. This is not an outcome that US policy makers enjoy countenancing.
Donilon, in effect, is the hero of the book, as well as the commenter of record on events. That is, Mr.
Sanger shows us the world through the eyes of Mr. Obama, Mr.
Donilon and those around him. But he also tends to depict Washington and the world as they see it.