But there has been no follow up on the first dinner, and certainly no sign that he learned anything from it. The only thing achieved has been the silencing of the main point the dinner guests tried to make—that pursuit of war in Afghanistan would be for him what Vietnam was to Lyndon Johnson. At least four or five of the nine stressed this. Nothing else rose to this level of seriousness or repeated concern.
I’ve written here before about Wills’s concerns about Afghanistan, and his (in my opinion) strange feelings of betrayal by a man who promised to escalate the war in Afghanistan throughout his 2008 campaign. But his particular pique at Obama about Afghanistan takes on a new dimension now that we know that Wills was consulted by the President. Wills gave Obama some good advice in my view, most of which Obama has ignored–but hey: he’s the President! He owns it now. I still don’t get why people are angry with Obama for actually following through on a campaign pledge.
Wills’s blog post raises some interesting questions about professional ethics and the line between history and journalism. These “presidential historians” tend not to be Ph.D.-holding Professors with university affiliations, but rather writers of popular histories and/or people with more ties to journalism (like Wills) than to the academy. Did Wills commit a major breach of journalistic ethics in going on the record with an off-the-record dinner? (After all, he agreed to it at the time–is this as bad as burning a source?) Are there different rules for “historians” than for other writers? (I don’t think so.) It sounds to me like he’s mostly just piqued that Obama didn’t take his advice, and that he wants to keep his distance from the Obama presidency.