Bob Woodward book: “Obama’s Wars,”

iVillage Member
Registered: 09-30-2009
Bob Woodward book: “Obama’s Wars,”
Wed, 09-22-2010 - 1:35am
September 21, 2010

Woodward Book Portrays Obama Aides’ Battles


WASHINGTON — Some of the critical players in President Obama’s national security team doubt his strategy in Afghanistan will succeed and have spent much of the last 20 months quarreling with one another over policy, personalities and turf, according to a new book.

The book, “Obama’s Wars,” by the journalist Bob Woodward, depicts an administration deeply torn over the war in Afghanistan even as the president agreed to triple troop levels there amid suspicion that he was being boxed in by the military. Mr. Obama’s top White House adviser on Afghanistan and his special envoy for the region are described as believing the strategy will not work.

The president concluded from the start that “I have two years with the public on this” and pressed advisers for ways to avoid a big escalation, the book says. “I want an exit strategy,” he implored at one meeting. Privately, he told Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. to push his alternative strategy opposing a big troop buildup in meetings, and while Mr. Obama ultimately rejected it, he set a withdrawal timetable because, “I can’t lose the whole Democratic Party.”

But Mr. Biden is not the only one who harbors doubts about the strategy’s chances for success. Lt. Gen. Douglas E. Lute, the president’s Afghanistan adviser, is described as believing that the president’s review did not “add up” to the decision he made. Richard C. Holbrooke, the president’s special representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan, is quoted saying of the strategy that “it can’t work.”

Mr. Woodward, the longtime Washington Post reporter and editor, was granted extensive access to administration officials and documents for his account, including an interview with Mr. Obama. The New York Times obtained a copy of the book before its publication by Simon & Schuster, scheduled for next week. The White House had no comment on the book Tuesday night.

Although the internal divisions described have become public, the book suggests that they were even more intense and disparate than previously known and offers new details. Mr. Biden called Mr. Holbrooke “the most egotistical bastard I’ve ever met.” A variety of administration officials expressed scorn for James L. Jones, the retired Marine general who is national security adviser, while he referred to some of the president’s other aides as “the water bugs” or “the Politburo.”

Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, thought his vice chairman, Gen. James E. Cartwright, went behind his back, while General Cartwright dismissed Admiral Mullen because he wasn’t a war fighter. Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates worried that General Jones would be succeeded by his deputy, Thomas E. Donilon, who would be a “disaster.”

Gen. David H. Petraeus, who was overall commander for the Middle East until becoming the Afghanistan commander this summer, told a senior aide that he disliked talking with David M. Axelrod, the president’s senior adviser, because he was “a complete spin doctor.” General Petraeus was effectively banned by the administration from the Sunday talk shows but worked private channels with Congress and the news media.

And the book recounts incidents in which Adm. Dennis C. Blair, then the national intelligence director, fought with Rahm Emanuel, the White House chief of staff, and John O. Brennan, the counterterrorism adviser.

During a daily intelligence briefing in May 2009, Mr. Blair warned the president that radicals with American and European passports were being trained in Pakistan to attack their homelands. Mr. Emanuel afterward chastised him, saying, “You’re just trying to put this on us so it’s not your fault.” Mr. Blair also skirmished with Mr. Brennan about a report on the failed airliner terrorist attack on Dec. 25. Mr. Obama later forced Mr. Blair out.

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.

As for Mr. Obama himself, the book describes a professorial president who assigned “homework” to advisers but bristled at what he saw as military commanders’ attempts to force him into a decision he was not yet comfortable with. Even after he agreed to send another 30,000 troops last winter, the Pentagon asked for another 4,500 “enablers” to support them.

The president lost his poise, according to the book. “I’m done doing this!” he erupted.

To ensure that the Pentagon did not reinterpret his decision, Mr. Obama dictated a six-page, single-space “terms sheet” explicitly laying out his troop order and its objectives, a document included in the book’s appendix.

Mr. Obama’s struggle with the decision comes through in a conversation with Senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, who asked if his deadline to begin withdrawal in July 2011 was firm. “I have to say that,” Mr. Obama replied. “I can’t let this be a war without end, and I can’t lose the whole Democratic Party.”

Reporting was contributed by Julie Bosman from New York, and by Mark Mazzetti, Scott Shane, Brian Knowlton and Thom Shanker from Washington.

iVillage Member
Registered: 01-28-2009
Wed, 09-22-2010 - 3:34pm

It should be an interesting read.

Avatar for claddagh49
iVillage Member
Registered: 07-20-2004
Wed, 09-22-2010 - 5:38pm
I think the Republicans have a passion for WAR. It would be fine with them if we were always at war! Their croynies make a bundle of money on it.
iVillage Member
Registered: 11-27-2009
Wed, 09-22-2010 - 10:48pm

The reports on this book unveil 2 troubling statements made by Obama.
1. (from the NYT article in the OP) " Privately, he told Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. to push his alternative strategy opposing a big troop buildup in meetings, and while Mr. Obama ultimately rejected it, he set a withdrawal timetable because, “I can’t lose the whole Democratic Party.” "

I know that all along Obama campaigned on an exit strategy, but this comment leave me with this thought that retaining the Democratic Party was more important than the troops. His exit strategy was at least partly motivated by doing what was politically advantageous to him.

2. (I did not find this in the NYT article, but did find it other places) " Woodward's book portrays Obama and the White House as barraged by warnings about the threat of terrorist attacks on U.S. soil and confronted with the difficulty in preventing them. During an interview with Woodward in July, the president said, "We can absorb a terrorist attack. We'll do everything we can to prevent it, but even a 9/11, even the biggest attack ever . . . we absorbed it and we are stronger." "

This statement leaves me wondering what he is thinking? He would prevent another attack, but 'we can absorb one'? Really? We have moved forward since 9/11, but did we just 'absorb' the attack? Are those that lost their lives that day, from office workers to emergency responders, just absorbed by time or whatever the President means? Is another attack, even one as large or larger than 9/11 just something we are all expected to just endure?

iVillage Member
Registered: 09-22-2010
Wed, 09-22-2010 - 10:55pm

as long as we're at war the "right" people get paid.

iVillage Member
Registered: 09-01-2010
Wed, 09-22-2010 - 11:29pm

The thing about being commander-in-chief is that there is both a political and military role to be played. I'm glad that Obama recognizes that if this debacle in Afghanistan doesn't turn around, at least the Democrats (and probably some practical Republicans) will cease to support it. I already don't support it. So, it doesn't surprise me at all that Obama would honestly express the tug-and-pull involved in such decisions.

Also, I agree with Obama that while it is essential to try to prevent an terrorist attack, it will not mean that our country will cease to exist if an attack was to occur. We can survive an attack, but we would be very angry and upset. We already survived 911, so we have some practice at surviving. We're made of stern stuff, and we pick ourselves up and get on with life. And, I'd be surprised if we were attacked again, if masses of us would go out and commit suicide or pack our bags and move to Canada due to our grief. We will endure.