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Wednesday, August 22, 2012

The Obama Wars

Why you should read Obama's Wars

Hours after his election as the 44th president of the United States, Barack Obama learned details of the top-secret circumstances that defined the Afghanistan conflict, a war characterized by inadequate resources, incomplete planning, inchoate strategy and ongoing bloodshed. Bob Woodward of The Washington Post applied his legendary reporting skills to reams of meeting notes, classified reports and interviews to recreate the often tempestuous policy making on Afghanistan that marked Obama’s first 18 months in office. Woodward’s trip to Afghanistan and his unfettered access to top officials in more than 100 interviews, including more than an hour with the president, put you at the center of marathon meetings, disputes and discussions peopled by contrasting personalities and their shifting allegiances.getAbstract recommends this masterful work of reporting, an engrossing book on how the US is managing a war “with no good options.”

About the Author

Bob Woodward, associate editor at The Washington Post, is a co-winner of two Pulitzer Prizes, including one for his reporting of the Watergate scandal.

Woodward: The Juicy Bits

Speed-read Bob Woodward’s new book, Obama’s Wars. Hillary's buck-passing. Petraeus' disobedience. Obama's fury. Bryan Curtis on the best moments. Plus, the most likely sources—and what's conspicuously left out.

Obama’s Wars, ace reporter Bob Woodward’s first book about the administration, comes out September 27. We got it early. The biggest revelations below:
What is Obama’s Wars about?
It’s about policy making. Or, rather, a political argument. The argument is: What is America going to do in Afghanistan, and how can it do it?
That sounds awfully…bureaucratic. 
It is. You might expect Woodward’s narrative to zip from the White House to the Tora Bora, but just about the entire book takes place in D.C. meeting rooms. As chroniclers of the Afghanistan War go, Woodward is the anti-Sebastian Junger.
We know Obama committed 30,000 new troops to Afghanistan last December, and promised to start the withdrawal in 18 months. What mystery is Woodward trying to solve?
He’s trying to figure out whether Obama got rolled by the military.
Did he? 
Woodward does not exactly say. But he demonstrates convincingly that the men in uniform—that would be David Petraeus, Stanley McChrystal, and Mike Mullen, along with Bob Gates—dangled very few battle plans in front of Obama, and used bureaucratic jujitsu to make sure he didn’t see others. For example, Obama never had a fully fleshed-out proposal for sending fewer than 30,000 new troops to Afghanistan. And even the final proposal he crafted himself, lowering the military’s demands a tad. As Petraeus says, after being informed of a slight from Pennsylvania Avenue, “They’re fucking with the wrong guy.”
Barack Obama and David Petraeus walk down a runway at Baghdad International Airport on July 21, 2008. (Photo: Ssg. Lorie Jewell / AP Photo)
How’d they get away with it? 
In addition to being master bureaucratic infighters, the generals are genius P.R. men. Woodward recounts scene after scene of Petraeus talking to the press when he’s specifically been ordered to stand down. Once, just before a Situation Room meeting with Obama, he made a surprise CNN appearance from the White House briefing room.
What’s my news headline when it comes out September 27? 
Holbrooke says the war plan “won’t work.” Petraeus, who’s now running the Afghan effort, says, “You have to recognize that I don’t think you can win this war. I think you keep fighting.” ( See The Times for more.)
Did Woodward snag an Obama interview? 
He got an hour and fifteen minutes in July.
And how does Obama come off? 
In the book’s opening pages, which take place around the 2008 election, he seems beleaguered. “You know, I’ve been worried about losing this election,” Obama tells an intelligence chief. “After talking to you guys, I’m worried about winning this election.”
“We were dealt a very bad hand,” he says later. Obama seems finally to be seeing the dog’s breakfast he inherited.
• Leslie H. Gelb: Burned By Woodward’s FireCritics who accuse Obama of being Spock-like with his emotions will find plenty of fodder here. “[John] Podesta was not sure that Obama felt anything, especially in his gut,” Woodward writes. Obama is portrayed as a deliberate consensus-seeker, insistent on hearing months of proposals. In that sense, he probably has more patience than the reader.
Obama's Wars. By Bob Woodward. 464 Pages. Simon & Schuster. $30.
We know the Woodward method. Those who tattle get better treatment. Who wins Obama’s Wars?
James Jones, the national security advisor, is treated with kid gloves. You might remember Jones as the guy one of Stanley McChrystal’s aides called a “clown” in that infamous Rolling Stone article. But here Jones is smart, determined, and sensitive to bureaucratic reverberations. He’s allowed to blast his enemies more than he is blasted—the sign you’ve made it in Woodward book.
Joe Biden also makes out like a bandit. In one of the book’s very best scenes, he’s shown confronting Hamid Karzai, the Afghan president, at a state dinner. Biden smothers Karzai with contempt disguised as diplomatic grace, right in front of the guy’s entire cabinet. That account—presumably supplied by Biden—gives the veep weight that his media portrait has thus far lacked.
Other likely babblers: Lindsey Graham, Bob Gates, and Leon Panetta.
Which Obamaite comes off like a real tool?
Poor Dick Holbrooke. His turn as special envoy to Afghanistan and Pakistan was to be a diplomatic victory lap. “It wasn’t until well into the Obama presidency,” Woodward writes, “that Holbrooke learned definitively how much the president didn’t care for him.” In a revealing anecdote, Holbrooke asks Obama to call him “Richard” rather than “Dick.” For some reason, Obama finds the request highly bizarre and, in Woodward’s telling, repeats the story of Holbrooke’s pathetic plea around the White House.
Does anyone go the full McChrystal and napalm their career?
For his studly portrayal, James Jones comes pretty close. He blasts Rahm and Co. as the “water bugs,” the Mafia,” and the “Politburo.” “There are too many senior aides around the president,” Jones says to somebody.
Jones thinks Rahm is a weenie who hides behind Obama’s opinions. He thinks Gates is always positioning himself to be on the side of the victors. He feels the administration killed his friendship with Gen. Anthony Zinni. I could go on. You doubt Jones is long for the administration.
You haven’t said much about Hillary.
She must have hidden under a desk when Woodward went to Foggy Bottom. Perhaps she’s still smarting from The Choice. There’s one killer scene: While the senior staff is formulating the war policy, she tells Obama, “Mr. President, the dilemma you face…” Everybody in the room notices the pronoun.
There are some other principals who barely made the book. Rahm graces us with only a few cuss words. Michelle is missing, along with Tim Geithner, Larry Summers, Arne Duncan, Jon Favreau, and anybody else who wasn’t directly involved in Obama’s foreign policy.
It sounds like Obama’s Wars is a tiny keyhole into Obamaland.
It’s narrower still. Woodward is so focused on the White House dealings that he never backs up and asks the obvious question: How did Obama get himself committed to the Afghan War to begin with? A lot of us suspected that during the campaign, Obama’s support of a ramp-up was thrown in to make him look hawkish as he advocated for drawing down in Iraq. I never thought he was particularly convincing, anyway. Yet Woodward treats it as a fait accompli that Obama would pursue it.
Ironically, that’s the one question it would have been easiest to answer.
Other complaints?
Outside of the Woodward cocktail of unnamed sources? The heart of the book takes place during several meetings in 2009. As you might imagine when politicians and bureaucrats get together, things get discussed. And discussed. And discussed some more. Some of it gets rather turgid, even given the remarkable ability of the participants to recreate exact bits of dialogue. Unlike some of Woodward’s Bush volumes, it feels like a book written for history rather than for reading.
How about a few more Woodward smart bombs?
1. The CIA has a secret, 3,000-person army in Afghanistan.
2. There was a threat of a Somali terrorist plot at Obama’s inaugural.
3. David Axelrod said Obama picked North Carolina to win the 2009 NCAA basketball tournament for political reasons. (He might have been kidding.)
4. Mike Mullen emasculates David Petraeus in front of the president when the latter tries to circulate a memo.
5. Obama to Lindsey Graham, on why he installed a deadline for Afghanistan: “I have to say that. I can’t let this be a war without end, and I can’t lose the whole Democratic Party.”
One last bit of cattiness, please.
Woodward gets his hands on a secret document prepared by Stanley McChrystal. It results in a big exclusive on the front page of The Washington Post on September 21, 2009. Then Woodward adds, “Within a few minutes, The New York Times all but copied the story almost paragraph for paragraph.”
By the way, how’d you get your hands on the book?
I walked into a New York bookstore, saw it placed prematurely on the shelf, and paid $30 for it. Take that, Woodward.
Bryan Curtis is a senior editor at The Daily Beast. He was a columnist at Play: The New York Times Sports Magazine, Slate, and Texas Monthly, and has written for GQ, Outside, and New York. Write him at bryan.curtis at
Bryan Curtis is the national correspondent at Newsweek and The Daily Beast. He was a columnist at Play: The New York Times Sports Magazine, Slate, and Texas Monthly, and has written for Grantland, New York, and GQ. Write him at 

Book review: 'Obama's Wars'

Journalist Bob Woodward uncovers information and insights into the president's handling of the military operations overseas and security issues at home.

he essential outline of the story journalist and political historian Bob Woodward sets out to tell in " Obama's Wars" actually is fairly well known. President Obama's agonized march to a decision on how to move forward in what he has called "a war of necessity" in Afghanistan has been widely reported and analyzed.
It's well known, for example, that the lack of good options bitterly divided the president's advisors and that the chief executive immersed himself in the details of the decision that ultimately produced a modified version of the "surge" strategy that the Bush administration used to stabilize — temporarily, at least — Iraq. The Joint Chiefs were similarly split over what to do in Afghanistan, as were the commanders on the ground. What Woodward's signature brand of exhaustive reporting and access to sources — including Obama — and timely documents provide are the voices and detailed anecdotes that put flesh on the people in the White House — right down to the name-calling and back-biting.
There are sobering revelations aplenty in "Obama's Wars," including intelligence appraisals on Al Qaeda's ongoing effort to recruit terrorists from among the 35 countries whose nationals don't need visas to enter the United States. According to one briefing Obama was given, at least 20 holders of American, Canadian or Western European passports are being trained by Al Qaeda in Pakistani safe havens. Other threats abound: During the last presidential election, for example, U.S. intelligence agencies caught the Chinese hacking into the computers both the Obama and McCain camps used to run their campaigns. When the president-elect got his first private briefing from Adm. Michael G. Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs, he discovered that eight years into it there was "no strategy" for fighting the Afghan war, that the contingency plan for military action against Iran dated to the Carter administration — a 90-day bombing campaign followed by a Normandy-style invasion by a force larger than the entire U.S. military — and had no plans at all for dealing with the growing Al Qaeda presence in Yemen and Somalia. While no contingency plans exist for dealing militarily with a collapse of nuclear-armed Pakistan, there is "a retribution plan" in place, developed by the Bush administration, if the United States suffers another 9/11-style terrorist attack. That would involve bombing and missile strikes to obliterate the more than 150 Al Qaeda training and staging camps known to exist, most of them in Pakistan, which presumably would suffer extensive civilian casualties.
"One of the closest held secrets of President Bush's inner circle," Woodward writes, "was that the president had lost his appetite for military contingency planning. The tough-talking, saber-rattling Bush Administration had not prepared for some of the worst-case scenarios the country might face."
In fact, according to Woodward, at the last National Security Council he convened before leaving office, Bush decided to suppress a report on the Afghan situation he'd commissioned from his "war czar," Lt. Gen. Douglas Lute. That review concluded the United States had no coordinated strategy in Afghanistan, that we were neither losing nor winning the war there, that the local government was hopelessly corrupt and that the far greater strategic threat to American security was in Pakistan.
Woodward gives a grim account of the secretive visit Vice President Joe Biden and Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) made to Islamabad and Kabul on Obama's behalf early in his term. They confronted Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari over his intelligence agency's ties to the Taliban and the impunity with which Al Qaeda operates in his country and came away without much confidence in his ability to remedy matters. Things were worse in Kabul, where there was an angry confrontation with President Hamid Karzai — who, according to U.S. intelligence, is a manic-depressive subject to wild mood swings despite medication  over his government's corruption and general ineffectuality. U.S. military briefers told Biden that "'we haven't really seen an Arab here in a couple of years.' For all practical purposes, there was no Al Qaeda (in Afghanistan). That confirmed what Biden suspected. Al Qaeda — the impetus of this war — was a Pakistani problem." Everything the vice president saw seemed to remind him of Vietnam, which Woodward reports made him "pessimistic and more convinced than ever" that the United States had slipped into a Central Asian version of that morass.
An equally sour and alarming mission followed a Pakistani immigrant-turned-terrorist's botched attempt to set off a car bomb in New York's Times Square. Obama dispatched national security advisor James L. Jones and CIA Director Leon Panetta to Pakistan to confront officials there with the need to do more to end their government's links to terror and to deal with " Mullah Omar's Quetta Shura and the Haqqani network, the two leading Taliban groups killing U.S. soldiers in Afghanistan." Neither American official came away believing the Pakistanis were going to do anything of the kind.
For Jones, the inability to cut the Gordian knot of Pakistani weakness, double dealing and intractable hostility toward India means grief for the administration's strategic approach to Afghanistan. Woodward writes that if the NSC advisor had found himself the new military commander on the ground there, he would have told the president that "the strategy is correct. But it was predicated on the fact that Pakistan would be coerced into moving more than they have been…. The Taliban war in Afghanistan was being run from these safe havens. And hundreds, if not thousands, of fighters were pouring across the border. The Taliban was taking full advantage of the safe havens to rest and train fighters before rotating them into Afghanistan for combat. In those circumstances, 'You can't win. You can't do counterinsurgency. It is a cancer in the plan.'"

ournalist Bob Woodward uncovers information and insights into the president's handling of the military operations overseas and security issues at home.

September 27, 2010|By Tim Rutten | Los Angeles Times

Bob Woodward, 
Obama's Wars
(Simon & Schuster, 2010).
Obama's Wars 
has fascinating details about the making of U.S.Afghanistan policy in 2009 and Obama's decision to turn his geostrategic focus toPakistan, but it has no single thesis;instead, Woodward presents many points of view.]
Author's Personal Note.
Credit toassistants Josh Boak and Evelyn Duffy(author of  
) (xi-xii).
Note to Readers.
"This book isdesigned to present, as best myreporting could determine, what reallyhappened" (xiii). The "written record"provides the "core of this book," and"more than 100 people" provided"[i]nformation" over an 18-month period,sometimes as much as interviews thatcome to 300 pages transcribed; theirwords are often used "even when theyare not directly quoted" (xiii). PresidentObama was interviewed for 75 minutes inthe Oval Office on Jul. 10, 2010.
Cast of Characters.
40 individuals (xv-xviii).
Ch. 1.
Director of National IntelligenceMike McConnell excludes Podesta andSteinberg from Obama's first post-election briefing on Nov. 6, 2008, inChicago, where Obama hears about (1)the Quetta Shura Taliban, the centralinsurgent group in Afghanistan; (2) theCIA's 3,000-man covert army inAfghanistan consisting "mostly of Afghans"; (3) Yemen; (4) Iran's nuclearweapons program; (5) North Korea; (6)cyber threats (1-12).
Ch. 2.
Appointment of Rahm Emanuelas chief of staff (13-14). Gen. DavidPetraeus (14-17). Obama meets withBush in the Oval Office on Nov. 10 (17-18). Obama meets with Gates, asks himto continue as secretary of defense onNov. 10 (18-24).
Ch. 3.
Pakistani President Asif Ali Zadarigives CIA Director Michael Hayden thegreen light on drone strikes in Pakistan ata meeting in NYC's IntercontinentalBarclay hotel on Nov. 12, 2008 (25-26).Hillary Clinton hesitates before acceptingthe offer to become secretary of state(26-31). On Nov. 21, Obama tells Adm.Mike Mullen, chairman of the joint chiefs,"I want to get Afghanistan and Pakistanright . . . but I don't want to build a Jeffersonian democracy" (34; 32-34).Contingency plans for Iran, Somalia, Yemen, and Pakistan are lacking; "[Bush]had lost his appetite for militarycontingency planning" (35).
Ch. 4.
Obama's choice of Gen. James L. Jones as national security adviser (36-39). "[Obama] was unsentimental andcapable of being ruthless. [John] Podestawas not sure that Obama felt anything,especially in his gut. He intellectualizedand then charted the path forward" (38).Rahm Emanuel imposes Tom Donilon as Jones's deputy (39-40). The NSCconsiders a classified pessimistic reporton Afghanistan by Lt. Gen. Douglas Lute,on Nov. 26: "ten different wars sprinkledaround . . . Nobody was in charge. . . . nounity of effort or command" (43; 40-44). The Mumbai attack (44-47).
Ch. 5.
Obama slights CIA directorMichael Hayden, not meeting with himuntil Dec. 9 in Chicago at a meeting towhich DNI Mike McConnell inviteshimself, and does not adopt all of Hayden's recommendations (48-56).Because Bush has "tarnished the imageof the nation, especially with theenhanced interrogation techniques and expansive electronic eavesdropping,"Obama turns at Rahm Emanuel'ssuggestion to Leon Panetta for CIAdirector, who is "floored" by the offer,and Dennis Blair as DNI (56-60).McConnell, in parting, makes the DNI thedecider of the senior intelligencerepresentative in each foreign country(60-61).
Ch. 6.
Vice President-elect Joe Biden'sstraight-talk visit to Afghanistan andPakistan with Sen. Lindsey Graham, Jan.9-13 (62-71). Obama is briefed on Jan.14 (72-73).
Ch. 7.
Obama won't show Jones anadvance copy of his inaugural address(74-75). Gen. Petraeus in Afghanistan(75). After the national security meetingin the Situation Room on Jan. 21, 2009,Petraeus is told to stay in Washington todiscuss Afghanistan (75-76). Petraeusrealizes the DNI has no mission managerfor Afghanistan and Pakistan, and"decided to create his own intelligenceagency inside CentCom," of whichCongress remained ignorant "for severalmonths," with Derek Harvey of the DIA,as its director, designing a moreelaborate system of intel collection (78;76-79). At a Jan. 23 meeting onAfghanistan in the Situation Room,Obama says he has not yet made adecision on increasing troop levels, butPetraeus indicates his intention to "moveforward on the [infrastructure andsupplies for] 30,000 new troops" (79-81).
Ch. 8.
Retired Army Gen. Jack Keane,close to Hillary Clinton, urges that Gen.Stanley McChrystal be made Afghanistancommander (82-86). Afpak coordinatorRichard Holbrooke meets with HusainHaqqani (86-88). On Jan. 30 Obama asksBruce Riedel [b. 1953, B.A. Brown, M.A.Harvard, 21 years at CIA] to do astrategic review of Afghanistan andPakistan in 60 days; Riedel does a quickcut-and-paste from his 2008 book, TheSearch for al Qaeda (88-90).
Ch. 9.
Hayden gets Panetta tobackpedal from statements about CIAtorture at his Feb. 9-10 confirmationhearings (91-93). Hayden gives his lastbriefing on Predator strikes inAfghanistan (93-94). After a critique byGen. Lute of an ill-thought-out andinadequate request for 13,000 troopsimmediately for Afghanistan, Donilongrows suspicious of the military (94-96).On Feb. 13-17, 2009, Obama decides tosend 17,000 more troops to Afghanistan,with no speech, no press conference, justa four-paragraph press release (96-98).
Ch. 10.
Mar 11: Riedel gives Gates &Mullen "a sneak preview" of his review,which will recommend the U.S. "give thePakistani military what it needs to fight acounterinsurgency" (99; 100; 99-101).Blair endorses Riedel (101). At an NSCmeeting on Mar. 12, Biden challengesRiedel's recommendation in a 21-minuteresponse, but Hillary Clinton endorses itin the name of women's rights andsupporting the U.N.; Gates also supportsRiedel (101-03). Rahm Emanuel isastounded we don't know where binLaden is (103). On Mar. 17, the NSCendorses Riedel's strategy, Bidendissenting (103-04). On Mar. 18 Riedelboards Air Force One en route toCalifornia for Obama's appearance on JayLeno; Obama reads Riedel's review and istold by him that the threat from al Qaedais greater than before Sept. 11, that binLaden "communicates with his underlingsand is in touch with his foot soldiers. . .Unless we kill them, they're going tokeep trying to kill us. . . . You have to seethe threat as a syndicate . . . don't relyon drones" (104-07). On Jul. 10, 2010,Obama reaffirmed to Woodward his focuson Paksitan (109). On Mar. 20, 2009,despite Biden's "concerns," Obamapronounces himself "in general accord"with Riedel's approach (110).
Ch. 11.
Petraeus continues to promote a"fully resourced" counterinsurgency campaign though this is not mentioned in Obama's draft speech (111-13).Obama's [Mar. 27] speech (113-14). Lutefeels too much depends on Iraq/Afghanistan trade-offs (114-15).Obama's meeting with PakistaniPresident Zadari in the Oval Office onMay 7 is a warm one because of Pakistan's offensive against militants in Swat (115-16). Zadari reveals to Zalmay Khalilzad, former ambassador toAfghanistan, his fears that the U.S. istrying to destabilize Pakistan (116-17).On May 11, Obama remplaces McKiernanwith McChrystal as Afghanistancommander on the recommendation of Mullen and Gates (117-20). On May 20,the Presidential Daily Brief contains a warning of danger from al Qaedatrainees from North America; RahmEmmanual offends Blair by challenging itas a cover-your-ass tactic (120-23).McChrystal's confirmation hearing, Jun. 2,shows signs McChrystal and Mullen arecampaigning for more troops; Jones hitson the idea of McChrystal doing anassessment to defuse tensions (123-25).
Ch. 12.
Gen. Jones invites Woodward toaccompany him on a six-day trip toAfghanistan, Pakistan, and India (Jun. 21-27); the trip convinces him the situationthere is dire (126-40). Jones is critical of the organization of White House aides,whom he compares to "water bugs" (137-40). After Woodward's July 1 article in the Post  , Jones tries to rein in Mullen, but by now it is clear that there is a "growingdivide . . . between the White House andthe Pentagon" (143; 140-43).
Ch. 13.
In mid-July, Gates succeeds inhaving the mission in Afghanistanchanged from "disrupt" to "defeat" the Taliban—a "classic example of missioncreep" (146; 144-46). The August 2009Afghan elections; Karzai, who thinks theU.S. is supporting a runoff, is"increasingly delusional and paranoid"(146-48). A strategy review teamconvened by McChrystal in June 2009finds the military is ignorant aboutAfghanistan (149-54). McCain andGraham visit McChrystal in Afghanistan(154-55). McChrystal lets Gates knowhe'll be requesting 40,000 more troops(156).
Ch. 14.
Petraeus promotescounterinsurgency with the press in Sept.2009 (157-58). Obama is "determinednot to repeat" mistaken escalations of the past (158). Petraeus feels sidelinedby Obama (159). Biden devises analternative "counterinsurgency plus"strategy (159-60). Jones plumps forstaying within "the formal NSC system"for making decisions (161). The nationalsecurity team meets on Sun., Sept. 13,2009, in the Situation Room to considerMcChrystal's 66-page report; Obamademands a deeper consideration of thesituation, beginning with intrests andaims before considering resources (161-69). Holbrooke believes the decision-making on the initial Riedel review wasflawed: Jones is weak and is notprotecting the president (169-70).Petraeus thinks his exclusion from themeeting is "ridiculous"; he disagreesabout Pakistan being all-important (171).
Ch. 15.
Emanuel and Donilon arefurious that Mullen tells the Senate at hisconfirmation hearing on Sept. 15 that a"properly resourced, classically pursuedcounterinsurgency effort" "probablymeans more forces": "The president isbeing screwed by the senior uniformedmilitary" (173; 172-74). Obama invitesColin Powell to the Oval Office on Sept.16; he urges the president to "take yourtime" (174-75). In Sept., someone leaksMcChrystal's 66-page assessment;Woodward judges it a " cry from the heart  " (176, emphasis in original) (175-59). The Post 's discussion with thePentagon on publishing the report (179-82). Publication of redacted version(182-83). According to Obama,McChrystal's report revealed the"ambiguity about what our central mission was" that was in the Riedelreport (183-84).
Ch. 16.
A Sept. 29 principals' meeting inthe Situation Room in advance of NSCmeeting the next day shows that aftereight years of war, core objectives arestill unclear (185). After a wide-rangingdiscussion at the NSC meeting on Sept.30, Petraeus is concerned that Pakistanis preempting "his counterinsurgencywar" in Afghanistan (191; 185-92).McChrystal's Sept. 24 official request for40,000 more troops (192-93).McChrystal's Oct. 1 speech in London tothe International Institute for StrategicStudies shocks the White House, and"[e]ven Jones" (193-95). Obama"impassioned" in speaking with staffersEmanuel, Axelrod, and Danilon (195-96). Jones thinks McChrystal shows a lack of "common sense" and has committed a"firing offense," but "we need him" (196-97). Obama feels "disrespected andtrapped" (197). Jones feels his aide,Mark Lippert, is undermining him, but ittakes two months to get Obama toremove him (197-99). Jones critiquesDonilon [who became Obama's nationalsecurity adviser on Oct. 22, 2010] (199-200). Gates tells Pakistani AmbassadorHaqqani that the U.S. is not leavingAfghanistan (200-01).
Ch. 17.
Though there is a lack of clarityabout the Taliban and U.S. aims, Clintonand Gates are hawkish in an Oct. 5principals' rehearsal meeting (202-04).Obama is harassed by Republicans at anOct. 6 meeting with congressionalleaders (204-05). Petraeus and Mullenpersuade Lindsey Graham to stopcomplaining that Obama is taking toolong to decide about troopreinforcements (205-07). On Oct. 7,Obama complains to Clinton and Gatesthat "They had not found a way toarticulate why the United States was inAfghanistan" (207). At a 3-hour meeting,Obama approves a list of ten expandedCIA counterterrorist activities with anoffhand "Let's do it" and expressesfrustration that the U.S. image inPakistan is so bad (209-10). Obamadislikes Holbrooke (211).
Ch. 18.
On Oct. 8, McChrystal presentshis troop options to principals in a way Jones finds inadequate (212-13). On Oct.9, the day Obama's Nobel Peace Prize isannounced, at a "full NSC session" Bidenand Eikenberry express skepticism aboutthe feasibility of American progress (213-21).
Ch. 19.
At the Oct. 9 NSC meeting,Hillary Clinton speaks to Obama about"the dilemma  you face" with reference to Afghanistan (222-23). All agree that the Taliban cannot be defeated, but that theU.S. cannot leave; the "objective" is still being debated (223-33).
Ch. 20.
When Gen. James E. "Hoss"Cartwright prepares a military plan forthe "hybrid" "counterinsurgency plus"option Biden advocates and Adm. Mullen,the chairman of the JCOS, tries to stop itfrom going to the White House ("We'renot providng that"); Cartwright insists onhis sworn duty to provide independentadvice (234-38). At the Oct. 14 NSCmeeting, Mullen forces Petraeus to"withdraw" a memo he has preparedentitled "Lessons on Reconciliation" (241-43). "Poignant Vision": the Pentagonwargames the hybrid vs. the 40,000-troop approach, but Gen. Lute denouncesthis as skewed (244-45).
Ch. 21.
A poll shows decliningconfidence in Obama on Oct. 20 (246-47). Cheney attacks Obama's strategyreview on Oct. 21 (247-48). Kandahar'sinstability (248-49). Jones prepares, butnever submits, a recommendation forfour brigade combat teams (about20,000 soldiers) (249-50). Holbrooketells Clinton he is for 20,000, but not40,000 more troops (250). Obama meetswith Clinton and Gates to get theirrecommendations, tells them he's "not looking for" a 10-year strategy; tells them McChrystal's recommendation is"not in the national interest," but bothGates and Clinton support McChrystal,with the fourth brigade being "held backfor now"; Obama says he is still "notready to make a decision"; "I want an exit strategy" (250-53). "Nearlyeveryone could see that by supportingMcChrystal, Clinton was joining forces with the uniformed military and thesecretary of defense, diminishing thepresident's running room. . . . It was a definitive moment in her relationship tothe White House. Could she be trusted?Could she ever truly be on the Obamateam? Had she ever been? . . . Gatesbelieved she was speaking fromconviction" (254). Six participants,including Biden, Donilon, and Lute, thinkthe process is "a disaster, veering out of control," and hold "a series of off-linemeetings" (254-55). From 12:30 a.m. toabout 4:00 a.m. on Oct. 29, Obamaattends the arrival of the bodies of 18Americans killed in Afghanistan at DoverAFB, speaks to their families (255-56).
Ch. 22.
Obama is "in a desperate searchfor another option" (257). On Oct. 30 hecalls the Joint Chiefs to the White Houseand tells them he has "one option thatwas framed as three options" but wants"three real options" (258). Mullenpromises the Pentagon "won't ask formore troops again" (260). Gates writesObama a secret memo proposing 30,000-35,000 troops (260). Ambassador KarlEikenberry cables the State Dept. his"reservations about a counterinsurgencystrategy that relies on a large infusion of U.S. forces"; Mullen is furious, calling it "abetrayal of our system," and Petraeus"went ballistic" (261-62). Obamachallenges McChrystal's claim that400,000 Afghan police are needed (262-65). Blair and Panetta are excluded fromthe strategy review session (265).
Ch. 23.
On Nov. 11, Veterans Day,Petraeus ignores Gates's order for themilitary to "stand down" and does a CNNinterview from the West Wing about hismiraculous awakening of a comatose 1stLt. Brian Brennan with "Currahee!" (266-68). In a Nov. 11 Situation Roommeeting, Mullen ignores Obama'sdeclaration that the mission will be to "todisrupt" the Taliban: "Disruptions are notenough" (271). Gates, Mullen, Petraeus,and McChrystal tell him that 20,000 arenot enough to accomplish the mission;Obama says "I'll accept that" thoughBiden tells him later their claims are"bullshit" (275). Obama complains abouthow long the military says it will take toget troops into Afghanistan (275-78).Obama complains: "You're not reallygiving me any options"; Mullen replies:"Well, yes, sir." (278-79). "It'sunacceptable," [Obama] said. He wantedanother option. 'Well,' Gates finally said,'Mr. President, I think we owe you thatoption.' It never came" (279). Obamatells his advisers the military is "reallycooking the thing in the direction thatthey wanted" (280). Lute is astonishedthat Mullen "[i]sn't acting as if he felt anypressure" to produce another option(281). The Pentagon's "AlternativeMission in Afghanistan" PowerPoint slide(283).
Ch. 24.
Rahm Emanuel, not Obama, wasenamored with drone warfare (284). Jones argues that Pakistan is "theepicenter of the strategic review" (285). The CIA's "secret base" at Quetta (286-87). Blair advocates unilateral Americanaction (289). Blair thinks Jones lackscontrol, since his subordinates havedirect access to the president: "Therewere at least three national securityadvisers—Jones, Donilon and Brennan"(289). Obama does not want to breakwith Gates (an attitude Obama confirmedin his personal interview with Woodwardin July 2010) (289-90). At an unusualevening "national security team" meetingon Nov. 23, Obama promises a "[f]inaldecision in a couple of days" (290).Hillary Clinton says "'We must act like we're going to win.' It was a version of one of her sayings from when she hadbeen first lady in the White House thatshe still used regularly—'Fake it until youmake it'" (292). Petraeus says a firstassessment of progress should comeonly in December 2010 (292). Mullenpromises again: "We won't come backand ask for more troops again" (293).Cartwright provides the option Obama islooking for by saying: "It's not thenumber of troops . . . It is how quickly wecan get our troops in" (297). Petraeusrefuses to discuss with Cartwright hisopposition to the "hybrid" option (300).
Ch. 25.
On Nov. 25, 2009, just before Thanksgiving, Obama decides, despitehis "apparent" desire to send onlytrainers and refuse further combat troopsin Afghanistan (304), on a "hard cap" of 30,000 additional troops, and repelsGates's attempt to get more (308-09).On Thanksgiving, Biden continues toencourage Obama to resist the miiltary(309-10).
Ch. 26.
Obama consults Colin Powell inthe Oval Office on Nov. 27 (311). On thesame day, Obama is "pissed" andDonilon "stunned" by the Pentagon'sresistance to the decision as they work"almost the entire day" on "nail[ing]down the president's orders," trying tolearn from Gordon Goldstein's Lessons in Disaster  (2009), but the Pentagon keepstrying to rewrite the "terms sheet"—a"directive" of six single-spaced pages(311-15). McChrystal's expertise incounterinsurgency of "lethal intensity"makes Obama hope that they will be ableto quickly "decimate the Talibaninsurgency" to the point of "degrading" it(315-16). Obama complains to Gates:"How many times did he have to say"that 30,000 was a "hard cap"? (316-17).
Ch. 27.
On Sat., Nov. 28, a colonel whois an Iraq war veteran tells Obama: "Mr.President, I don't see how you can defyyour military chain here. . . . You can't just tell [McChrystal], just do it my way"(319). "Lute felt that the militaryestablishment was really rolling thepresident" (322). Obama calls a Sundaymeeting, and refuses Biden's request fora prior meeting with him (323).
Ch. 28.
Sun., Nov. 29: Obama hands outhis orders, calls it "a hard-and-fast30,000-troop surge . . . neithercounterinsurgency nor nation building. The costs are prohibitive" (325). Obamademands that all present sign on; Mullenagrees (326-27). "When [Petraeus] laterlearned the president had personallydictated the orders, he couldn't believeit. 'There's not a president in historythat's dictated five single-spaced pagesin his life. That's what the staff gets paidto do'" (327). Obama agrees with Bidenthat this is a mission change, that its"main pillar," which "would be top secretand not be made public," is that "safehavens for al Qaeda in Pakistan orelsewhere would no longer beacceptable" (328). "This is an order"(328). The military promise obedience;"Everyone seemed supportive. Theywere going along, but did anyone trulybelieve?" (329). In the Situation Room,Obama gives the orders to McChrystaland Eikenberry (329-30). Obama planshis speech (331-32). Biden thinks theyhave sunk "expansivecounterinsurgency," but Petraeusbelieves that "Counterinsurgency is aliveand well . . . McChrystal could get 10,000from NATO and other countries . . . 'Youhave to recognize also that I don't thinkyou win this war. I think you keepfighting . . . This is the kind of fight we'rein for the rest of our lives and probablyour kids' lives'" (332-33). Holbrookethinks "It can't work" (333).
Ch. 29.
Obama announces the decisionat West Point on Dec. 1 (334-35). Thesignificance of the July 2011 drawdown ischipped away by Gates, Clinton, andPetraeus, despite Obama's efforts (335-37). Lute thinks Obama "had to do this 18-month surge just to demonstrate, ineffect, that it couldn't be done . . . Theonly way Lute could explain the finaldecision was that the president hadtreated the miitary as another politicalconstituency that had to beaccommodated" (338). Mullen and Lutedislike each other (339). Obama wouldlike Gates to stay three more years;Gates commits to one more year (340). The Christmas underwear bomber (340-42). The Haiti earthquake (342-43).Gates thinks Donilon "would be a'disaster' as Obama's national securityadviser" (343). Donilon regards thereview process as exemplary decision-making (343-44). Jones feel frustrated,makes plans to leave (344).
Ch. 30.
In April, Petraeus's "trustedintelligence adviser" Derek Harvey tellshim the U.S. is failing in Afghanistan(346-48). Also in April, McChrystal tellsObama the military is "on timeline" (348-49). In May, McChrystal's presentationon Kandahar is unsatisfactory to Obama(349-52). Eikenberry is forced to acceptKarzai's desire for private meetings withthe CIA station chief in Kabul (352).McChrystal tells Holbrooke that no"transfer" to Afghans is possible yet inMarja (352-53). On May 10, 2010, Gatestells Karzai at a dinner: "We're notleaving Afghanistan prematurely. In fact,we're not every leaving at all" (354).McChrystal's White House meeting onKandahar is a failure (354). Karzai tellsClinton that Pakistan could deliver MullahOmar "like I can pick up this cookie"(355). Eikenberry is pessimistic inspeaking to Biden: "basically, we'rescrewed" (356). They think aboutdiplomatic solutions, but "Pakistan ownedthe Taliban. So the Taliban couldn'tnecessarily deliver themselves" (357).
Ch. 31.
Lute finds little sign of progressin Afghanistan: "This is a house of cards"(361; 358-61). Petraeus is aggrieved attreatment from the White House:"They're fucking with the wrong guy"(362). Obama participates in COOPEX2010, a "top-to-bottom classifiedexercise . . . testing how the intelligenceagencies and federal government wouldrespond" to "a nuclear terrorist attack inthe United States" (362-63). Obama tellsWoodward the U.S. "can absorb aterrorist attack" but "[a] potential gamechanger would be a nuclear weapon . . .blowing up a major American city" (363).Investigation of Faisal Shahzad, the Times Square bomber, who was trainedin Pakistan: "only luck prevented acatastrophe: (364; 363-67). A terrorattack in the U.S. coming from Pakistanwould narrow Obama's options (367-69).
Ch. 32.
Obama fires DNI Dennis Blair(370-71). A
Rolling Stone
article leadsObama to sack McChrystal (371-74).
Ch. 33
Obama tells Woodward on Jul.10, 2010, that he is "trying to imposeclarity on chaos" (376). He reaffirms thatin July 2011 "he would begin thinning outU.S. forces" (376). "I don't see this as acivilian versus military situation the way Ithink a lot of people coming out of Vietnam do" (377). Obama tellsWoodward he "sympathizes" with theview expressed by Rick Atkinson, that"war is corrupting" and "that no heartwould remain unstained" (378). Jonesthinks counterinsurgency is doomed inAfghanistan (379). Petraeus was offeredcommand in Afghanistan by Rumsfeld inthe fall of 2006 (379-80).
3 pp.
President Obama's Final Orders,Nov. 29, 2009 (385-90).
Chapter Notes. 26 pp.
Acknowledgments. Sources, editor,publisher, Washington Post  colleagues,10 books, 5 blogs, agent, daughters,wife.
Photography Credits (421)
19 pp.
About the Author.
Bob Woodward has worked at the Washington Post  for39 years.
Obama's Wars is the sixteenth book he has written or co-written; twelveof them, including
Obama's Wars , have been #1 bestsellers. Woodward has wontwo Pulitzer Prizes. He is married, hastwo daughters, and lives in the Georgetown district of Washington, D.C.,
Additional information. BobWoodward was born in Geneva, IL, onMar. 26, 1943. He studied history andEnglish lit. at Yale on a Naval ROTCscholarship, graduating in 1965. Afterfive years in the U.S. Navy, Woodwardconsidered law school but began workingas a reporter for the Washington Post .He failed to get a job offer after a two-week trial, but returned to the Post  in1971 after a year at the Montgomery (MD) Sentinel . Woodward has won many journalism awards and has been described in superlatives ("the bestreporter of our time"—Bob Schieffer; "the most celebrated journlist of our age"—Albert Hunt; "the best pure reporter of his generation"—Fred Barnes). Robert Redford played him in "All the President'sMen" (1976), about Watergate andturned him into a national celebrity, as well as inspiring many young people toenter investigative journalism. — Hisuse of sources with attribution has been the subject of much discussion andcriticism, and Joan Didion criticized hiswork for a lack of "Measurable cerebralactivity"; Anthony Lewis called hisapproach "a trade in which the greatgrant access in return for glory." But Richard Harwood has defended his workas being guided by reportorial method.— His wife is a
New Yorker 
writer. —Woodward still maintains a listedtelephone number; his address andphone number are available on theInternet: 3027 Q St. NW, Washington,DC 2007-3081; 202-965-0421, and youcan get a fine view of his front door onGoogle Maps Streetview.][
Whatever your view of thewar in Afghanistan and its extension intoPakistan, there is something here tosupport it. Bob Woodward has produceda rich chronology of events leading up tothe decision to escalate the war on theground in Afghanistan announced byBarack Obama at West Point on Dec. 1,2009. — What it all means is anotherquestion. — An example of BobWoodward's famous lack of reflectiveness is his failure to think aboutthe significance of Obama'sreappointment of Robert Gates assecretary of defense. — Another is theabsence of anything on privatecontractors employed by the Pentagon inAfghanistan, despite endless discussionof the number of American troops inAfghanistan. American businessinterests are never mentioned, either. The U.S.'s energy problems and Big Oilare also never mentioned. These are allexamples of Woodward's lack of reflectiveness—or, if you will, his focuson sheer reporting—and there are manymore. — Perhaps in a sign of sensitivityto critiques, Woodward incorporates onepassage that features himself on asleepless night in "the heart of the Taliban insurgency in Helmland province,southern Afghanistan." where he askshimself a long series of questions: "Didanyone understand this war?" "Why was12 percent of the U.S. troop presence inan area with less than one percent of thepopulation?" "Had the military thoughtthrough its plan? Did they know whatthey were doing?" (129-31). But heanswers none of them. — Woodwardfocuses on what happened and ignoreswhy it happened and what it means. In asense, Woodward cannot see or is notinterested in seeing the forest(militaristic plutocracy with a veneer of democratic forms) for the trees (who saidwhat to whom when and where). — Still,
Obama's Wars 
is a fascinating read.
Woodward's account of a Pentagon thatis used to having its way tussling with apresident determined to avoid anotherVietnam is quite dramatic. As forPresident Obama, he comes off better inthe second half of the book than in thefirst as he asserts himself moreforcefully. But since this is very much anunfinished story (there is no realconclusion), the unfolding of events inAfghanistan and Pakistan will no doubtdetermine how the book appears or isread in the future. — Stylistically,Woodward's journalese is very bland.Sentences rarely begin with anything buta noun or a pronoun. — Woodwarddoesn't cite sources, but you don't haveto be a genius to figure out who saidwhat in many instances. — Israel is notmentioned once in
Obama's Wars, 
which seems curious
 Then again, the UnitedKingdom, German, France, Italy, etc.,which have thousands of troops inAfghanistan, are never mentioned either.
Obama's Wars 
is an extremely American-centered book. It's amazing how littleone learns about Afghanistan fromreading it. — George Bernard Shawdefined patriotism as the "conviction thatthis country is superior to all othersbecause you were born in it." Thoughthis is rarely noted in mainstream media,one has only to read between the lines tounderstand that Bob Woodward is apatriot. Were he not, would Americanleaders afford him such extraordinaryaccess to their thoughts andexperiences? American exceptionalismand American imperialism are nevermentioned, but these are unquestionedideological commitments for BobWoodward.
Obama's Wars 
is dedicated"To those who serve."]

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