"The War Within" is Woodward's 15th book, and his fourth about the Bush administration. I received an advance copy.
Woodward interviewed President George W. Bush twice, and he interviewed Vice President Dick Cheney, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, and Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates.
I've noticed that in all of Woodward's books about Bush, he seemed to be full of praise for Bush when Bush was flying high in the ratings. But when Bush was low in approval ratings, so was Woodward's opinion. So I've got to question if Woodward has gone from the great investigative reporter he once was to an establishment me-too type.
After reading this, one can only be grateful that the Bush presidency is close to an end. Trouble is, it leaves a mess behind.
According to Woodward, the surge has worked but Bush failed to lead and made numerous blunders that were very costly.
The White House's National Security Adviser, Stephen Hadley, put out a statement Friday, Sept. 5, prior to release of the book, disputing some of the assertions made by Woodward.
Woodward says that Bush has not told the American public the truth about Iraq and the war in general. But I found it of interest that Bush allowed Woodward to interview him and give him access. He said that Bush seems to have aged considerably during his long tenure in office --- he has a "paunch" and slumps when sitting.
Of Bush Woodward says, "He did not seek sacrifice from most of the country when he had the chance. He did not even mobilize his own party. Republicans often voiced as much suspicion and distrust as Democrats. The president was rarely the voice of realism on the Iraq war."
Woodward does, however, admit the success of Bush's surge of additional troops into Iraq in 2007.
"Violence was down so much in a few places that some U.S. soldiers were not receiving combat action badges because there was no fighting in their area," he wrote.
Woodward says in the book that deputy national security adviser Meghan O'Sullivan sent President Bush a daily top secret report that cataloged the escalating bloodshed and chaos in Iraq. He quotes one memo as follows:
"Violence has acquired a momentum of its own and is now self-sustaining." She wrote this on July 20.
Woodward says, "Her dire evaluation contradicted the upbeat assurances that President Bush was hearing from Gen. George W. Casey Jr., the U.S. commander in Iraq. Casey and Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld were pushing to draw down American forces and speed the transfer of responsibility to the Iraqis. Despite months of skyrocketing violence, Casey insisted that within a year, Iraq would be mostly stable, with the bulk of American combat troops headed home. "
"Publicly, the president claimed the United States was winning the war, and he expressed unwavering faith in Casey, saying, 'It's his judgment that I rely upon.' But Woodward continues, "privately, he was losing confidence in the drawdown strategy. He questioned O'Sullivan that summer with increasing urgency: "What are you hearing from people in Baghdad? What are people's daily lives like?"
The book reads like a Tom Clancy novel and is full of almost surreal events. But the unusual thing I noticed was that Bush seemed to admit the truth in the book. He acknowledged his frustration and anxiety and that things didn't happen as he had planned. The war was not working and more people were dying than he'd imagined.
Bush said his goals were a free society that could defend, sustain and govern itself while becoming a reliable ally in the global war on terrorism. But he was not sure that could be obtained. "It seems Iraq is incapable of achieving that," Woodward quotes in the book.
Woodward rightly reminds us that Barack Obama opposed the surge and John McCain was "advocating more troops for years."
Woodward says McCain showed considerable anger with the Bush White House by saying, "Everything is f---ing spin."
Gen. George Casey, former U.S. commander in Iraq, said "that President Bush does not understand the war."
Woodward says of Bush, "He had not rooted out terror wherever it existed." He adds, "He had not achieved world peace. He had not attained victory in his two wars."
Woodward takes us into the heart of the White House and Pentagon. He apparently had tremendous sources who were actually in the meetings and conversations. The book reads like a novel by Tom Clancy.
Since the book is based on literally hundreds of interviews with people in the know, it is full of conversations of actual events. It gives us an excellent view of the way Bush thinks and relates to those around him.
We also see how he formed lies about the way --- lies that he thought would sell the war and make it more palatable to the American public.
While the book goes back and pulls information from his previous books on Bush, this book is an excellent read with some new and astonishing revelations.
- Susanna K. Hutcheson
"The War Within" begins portraying the Iraq chaos in 2006 - violence and American casualties are increasing, while Bush portrays a rosy picture and his staff realize our strategy needs to be reviewed. Bush agrees, but the "really bad news" is that this strategy review had no deadline and the emphasis was on it being conducted "under the radar" to avoid causing consternation during an election year.
General Casey, head of U.S. forces in Iraq, is trying to convince Bush to reduce troops in Iraq - we were making the Iraqis dependent on us and our large pressure was a sign of disrespect for them. He and General Abizaid had seen how the ethnic groups in the Balkans didn't reconcile until the violence got totally out of hand. Nonetheless, Bush seemed plugged into an attrition strategy (keep killing them until they run out of bodies), but Vietnam had proved that didn't work. Rumsfeld supported Casey - in fact, this was in line with his "new, light" Army vision.
Bush's decision-making style was "gut driven" - thus, his decisions lacked a process to examine consequences, alternatives, and motives. Further, he refused to allow talks with Iran and Syria - even though wanted by his area chief, Admiral Fallon. Finally, lacking deadlines, strategy reviews were underway, but with no seeming movement to fruition.
Retired General Jack Keane emerges as the hero in all this internal chaos, warfare, and delay. Being a member of the Defense Policy Board, he had access to up-to-date information on Iraq, and was encouraged by fellow member Newt Gingrich to take his thoughts to Rumsfeld. Keane's one-man, self-initiated effort outperformed those of all the other groups (eg. NSC, WH consultants, the Iraq Study Group, the Pentagon) and he is the father of the surge and other key ideas.
Keane's ideas included getting troops out 24/7 within the people, away from their air-conditioned based with movie theaters, swimming pools, etc., to protect the people from insurgents, stopping Casey's "ramp-down" (undermined motivation for the troops to risk their lives), doubling the size of the Iraqi security force to 600,000, extending tours to support the surge, strengthening the advisory program (often staffed by National Guard troops who had less experience than the Iraqis they were coaching), moving away from vehicle to foot patrols (less subject to IED damage, better able to obtain intelligence), learn form Col. McMaster's achievements in Tall Afar, increase the number of CIA analysts focusing on Iraq (had only 38 - fewer than those working on China) and bring the DIA intelligence staffing on Iraq (then 61) up to authorized (156), and focus on winning the war in Baghdad.
Joint Chiefs Chairman Gen. Pace then asked Keane for feedback on his own performance. Keane told Pace that he was failing - not spending enough time on Iraq, and being satisfied with superficial reports. At the same time, American generals in Iraq were working too hard (eg. Gen. MacArthur took time to watch a movie every evening), not allowing them the ability to step back and develop fresh thinking. Keane went on to recommend Petraeus to take over in Iraq, Col. McMaster to be part of a strategy review team, and Admiral Fallon to be appointed in charge of the entire Mid-East area. All these recommendations were accepted.
Petraeus' implementation of Keane's ideas included using ever-expanding concrete barriers that prevented vehicles carrying explosives or rocket-propelled grenades from entering areas once cleared. Petraeus found that the first areas U.S. troops went into were ghost towns - everyone driven out by the insurgents. Another Petraeus contribution was to start thinking about identifying which of the combatant groups could be convinced to stop fighting. Meanwhile, Keane went about assuring that a realistic timeframe was kept in mind - 12-18 months, not the 6 months that so many hoped for.
Admiral Fallon, unfortunately, quickly ended up butting heads with Petraeus over troop increase requests because he was convinced that there were too many troops that were not being effectively used. This led to his replacement.
Readers also learn that Maliki was a major problem, though understandably so - caught between three strong factions. For whatever reason, however, he improved after Petraeus arrived, allowing the pursuit/killing of 50 Shia militia leaders in a row.
Another key point was that tribal leaders with their 90,000+ fighters became very important as they turned against Al Qaeda and were enlisted by Petraeus' forces in the insurgency fight.
Bottom Line: Absent retired General Keane (resisted by the JCS), and then General Petraeus' innovations in support, the Iraq War would be a totally lost cause. Other factors besides the surge included improved intelligence targeting insurgent leaders, Al Qaeda overplaying its hand with its gruesome violence, creating resentment by Sunni leaders, and the Shiite forces adopting a cease-fire when it became clear that many of their own people were being hurt by the fighting.
on September 9, 2008
From "The War Within":
"In Baghdad, [General] Casey appreciated the president's repeated public votes of confidence. But he kept asking himself: What do civilian leaders bring to such a war? After all, neither the full capacity of the U.S. government nor the American people were ever mobilized. No one ever articulated a grand strategy about what the heck the United States was doing. Nearly everything fell to the military."
Actually, the U.S. did have a strategy in 2006 as articulated repeatedly by Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld. That strategy was 1) train up Iraqi security forces so they could take over the mission and 2) disengage the U.S. military so it would provide additional impetus to the Iraqis to help themselves. The problem was, this strategy wasn't working and had not been working for the previous three years. General Casey was frustrated and he was right about one thing--there was no "grand strategy" that had been formulated and that was being executed by the Bush Administration to bring both political and military resources to bear to strive towards a successful outcome in Iraq. That would come later.
I have always been amazed at the access that Bob Woodward has to high level sources who share with him the inner discussions, challenges and decisions that are made at the highest civilian and military leadership levels. Even President Bush gave extensive interviews to Mr. Woodward who was able to weave the various point of views together to produce a coherent and fresh look at a complex and vexing situation which has cost an enormous amount of human lives and national treasure. History is still being written. The jury is still out. But "The War Within" will be reviewed and studied for decades to come as the assessment continues on what went wrong (and perhaps right) with the Iraq War.
One note on the Kindle edition of this book. I was really happy to pick up this book and read it on my Kindle. This really validates why I have a Kindle because I saved at least $10 on purchasing the book plus saved shelf space -- and probably some backpack space too!
on September 18, 2008
'The War Within'; A fascinating book...and aptly named.
Bob Woodward latest book gives a detailed, in-depth review of the Bush White House dating from early 2006 to early summer 2008. He has chronologically followed events, meetings and discussions that detail the thinking that prevailed in the White House during these years.
He has researched his work from discussions with first hand participants at meetings, memos, emails, transcripts of press conferences and also extensive personal interviews with the President, as well as many members of the White House staff and other key figures in the book.
The book deals with the years of the Iraq war that the American leadership never expected. Instead of a grateful, liberated Iraqi people and a helpful and willing, newly elected Iraqi government, things have deteriorated and deteriorated fast. Confusion within the White House and in fact, within the entire Iraqi theatre (military, public service and governmental) is ruling the day...everyday. The end result sees an ever increasing number of daily insurgent attacks resulting in an increasing number of deaths of American soldiers as well as Iraqi civilians. And to make matters worse, there seem no end or solution in sight; suggestions and ideas within the White House seem to be in the 'endless loop' discussion mode, resulting in no decisive direction being shown or action taken.
Problems are enhanced by several factors;
1.)A weak, ineffective Iraqi government lead by President Maliki, who is more concerned with an old enemy, the Sunni sect, than he is about public security or national reconciliation between infighting factions; factions that include his own Shia sect, the Sunni sect, Moqtada al-Sadr (radical religious cleric), the Kurds, and Al Qaeda (not to mention the influence of Iran and Syria that are supplying arms and men to the insurgency).
2.)A White House staff/elected politicians and a main stream American public that are becoming increasing divided and resentful of a war that goes on and on with no end in sight.
3.)President Bush, stunned by the realization that the new Iraqi government is unable and/or unwilling to show leadership, is left in the agonizing position of trying to run this increasingly unpopular campaign; all the while receiving conflicting advise from advisers and an increasingly unsupportive American public.
As I finished this book and reflected on the overall scope of what I'd just read, I was stunned by this realization; the events (meetings, think tanks etc.) described within this book that occurred over a two year period were extremely repetitive, that is to say, the same people at the same meetings, the same concerns day after day, month after month, with no one seemingly being able to decide what needed to be done and when to do it. It made me extremely aware of the isolation, loneliness and anguish that is part and parcel of being U.S. President.
There were times that I forgot I was reading an account of events that were true; they actually happened. I felt like I was reading an international best seller dealing with political infighting and posturing; and in one way, I suppose I was doing just that.
And finally, this book is an incredible in-depth account of a part of the war the we, the public, never saw. This was a war that no one in the White House every expected, but in retrospect, should have at least contemplated if not readily foreseen. Rulers of this area of the world have been tribal based with sectarian prejudices as far back as history goes; they (the leaders and the people) have had little or no experience with democracy. So is it any wonder the extremist element moved in once the Iraqi power vacuum was evident.
In addition the back of the book contains:
1.) a helpful list and explanation of acronyms used
2.) a list of 'sources' that were used by the author in each chapter*
3.) an index of all persons mentioned and where they are found within this book.
4 1/2 Stars
* the individual chapters have no annotation system regarding 'sources' whatsoever. So when reading a chapter, there was no hint as to where the 'source' came from; if you wanted to find out, you had to stop reading and hunt it up in the appropriate section in the back of the book . This was somewhat inconvenient and interrupted the continuity of reading. Annotations at the bottom of each page, or at worst, the end of each chapter would have been much more useful and effective.
Thus the 1/2 Star loss.
on September 8, 2008
What is particularly interesting about this latest Bob Woodward inside look at the Iraq war is the picture it paints of growing dissension in the military over the war. The "surge" was an idea created by a neo-conservative think tank, the American Enterprise Institute, and imposed on the military.
Indeed, what is truly amazing and in many ways disturbing is the huge influence of AEI over military policy and its efforts to influence military decisions, especially through its contacts in the Vice President's office.
A long term view of what Bush wants can be seen from a statement on page 410 by General Keane, one of the architects of the surge about the Middle East: "We're going to be here for 50 years minimum" "Where should we have bases? .... Where should we have forward industrial bases." This is a vision for a massive permanent American presence in the Persian Gulf.
"NATO was important, Keane said, but its time had passed. The international center of gravity had moved to the Middle East".
Building up a massive permanent American military presence near the giant oil reserves and oil wealth of the Persian Gulf is at the core of the Bush geopolitical vision for Iraq. As for the notion that we are only in Iraq to help, we saw the spectacle this summer of the Iraqi President publicly fighting with Bush administration over a timetable for a final American withdrawal.
At the end of the book, one top U.S. official is furious that Iraqi President Maliki "is no longer willing to take direction".
An example of Bush's outlook on the world is a discussion he had with Admiral Fallon, the Chief of Central Command, who pointed out to Bush that we needed some kind of strategy to deal with Iran and its 900 mile border with Iraq. Bush simply shouted at him and called the Iranians a word that would violate Amazon's obscenity rules to publish. Woodward observes speaking of Admiral Fallon "every time he tried to raise the issue, tried to argue that they couldn't solve Iraq without involving its neighbors like Iran, the reaction was negative". "The same went for the Syrians".
For my tastes the book has too much of the minutia of policy making. This is why I've added some other books written by respected authors that will help Amazon readers place the inside view of the war in the context of a larger picture.
Unfortunately, Bush has been unwilling to raise the cash to pay for all this. Bush remains the only President in U.S. history who combined war with a program of tax cuts at home. The end result has been a dangerous over-extension of power as discussed in Joe Stiglitz's The Three Trillion Dollar War: The True Cost of the Iraq Conflict Stiglitz is the former chief economist of the World Bank so there is reason to take his views seriously.
People should read Web of Deceit: The History of Western Complicity in Iraq, from Churchill to Kennedy to George W. Bush, an excellent book on the history of western involvement in Iraq and Churchill's Folly: How Winston Churchill Created Modern Iraq. How many people know that Churchill, the great hero of the modern neo-conservative movement wanted to use poison gas against Iraqi civilians?
To see the internal Bush administration machinations in this book in still another perspective, I would recommend Descent into Chaos: The United States and the Failure of Nation Building in Pakistan, Afghanistan, and Central Asia written by one of Pakistan's most respected journalists.
Overall, this is a good inside look at the Bush administration and the Iraq war in the last two years.
Bob Woodward and his books are a fixture of modern Washington. Some people are tired of him but he has unique access to leaders that few other journalists have. I would recommend getting this book.
When I read a new book by Bob Woodward, two questions normally come to my mind: (1) Why in the world would people let him interview them on the record or on background, knowing that he will report their statements in some publication? (2) Once these statements end up in print, why do so few attack him as distorting what they said or of making up quotations? Each question is fascinating in itself. And the answers may well tie together. If one wants his or her views on the record, it will happen with Woodward. And my sense is that he is normally very accurate (why else would there be so few complaints, relatively speaking?). Anyhow, here we go again--"The War Within."
This is a book about the Bush Administration's change of policy with respect to Iraq. It begins before the elections of 2006, when things were falling apart in Iraq. Even stalwart Republican Senators began to question the war and the Administration's policy regarding it. Even while the President was telling the country that progress was being made, several evaluations of policy were occurring simultaneously (and not always informing one another): the military evaluation, centered on a platoon of colonels assessing matters; Stephen Hadley's examination (he was National Security Advisor); the Iraq Study Group, led by James Baker and Lee Hamilton; a group headed by Meghan O'Sullivan. One thing that is clear from all the groups' examination of the status of the Iraq war--things were not working. Generals and Administration figures were speaking positively of the war, and these various groups were telling a far different story. In fact, the President, saying one thing in public, had come to embrace the perspective of Hadley and others. Things began to happen--Donald Rumsfeld was replaced by Robert Gates at Defense; the concept of the "surge" began to gain some degree of support.
Some of the high points: discussions of the President's own thinking (based on interviews with Woodward), inside accounts of meetings among military leaders and war critics, within the Iraq Study Group, and so on. At the end of the book, Woodward notes how this book builds on his third in a series on the Bush presidency, "State of Denial." He notes how, in that work, how the President was not openly acknowledging problems in Iraq and the deterioration of conditions on the ground. As Woodward said in the final passages in that book (Page 433 in "The War Within"): "With all Bush's upbeat talk and optimism. . .he had not told the American public the truth about what Iraq had become." He goes on to say "My reporting for this book showed that to be even more the case than I could have imagined."
His final evaluation (Page 437): "There was no deadline, no hurry [in the President's leadership on Iraq]. The president was engaged in the war rhetorically but maintained an odd detachment from its management. He never got a handle on it, and over these years of war, too often he failed to lead." Fairly bracing language from Woodward. Does he make the case? I think that that judgment should be left to each reader. Whatever one might think of Woodward and the president, this book does spark thinking about the subject.
on December 11, 2013
There's a lot missing here, specifically, the role of the vice-president who was able to completely control the conversation for many years. After the collapse of the cold war, the war in Iraq was dredged up to provide us with a replacement enemy. Also, the administation was attempting to get us involved in a number of brush wars, courtesy of elements inside the pentagon. If we ONLY examine the Iraq war, and not other elements of the ill-considered Global War on Terror, we will miss the whole picture. At the time, the Pentagon had been introducing a number of fabricated reports on terrorist activities around the globe in an attempt to regain relevancy in the 21st century. The Iraq War, in many ways, was secondary to the idea behind a global war against insurgencies.
I particularly appreciated the parts of the book devoted to Meghan O'Sullivan's role, who was seen by several elements in the administration as someone who was undercutting their authority. The reality was, her role was to describe what was happening on the ground, the real situation. Tome after tome has been written about Iraq, a lot of it being simply finger pointing, but little about what was actually being accomplished. The State Department was completely cut out of any postwar planning until several years had passed.
on February 4, 2014
I read all four in this series and it is quite depressing to realize how incompetent our executive branch was during those 8years of war. Surely we can find a better way to select our presidents and cabinets?! You can scan through the four books pretty quickly as there is much more minutia than you really need.
on December 4, 2008
I have the utmost respect for Bob Woodward as a journalist. I don't think anyone could read this book an not come away with the sense that there are hundreds, if not thousands, of hours of interviews and research behind the 400+ pages. His ability to reconstruct entire conversations about some of the most fundamental decisions in the Iraq War is remarkable.
Woodward does something that very few other journalists are capable of doing. He reports on the facts in as objective a manner as possible, without really providing any analysis or interpretation; he leaves that to the reader. He turns the reader into a fly on the wall, observing history.
With all of that said, the book is a little dry. There is only so much you can read about how few people in the Bush Administration really got what was going on, how dysfunctional things were, how many separate groups were off conducting their own secret strategy reviews, etc. At some point, it just starts to blur together.
What I can't tell is whether it is fair for me to blame Woodward for the book being slow or whether that is just an accurate representation of the muddled situation that we were in? Maybe the endless discussions without any sense of progress is *necessary* to provide real sense for how things were going?
The book really sped up once it hits the midterm elections in 2006 and moves into the discussion of The Surge. The rest of the story was much more interesting and engaging (probably since it finally felt like something was happening).
Time will only tell how the story ends, but I have to say that I found myself questioning my own opinions about the merits of The Surge and wondering whether Petraeus and The Surge will go down as the fundamental turning point in the war.
What struck me the most from the book is how few characters come away looking good at all. Bush, Cheney, Rumsfield, Rice, and several of the major military leaders (up to, but not including Patraeus) come across as clueless, uninformed, or disengaged. The few characters that come across as rational are the Iraq Study Group (whose report was largely ignored), the Council of Colonels (whose months of work was never presented to any senior official), Colin Powell (who only plays a minor role in the book having already left the administration), and then, in the end, Petraeus.
For those looking to portray the Bush administration as evil or ideological, the book will probably leave you wanting. Instead, you walk away with an overwhelming sense of incompetence with a few bright spots.
This book, for me, raised one huge question: What do I want in a President ?
George Bush, for all his faults, was strong in his decisions. Once he made up his mind, he stuck with his decisions.
The above comment can be a blessing or a curse especially to the President of the USA. Standing alone in your decisions when everyone else in the world is against you takes a massive amount of guts but, it can also be a double edged sword that brings about your downfall. You want that ability to stand firm in a world leader but, where's the line drawn between guts and, what may be termed, Presidential decorum? There is a point where you have GOT to start listening and maybe review your decisions. The inability to review, I feel, was Bush's major downfall.
Bob Woodward interviewed all the Senior cabinet members and the upper echelons of the military and from all that came this 500 page account of post invasion Iraq from 2006-2008. The book mainly focuses on the politics and decisions that led up to the surge. The surge can be seen as Bush's last major decision prior to his departure.
Bush was not going to allow a lost cause in Iraq to be his legacy so he was very in favor of the surge. Some on the ground were hesitant due to a concern that Iraq should be getting used to less American force on the ground not more. The violence was escalating and therefore more troops were needed. The American public were growing wearier, day by day, of the costly war therefore, the surge is a bad idea. Seasoned veterans and military buffs explained that to effectively fight an insurgency more, not less, troops are required. Back and forth, round and round.
Many asked, "what does the end in Iraq for America look like?" "What does winning look like?" "What's our measure of success?" These questions were hard to find answers for and, maybe should have been answered prior to 2003.
As his 2nd term wore on Bush became less and less popular so, denying the surge for political and popular reasons made no sense. He, above everything else, wanted to win due to his ideology of a free and prosperous Iraq. Having found no WMD it was now a humanitarian issue and Bush knew he couldn't just back out and leave the warring factions to slaughter each other. Talk about a quagmire.
This book is fascinating and very well written. It's purely politics so it wont appeal to everyone as it can drag a little here and there but, that's sometimes the nature of politics. Surprisingly absent is the voice of Cheney who many believed ran the presidency.
If you're interested in Iraq 2006-2008 and the politics surrounding the surge, this is a great read.