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Obama's Wars Hardcover – September 27, 2010
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It’s hard to understand why the government gets so irate over secrets spilled by WikiLeaks when top members of the cabinet and the military, as well as the president himself, so readily sit down with Bob Woodward. In his first foray into the weeds of the Obama administration’s war-decision process, Woodward offers readers these nuggets: the CIA finances and controls a 3,000-man secret army in Afghanistan; despite our various efforts over two administrations, the U.S. remains alarmingly unprepared for a terrorist attack, which, by the way, could come any day. He also reveals all the details of a highly confidential document on war strategy (given to Woodward when he simply asked one of the planners for it). But most of the book is devoted to what is probably not a secret: the infighting that goes into every decision that is or isn’t made about the war in Afghanistan. Woodward’s descriptions of war-strategy meetings suggest the movie Groundhog Day, with everyone saying the same thing over and over. The military and Hillary Clinton want 40,000 troops sent to Afghanistan. Joe Biden has a different plan, less dependent on personnel. The president wants more and different options, which aren’t given to him (“People have to stop telling me what I already know”). Finally, he has to modify the plan himself. The end of the book seems rushed, as though it was pushing up against deadline, with one of Obama’s most important war decisions, the firing of General Stanley McChrystal, just tacked on. By the wearying end, the conclusion is obvious: there’s no good way to end this war. No matter how much the White House and the military despise the word failure, with allies like the Karzai government in Afghanistan and the duplicitous Pakistanis, it’s hard to find any semblance of success in the offing. There is certainly none on view in these pages. --Ilene Cooper
About the Author
Bob Woodward is an associate editor at The Washington Post, where he has worked for forty-four years. He has shared in two Pulitzer Prizes, first for The Washington Post’s coverage of the Watergate scandal, and later for coverage of the 9/11 terrorist attacks. He has authored or coauthored twelve #1 national nonfiction bestsellers. He has two daughters, Tali and Diana, and lives in Washington, DC, with his wife, writer Elsa Walsh.
Top customer reviews
Obama's Wars is well-written, comprehensive, and un-biased, which is refreshing for a book about politics. Woodward has amazing access to all of the top leaders in both Congress and the White House, and takes the reader into the discussions and decisions that took place in the White House.
The fact that this book is as un-biased as is humanly possible bears repeating. Political books usually are written from a partisan point-of-view, but this one is the exception. The reader feels as if he was actually present and able to come to his own conclusions, instead of reading the author's conclusions.
What is obvious from the get go in this book is that the US military is not grappling with the fact that the mission in Afghanistan is basically there-is-no-mission. The president persistently pushed the military to come up with a clear mission with definite goals without avail. All they kept saying is that they were there to reverse the Taliban and Al-Qaeda's momentum. He would ask them about their progress and they would more or less state that they are losing--10 years into the war. What he ended up doing is listening to all that the military had to say, and then basically said; what you guys propose to do is to stay in Afghanistan indefinitely until the country is fully developed and has an army of 400 thousand well trained officers. This mission would have the US spending an additional $700 billion in the next ten years without any guaranteed benefit to the United States. This almost one trillion US dollar will come at the expense of other domestic spending that the government could do or simply use it to reduce the US budget deficit.
After countless meetings with Secretaries Gates and Clinton, VP Biden, military officers and other government leaders, Obama made his famous decision to hand over the country to the Afghan government in July 2011. Therefore, the mission in Afghanistan ended up going from defeating Al Qaeda and Taliban to "hold, build and transfer" to the Afghan government the control of the country. It also emphasized the fact that Taliban and Al Qaeda were using Pakistan as their new safe heaven, and the US should expand its efforts into Pakistan-effectively forcing Pakistani's cooperation-to degrade the operations of these terrorists groups. Under Obama's watch, the mission went from being open-ended to having a two years time line.
It is truly a fascinating telling of the way Obama made his decision and a window into his decision making process. He is very intellectual and methodical in his approach to problems and his decisions always came after deep thought based on all the data that is available. He does read every detail and tries as much as possible to be aware of everything that he decides on and challenges whatever is thrown at him by "experts." He even often consults experts from outside the administration, like talking to former Secretary of State General Colin Power, to verify or challenge what his own "experts" are telling him. It's a definitely fascinating book written as if it were a thriller/suspense novel!
This work focuses on Obama's work with his often fractious foreign policy-national defense-intelligence team. We read of the actors' views of the process of whither to go in Afghanistan. The focus is the run-up to President Obama's decision on a "surge" in Afghanistan.
We see many facets of this choice. The intelligence community, the military community, Obama's advisors, his foreign policy-defense team, Pakistani leadership, the Pakistani military, and President Karzai of Afghanistan, among others.
We read of the jockeying for power, the selective use of media to carry on debate over decisions that had putatively already been made, and the tension between the military and the tradition of civilian control of the military.
Key personalities: David Patraeus, Stanley McChrystal, Bob Gates, Hillary Clinton, President Obama, James Jones, Michael Mullen, and so many others.
Another fine work by Bob Woodward on what is going on deep inside Washington, D. C. and throughout the world.
When he [Petraeus] later learned the president had personally dictated the orders, he couldn't believe it. "There's not a president in history that's dictated five single-spaced pages in his life. That's what the staff gets paid to do."