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The War Within: A Secret White House History 2006-2008by Bob Woodward
Synopses & Reviews
Bob Woodward's fourth book about the Bush presidency at war declassifies the secrets of America's political and military involvement in Iraq. It will be essential reading for all citizens — and candidates — in this election year.
Intended as a definitive account of the making and execution of strategy for the war in Iraq, Bob Woodward's "The War Within" has arrived grandly on the national stage: a hardcover first printing of 900,000 copies, excerpts on the front pages of The Washington Post, authorial appearances on network television, denials and clarifications from the White House. In important ways the book recalls David... Washington Post Book Review (read the entire Washington Post review) Halberstam's iconic "The Best and the Brightest," a vivid chronicle of how another war, even less popular than this one, was made, and by whom. "The War Within"'s controversial revelations and contentions are numerous. It details, for example, the Bush administration's spying on Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki and his counselors; the intellectual estrangement between the White House and senior U.S. commanders in Iraq from 2003 to early 2007; and the creation of back-channel means of keeping in touch with officers in Iraq, deliberately circumventing the chain of command. But, mainly, it is a study of what happens when men and women, charged with leading the country in wartime or with counseling those who lead, do not tell each other what they really think. White House advisers are faithless to their responsibilities if they withhold their conclusions and convictions from those they serve, or from their colleagues. It is a toxicity that, by Woodward's account, infected the whole grim process. Like characters in a grand novel, Woodward's players — civilian and military advisers, cabinet members, National Security Council staffers, retired officers and so on — appear, disappear, are talked about in their absence. Of their own lives and the roads they took to their positions we are told precious little. The players define themselves almost entirely in conversations — usually tensely purposeful, and often, we sense, holding something back. Woodward pre-empts questions about the authenticity of his direct quotations: "The use of dialogue," he writes, "comes from at least one participant, usually more, as well as from written memos or contemporaneous notes." Here are earnest, ambitious, tired (the pace of work is unremitting and furious) people trying to make sense of the war the country is prosecuting and why their strategy is not working. Many feel constrained from speaking freely by rank and hierarchy. Specialized expertise seems to have trumped the judgment provided by experience and common sense. Few characters are introduced without a mention of their advanced academic degrees, and among the important civilians, almost none has fought in a war. We learn early on that the President mistrusted the counsel he was receiving from Gen. George W. Casey Jr., the U.S. commander in Baghdad, and that Casey knew that what he was suggesting was not going down well. But there was no engagement between the men, no collaboration through useful contention. Eventually, the White House contrived a soft landing for Casey: He became chief of staff of the Army. More egregious was the modus operandi of Stephen J. Hadley, the White House national security adviser in Bush's second term. "Hadley didn't believe the NSC should be an arena for contentious and divisive debate," Woodward writes. "He believed his task was to ascertain Bush's wishes, and then bring the secretary of state, secretary of defense, the chief of intelligence and others into line." We also learn that Hadley's deputy, Meghan L. O'Sullivan, in preparing a crucial memorandum on why the war was going badly in the summer of 2006, couched her paper in "tentativeness and deference," using "muted and conditional phrasing" that "reduced its sting." And Woodward quotes Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice as saying in an interview that summer, "I don't think you'll find that there is a lot of disagreement about the strategy. I think you'll find that most people think we're on the only reasonable course." Woodward notes that Rice and her staff kept up "the appearance that widespread agreement existed on the current strategy," even though, as she acknowledged two years later, "it was pretty clear" that the strategy was "not going to succeed." The few people who did speak up, in Woodward's account, had retired or been shunted aside. Retired Gen. Jack Keane, a former vice chief of staff of the Army, bluntly described to Vice President Cheney and senior military colleagues the bankruptcy of the administration's military policy in Iraq, the reasons for its failure and what he thought the White House needed to do to fix the situation. Former Secretary of State Colin Powell stunned a session of the bipartisan Iraq Study Group with a bravura performance, telling its members exactly why, in his view, the war had gone wrong. (He concluded that Gen. Eric Shinseki was right that the administration had low-balled the number of troops necessary to occupy the country.) But Powell was already out of office, and Woodward comments acidly that his job "had turned out to be a rough ride" because he was "seen as too much his own man, the Reluctant Warrior out of step with the fulsome muscularity of the post-9/11 Bush team." The author also describes a quite horrifying confrontation in which Kenneth Adelman, like Keane a member of the Defense Policy Board and "an outspoken hawk," upbraided his old friend Donald Rumsfeld for a "total lack of accountability" and the "abysmal quality of your decisions." The legacy of Vietnam apparently was a potent influence on the conduct of the Iraq War. Bush was determined not to repeat his predecessors' tendency to micromanage. He believed he must trust his generals, leaving them leeway to carry out broad assignments, replacing commanders only as a last resort. The president later admitted that in the case of Casey and Gen. John Abizaid, head of the U.S. Central Command, the strategy they favored — assuring a fairly quick "ramp down" by "taking their hands off the bicycle seat" so that the Iraqis would have to take over — was not working. But even that realization, according to Woodward, did not cause rapid change. "The War Within" makes its case quietly and persuasively. Woodward states few conclusions directly. He describes the symptoms in detail, but hands off to his readers the burden of diagnosing what went wrong. Moreover, he rarely mentions the heavy costs of misjudgment: Two continents away, 19-year-old Americans were dying while grand strategy was being debated around conference tables in air-conditioned rooms in Washington. Inevitably, many readers will wonder how other presidents would have handled this war; in this, the sixth year of U.S. ground combat in Iraq, accounts of earlier wartime administrations have new resonance. Two spring readily, and uneasily, to my mind. As Doris Kearns Goodwin makes clear in "Team of Rivals," Abraham Lincoln presided over a famously contentious wartime cabinet: Outspoken counsel was expected, even demanded. And in his biography of Gen. George C. Marshall, Forrest C. Pogue recounts the advice that Marshall received from Treasury Secretary Henry Morgenthau about how to deal with Franklin Delano Roosevelt. "Stand right up and tell him what you think," Morgenthau said. "There are too few people who do it, and he likes it." Josiah Bunting III is president of the H.F. Guggenheim Foundation in New York. He is the author of a biography of Ulysses S. Grant and is currently completing a biography of George C. Marshall. Reviewed by Josiah Bunting III, Washington Post Book World (Copyright 2006 Washington Post Book World Service/Washington Post Writers Group)
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After three #1 New York Times bestsellers on the Bush administration's wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, Woodward once again pulls back the curtain on Washington to reveal the inner workings of a government at war.
As violence in Iraq reaches unnerving levels in 2006, a second front in the war rages at the highest levels of the Bush administration. In his fourth book on President George W. Bush, Bob Woodward takes readers deep inside the tensions, secret debates, unofficial backchannels, distrust and determination within the White House, the Pentagon, the State Department, the intelligence agencies and the U.S. military headquarters in Iraq. With unparalleled intimacy and detail, this gripping account of a president at war describes a period of distress and uncertainty within the U.S. government from 2006 through mid-2008.
The White House launches a secret strategy review that excludes the military. General George Casey, the commander in Iraq, believes that President Bush does not understand the war and eventually concludes he has lost the president's confidence. The Joint Chiefs of Staff also conduct a secret strategy review that goes nowhere. On the verge of revolt, they worry that the military will be blamed for a failure in Iraq.
Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice strongly opposes a surge of additional U.S. forces and confronts the president, who replies that her suggestions would lead to failure. The president keeps his decision to fire Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld from Vice President Dick Cheney until two days before he announces it. A retired Army general uses his high-level contacts to shape decisions about the war, as Bush and Cheney use him to deliver sensitive messages outside the chain of command.
For months, the administration's strategy reviews continue in secret, with no deadline and no hurry, in part because public disclosure would harm Republicans in the November 2006 elections. National Security Adviser Stephen J. Hadley tells Rice, "We've got to do it under the radar screen because the electoral season is so hot."
The War Within provides an exhaustive account of the struggles of General David Petraeus, who takes over in Iraq during one of the bleakest and most violent periods of the war. It reveals how breakthroughs in military operations and surveillance account for much of the progress as violence in Iraq plummets in the middle of 2007.
Woodward interviewed key players, obtained dozens of never-before-published documents, and had nearly three hours of exclusive interviews with President Bush. The result is a stunning, firsthand history of the years from mid-2006, when the White House realizes the Iraq strategy is not working, through the decision to surge another 30,000 U.S. troops in 2007, and into mid-2008, when the war becomes a fault line in the presidential election.
The War Within addresses head-on questions of leadership, not just in war but in how we are governed and the dangers of unwarranted secrecy.
About the Author
Bob Woodward, an assistant managing editor of the Washington Post, has been a newspaper reporter and editor for 30 years. He has authored or coauthored eight No. 1 national non-fiction bestsellers. They include four books on the presidency — All the President's Men, The Final Days, The Agenda, and Shadow — and books on the Supreme Court (The Brethren), the Hollywood drug culture (Wired), the CIA (Veil), and the Pentagon (The Commanders). He is also author of national bestsellers on the presidential campaign (The Choice) and Federal Reserve chairman Alan Greenspan (Maestro). He has two daughters, Tali and Diana, and lives in Washington, D.C. with his wife, Elsa Walsh, a writer for The New Yorker.
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