Synopses & Reviews
Barack Obamaand#8217;s inauguration as president on January 20, 2009, inspired the world. But the great promise of and#8220;Change We Can Believe Inand#8221; was immediately tested by the threat of anotherandnbsp;Great Depression, a worsening war in Afghanistan, and an entrenched and deeply partisan system of business as usual in Washington. Despite all the coverage, the backstory of Obamaand#8217;s historic first year in office has until now remained a mystery.andlt;BRandgt;andlt;BRandgt;In andlt;iandgt;The Promise: President Obama, Year Oneandlt;/iandgt;, Jonathan Alter, one of the countryand#8217;s most respected journalists and historians, uses his unique access to the White House to produce the first inside look at Obamaand#8217;s difficult debut. andlt;BRandgt;andlt;BRandgt;What happened in 2009 inside the Oval Office? What worked and what failed? What is the president really like on the job and off-hours, using what his best friend called and#8220;a Rubikand#8217;s Cube in his brain?" These questions are answered here for the first time. We see how a surprisingly cunning Obama took effective charge in Washington several weeks before his election, made trillion-dollar decisions on the stimulus and budget before he was inaugurated, engineered colossally unpopular bailouts of the banking and auto sectors, and escalated a treacherous war not long after settling into office. andlt;BRandgt;andlt;BRandgt;andlt;iandgt;The Promise andlt;/iandgt;is a fast-paced and incisive narrative of a young risk-taking president carving his own path amid sky-high expectations and surging joblessness. Alter reveals that it was Obama aloneand#8212;and#8220;feeling luckyand#8221;and#8212;who insisted on pushing major health care reform over the objections of his vice president and top advisors, including his chief of staff, Rahm Emanuel, who admitted that and#8220;I begged him not to do this.and#8221;andlt;BRandgt;andlt;BRandgt;Alter takes the reader inside the room as Obama prevents a fistfight involving a congressman, coldly reprimands the military brass for insubordination, crashes the key meeting at the Copenhagen Climate Change conference, and bounces back after a disastrousandnbsp;Massachusettsandnbsp;election to redeem a promise that had eluded presidents since FDR.andlt;BRandgt;andlt;BRandgt;In Alterand#8217;s telling, the real Obama is an authentic, demanding, unsentimental, and sometimes overconfident leader. He adapted to the presidency with ease and put more and#8220;points on the boardand#8221; than he is given credit for, but neglected to use his leverage over the banks and failed to connect well with an angry public. We see the famously calm president cursing leaks, playfully trash-talking his advisors, and joking about even the most taboo subjects, still intent on redeeming more of his promise as the problems mount.andlt;BRandgt;andlt;BRandgt;This brilliant blend of journalism and history offers the freshest reporting and most acute perspective on the biggest story of our time. It will shape impressions of the Obama presidency and of the man himself for years to come.
"Author and Newsweek editor Alter (The Defining Moment: FDR'S Hundred Days and the Triumph of Hope) chronicles Obama's first year (plus) as U.S. President, from pre-inauguration planning through the passage of health care reform in March, 2010, in this engaging, fast-moving contemporary history. Exploring Obama's 'temperament, his approach to decision making, and his analysis of his ambitious first year,' as well as the overarching questions of 'What happened?' and 'How well did he do?', Alter will remind readers why they voted as they did, and why Obama was ultimately victorious. Tasked with 'the worst set of problems of any incoming president since Roosevelt in 1933,' Obama served up a range of big-ticket solutions that included 'the huge and underappreciated stimulus package, the auto bailouts, bank rescue and regulation... sending sixty-one thousand more troops to Afghanistan, and a health care bill,' each of which Alter addresses in depth. Alter finds that, despite the denial of right-wingers, Obama performed admirably in the first year, with progress on 50 percent of his campaign promises (and completion of 18 percent). Alter's prose is swift and subtly inspiring; the 'Yes, we can!' motto rarely appears but provides an undercurrent for his record of accomplishment. Readers interested in political process and the reality of progressive politics will enjoy this well-considered take on the current administration, a 'second draft' of history from a dedicated journalist who wisely anticipates 'dozens more versions to come.'" Publishers Weekly (Starred Review) (Copyright PWyxz LLC)
Praise for The Promise
andlt;bandgt;andlt;BRandgt; andlt;bandgt;and#8220;Gives us a new perspective on the 44th president by providing a detailed look at his decision-making . . . and a keen sense of what itand#8217;s like to work in his White House. . . . Alter uses his considerable access to the president and his aides to give us an informed look at No. 44and#8217;s management style.and#8221;andlt;/bandgt;andlt;BRandgt; andlt;BRandgt; andlt;Iandgt;andlt;bandgt; --Michiko Kakutani, The New York Timesandlt;/bandgt;andlt;BRandgt; andlt;/Iandgt;andlt;/bandgt;
andlt;bandgt;and#8220;An engaging, blow-by-blow account of the infancy of the Obama presidency. . . . Manna for political junkies. . . . Thoroughly researched . . . humanizes a figure considered periodically out-of-touch even by some of his admirers.and#8221;andlt;/bandgt;andlt;BRandgt; andlt;BRandgt;andlt;bandgt; --Carlo Wolff, andlt;iandgt;The Boston Globeandlt;/iandgt;andlt;/bandgt;
andlt;bandgt;and#8220;Jonathan Alter is the new Theodore H. White. . . .The first 12 months of an American presidency as nonfiction melodrama. andlt;iandgt;The Promise andlt;/iandgt;is not a campaign rehash, but a well-informed chronicle, sometimes sober, often raucous. Other books will be written about Barak Obamaand#8217;s time in the White House; this snapshot fo 2009 will be a durable, well-thumbed guide.and#8221;andlt;/bandgt;andlt;BRandgt; andlt;BRandgt;andlt;bandgt; --Martin F. Nolan, andlt;iandgt;San Francisco Chronicleandlt;/iandgt;andlt;/bandgt;
"Jonathan Alter is a diligent political reporter with more sources than the Mississippi. . . .
"Jonathan Alter is a diligent political reporter with more sources than the Mississippi. . . .
andlt;bandgt;and#8220;Aandlt;/bandgt;andlt;bandgt;n impressively reported, myth-debunking and timely combination of journalism and history.and#8221;andlt;/bandgt;andlt;BRandgt; andlt;BRandgt;andlt;bandgt; --Harry Hurt III, andlt;iandgt;The New York Timesandlt;/iandgt; (and#8220;Off the Shelfand#8221; Sunday column)andlt;/bandgt;
andlt;bandgt;andlt;iandgt;and#8220;The Promise andlt;/iandgt;andlt;/bandgt;andlt;bandgt;offers an excellent opportunity to appraise Obamaand#8217;s initial efforts. Drawing on interviews with over 200 people, including the president and his top aides, Alter examines everything from the economic bailouts to the military surge in Afghanistan.and#8221;andlt;/bandgt;andlt;BRandgt; andlt;BRandgt;andlt;bandgt; --Jacob Heilbrunn, andlt;iandgt;The New York Times Book Reviewandlt;/iandgt;andlt;/bandgt;
andlt;bandgt;and#8220;Jonathan Alter has delivered an exceptionally well-written account of President Obama's first year in office. Brimming with fresh and judicious ideas, his book fuses political analysis, subtle insights into the president's mind and policy debates into a fast-paced, crisis-filled story. "The Promise," based on more than 200 interviews with Obama and his close friends and aides, provides an uncommonly candid look inside a somewhat walled-off White House. . . . Alter's deeply reported and analytically arresting book takes Obama's story in subtler and more contradictory directions than it has gone before.and#8221;andlt;/bandgt;andlt;BRandgt; andlt;BRandgt;andlt;bandgt; --Matthew Dallek, andlt;iandgt;The Washington Post Book Worldandlt;/iandgt;andlt;/bandgt;
andlt;bandgt;and#8220;A deeply reported, soberly appraised account of the presidentand#8217;s tumultuous first months in office. . . . The book is rich in the kinds of insider detail that make for an entertaining, as well as informative, reading experience. . . . When it comes to what weand#8217;ve all come to call the first draft of history, andlt;iandgt;The Promiseandlt;/iandgt; is more polished, and far more thoughtful, than most. For those attempting to get a fix on a fascinating but strangely elusive chief executive, itand#8217;s essential reading.and#8221;andlt;/bandgt;andlt;BRandgt; andlt;BRandgt;andlt;bandgt; --Tim Rutten, andlt;iandgt;Los Angeles Timesandlt;/iandgt;andlt;/bandgt;
andlt;Bandgt;Praise for andlt;iandgt;The Promiseandlt;/iandgt;andlt;/Bandgt;
andlt;bandgt;and#8220;Jonathan Alter is a diligent political reporter with more sources than the Mississippi. . . . A calm, solid narrative of the people and events of the first Obama year. . . . The book offers a cascade of detail to please any follower of politics.and#8221; (This review also compares Alter to the great Walter Lippmann)andlt;/bandgt;andlt;BRandgt; andlt;BRandgt;andlt;bandgt; --Zay N. Smith, andlt;iandgt;Chicago Sun- Timesandlt;/iandgt; andlt;/bandgt;
"A good book to read if you want an answer to the question, 'What happened?' That is, what happened to the idealistic Obama of the 2008 campaign who was going to shut down GuantÃ¡namo, end indefinite detention, try terrorist suspects in civilian courts, take civil liberties more seriously, and end the rabid secrecy of the Bush era? How did he turn into the guy who not only didn't do any of that stuff, but became a drone-obsessed killing machine in the process?"
—Kevin Drum, Mother Jones
"Divulge(s) the details of top-level deliberations—details that were almost certainly known only to the administration's inner circle. Likely to be the most thorough accounts of America's recent national-security efforts that we shall receive before the November election."
—The Wall Street Journal
A fast-paced inside account of the breakneck speed with which President Obama began making critical decisions and assuming the burdens of office.
Alter, a native of Chicago who has known Obama and his circle for nearly a decade, provides a fast-paced inside account of the breakneck speed with which President-elect Obama, and then President Obama, began making critical decisions and assuming the burdens of office amid the greatest economic crisis since the Great Depression.
With dozens of exclusive details about everything from the selection of Hillary Clinton as secretary of state to the president’s secrets for running a good meeting, Alter paints a fresh and often surprising portrait of a highly disciplined and self-aware president and his colorful team. We see a young president of extraordinary temperament grappling with the task of stimulating the economy, bailing out large banks, taking over the American auto industry, making the crucial decision about sending more troops to Afghanistan, deciding whether to negotiate with Iran about its nuclear program, and fighting for a major reform of the country’s health care system. Alter explains what Obama is like in private, how he operates, and why he is so insistent on leading the country and the world into a new era of wrenching change.
From one of the most respected investigative journalists in Washington, pulling from unparalleled sources, comes this revelatory look at the Obama administration's internal workings, showing the fractures, competing cliques, and, ultimately, the deepest divides within the president's own mind as he has struggled but failed to define national security policy differently than his predecessor.
Is Barack Obama an idealist or a ruthless pragmatist? He vowed to close Guantánamo, put an end to coercive interrogation and military tribunals, and restore American principles of justice, yet in his first term he has backtracked on each of these promises, ramping up the secret war of drone strikes and covert operations. Behind the scenes, wrenching debates between hawks and doves—those who would kill versus those who would capture—have repeatedly tested the very core of the president’s identity.
Top investigative reporter Dan Klaidman has spoken to dozens of sources to piece together a riveting Washington story packed with revelations. As the president’s inner circle debated secret programs, new legal frontiers, and the disjuncture between principles and down-and-dirty politics, Obama vacillated, sometimes lashed out, and spoke in lofty tones while approving a mounting toll of assassinations and kinetic-war operations. Klaidman’s fly-on-the-wall reporting reveals who has his ear, how key national security decisions are really made, and whether or not President Obama has lived up to the promise of candidate Obama. Readers making up their minds about him during the 2012 election year will turn to Kill or Capture to decide.
About the Author
Jonathan Alter is an analystandnbsp;and contributing correspondent for NBC News and MSNBC. He is aandnbsp;former senior editor and columnist for andlt;iandgt;Newsweekandlt;/iandgt;, where he worked for twenty-eight years, writing moreandnbsp;than fifty cover stories. He has also written for andlt;iandgt;The New York Timesandlt;/iandgt;, andlt;iandgt;The Washington Postandlt;/iandgt;, andlt;iandgt;The Atlanticandlt;/iandgt;, andlt;iandgt;Vanity Fairandlt;/iandgt;, andlt;iandgt;The New Republicandlt;/iandgt;, and other publications.andnbsp;He is the author ofandnbsp;andlt;iandgt;The Promise: President Obama, Year Oneandlt;/iandgt; and andlt;iandgt;The Defining Moment: FDRand#8217;s Hundred Days and the Triumph of Hopeandlt;/iandgt;, both andlt;iandgt;New York Timesandlt;/iandgt; bestsellers, and andlt;i andgt;Between the Linesandlt;/iandgt;, a collection of his andlt;i andgt;Newsweek andlt;/iandgt;columns.
Table of Contents
Cast of Characters ix
A Note on Sources xiii
The Promise 13
Where the Fuck Is bin Laden? 37
Torture Debates and Murder Boards 65
Escape from Gitmo 93
Kill or Capture 117
How Not to Try a Terrorist 145
The Christmas Gift 173
From Warfare to Lawfare 199
“The President Is Anguished” 225