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In Obama’s Wars, Bob Woodward provides the most intimate and sweeping portrait yet of the young president as commander in chief. Drawing on internal memos, classified documents, meeting notes and hundreds of hours of interviews with most of the key players, including the president, Woodward tells the inside story of Obama making the critical decisions on the Afghanistan Wa In Obama’s Wars, Bob Woodward provides the most intimate and sweeping portrait yet of the young president as commander in chief. Drawing on internal memos, classified documents, meeting notes and hundreds of hours of interviews with most of the key players, including the president, Woodward tells the inside story of Obama making the critical decisions on the Afghanistan War, the secret campaign in Pakistan and the worldwide fight against terrorism.     At the core of Obama’s Wars is the unsettled division between the civilian leadership in the White House and the United States military as the president is thwarted in his efforts to craft an exit plan for the Afghanistan War.     “So what’s my option?” the president asked his war cabinet, seeking alternatives to the Afghanistan commander’s request for 40,000 more troops in late 2009.  “You have essentially given me one option. ...It’s unacceptable.”    “Well,” Secretary of Defense Robert Gates finally said, “Mr. President, I think we owe you that option.”    It never came. An untamed Vice President Joe Biden pushes relentlessly to limit the military mission and avoid another Vietnam. The vice president frantically sent half a dozen handwritten memos by secure fax to Obama on the eve of the final troop decision.    President Obama’s ordering a surge of 30,000 troops and pledging to start withdrawing U.S. forces by July 2011 did not end the skirmishing.    General David Petraeus, the new Afghanistan commander, thinks time can be added to the clock if he shows progress.  “I don’t think you win this war,” Petraeus said privately.  “This is the kind of fight we’re in for the rest of our lives and probably our kids’ lives.”    Hovering over this debate is the possibility of another terrorist attack in the United States. The White House led a secret exercise showing how unprepared the government is if terrorists set off a nuclear bomb in an American city—which Obama told Woodward is at the top of the list of what he worries about all the time.    Verbatim quotes from secret debates and White House strategy sessions—and firsthand accounts of the thoughts and concerns of the president, his war council and his generals—reveal a government in conflict, often consumed with nasty infighting and fundamental disputes.    Woodward has discovered how the Obama White House really works, showing that even more tough decisions lie ahead for the cerebral and engaged president.    Obama’s Wars offers the reader a stunning, you-are-there account of the president, his White House aides, military leaders, diplomats and intelligence chiefs in this time of turmoil and danger.


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In Obama’s Wars, Bob Woodward provides the most intimate and sweeping portrait yet of the young president as commander in chief. Drawing on internal memos, classified documents, meeting notes and hundreds of hours of interviews with most of the key players, including the president, Woodward tells the inside story of Obama making the critical decisions on the Afghanistan Wa In Obama’s Wars, Bob Woodward provides the most intimate and sweeping portrait yet of the young president as commander in chief. Drawing on internal memos, classified documents, meeting notes and hundreds of hours of interviews with most of the key players, including the president, Woodward tells the inside story of Obama making the critical decisions on the Afghanistan War, the secret campaign in Pakistan and the worldwide fight against terrorism.     At the core of Obama’s Wars is the unsettled division between the civilian leadership in the White House and the United States military as the president is thwarted in his efforts to craft an exit plan for the Afghanistan War.     “So what’s my option?” the president asked his war cabinet, seeking alternatives to the Afghanistan commander’s request for 40,000 more troops in late 2009.  “You have essentially given me one option. ...It’s unacceptable.”    “Well,” Secretary of Defense Robert Gates finally said, “Mr. President, I think we owe you that option.”    It never came. An untamed Vice President Joe Biden pushes relentlessly to limit the military mission and avoid another Vietnam. The vice president frantically sent half a dozen handwritten memos by secure fax to Obama on the eve of the final troop decision.    President Obama’s ordering a surge of 30,000 troops and pledging to start withdrawing U.S. forces by July 2011 did not end the skirmishing.    General David Petraeus, the new Afghanistan commander, thinks time can be added to the clock if he shows progress.  “I don’t think you win this war,” Petraeus said privately.  “This is the kind of fight we’re in for the rest of our lives and probably our kids’ lives.”    Hovering over this debate is the possibility of another terrorist attack in the United States. The White House led a secret exercise showing how unprepared the government is if terrorists set off a nuclear bomb in an American city—which Obama told Woodward is at the top of the list of what he worries about all the time.    Verbatim quotes from secret debates and White House strategy sessions—and firsthand accounts of the thoughts and concerns of the president, his war council and his generals—reveal a government in conflict, often consumed with nasty infighting and fundamental disputes.    Woodward has discovered how the Obama White House really works, showing that even more tough decisions lie ahead for the cerebral and engaged president.    Obama’s Wars offers the reader a stunning, you-are-there account of the president, his White House aides, military leaders, diplomats and intelligence chiefs in this time of turmoil and danger.

30 review for Obama's Wars

  1. 5 out of 5

    Will Byrnes

    Welcome to the sausage factory. When Otto Von Bismarck made his comment about the undesirability of witnessing the making of legislation, he could easily have included the making of foreign, particularly military policy. When President Obama took office, he was faced not only with having to clean out the economic monkey cage the prior administration had left covered with feces, he also had to cope with two inherited wars. He had some very definite ideas on an approach to the Afghanistan War in p Welcome to the sausage factory. When Otto Von Bismarck made his comment about the undesirability of witnessing the making of legislation, he could easily have included the making of foreign, particularly military policy. When President Obama took office, he was faced not only with having to clean out the economic monkey cage the prior administration had left covered with feces, he also had to cope with two inherited wars. He had some very definite ideas on an approach to the Afghanistan War in particular and that is the focus of Woodward’s latest. The primary battle here is Obama’s desire to limit the cost and duration of our combat in Afghanistan versus the military’s desire for constantly increasing resources. Most of the military favored a program of counterinsurgency that entailed protecting the population while going after the Taliban. This would require many more troops than other options. There is a telling moment when two maps are shown at a meeting, one showing the population centers and the other showing the troop deployments. The mismatch was obvious, as was one extremely huge hole in the plan, the near absence of troops at the Afghani-Pakistani border where most of the Taliban fighters crossed into Afghanistan from Pakistan’s nearly ungovernable tribal areas. One issue that was central to the policy discussions was whether US policy should seek to destroy or disrupt the Taliban. It was fascinating to see this play out. There is a formula to Woodward’s books. He interviews as many of the players as possible, corroborates their versions with others, gets his paws on official documents, and reports the blow-by-blow of the discussions that lead up to final policy action. It is a good formula and Woodward is an expert practitioner. Of course many of the interviewees are spin meisters who do what they can to get their side of a particular conflict into the record. There are many, many opinions expressed here, and I felt at times that Woodward slipped his own bias into the reportage by merely repeating what they had told him, without checking to see if what had been said was true or not. While it might be a useful thing to have a stenographer in chief, a bit more evaluation might have been in order. He goes beyond at times, echoing in his own words a view of this or that person. Still, this is mother’s milk to policy wonks. Also the level of detail can get to be too much. One must wade through a thick soup of names, dates and references to documents to get to the real jewels of information. It was interesting to see the non-stop politicking that goes into the creation of our military policy. It is not a pretty picture, bearing far, far too much resemblance to middle-school theatrics. It is as if every morning the players, political and military, check their facebook pages to see who has one-upped the other. Even his holiness, David Petraeus, is a player in the eternal publicity wars. Even after a decision is made, the players keep the game going, continually attempting to influence policy, and their own positions, by leaking to the press material designed to corner or embarrass the president, or to attack an opponent. To steal a line from the TV show Burn Notice, “Generals, what a bunch of bitchy little girls.” One thing that was crystal clear was what a disaster Karzai was as an ally, whether on or off his meds. It was no news to me that Pakistan is no better an ally, particularly as it provides safe haven for much of the Taliban force battling in Afghanistan, as well as a hidey hole for Al Qaeda. I was pleased to see a look at the relationship between the Taliban and Al Qaeda. Is it possible to separate the two? And it was informative to learn of some of the organizational chaos inside the ISI, which may be the single most important player in the conflict. But one thing that comes through clearly is how complicated the issues are in attempting to craft the best approach to the conflict. Obama comes across pretty well, as a president who is willing to drill down into wonkish details in order to fashion the best policy. Also, he is willing to give the military specific directives, something prior presidents have been loath to do. There have been many books written about the ongoing conflict in AfPak. There is no one book that can tell it all. But Obama’s Wars offers real insight into the current US perspective, and that is a worthwhile thing. ==================================QUOTES It was as if there were six or seven different personalities within the ISI. The CIA exploited and bought some, but at least one section—known as Directorate S—financed and nurtured the Taliban and other terrorist groups. CIA payments might put parts of the ISI in America’s pocket…but the Pakistani spy agency could not or would not control its own people. (p 4) When the gunfire ended [in the Mumbai terrorist attack] the body count totaled 175, including six American citizens. The siege had been organized by a group called Lashkar-e-TAiba, which means the Army of the Pure and is commonly referred to by the acronym LeT…the open secret is that LeT was created and continues to be funded and protected by the Pakistani ISI. The intelligence branch of the Pakistani military uses LeT to inflict pain and hardship on India, according to U.S, Intelligence. The gunmen had, quite possibly, committed an act of war. (p 45) Secretary Clinton addressed the consequences of not engaging with the Pakistani public for the past several years, contributing to America’s unpopularity there. “There hadn’t been much public diplomacy in recent years,” she said. The history of the United States abandoning the region after the Cold War still hung over everything. Meanwhile, “the US relationship with India is growing steadily,” she said, which to say the least was characterized as a negative in Pakistan. When the Pakistan media ran negative stories, there was not enough pushback. Where was a “counter-propaganda plan?” she asked. “There’s been lack of sufficient funding, people, concepts, structures and authorities,” said Petraeus, chuckling. “Other than that we’re doing great.” For much of the Bush presidency, U.S. policy had coddled Musharraf and disregarded the 170 million people in Pakistan. Clinton wanted a decision on multiyear, civilian assistance for Pakistani infrastructure, energy, and agriculture, in addition to media outreach. (p 209)

  2. 4 out of 5

    Chris

    Fascinating account of decision making in the White House. Reads like a thriller. Obama relies too much on his Chicago Mafia but is firmly in charge. Rahm was a mistake. He wouldn't even show Jones, the NSA, drafts of speeches. The NSA had to listen to them like the rest of the nation and Obama let this happen. General Jones, a class guy, was not respected. I almost wanted to laugh and cry hearing the account of the war planning. I could have gotten more precise and sound advice from a bunch of Fascinating account of decision making in the White House. Reads like a thriller. Obama relies too much on his Chicago Mafia but is firmly in charge. Rahm was a mistake. He wouldn't even show Jones, the NSA, drafts of speeches. The NSA had to listen to them like the rest of the nation and Obama let this happen. General Jones, a class guy, was not respected. I almost wanted to laugh and cry hearing the account of the war planning. I could have gotten more precise and sound advice from a bunch of West Point lieutenants conducting mission planning than the "experts" on the National Security staff. They couldn't even define the word defeat. Mullen and Petraeus come across as defiant know it alls. Rahm and Donilon just don't get it-they are the ones creating the us and them mentality between the military and the civilians. Gates and Jones were the peacemakers. Both are gone or will be gone. Obama has the right vision but he needs to be less reliant on his political/campaign staff. Good riddance Rahm. Donilon should not be the NSA. I'm going to sleep less secure now.

  3. 5 out of 5

    Mal Warwick

    We may not always say so, at least by using the same term, but what we look for in a President is, above all, leadership. Obama's Wars -- Bob Woodward's most recent behind-the-scenes report, a sort of current history -- provides a front-row seat on the leadership style of Barack Obama. As I view the scene Woodward portrays, President Obama comes off looking really good as a leader. Obama's Wars is, essentially, an account of the months-long period in 2009 when President Obama, the members of Nati We may not always say so, at least by using the same term, but what we look for in a President is, above all, leadership. Obama's Wars -- Bob Woodward's most recent behind-the-scenes report, a sort of current history -- provides a front-row seat on the leadership style of Barack Obama. As I view the scene Woodward portrays, President Obama comes off looking really good as a leader. Obama's Wars is, essentially, an account of the months-long period in 2009 when President Obama, the members of National Security Council (including Secretary of Defense Robert Gates and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton), and the Pentagon brass were wrestling with one another over how to approach the war in Afghanistan. It's the stuff of which a graduate school case study in policy-making might be made -- and quite a good one at that. If you approach this book with the often-oversimplified notion that the battle lines would break down neatly, with the generals and the admirals on one side and the civilians on the other (especially in a Democratic Administration), you'll be very surprised. As Woodward vividly shows, some of the most dogged opposition to the proposed U.S. troop buildup in Afghanistan came from military men, both active and retired. And one of the most consistently hawkish figures in the exhausting debate was Secretary Clinton. But even those characterizations are highly misleading. The debate Obama led in 2009 about the Afghanistan war was an immensely complex matter with a multitude of possible policy outcomes -- none of them good. The resulting compromise -- and it was that, after all -- incorporated ideas from all sides. However, if a good compromise is marked by making "both" sides equally unhappy, Obama's compromise was a curious one. It appears to have made "both" sides happy. The Pentagon exulted in receiving a large number of fresh troops for Afghanistan, believing that conditions on the ground there would require them to pursue their recommended tactics despite opposition from the White House, and convinced that the July 2011 withdrawal data Obama insisted on would slip by months and years. The political staff in the White House, by contrast, were content to give the generals the extra troops, believing that conditions on the ground would make it impossible for them to pursue their recommended tactics and knowing that the President would insist on sticking with the July 2011 date for the beginning of a withdrawal. What most impressed me about Barack Obama -- and I firmly believe historians of the future will bear this out -- was the fortitude he displayed in resisting simple-minded formulas and half-baked claims. In the course of the great debate about Afghanistan, there was an abundance of both. The President, with considerable support from Vice President Joe Biden, more than held his own with the military brass. And, judging from the history of our last half-dozen Presidents or so, that's saying a lot. Woodward's strength as a reporter is that he gets the story right -- or so it would appear, since to the best of my memory no one has ever successfully refuted any of the incidents reported in his books. He relies on intensive and repeated interviews with all the principals. (After all, who would dare turn down the man who toppled Richard Nixon's Presidency?) Even if a statement here or an interpretation there may be off a few degrees, Obama's Wars can give you the feeling that you are witnessing up close one of the most fateful national policy debates of recent years.

  4. 4 out of 5

    Trena

    While the boyfriend and I both enjoy reading, we have completely different tastes. I am history and science; he is politics and law. However, on our trip to Ecuador I was afraid of running out of book (1491: New Revelations of the Americas Before Columbus, the perfect companion for a trip to South America) and so I "borrowed" the copy of Obama's Wars he'd brought with him. I was fascinated. I'd always suspected Bob Woodward of resting on his Watergate laurels for the past 37 years (I know exactly While the boyfriend and I both enjoy reading, we have completely different tastes. I am history and science; he is politics and law. However, on our trip to Ecuador I was afraid of running out of book (1491: New Revelations of the Americas Before Columbus, the perfect companion for a trip to South America) and so I "borrowed" the copy of Obama's Wars he'd brought with him. I was fascinated. I'd always suspected Bob Woodward of resting on his Watergate laurels for the past 37 years (I know exactly how long because I was born about two weeks after Nixon resigned), but it turns out the man still puts in the time and shoe leather to do great investigative journalism. He does leverage his laurels to some extent--but only to get access to top aides and decisionmakers, including an interview with the President himself, so that he remains on top of the blockbuster journalism game. The plural of "wars" in the title is a misnomer, as the book covers Obama's decisionmaking process for his Afghanistan strategy and mentions Iraq only occasionally and tangentially in that context. It is an almost day-by-day account of the people, documents, ideas, and personalities that influenced the President's strategy in Afghanistan, starting as soon as he was elected. The information Woodward gained access to is astonishing, almost uncomfortably so. I am all for open government, but I am not certain I want Karzai to know the Americans think he is an unmedicated bipolar nor the Pakistani leaders to know exactly what we think of them (treacherous liars). There are national security implications to these opinions, which are obviously at odds with the official party line governing our relations with those nations. The two big pictures impressions I took away from the book are: 1) How in the hell does the President have time to do *anything* other than deal with Afghanistan, much less all the other foreign policy issues, and much much less domestic issues (which won't get us killed, but will get him un-elected)? No wonder Bill Clinton aged about 30 years in office. He did 30 years of work in those 8 years. 2) All hell could break loose at any moment from any number of unstable leaders and regions of the world. And I mean all hell. 9/11 would look like a picnic. I think this is why I prefer history. The scary parts are over. A deduction of one star for some sloppy editing in the beginning of the book--whole passages would be repeated within 20 pages or so--and while Woodward made a valiant effort it was still impossible to remember who was whom, and more importantly who hated whom, in the large cast of characters. That is probably my limitation as a reader and non-politico, though.

  5. 4 out of 5

    Jake

    The title of this book is perfect: Obama’s Wars. Bob Woodward gives us a detailed account of President Obama taking ownership of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Obama also takes charge of internal strife between bickering branches and rival departments of our government and military. Obama’s Wars is not a fun or exciting book, even during its most engrossing passages. But I can see it being a worthwhile read even for a person who skims a few chapters, becomes overwhelmed by the political comple The title of this book is perfect: Obama’s Wars. Bob Woodward gives us a detailed account of President Obama taking ownership of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Obama also takes charge of internal strife between bickering branches and rival departments of our government and military. Obama’s Wars is not a fun or exciting book, even during its most engrossing passages. But I can see it being a worthwhile read even for a person who skims a few chapters, becomes overwhelmed by the political complexity, and then gives up reading it. At least that person might come away with greater empathy for our leaders. (We could all use a bit more empathy in this nation.) The world of international relations is a messy one. Suffice it to say, if you think the war in Afghanistan is or should be solely about defeating al Qaeda, you are grossly uninformed. My primary frustration with Obama’s Wars, though not necessarily a criticism of it, is the degree to which Mr. Woodward remains detached from his subject. I feel a bit sheepish admitting this. But there were times I wished Woodward had held my hand a bit more in terms of providing thematic subtext. Yes, I can tell that General X said something that upset Diplomat Y during a secret meeting. But I don’t fully grasp how it relates to the larger issues, let alone the interpersonal ones. Nonetheless, I came to understand how President Obama’s cerebral nature is a much needed strategic boon but often a tactical stumbling block. Though, as I’d hoped, the book provides a favorable portrait. Woodward's research largely vindicates our President as engaged, hardworking, astute, and a much-needed antidote to the hotheaded cowboy mentality that got us into these wars. I also developed a tempered appreciation for our nation’s generals, including the oft lionized General David Petraeus and the controversial General Stanley McChrystal. In the book, these men come across as extremely driven and devoted leaders, even when they find themselves at odds with the President. This isn’t a one-sided, absolutist account of who is right and who is wrong. In other words, this book is great reporting. Ultimately, I found Obama’s Wars very sobering. It reveals how dangerous our world is—a place where geographic borders have become less relevant, but where the personalities in charge remain fiercely nationalistic, even tribal (and no I don’t just mean the Taliban). So I’ll continue paying my taxes and giving to non-profits. And I’ll keep trying to be a person who doesn’t deserve to be attacked and not one who is quick to make war. Because war—that is, politics through violence—always ends up ugly, even when prosecuted by the best of humans. Note regarding the hardbound edition: This book includes two extremely helpful sections: 1) A Glossary; 2) A Cast of Characters

  6. 5 out of 5

    Paul Subar

    Currently reading, boring as hell!

  7. 4 out of 5

    Kathleen

    dry.

  8. 5 out of 5

    William Breakstone

    BOOK REVIEW Obama’s Wars by Bob Woodward Reviewed by Bill Breakstone, November 28, 2010 When Bob Woodward’s latest book, “Obama’s Wars,” was released for publication some six weeks ago, it was lavishly promoted with personal appearances by the author on just about every single talk show, and also accorded notoriety by some striking revelations of a personal nature of aides within both White House and Pentagon circles. I put off reading the volume as it seemed the critics and talking heads had more BOOK REVIEW Obama’s Wars by Bob Woodward Reviewed by Bill Breakstone, November 28, 2010 When Bob Woodward’s latest book, “Obama’s Wars,” was released for publication some six weeks ago, it was lavishly promoted with personal appearances by the author on just about every single talk show, and also accorded notoriety by some striking revelations of a personal nature of aides within both White House and Pentagon circles. I put off reading the volume as it seemed the critics and talking heads had more than amply covered its contents. I was wrong! “Obama’s Wars” is a fascinatingly detailed account of the new president’s assumption of the Afghanistan Crisis, starting during his briefings by the Bush White House and Pentagon staff once he became a presidential candidate, through his election, inauguration, and the first 18 months of his presidency. It may be Woodward’s finest effort, though many will find the complexity of the decision-making process to be staggering. But if you’re a foreign policy buff, or just want to really understand why the Afghan War is such a frustrating challenge for policy makers, this book is for you. On the day Obama was elected, there were 150,000 American troops in Iraq, and 38,000 in Afghanistan. One of Obama’s campaign pledges was to turn the focus from Iraq and deal with where the Islamic terrorists, both the Taliban and al Qaeda, were active, meaning Afghanistan, AND Pakistan. The policy headache started on November 26, 2008, and it would become a migraine of the worst order. On that date, President Bush met with Gen. Douglas Lute, the war czar, for one of his last National Security Council Meetings. Lute had conducted a thorough review of the Afghan War, and the results were grim. We were headed toward failure, plain and simple. He pinpointed three reasons: (1) Afghan governance was totally inadequate; (2) the opium trade was out of control, with its resulting corruption of public officials; (3) Pakistan was harboring the Taliban, and their intelligence agency was supporting them—without Pakistan’s determination to act as our ally in rooting out al Qaeda and the Taliban, the chance of success in Afghanistan would be futile. Thus began a 13-month policy review by the new administration and their military staff at the Pentagon and “in country.” Obama was determined to “get it right,” no matter what it would take. He proceeded in a deliberate fashion, listened to the advice of his Pentagon chiefs and his national security team, sorted through the options presented, changed his commanders in the field, fought the military tooth-in-nail, and finally, in December of 2009, endorsed a plan which was signed off on by everyone, then presented in a speech at West Point. An additional 30,000 troops, four combat brigades would be authorized, but only three sent immediately. The option of deploying the fourth brigade would be made in December of 2010. As an added caveat to the Pentagon, it was agreed that should circumstances warrant it, and additional 10%, or 3,000 additional troops, may also be deployed. Troop presence would build until July of 2011, when a drawdown would begin, depending upon the situation on the ground. Reports coming back from Afghanistan during the winter of 2009—2010 were discouraging, to say the least. The plan was not working. The Taliban were operating freely in almost all areas of the country. Troop training was inadequate; not even one company of American soldiers could turn over responsibility to the Afghan Army and Police. The Afghan government did not have the support of the population. Pakistan spoke highly of a joint effort, but refused to act in any meaningful way. Changes had to be made. Things came to a head in May and June of 20010. Intelligence Director Admiral Dennis Blair was fired on May 20th. The ground commander, Gen. Stanley McChrystal, was fired and replaced by Gen. David Petraeus on June 23rd.; the final manpower shoe dropped on October 8, 2010, when National Security Advisor Gen. James L. Jones (Ret.) announced his resignation, to be replaced by Thomas E. Donilon. Woodward completed his book in late July of 2010, and since that time, the Afghan Crisis continues to be in a state of flux. The December Review is due any week now, and it does not appear that conditions on the ground have improved in any meaningful way. Will the fourth combat brigade be deployed? Will the timetable for beginning the troop drawdown be extended? Will Special Forces and CIA forces be deployed on the ground in Pakistan? That will never be announced publically; it will be a totally covert operation. Woodward doesn’t draw any conclusions; he and his staff just state the facts and leave future policy to the decision makers. But the reader can surmise certain options: (1) Afghanistan is unwinnable! Al Qaeda is not there. They are in Pakistan. The Kabul government is a fraud, led by an unstable, manic-depressive who is on and off medications and subject to wild mood swings, states of paranoia, corrupt, and without the support of his people. Why did the Russians finally give up? They realized it was hopeless. Do we need to follow their example? (2) The focus must be where al Qaeda is, and the Taliban, and that is in Pakistan. Action must be taken there. Woodward reports that such a possibility has indeed been discussed among high administration officials, but no decision has been forthcoming. The option is to tell the Pakistanis that either they will root out the extremists or we will. (3) We have witnessed in the past 18 months numerous attempts by terrorists to inflict severe damage on our homeland. Thus far, we have dodged the bullet through a combination of intelligence gathering and sheer luck. But it’s like playing Russian roulette. Sooner or later, a bullet will be in the chamber. When the catastrophe happens, options will be taken out of the administration’s hands. (4) Additional efforts should be directed to other al Qaeda training centers and bases being harbored elsewhere in the world, noticeably in Yemen and Somalia. Woodward begins “Obama’s Wars” with a personal note of thanks to two of his staffers. These are his words: “I had two of the most exceptional people assist me full-time on the reporting, writing, editing and thinking about this book: Josh Boak, a 2001 cum laude graduate of Princeton and later of the Columbia University master’s program in journalism. . . . Josh immersed himself in all the details and nuances of the Afghanistan War, the Obama administration and Washington politics. He became part of my brain—the better part. . . . there would be no book without him—not even close; Evelyn M. Duffy, who worked with me on “The War Within: A Secret White House History, 2006—2008, continued on this project. Thank God. At age 25, she is a wizard at everything.” Thanks to Woodward and his young staffers, “Obama’s War” is a classic analysis of national decision-making and the awful conflict that will no doubt tear this Nation apart for the foreseeable future.

  9. 5 out of 5

    Kyle

    It never ceases to amaze me how Woodward can get his sources to talk so openly. This book is no exception, and it reads like a political thriller. Woodward takes us through the quagmire of Afghanistan that the Bush Presidency has left for Obama, and how the president has to take in and appreciate what the military brass is advising while maintaining his duty as civilian commander-in-chief. The military wants to have a 15-year timeline -- and that is on top of the 9 years we've already been there. It never ceases to amaze me how Woodward can get his sources to talk so openly. This book is no exception, and it reads like a political thriller. Woodward takes us through the quagmire of Afghanistan that the Bush Presidency has left for Obama, and how the president has to take in and appreciate what the military brass is advising while maintaining his duty as civilian commander-in-chief. The military wants to have a 15-year timeline -- and that is on top of the 9 years we've already been there. Obama knows we can't afford that, and there is no political will behind such an endeavor with little chance of attaining what the military wants to do. Obama repeatedly has to negotiate points he's already made to the military that just can't seem to take "no" for an answer. I was upset when it was announced we'd begin moving out of Afghanistan in 2011; I thought it was too long and we needed to get out now. But after reading this book, I greatly appreciate what Obama is up against and how he was strong in not backing an unending war. It made me very proud that Obama is the president and is the right person at the right time for this job. It also shows how intelligent, knowledgeable and strong a civilian commander-in-chief must be; a Palin or Huckabee presidency would be such an unmitigated disaster as they'd have no base from which to challenge the military or their own advisors (see the GWB presidency).

  10. 4 out of 5

    Stephen

    I love Bob Woodward's books. He gets amazing access and can usually draw me right into whatever his subject matter is. His Price of Politics about the debt ceiling/budget negotiation around the "fiscal cliff" is one of my favorite books of the last few years. This one wasn't the greatest for me. Maybe because it was such a narrow slice of the story: Obama's first two years of his presidency. Woodward does a good job showing how Obama's lack of experience was a debacle in those first years in the I love Bob Woodward's books. He gets amazing access and can usually draw me right into whatever his subject matter is. His Price of Politics about the debt ceiling/budget negotiation around the "fiscal cliff" is one of my favorite books of the last few years. This one wasn't the greatest for me. Maybe because it was such a narrow slice of the story: Obama's first two years of his presidency. Woodward does a good job showing how Obama's lack of experience was a debacle in those first years in the wars. He had no control over leaks. He had generals undermining him. And although he was bright, he was not a good team-builder or leader and could not get a handle on his team. As with other Woodward books about the Obama presidency, we see Biden often stepping in to help create dialogue and move issues forward while Obama bickers and backbites with any person who disagrees with him, and Clinton is always playing politics with every move she makes, eyes clearly set on a presidential run of her own. From the perspective that Obama turned his leaking ship around and got hold of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan eventually, it's an interesting glimpse into a time when that did not seem possible. But the story is so frustrating and petty between the president and the generals that it made me want to scream, as it should any reader. An odd note considering the title: There is almost nothing in the book about Iraq. It's almost entirely about Afghanistan and Pakistan.

  11. 5 out of 5

    Jonathan Mckay

    First: The title has a typo. It should be titled 'Obama's war' as there is no reporting on decisions related to Iraq. The Good: Woodward has remarkable access. He paints a picture that makes sense, and has more anecdotes about the top levels of government than anyone. Woodward shows how decision making happens, and that White House politics is really a permutation of regular office politics (both in Republican and Democrat administrations). He keeps good track of all the actors rather than relyin First: The title has a typo. It should be titled 'Obama's war' as there is no reporting on decisions related to Iraq. The Good: Woodward has remarkable access. He paints a picture that makes sense, and has more anecdotes about the top levels of government than anyone. Woodward shows how decision making happens, and that White House politics is really a permutation of regular office politics (both in Republican and Democrat administrations). He keeps good track of all the actors rather than relying too extensively on a few, and is remarkably good at maintaining as neutral tone as possible- neither praising nor condemning the administration or its members. The Bad: There are no conclusions. There is no unified narrative. The book gives a very filtered look at what happened on the ground in Afghanistan, in the State Department, or with the intelligence operations. It's like a very very long 'meeting minutes' But nobody else makes 'meeting minutes' so compelling, and Woodward is still the only game in town.

  12. 4 out of 5

    Velvetink

    So finally sitting down to watch the world news tonight (after not watching any for the last few weeks) managed to hear about three interesting authors. Bob Woodward being one of them. (Bob and Lee Woodruff and Nancy Sherman being the other two, all writing on current war topics). I think this book is a must read to understand the situation from both sides. Not knowing anything about Woodward I checked wiki...and he is regarded as one of America's preeminent investigative reporters and non-fiction So finally sitting down to watch the world news tonight (after not watching any for the last few weeks) managed to hear about three interesting authors. Bob Woodward being one of them. (Bob and Lee Woodruff and Nancy Sherman being the other two, all writing on current war topics). I think this book is a must read to understand the situation from both sides. Not knowing anything about Woodward I checked wiki...and he is regarded as one of America's preeminent investigative reporters and non-fiction authors. Anyhow I am a big fan of investigative journalists who get to the meat of the matter & tell it like it is. *note to any GR librarian; Woodward has aged considerably since the 1970's photograph on his Goodreads author page. There's a current one on this wiki entry; http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bob_Wood..., which someone might be so kind & have time to add to Woodwards GR page. :)

  13. 4 out of 5

    Japhy Grant

    As expected, Woodward offers a masterful minute by minute account of the Obama administration's execution of drawdowns in Iraq and mostly Afghanistan. It's a portrait of an engaged, pragmatic young President whose focus on results often comes off as cerebral and bloodless; that is to say, there's little new herea about Obama we don't already know. It's the details that make the book fascinating and if you ever wanted to know how foreign policy is made, here's your cook book. Unsurprisingly, consi As expected, Woodward offers a masterful minute by minute account of the Obama administration's execution of drawdowns in Iraq and mostly Afghanistan. It's a portrait of an engaged, pragmatic young President whose focus on results often comes off as cerebral and bloodless; that is to say, there's little new herea about Obama we don't already know. It's the details that make the book fascinating and if you ever wanted to know how foreign policy is made, here's your cook book. Unsurprisingly, considering Woodward's sources, the Pentagon and the NIS come off looking the most professional, while Obama's political advisors (Rahm especially), seem caught up in maintaining the right image. If the book has a mesage, it's that the United States needs to wake up to the threat and opportunity Pakistan poses. A must read.

  14. 4 out of 5

    Dexter Lawson

    Obama waged more war and killed more people while simultaneously weakening our military than any commander in chief in our nation's history. At least the feckless Carter knew his limitations and largely kept his gun in the holster. Obama's Nobel Peace Prize instantly de-legitimized a once meaningful award.

  15. 5 out of 5

    Paul Garns

    Super nerdy, detailed, and hard to keep track of who is who, but worthwhile and fascinating in parts. Some cool insight into how presidents and those they work with are constantly weighing so many different considerations, all of which are often equally essential.

  16. 4 out of 5

    Daniel (Attack of the Books!) Burton

    I just finished "Obama's Wars" by Bob Woodward. I don't know that I feel ready to review a book by Woodward, but I do have some thoughts after reading it. First of all, the book seems more about the bureaucratic push and shove between the White House, the State Department, the CIA and the Department of Defense about how to deal with Afghanistan. The Obama Administration had come into office with promises to draw down in Iraq and focus on Afghanistan. The question was to what degree: how many troo I just finished "Obama's Wars" by Bob Woodward. I don't know that I feel ready to review a book by Woodward, but I do have some thoughts after reading it. First of all, the book seems more about the bureaucratic push and shove between the White House, the State Department, the CIA and the Department of Defense about how to deal with Afghanistan. The Obama Administration had come into office with promises to draw down in Iraq and focus on Afghanistan. The question was to what degree: how many troops? How long would they need to be there? And what exactly would be the mission? The process to determine those answers was meticulous and thorough. That said, Woodward does not tell the story in a light that is favorable to the military. The military--McCrystal, Petraeus, Mullen, and others--appears to constantly push civilian leadership's efforts to limit the mission in Afghanistan, seeking more troops, an expanded mission, a longer mission. Petraeus wanted to implement a surge similar to "the Surge" that saved Iraq, and McCrystal conducted in an in-depth review on how to make Afghanistan secure, but couldn't control his mouth or his staff. Vice President Biden has no problem giving his opinion. No shocker, I suppose. He would start out with "Let me take two minutes..." then go on for over twenty-five minutes. At one point, he even cornered President Obama on the portico to the White House just before the President announced his decision to insert 30,000 troops to Afghanistan, just to give one more opinion. Yeah. He's just that sure of himself. President Obama himself appears extremely careful and thorough in his decision-making, carefully seeking the opinions of all parties, including his counterparts in Afghanistan and Pakistan. Further, his carefully crafted orders were meticulous and detailed. Within the Obama White House, relationships and personality are more than important--they're crucial. Individuals close to the President, especially from the campaign, were better at getting their ideas moved forward. No surprise there, I suppose; it's not who you know, but who knows you. Pakistan is the real villain in the conflict, not the Taliban alone, even if Woodward does not necessarily intend to point the finger. With Osama's death at the hands of Seal Team Six last week, not far from a Pakistani military installation, it seems clear that we have trusted Pakistan too much. If slightly biased towards the Administration and heavily focused on how the decision to send the 30,000 troops to Afghanistan was made, perhaps to the neglect of other aspects of the war, Woodward's book is detailed, appears well researched, and is an interesting look into how the Obama Administration has conducted the war in Afghanistan.

  17. 4 out of 5

    Michael Griffith

    I don't know if I want these wars to end to see Woodward write about something else or continue, since I clearly am eating this stuff up. This is the first Kindle book I've read, which I read on Donna II and Harley (Samsung Galaxy S and 13" MacBook Pro, for those of you that don't know the names of my computers...shut up). I feel like this is the ideal kind of book for this format, versus a novel or a think piece. It's like an extended newspaper article or blog and I'm thinking of reading Game Ch I don't know if I want these wars to end to see Woodward write about something else or continue, since I clearly am eating this stuff up. This is the first Kindle book I've read, which I read on Donna II and Harley (Samsung Galaxy S and 13" MacBook Pro, for those of you that don't know the names of my computers...shut up). I feel like this is the ideal kind of book for this format, versus a novel or a think piece. It's like an extended newspaper article or blog and I'm thinking of reading Game Changer in the same way. To the actual book- as always, Woodward's style is more like a newspaper or anything. The prose are short and not complex- he's not adding anything to literature. His content, on the other hand, moves people in Washington. An earlier leak in the process of writing the book of troop assessments and criticism of the pace of the Afghanistan Strategy Review influenced the process. After the book was published, National Security Advisor Jim Jones was fired. There are not many giant surprises in this book- it's an historical look at the past few years and how President Obama tackeled the wars he inherited. These books serve more as gossip than anything else and the immaturity of a number of the factions, especially the military, is shocking. What comes to light is Obama's leadership style, which is commendable, especially given questions during the campaign about his lack of experience. The anecdote reported by Rolling Stone in the infamous McCrystal story about Obama being immitated by the military brass does not come through at all in this book. Nonetheless, the military carefully attempted to box in the President. His demand for a clear strategy, his clear definition of objectives, and demand that his staff go back to the drawing board show a smart, thoughtful executive. One thing that isn't entirely captured in this book are the other concerns the President had going on simultaneously, such as the economy, health care, the Russian nuclear treaty, and the whole of the rest of domestic policy. The book is a fascinating insider's perspective, but reads like a long newspaper article.

  18. 5 out of 5

    Randy

    To be expected from Bob Woodward... excellent writing, clear exposition of the facts as he sees them. The main players come off as complex beings... The President as a very thoughtful and wise policy wonk. I'm amazed by his restraint. The Vice President as more emotional, more of a hip shooter, but in the end a strong presence and a positive addition to the team. The various military figures as a combination of excellence in their main work, and totally insensitive to the politics of the matter.. To be expected from Bob Woodward... excellent writing, clear exposition of the facts as he sees them. The main players come off as complex beings... The President as a very thoughtful and wise policy wonk. I'm amazed by his restraint. The Vice President as more emotional, more of a hip shooter, but in the end a strong presence and a positive addition to the team. The various military figures as a combination of excellence in their main work, and totally insensitive to the politics of the matter... and willing to maneuver their CinC when they think they can get away with it. The executive branch leaders and policy advisors are similarly a mix of strong opinions and wisdom (e.g., Gates) and idiots (Donilon, Emmanuel, Gibbs). A fascinating read. I wish there were a 4 1/2 stars category. Would also love to read an Epilogue, especially as to the resignation/firing of McChrystal. Remember the business in Kevin Costner's JFK, in which the president and attorney general seem to be aware they are inventing a new sort of diplomacy by Hotline message and by press conference? You get the same sense here, except it's Obama trying to create a new awareness on the part of the generals, and not making much headway. Can't help but wonder why he didn't fire one or more of them sooner. I always wondered how much of that Oliver Stone/Costner stuff was real... knowing Stone none of it was.

  19. 4 out of 5

    Frank Kelly

    Bob Woodward has literally formed a cottage industry of in-depth, exhaustively researched books on the presidency. We read his three volume set on the Bush White House, the Clinton White House and a host of other books on Washington, power, intrigue and crisis. All ranged from good to excellent in what they offer in terms of insight. This books falls close to the “excellent” category. Woodward’s first book on the Obama Administration takes the reader through the transfer of power and leadership o Bob Woodward has literally formed a cottage industry of in-depth, exhaustively researched books on the presidency. We read his three volume set on the Bush White House, the Clinton White House and a host of other books on Washington, power, intrigue and crisis. All ranged from good to excellent in what they offer in terms of insight. This books falls close to the “excellent” category. Woodward’s first book on the Obama Administration takes the reader through the transfer of power and leadership of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. And it is a great read. Somewhere early in reading this book (as with most other Woodward books) it suddenly strikes you “How in the world does Woodward get such extraordinary access to the key players in and out of the White House and Pentagon? And how the hell does he get them to give some of the juiciest quotes on the record?” In this case – unlike other books – the Obama Administration gave the author broad access all the way up to the President. But beyond the salacious policy debates and details Woodward presents, the book is a superb “starter” read to understand the thought processes, personal politics and strong personalities inside the Obama Administration shaping foreign policy in general and Afghanistan policy in particular. I suspect historians will be going back to “Obama’s War” for years to come to get that very perspective. Well worth the read.

  20. 5 out of 5

    Steven Peterson

    Every time I read one of Bob Woodward's books, I wonder why people are so open to speaking with him. They must know that their words and ideas will appear in print. And not always in a flattering manner. . . . 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 Every time I read one of Bob Woodward's books, I wonder why people are so open to speaking with him. They must know that their words and ideas will appear in print. And not always in a flattering manner. . . . 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.

  21. 4 out of 5

    Lee

    As usual, Woodward produces a hastily written book which is more a collage of interviews than anything else. Then again, Woodward has access--and one can learn a lot about the process by which Obama decided on his surge. Two facts emerge in sharp relief: First, the military didn't give Obama any serious options/alternatives besides what they wanted. They "rolled" him, as numerous players claim, giving him two impossible options and one option they preferred. Second, no one in the military could As usual, Woodward produces a hastily written book which is more a collage of interviews than anything else. Then again, Woodward has access--and one can learn a lot about the process by which Obama decided on his surge. Two facts emerge in sharp relief: First, the military didn't give Obama any serious options/alternatives besides what they wanted. They "rolled" him, as numerous players claim, giving him two impossible options and one option they preferred. Second, no one in the military could give a good account of why they needed the resources they claimed they needed. When asked, Why 40k troops? they couldn't answer except in broad generalities about "disrupting" the Taliban. On the whole, this book gives one the impression that no "progress" is likely to be made in Afghanistan by the so-called July 2011 drawdown deadline, and that no one who was paying attention during the resourcing process should have expected otherwise. Obama comes across as someone who attempts to fight back against the military-civilian national-security machine, but with only limited success; it's ultimately unclear why Obama insisted on a hard 30k troop cap.

  22. 5 out of 5

    Gary

    This is the first Bob Woodward book that I have read immediately upon release. It was very informative about the Afghan strategy review in late 2009, in fact sometimes including so much detail as to seem excessive and getting bogged down. Nonetheless, Woodward's work here is something of a public service, revealing how President Obama and his national security team "made the sausage" that was the 30,000 troop increase for the Afghan War. It was also interesting (and disappointing) to see all the This is the first Bob Woodward book that I have read immediately upon release. It was very informative about the Afghan strategy review in late 2009, in fact sometimes including so much detail as to seem excessive and getting bogged down. Nonetheless, Woodward's work here is something of a public service, revealing how President Obama and his national security team "made the sausage" that was the 30,000 troop increase for the Afghan War. It was also interesting (and disappointing) to see all the infighting and backstabbing that goes on even at the highest levels of government, but I suppose that is to be expected - human nature. I do agree with one review I saw of the book which said something to the effect of "Woodward must have written the last few chapters in about 5 minutes total" - clearly the deadline for the rush-published book was looming. All in all, this book provides a look inside the Team Obama that you won't get many other places. Have a look.

  23. 4 out of 5

    Amy

    Informative book, interesting subject which I knew nothing about before reading. Perhaps because of my lack of knowledge, I got confused at times, particularly with the military dynamics, but the author includes a helpful list of "characters" in the beginning so that you can remember who is who. There's also a glossary at the end, which is helpful for deciphering the military acronyms. Overall, it's written pretty objectively; the author offers the opinions of several people on a given subject w Informative book, interesting subject which I knew nothing about before reading. Perhaps because of my lack of knowledge, I got confused at times, particularly with the military dynamics, but the author includes a helpful list of "characters" in the beginning so that you can remember who is who. There's also a glossary at the end, which is helpful for deciphering the military acronyms. Overall, it's written pretty objectively; the author offers the opinions of several people on a given subject without saying which he agrees with. He includes the results of the strategy review as an appendix. I thought it seemed quite well-researched. Highly recommend to those interested in foreign policy/Obama/those who are confused by events in the Middle East.

  24. 5 out of 5

    Ray

    This book wasn't as broad in Presidential coverage than some of Woodward's other books, but being written in Obama's first year, I guess there wasn't much more to cover on the International front other than the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. Reading it in 2010 makes it seem like you're being given live insights into White House and Pentagon meetings. To hear what the military leaders are thinking and planning, and then seeing the results of their plans covered subsequently on the evening news is This book wasn't as broad in Presidential coverage than some of Woodward's other books, but being written in Obama's first year, I guess there wasn't much more to cover on the International front other than the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. Reading it in 2010 makes it seem like you're being given live insights into White House and Pentagon meetings. To hear what the military leaders are thinking and planning, and then seeing the results of their plans covered subsequently on the evening news is facinating. You get a true appreciation of the difficulties facing the military and the Administration in dealing with the Afghan situation, even to the point of them having to define and determine what the goals should be.

  25. 4 out of 5

    SpaceBear

    An interesting view of Afghanistan from the perspective of the Oval Office. Woodward's book is essentially a massive compilation of long interviews held with key White Hose staff, the President, as well as the Joint Chiefs of Staff and other high-ranking military figures. Discusses the talks which brought about the Afghanistan troop surge, and the decision to follow a 'counterterrorism-plus' strategy instead of a Petraeus style counterinsurgency. Also outlines what became the Obama administratio An interesting view of Afghanistan from the perspective of the Oval Office. Woodward's book is essentially a massive compilation of long interviews held with key White Hose staff, the President, as well as the Joint Chiefs of Staff and other high-ranking military figures. Discusses the talks which brought about the Afghanistan troop surge, and the decision to follow a 'counterterrorism-plus' strategy instead of a Petraeus style counterinsurgency. Also outlines what became the Obama administration's strategy in Afghanistan, and its focus on "degrading" and not defeating the Taliban, with the aim to train the Afghan Security Forces and withdraw. Long, but interesting.

  26. 5 out of 5

    Tyson Peveto

    This was a great read for anybody wanting to know how Obama's administration makes big military decisions. Whether you agree with said decisions or not, the book shows how much thought and intelligent debate goes into them. I was impressed.

  27. 4 out of 5

    Sterling

    This was an interesting glimpse into the decision making processes of our civilian and military leaders.

  28. 4 out of 5

    Christopher

    Easy read that really brings to light how National Policy decision are made. Well worth the read to realize that this is a people game and access is king.

  29. 4 out of 5

    Jennie

    3.5, rounded up to 4. I FINISHED THE PRESIDENTIAL CHALLENGE!

  30. 5 out of 5

    stormin

    This book was eye-opening and sleep-inducing at the same time, which must count as some kind of achievement. I think it's the first book that I listened to almost completely at 3x speed. Part of that was a slightly slow narrator, but mostly it was the fact that this is the story of one meandering, pointless meeting that was held again and again and again like some kind of Hellish bureaucratic version of Groundhog Day. And that is the eye-opening aspect of it: I never would have guessed that such This book was eye-opening and sleep-inducing at the same time, which must count as some kind of achievement. I think it's the first book that I listened to almost completely at 3x speed. Part of that was a slightly slow narrator, but mostly it was the fact that this is the story of one meandering, pointless meeting that was held again and again and again like some kind of Hellish bureaucratic version of Groundhog Day. And that is the eye-opening aspect of it: I never would have guessed that such important decisions about the conduct of the American war in Afghanistan with such powerful and smart people would sound exactly like the most pointless, waste-of-time meetings that I've ever fallen asleep in. First, nobody ever had a clue what they were actually doing. That's what most of the meeting seemed to be about: what's our goal? What are we trying to do? And it was never answered. Nobody even had a good context for how to start answering it. Which, I think, is a pretty good sign that you shouldn't be at war. I think of other American wars--like the Civil War or World War I or World War II--and endless dithering like this would have been impossible. Because you can't just sit around making and reviewing PowerPoint slides if, you know, an actual war is going on. Robert E. Lee would have burned DC, the Kaiser would have dined in Paris, and Hitler would have crossed the Channel if America or the allies had handled a war like this. The main reason, of course, is that those were wars of necessity. Afghanistan is not. Which leads me to suspect that any war that isn't necessary is probably unlikely to be moral or wise, either. Optional wars seem like a bad idea. I mean, even in Vietnam--which was optional, I can see a case being made that it could have been prosecuted in a meaningful way. You know, invade North Vietnam and make it an actual defense of S. Vietnam, much like in the Korean War. Not saying it should have been done, but saying there's a possibility of seeing a way to make basically any war in American history an actual war--and therefore a winnable war--except the one we're fighting in Afghanistan. None of that is Obama's fault, of course. He didn't make the call to invade. But I was disappointed that he seemed to unable to do anything meaningful about any of it. The other thing I learned was that there was a lot of politicking among the folks supposedly trying to figure out how to conduct this war. The military seemed frustrating because they kept being asked to come up with alternative plans and they kept failing to do so. They really only had one plan--a 40,000 soldier surge--and the only alternatives they gave were fake ones. But this was much less worse than the Obama campaign folks--like Axelrod--who seemed to literally not care at all about the war, American service men, or American strategic interests. Nothing was significant to them at all other than Obama's polls and their own career prospects. Those guys were, by this account, basically the worst. It was definitely interesting to read this as prep for reading Fear: Trump in the White House. Trump definitely seems dysfunctional (having finished Fear before writing this review), but in a lot of ways the Obama administration--at least on this issue--didn't seem to really be significantly better or different. Turns out, you can have a lot of smart, rational people and they won't do any better than a dumb, irrational president when the problem is really intractable and the smart people spend half their time backstabbing each other. Now that's depressing.

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