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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 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.

Topics: Presidents, War, Military, American Government, Politics, Barack Obama, American Foreign Policy, Terrorism, The Middle East, Diplomacy, American History, Iraq War, Government, 2000s, Informative, Investigative Journalism, Based on a True Story, and American Author

Published: Simon & Schuster on
ISBN: 9781439172513
List price: $13.99
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Bob Woodward took the detail-oriented route in recording the lengthy strategy review sessions, decision making factor list, and top-level objective-setting wrangles, by recording the perspective (most differing) from each of the groups - Pentagon and White House staff, and Intelligence Depts. The focus of this barrage of meetings was to organize an increase in troops in Afghanistan, to bail the U.S. out of getting a result which could topple the government the country had "elected", the Karzai regime.There are certain features of the strategic overview that are not covered in any meaningful fashion, presumably because there are extraneous factors which Bob Woodward could not include in his writing. The dismissal of General McKiernan at the outset of the book due to lack of progress in Kandahar and in general does not get full treatment. The other leaders, General Petraeus, and General McChrystal, do not provide strategic assessments that seem any better than the prior leadership. At one of the strategic review meetings after implementation of the troop surge, the city of Kandahar (Taliban faction central) has not even been step 1 "secured" in the new secure-build/hold-train-turnover to Afghan troops after the surge has been in place for 16 months. The failure of the surge is not readily discussed, and was "expected" according to one of the participants in the original discussions.Woodward ends the book according to the Progress Review Timeline, not with a bang but with a whimper. Lt. General Douglas Lute, is described to be resignedly taking the Marine Commander General Nicholson's report on the virtual standstill in Kandahar, since the city could not be secured. The Marines made raids and cleared out a few of the worst offenders in Kandahar who were aggressively thwarting the oppressive actions of Karzai's brother's interests in that city. As first premised during the war review, the corrupt actions of the Karzai rulership left the state to the depredations of a variety of brigands who ignored any rule of law. Woodward records the small group of two (General James Jones, General Lute) who received this review. He does not comment on the lack of high level staffing that this paltry result is communicated to, and General Lute goes back to start a slow, agonizing report on mission stuck-in-the-sand-trap with "incoming fire" operation that is called the Afghan war for the next funding review milestone. That is the end-point of Woodward's account of Obama's Wars. Woodward has done a good job of recording these low, sombre notes at the end of his book. But the tragedy is not yet in the final act.more
Legendary Washington reporter Bob Woodward’s latest behind-the-curtain look at the modern presidency focuses on Barack Obama’s approach to the continuing war in Afghanistan during his first eighteen months in office. “Obama’s Wars” is in many ways an extension of Woodward’s four books chronicling the wartime footing of the George W. Bush administration. During those books, Woodward’s skepticism grew to the point of incredulity at what he viewed as dysfunctional decision-making in the White House.  In this volume, Woodward finds presidential leadership that meets many of his criticisms of the previous administration. Here is a president who is engaged with the larger issues of the conflict, who pushes on the intelligence community for a broader picture, and who badgers the military for multiple options. Here is a president who asks questions and wants clear answers before making decisions, instead of just relying on his gut instincts. Ironically, it is questionable whether this type of president is empowered to make the decisions that Woodward openly wished his predecessor had made. In many ways, this is a story of a new president, growing into the position, dealing with more established leaders who are often given to protecting their turf at all costs. In particular, this leads to several challenges in Obama’s relationships with key military leaders, who came to power in a system that encouraged deference to civilian authority while trying to circumvent that authority by offering a narrow range of solutions that merely highlighted the choice preferred by the top brass. Subtly, Woodward paints a picture of an administration slowly coalescing, despite some personality conflicts and other challenges. Although a minor player in this book, it is clear that then Chief of Staff Rahm Emmanuel is highly involved, but less helpful than Obama probably wished at the outset. Also, there is a clear personality difference between the new president and the retained Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, though there also appears to be a professional approach to navigating those difficulties. On the other hand, the president’s relationships with Vice President Biden and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton seem strong and highly functional from the beginning. The main story is the attempt of Obama to set a clear path toward withdrawing significant numbers of troops from Afghanistan beginning in the summer of 2011. In the meantime, the president is willing to increase – surge – troop levels temporarily in the pursuit of improved security. The negotiations around this, and the complex assessment of what will likely happen before, during, and after given the uncertain quality of the governments in both Afghanistan and Pakistan, form the narrative. As always, Woodward has access to lots of background information to detail these secret meetings, including information from top secret memoranda and reports. In the end, this book paints a grim picture of a president – and a country – between a rock and a hard place, with few good options and lots of potential consequences that are detrimental to national security. Despite this, and despite the institutional and personality conflicts that are hinted at in the title – “Obama’s Wars” – Woodward seems generally optimistic about the current leadership doing the best job they can despite their limitations. He simply worries that everyone, from the president to his generals, the diplomats, the intelligence agents, and others, might be in a situation they cannot affect in any noticeably positive way.more
As always, Bob Woodward writes a compelling book detailing the critical decisions a War President must make. It seems that President Obama, had to whip the military machine to have his orders followed. As Commander and Chief, he should not have had this problem, but after having led George Bush around my his nose, the military was in the habit of having its way. President Obama soon solved that issue, but not without a great deal of frustation.Fighting a war with an incompetent Afghanistan president as a partner, and another unreliable and two-timing partner in the form of Pakistan, Obama's job as Commander and Chief was made much more difficult. Add Iraq to the recipe and the President had his hands full.Bob Woodward's portrayal of Karzai and the other actors in this arena was mesmerizing and frustating at the same time. Karzai's inadequacies as a leader, and Pakistans refusal to take a side in the war on terrorism is a serious problem. Currently, they help us when we force them to, but at the same time, Pakistan supports and uses terroist's as a form of diplomacy. Presently, President Obama cannot change their course, but he has consisently warned Pakistan, that if a terrorist organization strikes the U.S,. and any part of it is traced to Pakistan, all bets our off, and Obama will not be able to protect, nor want to protect Pakistan from the groundswell of American retribution.The book really was a fantastic read, and it kept me interested throughout. If I learned one thing from this book, it is I would never want the job of President of the United States. Thank God we have President Obama.more
Actually should be called "Obama's Meetings". And altough the book has "Wars" in the title, it's more skewed toward the wars within his own administration, and wars between his chosen advisors and the Military Generals, but this book is all about Afghanistan/Pakistan and the various meetings upon meetings talking about how to fix that war. One of the more disturbing elements of the book, is given the importance of the CIA in today's multi front war, Obama refuses to meet with the CIA director during his transition despite Michael Hayden's repeated attempts, and Hayden finds out about his firing on television, rather than in person from Obama. Another is how Obama's team worries so much about a potential 2012 Presidential run from Gen. David Petraeus that they work to freeze him out and keep key decisions from him so he can't be seen as taking credit. Came away from this book a little more worried about the direction of my country, and at the advice the Commander in Chief gets from his advisors. more
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Reviews

Bob Woodward took the detail-oriented route in recording the lengthy strategy review sessions, decision making factor list, and top-level objective-setting wrangles, by recording the perspective (most differing) from each of the groups - Pentagon and White House staff, and Intelligence Depts. The focus of this barrage of meetings was to organize an increase in troops in Afghanistan, to bail the U.S. out of getting a result which could topple the government the country had "elected", the Karzai regime.There are certain features of the strategic overview that are not covered in any meaningful fashion, presumably because there are extraneous factors which Bob Woodward could not include in his writing. The dismissal of General McKiernan at the outset of the book due to lack of progress in Kandahar and in general does not get full treatment. The other leaders, General Petraeus, and General McChrystal, do not provide strategic assessments that seem any better than the prior leadership. At one of the strategic review meetings after implementation of the troop surge, the city of Kandahar (Taliban faction central) has not even been step 1 "secured" in the new secure-build/hold-train-turnover to Afghan troops after the surge has been in place for 16 months. The failure of the surge is not readily discussed, and was "expected" according to one of the participants in the original discussions.Woodward ends the book according to the Progress Review Timeline, not with a bang but with a whimper. Lt. General Douglas Lute, is described to be resignedly taking the Marine Commander General Nicholson's report on the virtual standstill in Kandahar, since the city could not be secured. The Marines made raids and cleared out a few of the worst offenders in Kandahar who were aggressively thwarting the oppressive actions of Karzai's brother's interests in that city. As first premised during the war review, the corrupt actions of the Karzai rulership left the state to the depredations of a variety of brigands who ignored any rule of law. Woodward records the small group of two (General James Jones, General Lute) who received this review. He does not comment on the lack of high level staffing that this paltry result is communicated to, and General Lute goes back to start a slow, agonizing report on mission stuck-in-the-sand-trap with "incoming fire" operation that is called the Afghan war for the next funding review milestone. That is the end-point of Woodward's account of Obama's Wars. Woodward has done a good job of recording these low, sombre notes at the end of his book. But the tragedy is not yet in the final act.more
Legendary Washington reporter Bob Woodward’s latest behind-the-curtain look at the modern presidency focuses on Barack Obama’s approach to the continuing war in Afghanistan during his first eighteen months in office. “Obama’s Wars” is in many ways an extension of Woodward’s four books chronicling the wartime footing of the George W. Bush administration. During those books, Woodward’s skepticism grew to the point of incredulity at what he viewed as dysfunctional decision-making in the White House.  In this volume, Woodward finds presidential leadership that meets many of his criticisms of the previous administration. Here is a president who is engaged with the larger issues of the conflict, who pushes on the intelligence community for a broader picture, and who badgers the military for multiple options. Here is a president who asks questions and wants clear answers before making decisions, instead of just relying on his gut instincts. Ironically, it is questionable whether this type of president is empowered to make the decisions that Woodward openly wished his predecessor had made. In many ways, this is a story of a new president, growing into the position, dealing with more established leaders who are often given to protecting their turf at all costs. In particular, this leads to several challenges in Obama’s relationships with key military leaders, who came to power in a system that encouraged deference to civilian authority while trying to circumvent that authority by offering a narrow range of solutions that merely highlighted the choice preferred by the top brass. Subtly, Woodward paints a picture of an administration slowly coalescing, despite some personality conflicts and other challenges. Although a minor player in this book, it is clear that then Chief of Staff Rahm Emmanuel is highly involved, but less helpful than Obama probably wished at the outset. Also, there is a clear personality difference between the new president and the retained Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, though there also appears to be a professional approach to navigating those difficulties. On the other hand, the president’s relationships with Vice President Biden and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton seem strong and highly functional from the beginning. The main story is the attempt of Obama to set a clear path toward withdrawing significant numbers of troops from Afghanistan beginning in the summer of 2011. In the meantime, the president is willing to increase – surge – troop levels temporarily in the pursuit of improved security. The negotiations around this, and the complex assessment of what will likely happen before, during, and after given the uncertain quality of the governments in both Afghanistan and Pakistan, form the narrative. As always, Woodward has access to lots of background information to detail these secret meetings, including information from top secret memoranda and reports. In the end, this book paints a grim picture of a president – and a country – between a rock and a hard place, with few good options and lots of potential consequences that are detrimental to national security. Despite this, and despite the institutional and personality conflicts that are hinted at in the title – “Obama’s Wars” – Woodward seems generally optimistic about the current leadership doing the best job they can despite their limitations. He simply worries that everyone, from the president to his generals, the diplomats, the intelligence agents, and others, might be in a situation they cannot affect in any noticeably positive way.more
As always, Bob Woodward writes a compelling book detailing the critical decisions a War President must make. It seems that President Obama, had to whip the military machine to have his orders followed. As Commander and Chief, he should not have had this problem, but after having led George Bush around my his nose, the military was in the habit of having its way. President Obama soon solved that issue, but not without a great deal of frustation.Fighting a war with an incompetent Afghanistan president as a partner, and another unreliable and two-timing partner in the form of Pakistan, Obama's job as Commander and Chief was made much more difficult. Add Iraq to the recipe and the President had his hands full.Bob Woodward's portrayal of Karzai and the other actors in this arena was mesmerizing and frustating at the same time. Karzai's inadequacies as a leader, and Pakistans refusal to take a side in the war on terrorism is a serious problem. Currently, they help us when we force them to, but at the same time, Pakistan supports and uses terroist's as a form of diplomacy. Presently, President Obama cannot change their course, but he has consisently warned Pakistan, that if a terrorist organization strikes the U.S,. and any part of it is traced to Pakistan, all bets our off, and Obama will not be able to protect, nor want to protect Pakistan from the groundswell of American retribution.The book really was a fantastic read, and it kept me interested throughout. If I learned one thing from this book, it is I would never want the job of President of the United States. Thank God we have President Obama.more
Actually should be called "Obama's Meetings". And altough the book has "Wars" in the title, it's more skewed toward the wars within his own administration, and wars between his chosen advisors and the Military Generals, but this book is all about Afghanistan/Pakistan and the various meetings upon meetings talking about how to fix that war. One of the more disturbing elements of the book, is given the importance of the CIA in today's multi front war, Obama refuses to meet with the CIA director during his transition despite Michael Hayden's repeated attempts, and Hayden finds out about his firing on television, rather than in person from Obama. Another is how Obama's team worries so much about a potential 2012 Presidential run from Gen. David Petraeus that they work to freeze him out and keep key decisions from him so he can't be seen as taking credit. Came away from this book a little more worried about the direction of my country, and at the advice the Commander in Chief gets from his advisors. more
Woodward's book was interesting in it shows the thought process of conducting a war. The book starts out interesting- ends well but the painful middle was full of White House indecision. Dwight (Ike) Eisenhower made a speech in the late 1950 about the "industrial-military complex." It is alive and well in Woodward's book. It shows the power of David Petraius, Admiral Mullen, and Bob Gates.more
What can i say about this one, its a Woodward book. Exhaustingly researched, its about as sobering a read as you can get. This one goes inside the decision and planning process of the Afghanistan war. The amount of dissension and infighting that goes on will probably not shock you, but the lack of clear knowledge will depress you. Obama comes off looking more presidential then I normally credit him for. As always Woodward doesn't pick sides, just tries to tell the story.more
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