Thoughts on “Obama’s Wars” by Bob Woodward

Cover of "Obama's Wars"

Cover of Obama's Wars

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 come into office with promises to draw down in Iraq and focus on Afghanistan. The question was to what degree. How many troops would it take? How long would they need to be there? And what exactly would be the mission? How would they avoid letting it become another Vietnam?
  • 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.
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