Obama Administration Pushes Back on Afghan war Book

Wednesday, 22 Sep 2010 03:12 PM

 

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The Obama administration pushed back Wednesday against a new book that describes bitter infighting among the president's aides who helped craft his Afghan war strategy, with some doubting it can succeed.

The book by veteran Washington Post journalist Bob Woodward, "Obama's Wars," portrays President Barack Obama's national security team as having been deeply divided over Afghan policy during much of the past 20 months even as U.S. public support for the war has waned.

Though it won't be in bookstores until Monday, excerpts published in major newspapers helped generate considerable buzz in Washington and across the blogosphere and could fuel skepticism among lawmakers who control military funding.

A senior administration official downplayed the internal rifts detailed by Woodward, saying "the debates in the book are well known because the policy review process was covered so exhaustively," and defended Obama's handling of the matter.

"The president comes across in the review and throughout the decision-making process as a commander in chief who is analytical, strategic, and decisive, with a broad view of history, national security, and his role," the official said.

The book comes out five weeks before pivotal congressional elections, but any significant impact appears unlikely since Afghanistan has drawn little attention on the campaign trail with voters mostly focused on economic concerns.

Still, Woodward -- who has made a career of putting presidents on the hotseat -- paints what is not always a pretty picture of the inner workings of Obama's war council, including a number of scathing personal comments by aides about each other.

Obama, in excerpts of the book, is shown at odds with top military commanders, particularly Admiral Mike Mullen, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and General David H. Petraeus, during a 2009 policy review when they wanted to add more troops in Afghanistan than he wanted to send.

Obama, who is said to have pressed military advisers for an exit plan that they never gave him, eventually decided on a 30,000-troop buildup but included a pledge to start drawing down forces in July 2011.

"I can't lose the whole Democratic Party," Obama is quoted as saying. He campaigned for the presidency on a promise to shift the military focus from Iraq to Afghanistan but is also mindful of the political risks of getting bogged down there.

DOUBTS ON STRATEGY

Richard Holbrooke, Obama's special envoy for Afghanistan and Pakistan, is quoted saying of the president's strategy, "It can't work." Lieutenant General Douglas Lute, the president's White House adviser on Afghanistan, is described as believing that the president's review did not "add up" to the decision he made.

Asked about those doubts, the administration official said, "Everybody on the president's team signed off on the Afghan strategy, and is focused on implementing it."

The Pentagon responded cautiously. "All I can say at this point is that the department is fully focused on the mission at hand in Afghanistan and implementing the president's strategy there," said Marine Colonel David Lapan, a Pentagon spokesman.

The White House gave Woodward, an investigative journalist who rose to fame reporting on the Watergate scandal that led to the resignation of President Richard Nixon in 1974, broad access to officials and documents despite the risk of a less-than-glowing assessment in his book.

The book describes Obama as a "professorial president" who assigned "homework" to advisers but bristled at what he saw as military commanders' attempts to force his hand.

Among excerpts reported by Times and Washington Post:

* Vice President Joe Biden called Holbrooke "the most egotistical bastard I've ever met."

* A variety of administration officials expressed scorn for Obama's national security adviser, James Jones, while he referred to some of the president's aides as "the water bugs."

* Petraeus, now the Afghanistan commander, told a senior aide he disliked talking with David Axelrod, the president's senior adviser, because he was "a complete spin doctor."

* Defense Secretary Robert Gates worried Jones would be succeeded by his deputy, Thomas Donilon, who he thought would be a "disaster."

The Times said the book also discloses that the Central Intelligence Agency has a 3,000-man "covert army" in Afghanistan comprised mostly of Afghans who capture and kill Taliban fighters and seek support in tribal areas.

The Times also said the book discloses the United States has intelligence showing Afghan President Hamid Karzai suffers from manic-depression and is on medication for the disease. (Additional reporting by Joanne Allen and Jim Wolf; Editing by Patricia Wilson and Cynthia Osterman)

© 2014 Thomson/Reuters. All rights reserved.

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