Bob Woodward’s New Book Depicts Afghanistan As a Classic Obama Compromise

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Photo: Alex Wong/Getty Images

Bob Woodward's new book, Obama's Wars, out this coming Monday, offers an in-depth look at just how deeply and bitterly divided Obama's national-security team was over the president's strategy in Afghanistan. The book comes on the heels of 2010 being declared the deadliest year for international troops in Afghanistan. In what has become the president's hallmark, even with Afghanistan, it seems Obama tried to split the difference between his own beliefs, his party's stance, and the opposition, and ended up pleasing no one. Obama pressed his advisers to find an exit strategy and avoid escalating troop numbers, going so far as to ask Biden to speak up in meetings against building up troops. When the military requested an additional 40,000 troops as part of an expansion without end, he told Secretary of Defense Robert Gates and Hillary Clinton, "I'm not doing 10 years. I'm not doing long-term nation-building. I am not spending a trillion dollars." Instead, Obama devised his own plan: 30,000 additional troops and a promise for a seeming unrealistic deadline of July 2011 because “I can’t lose the whole Democratic Party.”

Along with Biden, Obama's advisers on Afghanistan expressed serious doubts about his strategy. Lieutenant General Douglas E. Lute said it did not “add up,” and Richard C. Holbrooke, the president’s special representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan, said “it can’t work.”


Obama kept asking for "an exit plan" to go along with any further troop commitment, and is shown growing increasingly frustrated with the military hierarchy for not providing one. At one strategy session, the president waved a memo from the Office of Management and Budget, which put a price tag of $889 billion over 10 years on the military's open-ended approach.

In the end, Obama essentially designed his own strategy for the 30,000 troops, which some aides considered a compromise between the military command's request for 40,000 and Biden's relentless efforts to limit the escalation to 20,000 as part of a "hybrid option" that he had developed with Gen. James E. Cartwright, the vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

Woodward book details Obama battles with advisers over exit plan for Afghan war [WP]
Woodward Book Says Afghanistan Divided White House [NYT]