Friday, September 05, 2008

Bob Woodward on Bush's Iraq Gamble

The President and Gen. David Petraeus exchanged betting metaphors in planning the Surge, according to Woodward's new book to be published next week.

In January 2007, when Bush told the new Iraq commander that the Surge was an attempt to "double down," Petraeus replied, "Mr. President, this is not double down. This is all in."

Five years and thousands of American lives after the invasion, a disconnected Commander-in-Chief was still being briefed with figures of speech that recall Colin Powell's Pottery Barn warning, "You break it, you own it."

In a preview of "The War Within: A Secret White House History, 2006-2008," the Washington Post describes "an administration riven by dissension, either unwilling or slow to confront the deterioration of its strategy in Iraq...

"Publicly, Bush maintained that U.S. forces were 'winning'; privately, he came to believe that the military's long-term strategy of training Iraq security forces and handing over responsibility to the new Iraqi government was failing."

Before the 2006 elections, according to Woodward, Bush asked for a review of the war "under the radar screen" after Condoleezza Rice challenged the wisdom of sending additional troops to Iraq. "You're not getting a clear picture of what's going on," she reportedly told Bush, claiming that Don Rumsfeld was giving him "a fable, a story...that skirted the real problems."

Bush fired Rumsfeld but still maintained an "odd detachment" about the war, telling Woodward, "This is nothing that you hurry" when asked whether he had given advisers a firm deadline for recommending a revised war strategy.

Ultimately, Bush overrode the advice of the Joint Chiefs and became gung-ho in deciding on the Surge, which Woodward concludes worked not simply because of additional troops but "groundbreaking" new covert techniques to find and kill insurgent leaders as well as the decision by Moqtada al-Sadr to rein in his Mahdi Army and the "Anbar Awakening," in which Sunnis turned against al-Qaeda.

Woodward had ended his previous book with the line: "With all Bush’s upbeat talk and optimism, he had not told the American public the truth about what Iraq had become." He repeats that now, adding: "My reporting for this book showed that to be even more the case than I could have imagined."

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