Working behind the scenes for 18 months, Bob Woodward has written the most intimate and sweeping portrait of President Obama making the critical decisions on the Afghanistan War, the secret war in Pakistan, and the worldwide fight against terrorism. Drawing on internal memos, classified documents, meeting notes, and hundreds of hours of interviews with most of the key players, including the president, Woodward offers an original, you-are-there account of Obama and his team in this time of turmoil and uncertainty.
©2010 Simon and Schuster Audio; ©2010 Bob Woodward
First, read this book if you like Obama and if you don't. The insights are worth the effort for those who are news junkies and those who are just interested in what has taken place in the country. I might say that the book is best thought of as an essay on the lonliness of command. For listeners - listen for the patterns and insights that will be gained - the impressions are most informative. The writing is Bob Woodward, the reading of Boyd Gaines is very good - over all there is insight here for those willing to take time. Draw your own conclusions about Obama.
As with all Woodward books, this continues in the same mold. He gives an unprecedented view into a very secretive and highly classified process, even if it is after the fact. My viewpoint on Afghanistan has slightly changed as a result of listening to this audio book. While I vehemently oppose the war to this day, Woodward has explained the reason for it continuing and why we must succeed; he does this in an elaborately detailed web of compendious sources that make up the bigger picture.
As far as the narrator goes, Gaines is a genius! He has a specifically distinct tone and demeanor for the myriad of characters here. It's almost as if when Karzai is speaking, it's him and not Gaines I'm hearing. Gaines is extremely effective in this regard, and as a result, enhances Woodward's account.
Woodward gives his usual thorough, almost too much so, narrative of the current Afgan war, and the many problems there after the country was left to languish as Bush turned his sights on Iraq. The only minor complaints are that the long and almost repetitive narratives become background noise after awhile. Plus, the subject matter is quite narrow in scope. I wanted to hear more about the other trials and problems in the White House ongoing at the same time. There are also clear moments in the audio where the narrator was either starting a new day of reading, or had to "punch in" some audio changes after the fact. A bit shoddy for this stature of book.
'Obama's' Wars' is a continuation of the four books Woodward has already written on the Middle Eastern wars since Sept 11. Once again Woodward is able to get a whole lot of, inside information about the strategies and tactics our leaders are using.
The main facts learned are 1) Obama came in as president looking for a more efficient way to prosecute the Afgan war 2) Two basic strategies emerged a) Biden's small footprint strategy of going after high value targets (a continuation of what was Bush's war strategy only with an increased emphases on Afgan now that Iraq was winding down) b) The Petraeus counter-insurgency plan that had shown some success in Iraq. 3) Obama wanted some middle ground between these strategies because he saw how Bush's strategy was largely unsuccessful and with Al Qaeda now in Pakistan a larger presence in Afghanistan was needed. However, Obama did not think that a full grown insurgency could work because of the differences in culture and landscape in Afgan and the fact that our enemy (Al Qaeda was not in Afghan.) ment that even if we killed every single Taliban (many of whom arent against us) we would not have killed one Al Qaeda (our real enemy). 4) The military brass (largely left over from Bush) did not care about these facts, insisted on doing its own thing, ignored the Commander and Chief and publicly made disparaging remarks about their president. Finally they coordinated with Republican strategists to get their way despite the constitution that they made an oath to defend. 5) This forced Obama to create a new middle ground strategy that is in our national interest.
It is almost amazing the degree of information that he is able to get. Listening to the book, I couldn't keep from wondering why people were still talking with Woodward. I think many of them are trying to shape the narrative, but the fact that Woodward talks to so many people and gets so many points of view prevents any one persons attempt to create a history of their liking
I'll admit, prior to reading this book, I didn't understand what was taking the president so long to decide on how to handle Afghanistan. This book very clearly explains the process that Obama forced our military and political leaders through. He very clearly and rationaly set the agenda and did his job. Of course there are always many sides to every story, so it is difficult to know whom to believe. As an independant voter I am no Obama supporter. However, if what was written in this book is true, then I have a new respect for our president and his handling of our troop deployment to Afghanistan.
As one would expect from Woodward, Obama's Wars painted a generally positive picture of the president as he pursued his strategy for Pakistan and Afghanistan. I'm left with an impression of the president as a man trying to find the solution to all the related problems and balance the contradictions. My thought is that he would like a solution that makes everyone happy. He likes a thorough study and will sacrifice time for precision. Obama has lots of faith in himself and making things happen in what could very well be an unreasonable amount of time. He is a good poker player and I’m not convinced he was not playing poker with his entire national security team. He keeps his cards close.
The vast majority of the book involves the dynamics between the players in national security in Washington and team members in theater. The picture painted is of a dysfunctional national security team plagued by conflicting world views, broadly different experiences and loyalties, interpersonal rivalries, and competing agendas.
The president alone crafted objectives on a time line driven by the election cycle. They can be achieved with lots of luck, but the time doesn't have room for Clausewitz's “fog” and “friction.” I'm betting that by now the time line has been wrecked. I think the president's political advisers will push him to exit sooner than later. Meanwhile, General Petraeus' hands are tied by time, resources, and a strategy that limits his use of what he know works.
I can't imagine this administration using the word “victory” with regard to military entanglements (you won't see “counterinsurgency” either— It is perceived as taking too much time and resources). Instead what we will see are nuanced terms (new ones are best) crafted to keep the president's “base” and subsequently the electorate in the president's court. Messaging remains all important and “victory” may be perceived negatively by those wanting to give “peace a chance.”
I teach Business, Economics, and English at a university in Tokyo. My interests are in politics, economics, and philosophy. I hold a BA in English Literature, and an MA in Political Science.
This is Bob Woodard in his element. Beyond the politicking and spinning of the arguments, he gives an almost AP factual style reporting on what is really going on in the White House. Much like his three books on the Bush administration, it is not hard to see pundits on both sides of the isle picking and choosing their quotes from this work to support their point-of-view.
In the end, what we walk away from this experience with is the understanding that The White House is home to the biggest internal rivalry of egos in the country. Negotiating them and trying to map the way ahead for our country is a path beset with many obstacles, opinions, and potential detours. Most readers are going to look at this work and try to draw comparisons, which is completely legitimate and possible. In the end, what Woodard makes clear is that these are all people who fervently believe that what they do everyday moves our country forward to the best of their abilities. It is up to the reader to look at the FACTS and decide is this the future they envision for our country.
I recommend this book to readers of all stripes, red, blue, and purple.
I expected a book with a strong liberal bias, but found a history with little apparent bias given the currency of the topic. It should be required reading for all Americans.
I have no idea what really goes on behind closed doors and neither do the rest of us but I think Woodward creates a believable piece of work here.
He makes you feel like you are there watching the whole thing happen. Being president is not, in my opinion, an enviable position. Choices between bad and worse, having to deal with lots of people with big egos motivated by self interest.
It's easy to see why he already has grey hair. The guy makes it 8 years he's going to look like Morgan Freeman.
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