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Bob Woodward Details A White House Divided

Sep 9, 2008 (Fresh Air from WHYY)

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The surge in Iraq is one of the issues that divided the presidential candidates when it was proposed, but Bob Woodward's new book, The War Within, reveals that it also divided the Bush administration and the military.

According to Woodward, a secret study done for the Joint Chiefs of Staff in 2006 indicated that the war effort was going poorly — a fact that the president staunchly refused to acknowledge in public, in part because it was an election year.

Woodward, who conducted two sit-down interviews with Bush in researching his book, tells Fresh Air's Terry Gross that he never questioned the president's desire to win the war. But, he adds, Bush often took a hands-off approach, allowing Steve Hadley, his assistant for national security affairs, to drive strategy sessions.

"In key moments, the president was not there at the meetings where [administration members] were confronting the reality that they had a strategy that was not working," says Woodward.

In July 2006, Hadley and deputies developed a series of 50 questions for Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and Gen. George Casey, who was then the top U.S. commander in Iraq. It was a meeting that Bush did not attend.

"[It's] like a business where the business is going under, and the board of directors meet, and the CEO is not there," Woodward says.

Bush, writes Woodward, was convinced that an increase in troop numbers was essential to prevent Iraq from falling into civil war, but not all the members of his administration agreed. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice opposed the surge, as did Rumsfeld. Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki also needed to be convinced. (Casey, Woodward notes, was not informed of the plan. Casey was later replaced by Gen. David Petraeus.)

Woodward says that the situation in Iraq seems to be "getting better," in part because of the surge, but also because of newly developed techniques and operations that have allowed U.S. forces to locate, target and kill extremists and members of the insurgency. Though Woodward declines to detail specifics, he likens the impact of these new techniques to that of the tank or the airplane.

Despite these improvements, Woodward warns that the war is far from over. He points out that Petraeus would not keep 140,000 troops in Iraq "unless he thought there was something fragile there," and he notes that Bush no longer talks about "winning" the war; instead, he speaks of "succeeding."

Turning to the current presidential race, Woodward says that whichever candidate wins, one thing is certain:

"[The war] is going to be on the desk immediately when the new commander in chief takes office."

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