So I am about halfway through the book “The War Within” written by Bob Woodward.
He is the author of many political readings, including “Bush at War” and “All the President’s Men”, as well as the associate editor at The Washington Post. He is probably best known for his critical role in uncovering the Watergate Scandal as well as his detailed and personal accounts of the Bush administration. People often say that he is the journalist who knows Bush the best, having conducted almost 11 hours of interviews with the man himself.
I aim to give you some feedback on the book as I progress my way through it. It is a highly detailed (and highly critical) account of the Bush administration vis-a-vis the war in Iraq between 2006 and 2008. It provides the reader with a behind the scenes look into the different misunderstandings, disagreements, tensions, and conflicts between all those involved. This includes the usual suspects, aka Bush, Rumsfeld, Powell, Rice, etc. But it gives equal weight to the huge and integral role played by all the military leaders. The hierarchy is sometimes hard to fully grasp and the list of actors involved sometimes seems convoluted and confusing, but this is more than made with the highly intimate feeling that one gets from reading it.
It is predominantly made up of scenes between important actors from the government and the military on their goals and strategies for success in Iraq. Reading these tetes à tetes brought two things to mind:
A) How does Mr. Woodward manage to be a witness to these high profile meetings?
B) The odd sensation that I was eavesdropping on the President and that I should have a red dot on my forehead.
It paints a grim picture of a group of politicians and generals trying to put together a plan that will topple a government, bring security and democracy to a country, whilst at the same time winning hearts and minds. This picture portrays these decision makers as disjointed, cobbled together, uninspiring, and clearly lacking the ability to come to a clear consensus.
Here is an example of the intense intimacy that is felt when reading this book. It starts with a private conversation between the President and Army General George W. Casey Jr. which happens on quiet veranda with a couple of cigars in the warm Baghdad dusk. Here’s an excerpt:
Casey studied Bush’s face, now wrinkled and showing its 59 years, the right eye slightly more closed than the left under graying, full eyebrows. The general had pushed for a drawdown for two years…
“I know I’ve got some work to do to convince you of that,” the general said, “but I firmly believe that”.
Bush looked skeptical.
“I need to do a better job explaining to you” why winning means getting out, Casey said.
“You do,” Bush replied.
So I am almost completely certain that Woodward was not on that veranda that evening. So how does he know what was said between these two men? Honestly, it doesn’t really matter to me. But the fact that you can read conversations of such a high importance between highly important people really gives the reader a rare treat into the insight, discussion, and procedures that go into decision making on the highest level.