I just finished reading Bob Woodward’s fourth book on the Bush years, “The War Within: a Secret White House History 2006-2008”. It’s the second of the four books that I have read.
The story is interesting. Everyone knew that the war in Iraq was being lost. Some thought it never should have been waged. Some thought it was worthwhile and well waged, but that the United States did not think hard enough about what would happen after military victory. Some thought that the United States could have succeeded even after not enough post-war planning if we had assigned a more competent class of people to handle what was clearly at least a short term occupation. Whichever is most accurate, no one in 2006 thought things were trending the right way.
But what to do? Should we get out as soon as possible? That was the Rumsfled/Cheney and the Condoleezza Rice jview – turn things over to the Iraqis as soon as possible. Or should we settle in until the country is much more stable? This was the view of others. And there were many voices being heard – the State Departments (whose influence was minimal, perhaps), Defense Department, the Military and Joint Chiefs, the National Security Council, and of course Congress.
The President? His goal seemed to be to avoid defeat. How to do this, he wasn’t clear. Cheney? His voice was, according to Woodward, less influential than supposed. The military leaders? Members of all policy camps. The Congressional inquiry committee? Sided with those who wanted out.
But the decision is eventually made to have a “surge” – increase the number of troops, stretch out the terms of those already in the country. Concentrate them in Baghdad to stabilize the city, realizing that the Iraqi government under Maliki could not be relied upon. And this did help stem violence in the city. For a while.
But what was going to happen later. Would the surge have to continue indefinitely? What would happen with the draw down that everyone supported one way or another? What was the future of the country? What would define victory? These were the unanswered questions.
Woodward’s approach interests me. He ;is obviously prolific – putting out a book every two years or so. He writes not like a historian, but like a journalist. Nothing is deep, there is no strong historical analysis, it’s a day by day reportage of what goes on. His footnotes are much less extensive than are most authors’. He relies tremendously on personal interviews.
And he writes like a fly on the wall. Sometimes, he is reporting what we was told in interviews: I asked him, and he answered this….. But most of the time, you are in rooms that he was never in – where he has interviewed one or more participant, or perhaps has seen notes that someone present has made. And then you are in the meeting – you are reading a conversation – a tremendous amount of dialogue, all within quotations. Quotes that you know, for the most part, cannot be actual or verbatim. But very readable and, perhaps unfortunately, believable, so you think you are actually hearing the voices of the participants. (And of course, sometimes, where there has been a recording for example, you are.).
An interesting style.