Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Woodward: The Juicy Bits OBAMA White House

Speed-read Bob Woodward’s new book, Obama’s Wars. Hillary's buck-passing. Petraeus' disobedience. Obama's fury. Bryan Curtis on the best moments. Plus, the most likely sources—and what's conspicuously left out.

Obama’s Wars, ace reporter Bob Woodward’s first book about the administration, comes out September 27. We got it early. The biggest revelations below:

What is Obama’s Wars about?
It’s about policy making. Or, rather, a political argument. The argument is: What is America going to do in Afghanistan, and how can it do it?

You might expect Woodward’s narrative to zip from the White House to the Tora Bora, but just about the entire book takes place in D.C. meeting rooms. As chroniclers of the Afghanistan War go, Woodward is the anti-Sebastian Junger.

We know Obama committed 30,000 new troops to Afghanistan last December, and promised to start the withdrawal in 18 months. What mystery is Woodward trying to solve?
He’s trying to figure out whether Obama got rolled by the military.

Did he?
Woodward does not exactly say. But he demonstrates convincingly that the men in uniform—that would be David Petraeus, Stanley McChrystal, and Mike Mullen, along with Bob Gates—dangled very few battle plans in front of Obama, and used bureaucratic jujitsu to make sure he didn’t see others. For example, Obama never had a fully fleshed-out proposal for sending fewer than 30,000 new troops to Afghanistan. And even the final proposal he crafted himself, lowering the military’s demands a tad. As Petraeus says, after being informed of a slight from Pennsylvania Avenue, “They’re fucking with the wrong guy.”

How’d they get away with it?
In addition to being master bureaucratic infighters, the generals are genius P.R. men. Woodward recounts scene after scene of Petraeus talking to the press when he’s specifically been ordered to stand down. Once, just before a Situation Room meeting with Obama, he made a surprise CNN appearance from the White House briefing room.

What’s my news headline when it comes out September 27?

Holbrooke says the war plan “won’t work.” Petraeus, who’s now running the Afghan effort, says, “You have to recognize that I don’t think you can win this war. I think you keep fighting.” (See The Times for more.)

Did Woodward snag an Obama interview?
He got an hour and fifteen minutes in July.

And how does Obama come off?
In the book’s opening pages, which take place around the 2008 election, he seems beleaguered. “You know, I’ve been worried about losing this election,” Obama tells an intelligence chief. “After talking to you guys, I’m worried about winning this election.”

“We were dealt a very bad hand,” he says later. Obama seems finally to be seeing the dog’s breakfast he inherited.

Critics who accuse Obama of being Spock-like with his emotions will find plenty of fodder here. “[John] Podesta was not sure that Obama felt anything, especially in his gut,” Woodward writes. Obama is portrayed as a deliberate consensus-seeker, insistent on hearing months of proposals. In that sense, he probably has more patience than the reader.

Obama's Wars. By Bob Woodward. 464 Pages. Simon & Schuster. $30. We know the Woodward method. Those who tattle get better treatment. Who wins Obama’s Wars?
James Jones, the national security advisor, is treated with kid gloves. You might remember Jones as the guy one of Stanley McChrystal’s aides called a “clown” in that infamous Rolling Stone article. But here Jones is smart, determined, and sensitive to bureaucratic reverberations. He’s allowed to blast his enemies more than he is blasted—the sign you’ve made it in Woodward book.

Joe Biden also makes out like a bandit. In one of the book’s very best scenes, he’s shown confronting Hamid Karzai, the Afghan president, at a state dinner. Biden smothers Karzai with contempt disguised as diplomatic grace, right in front of the guy’s entire cabinet. That account—presumably supplied by Biden—gives the veep weight that his media portrait has thus far lacked.

Other likely babblers: Lindsey Graham, Bob Gates, and Leon Panetta.

Which Obamaite comes off like a real tool?
Poor Dick Holbrooke. His turn as special envoy to Afghanistan and Pakistan was to be a diplomatic victory lap. “It wasn’t until well into the Obama presidency,” Woodward writes, “that Holbrooke learned definitively how much the president didn’t care for him.” In a revealing anecdote, Holbrooke asks Obama to call him “Richard” rather than “Dick.” For some reason, Obama finds the request highly bizarre and, in Woodward’s telling, repeats the story of Holbrooke’s pathetic plea around the White House.

Does anyone go the full McChrystal and napalm their career?
For his studly portrayal, James Jones comes pretty close. He blasts Rahm and Co. as the “water bugs,” the Mafia,” and the “Politburo.” “There are too many senior aides around the president,” Jones says to somebody.

Jones thinks Rahm is a weenie who hides behind Obama’s opinions. He thinks Gates is always positioning himself to be on the side of the victors. He feels the administration killed his friendship with Gen. Anthony Zinni. I could go on. You doubt Jones is long for the administration.

You haven’t said much about Hillary.
She must have hidden under a desk when Woodward went to Foggy Bottom. Perhaps she’s still smarting from The Choice. There’s one killer scene: While the senior staff is formulating the war policy, she tells Obama, “Mr. President, the dilemma you face…” Everybody in the room notices the pronoun.

There are some other principals who barely made the book. Rahm graces us with only a few cuss words. Michelle is missing, along with Tim Geithner, Larry Summers, Arne Duncan, Jon Favreau, and anybody else who wasn’t directly involved in Obama’s foreign policy.

It sounds like Obama’s Wars is a tiny keyhole into Obamaland.
It’s narrower still. Woodward is so focused on the White House dealings that he never backs up and asks the obvious question: How did Obama get himself committed to the Afghan War to begin with? A lot of us suspected that during the campaign, Obama’s support of a ramp-up was thrown in to make him look hawkish as he advocated for drawing down in Iraq. I never thought he was particularly convincing, anyway. Yet Woodward treats it as a fait accompli that Obama would pursue it.

Ironically, that’s the one question it would have been easiest to answer.

Other complaints?
Outside of the Woodward cocktail of unnamed sources? The heart of the book takes place during several meetings in 2009. As you might imagine when politicians and bureaucrats get together, things get discussed. And discussed. And discussed some more. Some of it gets rather turgid, even given the remarkable ability of the participants to recreate exact bits of dialogue. Unlike some of Woodward’s Bush volumes, it feels like a book written for history rather than for reading.

How about a few more Woodward smart bombs?
1. The CIA has a secret, 3,000-person army in Afghanistan.

2. There was a threat of a Somali terrorist plot at Obama’s inaugural.

3. David Axelrod said Obama picked North Carolina to win the 2009 NCAA basketball tournament for political reasons. (He might have been kidding.)

4. Mike Mullen emasculates David Petraeus in front of the president when the latter tries to circulate a memo.

5. Obama to Lindsey Graham, on why he installed a deadline for Afghanistan: “I have to say that. I can’t let this be a war without end, and I can’t lose the whole Democratic Party.”

One last bit of cattiness, please.
Woodward gets his hands on a secret document prepared by Stanley McChrystal. It results in a big exclusive on the front page of The Washington Post on September 21, 2009. Then Woodward adds, “Within a few minutes, The New York Times all but copied the story almost paragraph for paragraph.”

By the way, how’d you get your hands on the book?
I walked into a New York bookstore, saw it placed prematurely on the shelf, and paid $30 for it. Take that, Woodward.

Bryan Curtis is a senior editor at The Daily Beast. He was a columnist at Play: The New York Times Sports Magazine, Slate, and Texas Monthly, and has written for GQ, Outside, and New York. Write him at bryan.curtis at

'Exhausted' Obama questioner VELMA HART (not related!)

'Exhausted' Obama questioner has her headline moments

Velma Hart's exhaustion has become exhilaration.

She had spent most of the year telling friends that she was going to write to President Obama. "I'm going to write a letter to the president and tell him what I'm thinking," she would say. "I'm going to write a letter."

She never got around to it.

So, when the Upper Marlboro resident was chosen to sit in on a town hall meeting Obama held this week with businesspeople, friends told her: Finally, you can tell him what you have to say in person.

She did on Monday during the CNBC town hall, declaring to the president that she was "exhausted of defending" him.

Since then, she has been a regular on broadcast and cable networks as the latest every-person to become an of-the-moment political figure and the personification of the political problem Obama faces. In 2008, Hart was "fired up and ready to go," one of many who took up the Obama campaign's chant. In 2010, she is tired.

Hart spent just a few minutes deciding how she would ask her question, which was also a testimonial. When the microphone was passed, the words her friends had heard over and over spilled out.

Hart said: "I've been told that I voted for a man who said he's going to change things in a meaningful way for the middle class. I'm one of those people, and I'm waiting, sir. I'm waiting. I don't feel it yet. . . . I'm exhausted of defending you, defending your administration, defending the mantle of change that I voted for, and deeply disappointed with where we are right now."

Her words have been featured on cable news shows and have made bold headlines. Her face was plastered across the cover of the New York Post with this headline: "BETRAYED: Bam fan is now frank-ly fed up." (Hart said "betrayed" went too far.)

"I've been able to, in a meaningful way for the first time in what I think is a long time, talk about the issues that really matter to me as a consumer and an American," Hart said from her office in Lanham, where she is chief financial officer of AmVets, a veterans service organization. "When this opportunity came along, I said, well, this must be divine intervention."

She was a vocal Obama supporter during the campaign, putting up signs at her home and wearing every Obama button she could find. She stayed late nights at the office, trying to convince her co-workers that he was a different kind of leader.

"I talked him up," Hart said. "I was thinking that the people who were against him and didn't believe in his agenda were completely insane. I was trying to win them over."

She went to her polling place at 3 a.m. to wait in line, and she became emotional watching the votes roll in on the way to Obama's victory.

This year, Hart's 70-something mother is contemplating going back to work because her retirement savings have been hit so hard by the recession. Hart has delayed buying a new car, despite problems with the old ones. Friends who have been laid off are still out of work. The older of her two teenage girls is headed to college next year.

Those were the things she wanted to put in her letter, the things she wanted to say to Obama.

"What I was trying to do was to be direct and clear but not disrespectful. That was the challenge because it is a hard job, and he's having impossible barriers to success," she said. "There's just no denying that."

Conservative Web sites have been quoting Hart to support the argument that even Obama's supporters are sick of him. Liberal Web sites spin her words in another direction, as evidence of the disillusionment among those who want the administration's policies to be bigger and bolder.

Obama's efforts to relate to Hart and the other businesspeople chosen to question him were panned by op-ed pages and pundits, who called him the "not-so-great" communicator and found his responses flat.

Hart became the standout. She set the tone, sounding frustrated and anxious, even as she said she supported Obama's policies and was honored to be standing before him. She concluded: "Quite frankly, Mr. President, I need you to answer this honestly: Is this my new reality?"

Obama said he understood her frustration and spoke about things his administration has done to make college loans more affordable, to prevent insurance companies from denying health coverage to children with preexisting conditions, to prevent credit card companies from ripping off customers.

"My goal here is not to try to convince you that everything is where it needs to be," Obama said. "It's not. That's why I ran for president. But what I am saying is . . . that we're moving in the right direction."

Hart nodded and took her seat. She knew all of those things. What she was hoping for was an answer that would wow and inspire her, just as Obama did in 2008. Some of her expectations during that campaign might have been a little unrealistic, she said.

"There was no magic potion," she said Wednesday. "But we were so excited that someone thought they had a different plan about how to manage Washington."

Hart's question about her "new reality" made its way into the president's speech Monday night at a Democratic National Committee dinner in Philadelphia.

He tried to inspire the party's big-money supporters by spelling out the questions he is trying to answer: "How are we going to set a foundation for long-term, sustained economic growth? How can we make sure that the growing middle class that is at the heart of a healthy economy, that that was a reality again for people all across this country?"

The irony, Hart said, is that she still believes that Obama can do something about her reality. "It's just all about execution, and he's having a tough time doing that."

By Krissah Thompson
Research editor Alice Crites contributed to this report.

WHY I HATE FOX News(?) The RUSSIANS had a word for it:Propaganda

Sharron Angle: I raise money off Fox appearances

The Las Vegas Sun has acquired audio of Nevada Republican Senate candidate Sharron Angle speaking about her ability to raise money by appearing on Fox News shows like The O'Reilly Factor and Hannity.

According to The Sun, the audio is of Angle at a house party earlier this month. Here's the transcript:

Guest: Sharron, how are you doing as far as the fundraising?
Sharron Angle: It's going really well. If you're interested in just the Internet part of that -- and of course I've been criticized for saying that I like to be friends with the [press] -- but here's the deal: when I get a friendly press outlet -- not so much the guy that's interviewing me -- it's their audience that I'm trying to reach. So, if I can get on Rush Limbaugh, and I can say, "Harry Reid needs $25 million. I need a million people to send twenty five dollars to" The day I was able to say that [even], he made $236,000. That's why it's so important. Somebody...I'm going on Bill O'Reilly the 16th. They say, "Bill O'Reilly, you better watch out for that guy, he's not necessarily a friendly"...Doesn't matter, his audience is friendly, and if I can get an opportunity to say that at least once on his show -- when I said it on Sean Hannity's television show we made $40,000 before we even got out of the studio in New York. It was just [great]. So that's what I'm really reaching out to is that audience that's had it with Harry, and you can watch that happen when I go on those shows. Go on my website, it starts coming in. We have an automatic...when you put your name in there and it doesn't tell how much you gave, but it tells your name and where you're from. And so you can just watch it; it just rolls like this. In fact, with Rush Limbaugh we put it all down. We couldn't take the ticker going fast enough. And we've pulled in over [3,000,000] dollars just from that kind of a message going out.
This is not the first time Angle has mentioned the relative ease with which she can raise money via traditionally conservative outlets. She mentioned a similar sentiment to Christian Broadcasting News Network's David Brody in July when he asked her about the perception that she was avoiding traditional news outlets:

Well, in that audience will they let me say I need $25 from a million people go to Sharron send money? Will they let me say that? Will I get a bump on my website and you can watch whenever I go on to a show like that we get an immediate bump. You can see the little spinners. People say 'Oh, I heard that. I am going and I'm going to help Sharron out because they realize this is a national effort and that I need people from all around the nation. They may not be able to vote for me but they can certainly help."
In August, Angle said in an interview with Fox News that she wanted the press "to ask the questions we want to answer, so that they report the news the way we want it reported."

Angle is in a competitive Senate race with Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid.

The New Republican Agenda

"Pledge to America": The New Republican Agenda

House Republicans, led by John Boehner, plan to unveil their "Pledge to America" tomorrow morning at a hardware store in Sterling, Virginia. An advanced copy obtained by CBS News reveals few surprises, but gives voters a basic idea of what Republicans will do if they take over the House next year.

It is also a clear pledge to the Tea Party with its focus on Constitutional principles and government spending. "With this document, we pledge to dedicate ourselves to the task of reconnecting our highest aspirations to the permanent truths of our founding by keeping faith with the values our nation was founded on, the principles we stand for, and the priorities of our people" the members say in the opening. "This is our Pledge to America."

The GOP plan is to stop the Bush tax cuts from expiring for all Americans, not just the middle class as many Democrats would like. Republicans would allow small businesses to take a tax deduction equal to 20 percent of their income. And they would repeal and replace health care with "common-sense solutions focused on lowering costs and protecting American jobs."

The Pledge also promises to reform the way Congress works by requiring each bill to have Constitutional citations and by giving members at least three days to read legislation before it comes to the floor for a vote.

On defense, they promise to fully fund the troops, missile defense and to enforce sanctions in Iran.

Critical Contests: Interactive Map with CBS News 2010 Election Race Ratings
House Democrats were already busy Wednesday afternoon working up a fact sheet to pan the Republican pledge. In a draft version of the fact sheet, Democrats question the GOP's small business credibility given that Republicans are expected to return from the event to DC tomorrow to vote against a small business lending fund with tax breaks.

"Ironically, the party that's voted against small business tax cuts enacted into law by this Congress is actually holding their press event at a small business just outside Washington--and then racing back presumably to vote against the Small Business Jobs Act--crucial to get small businesses hiring and $300 billion in private sector credit flowing," said Nadeam Elshami, a spokesperson for House Speaker Nancy Pelosi.

The Democrats' draft also says that the GOP plan will "blow a $700 billion hole in the deficit to give tax cuts to millionaires and billionaires" and "take away patients' rights" by repealing the health care bill.

The Republican plan would take spending back to 2008 pre-TARP and stimulus spending levels and would put in place strict budget caps. But it's unclear how much money would actually be saved given the funding promises in the GOP pledge on extending and adding tax cuts, repealing but replacing health care, and increasing defense spending.

A Titanic OOOOPSY!

Crew's 'wrong turn' blunder doomed Titanic

A bizarre communication error led the Titanic to turn in the wrong direction and sail right into the massive iceberg that sunk it, resulting in more than 1,500 deaths, according to a new book.

And once that blunder occurred, the captain was ordered to keep sailing, rather than wait for a rescue ship, which caused the Titanic to sink hours earlier than it had to, the book says.

Louise Patten told Britain's Guardian newspaper that her grandfather, Commander Charles Lightroller, the highest-ranking survivor of the 1912 disaster, revealed the bombshell.

He told his family, but never mentioned it to investigators because he feared it would bankrupt the White Star Line.

The massive misunderstanding that caused the ship to strike the iceberg, Patten claims, occurred because there were two different steering communications systems in place.

When the man at the wheel at the fateful hour, Quartermaster Robert Hitchins, heard the order to turn "hard a-starboard," he thought it meant the opposite, and he turned left.

The different systems were in place because the ship set out during the transition from sail to steam, and the mistake took place because the two relied on "complete opposite" directions, Patten said.

Bob Woodward book

Bob Woodward book details Obama battles with advisers over exit plan for Afghan war

President Obama urgently looked for a way out of the war in Afghanistan last year, repeatedly pressing his top military advisers for an exit plan that they never gave him, according to secret meeting notes and documents cited in a new book by journalist Bob Woodward.

Frustrated with his military commanders for consistently offering only options that required significantly more troops, Obama finally crafted his own strategy, dictating a classified six-page "terms sheet" that sought to limit U.S. involvement, Woodward reports in "Obama's Wars," to be released on Monday.

According to Woodward's meeting-by-meeting, memo-by-memo account of the 2009 Afghan strategy review, the president avoided talk of victory as he described his objectives.

"This needs to be a plan about how we're going to hand it off and get out of Afghanistan," Obama is quoted as telling White House aides as he laid out his reasons for adding 30,000 troops in a short-term escalation. "Everything we're doing has to be focused on how we're going to get to the point where we can reduce our footprint. It's in our national security interest. There cannot be any wiggle room."

Obama rejected the military's request for 40,000 troops as part of an expansive mission that had no foreseeable end. "I'm not doing 10 years," he told Secretary of Defense Robert M. Gates and Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton at a meeting on Oct. 26, 2009. "I'm not doing long-term nation-building. I am not spending a trillion dollars."

Woodward's book portrays Obama and the White House as barraged by warnings about the threat of terrorist attacks on U.S. soil and confronted with the difficulty in preventing them. During an interview with Woodward in July, the president said, "We can absorb a terrorist attack. We'll do everything we can to prevent it, but even a 9/11, even the biggest attack ever . . . we absorbed it and we are stronger."

But most of the book centers on the strategy review, and the dissension, distrust and infighting that consumed Obama's national security team as it was locked in a fierce and emotional struggle over the direction, goals, timetable, troop levels and the chances of success for a war that is almost certain to be one of the defining events of this presidency.

Obama is shown at odds with his uniformed military commanders, particularly Adm. Mike Mullen, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and Gen. David H. Petraeus, head of U.S. Central Command during the 2009 strategy review and now the top U.S. and NATO commander in Afghanistan.

Woodward reveals their conflicts through detailed accounts of two dozen closed-door secret strategy sessions and nearly 40 private conversations between Obama and Cabinet officers, key aides and intelligence officials.

Tensions often turned personal. National security adviser James L. Jones privately referred to Obama's political aides as "the water bugs," the "Politburo," the "Mafia," or the "campaign set." Petraeus, who felt shut out by the new administration, told an aide that he considered the president's senior adviser David Axelrod to be "a complete spin doctor."

During a flight in May, after a glass of wine, Petraeus told his own staffers that the administration was "[expletive] with the wrong guy." Gates was tempted to walk out of an Oval Office meeting after being offended by comments made by deputy national security adviser Thomas E. Donilon about a general not named in the book.

Suspicion lingered among some from the 2008 presidential campaign as well. When Obama floated the idea of naming Clinton to a high-profile post, Axelrod asked him, "How could you trust Hillary?"

'Can't afford any mistakes'

"Obama's Wars" marks the 16th book by Woodward, 67, a Washington Post associate editor. Woodward's reporting with Carl Bernstein on the Watergate coverup in the early 1970s led to their bestselling book "All the President's Men."

Among the book's other disclosures:

-- Obama told Woodward in the July interview that he didn't think about the Afghan war in the "classic" terms of the United States winning or losing. "I think about it more in terms of: Do you successfully prosecute a strategy that results in the country being stronger rather than weaker at the end?" he said.

-- The CIA created, controls and pays for a clandestine 3,000-man paramilitary army of local Afghans, known as Counterterrorism Pursuit Teams. Woodward describes these teams as elite, well-trained units that conduct highly sensitive covert operations into Pakistan as part of a stepped-up campaign against al-Qaeda and Afghan Taliban havens there.

-- Obama has kept in place or expanded 14 intelligence orders, known as findings, issued by his predecessor, George W. Bush. The orders provide the legal basis for the CIA's worldwide covert operations.

-- A new capability developed by the National Security Agency has dramatically increased the speed at which intercepted communications can be turned around into useful information for intelligence analysts and covert operators. "They talk, we listen. They move, we observe. Given the opportunity, we react operationally," then-Director of National Intelligence Mike McConnell explained to Obama at a briefing two days after he was elected president.

-- A classified exercise in May showed that the government was woefully unprepared to deal with a nuclear terrorist attack in the United States. The scenario involved the detonation of a small, crude nuclear weapon in Indianapolis and the simultaneous threat of a second blast in Los Angeles. Obama, in the interview with Woodward, called a nuclear attack here "a potential game changer." He said: "When I go down the list of things I have to worry about all the time, that is at the top, because that's one where you can't afford any mistakes."

-- Afghan President Hamid Karzai was diagnosed as manic depressive, according to U.S. intelligence reports. "He's on his meds, he's off his meds," Woodward quotes U.S. Ambassador Karl W. Eikenberry as saying.

'The cancer is in Pakistan'

Obama campaigned on a promise to extract U.S. forces from Iraq and focus on Afghanistan and Pakistan, which he described as the greater threat to American security. At McConnell's top-secret briefing for Obama, the intelligence chief told the president-elect that Pakistan is a dishonest partner, unwilling or unable to stop elements of the Pakistani intelligence service from giving clandestine aid, weapons and money to the Afghan Taliban, Woodward writes.

By the end of the 2009 strategy review, Woodward reports, Obama concluded that no mission in Afghanistan could be successful without attacking the al-Qaeda and Afghan Taliban havens operating with impunity in Pakistan's remote tribal regions.

"We need to make clear to people that the cancer is in Pakistan," Obama is quoted as saying at an Oval Office meeting on Nov. 25, 2009. Creating a more secure Afghanistan is imperative, the president said, "so the cancer doesn't spread" there.

The war in Iraq draws no attention in the book, except as a reference point for considering and developing a new Afghanistan strategy. The book's title, "Obama's Wars," appears to refer to the conflict in Afghanistan and the conflicts among the president's national security team.

An older war - the Vietnam conflict - does figure prominently in the minds of Obama and his advisers. When Vice President Biden rushed to the White House on a Sunday morning to make one last appeal for a narrowly defined mission, he warned Obama that a major escalation would mean "we're locked into Vietnam."

Obama kept asking for "an exit plan" to go along with any further troop commitment, and is shown growing increasingly frustrated with the military hierarchy for not providing one. At one strategy session, the president waved a memo from the Office of Management and Budget, which put a price tag of $889 billion over 10 years on the military's open-ended approach.

In the end, Obama essentially designed his own strategy for the 30,000 troops, which some aides considered a compromise between the military command's request for 40,000 and Biden's relentless efforts to limit the escalation to 20,000 as part of a "hybrid option" that he had developed with Gen. James E. Cartwright, the vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

In a dramatic scene at the White House on Sunday, Nov. 29, 2009, Obama summoned the national security team to outline his decision and distribute his six-page terms sheet. He went around the room, one by one, asking each participant whether he or she had any objections - to "say so now," Woodward reports.

The document - a copy of which is reprinted in the book - took the unusual step of stating, along with the strategy's objectives, what the military was not supposed to do. The president went into detail, according to Woodward, to make sure that the military wouldn't attempt to expand the mission.

After Obama informed the military of his decision, Woodward writes, the Pentagon kept trying to reopen the decision, peppering the White House with new questions. Obama, in exasperation, reacted by asking, "Why do we keep having these meetings?"

Along with Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal, the top U.S. commander in Afghanistan at the time, they kept pushing for their 40,000-troop option as part of a broad counterinsurgency plan along the lines of what Petraeus had developed for Iraq.

The president is quoted as telling Mullen, Petraeus and Gates: "In 2010, we will not be having a conversation about how to do more. I will not want to hear, 'We're doing fine, Mr. President, but we'd be better if we just do more.' We're not going to be having a conversation about how to change [the mission] . . . unless we're talking about how to draw down faster than anticipated in 2011."

Petraeus took Obama's decision as a personal repudiation, Woodward writes. Petraeus continued to believe that a "protect-the-Afghan-people" counterinsurgency was the best plan. When the president tapped Petraeus this year to replace McChrystal as the head of U.S. and NATO forces in Afghanistan, Petraeus found himself in charge of making Obama's more limited strategy a success.

Woodward quotes Petraeus as saying, "You have to recognize also that I don't think you win this war. I think you keep fighting. It's a little bit like Iraq, actually. . . . Yes, there has been enormous progress in Iraq. But there are still horrific attacks in Iraq, and you have to stay vigilant. You have to stay after it. This is the kind of fight we're in for the rest of our lives and probably our kids' lives."

By Steve Luxenberg
Washington Post

White House says new Woodward book shows 'decisive' president

The White House says the new book by famed Washington journalist Bob Woodward, "Obama's Wars," paints a picture of an "analytical, strategic and decisive" wartime president and "does not reveal anything new" about the administration's war strategy.

After excerpts of Woodward's book containing revelations appeared in The New York Times and The Washington Post late Tuesday night, a senior administration official responded that the full picture is one of a president asking hard questions to make difficult decisions about Afghanistan — not simply a White House badly divided over strategy.

While the early previews of the book, due out Monday, focus on intense infighting among Obama's national security team leading up to the president's decision on a strategy for Afghanistan and Pakistan, the official said "the debates in the book are well-known because the policy review process was covered so exhaustively."

"The president comes across in the review, and throughout the decision-making process, as a commander in chief who is analytical, strategic and decisive, with a broad view of history, national security and his role," the official said.

The official pointed to specific passages from the book that show Obama focusing the Afghanistan review "around central questions," "pressing on intelligence reports," "preparing relentlessly" and "pushing to get the right strategy."

“The president repeated that he wanted the graph moved to the left," Woodward wrote. "Get the forces in faster and out faster, ‘You tell me that the biggest problem we have now is that the momentum is with the Taliban and the reason for this resource request is that the momentum is with the Taliban. But you’re not getting these troops into Afghanistan’ for more than a year. ‘I’m not going to make a commitment that leaves my successor with more troops than I inherited in Afghanistan.’”

Another administration official downplayed some of the tensions revealed in the excerpts, saying "this book does not reveal anything new related to our strategy in Afghanistan."

"The fact that there was a vigorous debate surrounding the development of our strategy in Afghanistan is nothing new," the official said.

And despite Woodward's reporting that top national-security officials harbor doubts about the possibilities for the success of Obama's strategy, the administration official said the president remains focused on the strategy he put in place.

"We are focused on supporting our strategy in Afghanistan and succeeding in our effort to break the Taliban’s momentum and build Afghanistan’s capacity," the official said. "The book underscores the importance of our efforts in Afghanistan and against al Qaeda worldwide."

Republicans reacted to the book's excerpts by saying that one quote in particular — that Obama needed a firm deadline to begin withdrawing troops otherwise "I can lose the whole Democratic Party" — is troubling.

"That’s what it’s all about folks, politics, pure politics," Republican National Committee spokesman Doug Heye said in an e-mail Wednesday morning. "Unfortunately, the White House has opted not to hold a press briefing today, conveniently shielding itself from questions about the president’s comments, but this is an issue that surely will not go away."

Megachurch Leader Accused of Sexual Misconduct

EDITOR NOTE " anyone surprised?"

Two young men are accusing Baptist megachurch leader Bishop Eddie Long of coercing them into having sex with him during hotel stays on out-of-state trips, according to lawsuits filed in Atlanta. Long leads one of the largest congregations in the country, with 33,000 followers at his New Birth Missionary Baptist Church in the suburbs. He also has a TV ministry. “Defendant Long has a pattern and practice of singling out a select group of young male church members and using his authority as bishop over them to ultimately bring them to a point of engaging in a sexual relationship,” one suit says. Long’s lawyer says he “adamantly denies” the claims. The men were 17 and 18 at the time of the alleged incidents, and they say Long checked them into hotels across the U.S. under the name Dick Tracy. They allege he gave them presents, including a Mustang, and introduced them to celebrities, like Tyler Perry. Lawyers for the men say church officials knew about the misconduct, but covered it up to protect the powerful Long. The Southern Poverty Law Center has called Long “one of the most virulently homophobic black leaders in the religiously based anti-gay movement.”

Read it at The New York Times


The GOP's DADT Fiasco

The Daily Beast's Mark McKinnon says the GOP needs to make an about-face on "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" after Senate Republicans blocked Tuesday's vote to repeal the military's policy. As a Republican who supports gay rights, McKinnon calls out Republican Senators for "taking a huge step backward," and says that the party can't grow without reversing its stance. But the GOP is far from hegemonic on the issue; a group of prominent Republicans, including former GOP head Ken Mehlman, will gather in New York City on Wednesday night to hear the lawyers arguing for the repeal of Proposition 8. So despite the Montana Republican Party supporting keeping homosexual acts illegal and new GOP Delaware Senate candidate Christine O'Donnell's comments that "homosexuality is an identity disorder," McKinnon argues that gays have a home in the new Republican Party.

Read it at The Daily Beast