Sagar Jethani's Reviews > Obama's Wars

Obama's Wars by Bob Woodward
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Apr 11, 11

bookshelves: history
Read from March 28 to April 11, 2011

Bob Woodward produces another gripping account of modern war with "Obama's Wars", a volume which, despite its title, really concerns the war in Afghanistan. His narrative takes the reader through the labyrinthine twists and turns which define the relationship between civilian leadership and the military.

Woodward's portrait of Obama is nuanced and memorable: here stands a new president who has inherited two wars that have been badly mismanaged. The fact that this president had made his mark by publicly criticizing the country's decision to go to war in both arenas does not serve as a defining characteristic of his relationship with the military he now commands. Where George W. Bush was impulsive, had little grasp of details or the ability to define success, Barack Obama digs deeply. He pushes senior brass and challenges their assumptions-- at one point, literally examining the math behind their troop request. But if Obama is undaunted with organizing a large number of facts in his decision matrix, he also risks over-analyzing the war. At several points, it appears that his main determination is to forge a consensus among his top advisors than to define the goal himself.

VP Joe Biden surprisingly emerges as a forceful voice of reason in the story, openly questioning assumptions held by many to be sacrosanct, and delivering tough messages to statesman like Karzai. Had he not been chosen as vice-president, Joseph Biden would have been an able DCI or national security advisor.

Ultimately, the narrative that emerges is one in which a military used to rolling distracted presidents finds itself confronted with a president who insists upon getting the strategy right before committing another generation of soldiers to what has now become America's longest-running war. Obama does not back down from the daunting task of bringing the military to heel under civilian control-- a principle which, if uncontroversial in origin, is easily overpowered by the collective heft of the Pentagon.

The weakest, and, indeed, most alarming component of the U.S.' strategy in Afghanistan remains Pakistan, whose tolerance and active support for terrorist organizations threatens to undo our work in the region. The reader is left with the unmistakable impression that if another major terrorist attack occurs on American soil, it will be the work of agents who received the active support of the Pakistani government.
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Reading Progress

03/28/2011
3.0% "Based on Robert's recommendation."
03/30/2011
15.0% "Very impressed with Joe Biden's dressing-down of Karzai. Bush's utter mismanagement of Afghanistan is shocking."
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