As violence in Iraq reaches unnerving levels in 2006, a second front in the war rages at the highest levels of the Bush administration. In his fourth book on President George W. Bush, Bob Woodward takes readers deep inside the tensions, secret debates, unofficial backchannels, distrust and determination within the White House, the Pentagon, the State Department, the intelligence agencies and the U.S. military headquarters in Iraq. With unparalleled intimacy and detail, this gripping account of a president at war describes a period of distress and uncertainty within the U.S. government from 2006 through mid-2008. The White House launches a secret strategy review that excludes the military. General George Casey, the commander in Iraq, believes that President Bush does not understand the war and eventually concludes he has lost the presidents confidence. The Joint Chiefs of Staff also conduct a secret strategy review that goes nowhere. On the verge of revolt, they worry that the military will be blamed for a failure in Iraq. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice strongly opposes a surge of additional U.S. forces and confronts the president, who replies that her suggestions would lead to failure. The president keeps his decision to fire Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld from Vice President Dick Cheney until two days before he announces it. A retired Army general uses his high-level contacts to shape decisions about the war, as Bush and Cheney use him to deliver sensitive messages outside the chain of command. For months, the administrations strategy reviews continue in secret, with no deadline and no hurry, in part because public disclosure would harm Republicans in the November 2006 elections. National Security Adviser Stephen J. Hadley tells Rice, Weve got to do it under the radar screen because the electoral season is so hot. The War Within provides an exhaustive account of the struggles of General David Petraeus, who takes over in Iraq during one of the bleakest and most violent periods of the war. It reveals how breakthroughs in military operations and surveillance account for much of the progress as violence in Iraq plummets in the middle of 2007. Woodward interviewed key players, obtained dozens of never-before-published documents, and had nearly three hours of exclusive interviews with President Bush. The result is a stunning, firsthand history of the years from mid-2006, when the White House realizes the Iraq strategy is not working, through the decision to surge another 30,000 U.S. troops in 2007, and into mid-2008, when the war becomes a fault line in the presidential election. The War Within addresses head-on questions of leadership, not just in war but in how we are governed and the dangers of unwarranted secrecy.
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Simon & Schuster
September 07, 2008
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Excerpt from The War Within by Bob Woodward
Two Years Earlier
One weekday afternoon in May 2004, General George Casey bounded up the stairs to the third floor of his government-furnished quarters, a beautiful old brick mansion on the Potomac River at Fort McNair in Washington, D.C. His wife, Sheila, was packing for a move across the river to Fort Myer, in Virginia, the designated quarters of the Army's vice chief of staff.
"Please, sit down," Casey said.
In 34 years of marriage, he had never made such a request.
President Bush, Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld and the Army chief of staff had asked him to become the top U.S. commander in Iraq, he said.
Sheila Casey burst into tears. Like any military spouse, she dreaded the long absences and endless anxieties of separation, the strains of a marriage carried out half a world apart. But she also recognized it was an incredible opportunity for her husband. Casey saw the Iraq War as a pivot point, one of history's hinges, a conflict that would likely define America's future standing in the world, Bush's legacy and his own reputation as a general.
"This is going to be hard," Casey said, but he felt as qualified as anyone else.
Casey's climb to four-star status had been unusual. Instead of graduating from West Point, he had studied international relations at Georgetown University. He'd been there during the Vietnam War and was a member of ROTC, the Reserve Officers' Training Corps. He remembered how some students had spit on him and hurled things when he crossed campus in uniform. In 1970, after his graduation and commissioning as an Army second lieutenant, his father and namesake, a two-star Army general commanding the celebrated 1st Cavalry Division, was killed in Vietnam when his helicopter crashed en route to visit wounded soldiers.
Casey had never intended to make the Army his career. And yet he fell in love with the sense of total responsibility that even a young second lieutenant was given for the well-being of his men. Now, after 34 years in the Army, he was going to be the commander on the ground, as General William Westmoreland had been in Vietnam from 1965 to 1968. Casey had no intention of ending up like Westmoreland, whom history had judged as that era's poster boy for quagmire and failure.
Casey had never been in combat. His most relevant experience was in the Balkans -- Bosnia and Kosovo -- where irregular warfare had been the order of the day. He had held some of the most visible "thinker" positions in the Pentagon -- head of the Joint Staff strategic plans and policy directorate, J-5, and then the prestigious directorship of the Joint Staff, which served the chiefs. But aside from a 1981 stint in Cairo as a United Nations military observer, he had spent little time in the Middle East.
After getting Sheila's blessing, Casey met with Rumsfeld. The two sat at a small table in the center of the secretary's office. "Attitude" was important, Rumsfeld explained -- Casey must instill a frame of mind among the soldiers to let the Iraqis grow and do what they needed to do themselves. The general attitude in the U.S. military was "We can do this. Get out of our way. We'll take care of it. You guys stand over there." That would not spell success in Iraq, Rumsfeld explained. As he often would describe it later, the task in Iraq was to remove the training wheels and get American hands off the back of the Iraqi bicycle seat.
For the most part, Casey agreed.
"Take about 30 days, and then give me your assessment," Rumsfeld directed.
Casey was heartened that Rumsfeld and he shared a common vision. But he was surprised that the secretary of defense had devoted only about 10 minutes for a meeting with the man about to take over the most important assignment in the U.S. military.
The president held a small dinner at the White House for Casey and John Negroponte, the newly designated ambassador to Iraq, their spouses and a few friends. It was a social event, a way to say good luck.
Casey went to see Secretary of State Colin Powell, who had served in the Army for 35 years and been the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff during the 1991 Gulf War. Powell did not conceal his bitterness. Rumsfeld is screwing it all up, he told Casey. Marc Grossman, one of Powell's senior deputies and an old friend of Casey's, put it more pointedly. "These guys at DOD are just assholes," he said, "and I don't have any more patience for them."
Casey concluded that there was no clear direction on Iraq, so he invited Negroponte to his office at the Pentagon.
Negroponte, then the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, had volunteered for the Iraq ambassadorship. At 64, he was a 40-year veteran of the Foreign Service. He believed that an ambassador was the executor of policy made in Washington. He and Casey agreed that they weren't getting much guidance from above.
"What are we going to accomplish when we get over there?" Casey asked, and they started to hammer out a brief statement of purpose. The goal was a country at peace with its neighbors, with a representative government, which respected human rights for all Iraqis and would not become a safe haven for terrorists.
The general and the ambassador were pleased with their draft. They had laid out mostly political goals, despite the fact that the United States' main leverage was its nearly 150,000 troops on the ground.
* * *
In Iraq, Casey relieved Lieutenant General Ricardo Sanchez, who had been the junior three-star in the Army when he had taken command of the forces the previous year. Casey asked him to stick around for a while after the change of command ceremony. Over dinner, Sanchez unloaded his bitterness about the lack of support he felt he had received from the Army, the Pentagon and Washington. "This is ten times harder than Kosovo," he said.
Casey could relate. He was familiar with the deep, irrational hatred that had driven the ethnic cleansing and other violence in the Balkans.
He met with officers from the CIA station in Baghdad. They posed ominous questions: Could the whole enterprise work? What was the relationship between the political and military goals? Casey and Negroponte had settled on the political goals, but how would Casey achieve the military goal of keeping Iraq from becoming a safe haven for terrorists? As he was briefed and as he read the intelligence, he saw that terrorists had safe havens in at least four Iraq cities -- Fallujah, Najaf, Samarra and, for all practical purposes, the Sadr City neighborhood in Baghdad.
As Casey had passed through neighboring Kuwait on his way to Baghdad, the Third Army officers had a message for him: "If you want to understand this, you need to talk to Derek Harvey."
Harvey, a 49-year-old retired Army colonel and Middle East specialist who worked for the Defense Intelligence Agency, was a controversial figure within the U.S. intelligence world. He believed in immersion intelligence work, spending months at a time gathering information in the field rather than relying solely on reports and statistics.
In the late 1980s, Harvey traveled throughout Iraq by taxicab -- 500 miles, village to village -- interviewing locals, sleeping on mud floors with a shower curtain for a door. He resembled the television detective Columbo -- full of questions, intensely curious and entirely nonthreatening. After the 1991 Gulf War, when the CIA was predicting the inevitable fall of Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein, Harvey, then a major, insisted that Hussein would survive because members of the Sunni community knew their fortunes were tied to his. He was right. Months before the 9/11 terrorist attacks, Harvey wrote an intelligence paper declaring that al Qaeda and the Taliban leadership in Afghanistan posed a strategic threat to the United States.
After the 2003 invasion of Iraq, Harvey had intermittent Army assignments in the country, traveling quietly, talking to insurgents, sitting in interrogation rooms.