The author of Wired thinks ‘hardwired’ is a really good word…
In a conversation with The Onion’s A.V. Club, Bob Woodward discusses his latest book examing Obama’s role as Commander in Chief.
The A.V. Club: In Obama’s Wars, the president emerges as uniquely isolated. It’s difficult to gauge whose advice he trusts on troop deployment. His White House staff is preoccupied with politics; his military advisors are focused on victory. Obama is somewhere in the middle and seems frustrated, lonely even.
Bob Woodward: That’s interesting. I don’t know if it’s lonely, because of course he can talk to anyone, but there is a divide within him, on a cerebral, intellectual level. He hears and reads all the intelligence and the military analysis, and realizes it’s a pretty dreary situation in Afghanistan and Pakistan—which, of course, is the key to this—and he says, “That’s where the cancer is.” So what do you do? How do you coerce, or find the leverage on Pakistan? How do you fight a war in Afghanistan that isn’t going to be 10 years or a trillion dollars, as he says? So he understands the downside, but he’s the Commander In Chief; he’s got to be the boss, he’s got to lead. So he comes up with his own strategy of 30,000 troops instead of 40,000, but then insists we’re going to withdraw sometime next year.
The word I guess I would use is, so much is unsettled in this war. He wants out. Time and time again, at these meetings, he just lets loose with unambiguous assertions—“This needs to be a plan about how we’re going to hand it off and get out of Afghanistan.” There cannot be any wiggle room. He tells his vice president, “If what I proposed is not working, I’m not going to be like other presidents and stick to this based on my ego or politics.” In other words, he’s not going to be Lyndon Johnson.
As I’ve been thinking about this [book] and talking to people about it, it’s about the Obama we don’t know. The message management in the White House—they have an iron grip on everyone, to a certain extent, determining what the story is going to be. I had 18 months to try to find out what goes on, really, behind the scenes. It’s a look into the way he leads and thinks about things. But the tough decisions are in the future for him, in terms of the war in Afghanistan, the secret war in Pakistan, and the war on terror. He’s got to clarify—because I just think it’s not clear enough—exactly what he wants and where we’re going here.
AVC: As described in the book, Obama keeps going over Afghanistan strategy because he isn’t satisfied with his options. But the people he tasked with generating more options are military minds who are hardwired solely for victory.
BW: That’s a really good word: hardwired. They’re military generals and officers and Admiral Mullen, the Chairman Of The Joint Chiefs—they think in terms of victory, winning, words President Obama never uses. It doesn’t mean he doesn’t want to win. Of course he wants to win. But he sees how hard it is, and he doesn’t want to get into [another] Vietnam, and Biden is there, kind of like a Greek chorus of one, shouting out, “We’re going to get locked into Vietnam if we don’t limit this mission somehow!” The president agrees and insists privately to Biden, “If this doesn’t work, I’m not going to be like the other presidents.”
Book Excerpts from Obama’s Wars: