By Steve Luxenberg
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, September 5, 2008
The Bush administration has conducted an extensive spying operation on Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, his staff and others in the Iraqi government, according to a new book by Washington Post associate editor Bob Woodward.
"We know everything he says," according to one of multiple sources Woodward cites about the practice in "The War Within: A Secret White House History, 2006-2008," scheduled for release Monday.
The book also says that the U.S. troop "surge" of 2007, in which President Bush sent nearly 30,000 additional U.S. combat forces and support troops to Iraq, was not the primary factor behind the steep drop in violence there during the past 16 months.
Rather, Woodward reports, "groundbreaking" new covert techniques enabled U.S. military and intelligence officials to locate, target and kill insurgent leaders and key individuals in extremist groups such as al-Qaeda in Iraq.
Woodward does not disclose the code names of these covert programs or provide much detail about them, saying in the book that White House and other officials cited national security concerns in asking him to withhold specifics.
Overall, Woodward writes, four factors combined to reduce the violence: the covert operations; the influx of troops; the decision by militant cleric Moqtada al-Sadr to rein in his powerful Mahdi Army; and the so-called Anbar Awakening, in which tens of thousands of Sunnis turned against al-Qaeda in Iraq and allied with U.S. forces.
The book is Woodward's fourth to examine the inner debates of the Bush administration and its handling of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars. The Washington Post will run a four-part series based on the book beginning Sunday. Fox News published a report about the book on its Web site last night after obtaining a copy ahead of the release date.
The 487-page book concentrates on Bush's leadership and governing style, based on more than 150 interviews with the president's national security team, senior deputies and other key intelligence, diplomatic and military players. Woodward also conducted two on-the-record interviews with Bush in May.
The book portrays an administration riven by dissension, either unwilling or slow to confront the deterioration of its strategy in Iraq during the summer and early fall of 2006. Publicly, Bush maintained that U.S. forces were "winning"; privately, he came to believe that the military's long-term strategy of training Iraq security forces and handing over responsibility to the new Iraqi government was failing. Eventually, Woodward writes, the president lost confidence in the two military commanders overseeing the war at the time: Gen. George W. Casey Jr., then commander of coalition forces in Iraq, and Gen. John P. Abizaid, then head of U.S. Central Command.
In October 2006, the book says, Bush asked Stephen J. Hadley, his national security adviser, to lead a closely guarded review of the Iraq war. That first assessment did not include military participants and proceeded secretly because of White House fears that news coverage of a review might damage Republican chances in the midterm congressional elections.
"We've got to do it under the radar screen because the electoral season is so hot," Hadley is quoted as telling Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, who is described as challenging the president on the wisdom of sending additional troops to Iraq. "You're not getting a clear picture of what's going on on the ground," she told the president, the book says.
The quality and credibility of information about the war's progress became a source of ongoing tension within the administration, according to the book. Rice complained about the Defense Department's "overconfident" briefings during the tenure of Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld. Rather than receiving options on the war, Bush would get "a fable, a story . . . that skirted the real problems," Rice is quoted as saying.
According to Woodward, the president maintained an odd detachment from the reviews of war policy during this period, turning much of the process over to Hadley. "Let's cut to the chase," Bush told Woodward, "Hadley drove a lot of this."
Nor, Woodward reports, did Bush express much urgency for change during the months when sectarian killings and violent attacks against U.S. forces in Iraq began rising, reaching more than 1,400 incidents a week by October 2006 -- an average of more than eight an hour. "This is nothing that you hurry," he told Woodward in one of the interviews, when asked whether he had given his advisers a firm deadline for recommending a revised war strategy.
In response to a question about how the White House settled on a troop surge of five brigades after the military leadership in Washington had reluctantly said it could provide two, Bush said: "Okay, I don't know this. I'm not in these meetings, you'll be happy to hear, because I got other things to do."
The book presents an evolving portrait of the president's decision-making. On the one hand, the book portrays Bush as tentative and slow to react to the escalating violence in Iraq; on the other, once he decides that a surge is required, he is shown acting with focus and determination to move ahead with his plan in the face of strong resistance from his top military advisers at the Joint Chiefs of Staff.
Woodward also depicts the development of a close working relationship between Bush and Maliki, with the president leaning on the Iraqi leader to govern evenhandedly and to take decisive action against sectarianism. "I've worked hard to get in a position where we can relate human being to human being, and where I try to understand his frustrations and his concerns, but also in a place where I am capable of getting him to listen to me," Bush told Woodward.
Given Bush's efforts to earn Maliki's trust, the surveillance of the Iraqi prime minister caused some consternation among several senior U.S. officials, who questioned whether it was worth the risk, Woodward reports. One official knowledgeable about the surveillance "recognized the sensitivity of the issue and then asked, 'Would it be better if we didn't?' "
Meanwhile, Woodward reports that Casey, the president's commanding general in Iraq from 2004 to 2007, came to believe that Bush did not understand the nature of the Iraq war, that the president focused too much on body counts as a measure of progress.
"Casey had long concluded that one big problem with the war was the president himself," Woodward writes. "He later told a colleague in private that he had the impression that Bush reflected the 'radical wing of the Republican Party that kept saying, "Kill the bastards! Kill the bastards! And you'll succeed." ' "
Asked about his interest in body counts, Bush told Woodward: "I asked that on occasion to find out whether or not we're fighting back. Because the perception is that our guys are dying and they're not. Because we don't put out numbers. We don't have a tally. On the other hand, if I'm sitting here watching the casualties come in, I'd at least like to know whether or not our soldiers are fighting."
The discord between Bush and Casey is one manifestation of the often-debilitating rift that Woodward portrays between the U.S. military and its civilian leadership. The book describes a "near revolt" in late 2006 by the Joint Chiefs of Staff, who felt that their advice was not reaching the president. Adm. Michael Mullen, then serving as chief of naval operations, expressed fear that the military would "take the fall" for a failure in Iraq. According to the book, Casey and Abizaid resolutely opposed the large surge that the president ultimately ordered, as did Rumsfeld. Casey went so far as to refer to Baghdad as a "troop sump." Within the administration, only the National Security Council staff strongly supported the surge plan.
In the midst of the surge debate, Bush decided to replace Rumsfeld, who had served as defense secretary throughout the war and had long argued that the United States should "take the training wheels off the Iraqi government." Bush chose Rumsfeld's replacement, Robert M. Gates, without consulting Vice President Cheney, Rumsfeld's chief patron, the book reports. Bush informed Cheney of his decision on Nov. 6, 2006, the day before the mid-term elections. "Well, Mr. President, I disagree," Cheney is quoted as saying, "but obviously it's your call."
Woodward's account also includes a portrait of Gen. David H. Petraeus, who replaced Casey in Iraq. In one scene in the Oval Office in January 2007, Bush tells his new commander in Iraq that the surge is his attempt to "double down." According to Woodward, Petraeus replies, "Mr. President, this is not double down. This is all in."
"The War Within" also tells the story of retired Gen. Jack Keane, a former Army vice chief of staff who used his high-level contacts in the White House and the Pentagon to influence war policy and major military personnel moves. A friend and mentor of Petraeus, Keane made regular visits to Iraq to advise the new commanding general and then briefed Cheney about each trip. In turn, Woodward reports, Bush sent a back-channel message to Petraeus through Keane, circumventing the chain of command.
In a critical epilogue assessing the president's performance as commander-in-chief, Woodward concludes that Bush "rarely was the voice of realism on the Iraq war" and "too often failed to lead."
During the interviews with Woodward, the president spoke of the war as part of a recentering of American power in the Middle East. "And it should be," Bush said. "And the reason it should be: It is the place from which a deadly attack emanated. And it is the place where further deadly attacks could emanate."
The president also conceded: "This war has created a lot of really harsh emotion, out of which comes a lot of harsh rhetoric. One of my failures has been to change the tone in Washington."