Woodward: U.S. Spied on Iraqi Prime Minister
New Book Points to Covert Techniques That Shaped Course of War
Thursday, September 4, 2008; 8:36 p.m. ET
The Bush administration has conducted an extensive spying operation of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, his staff and others in the Iraqi government, according to a new book by Washington Post editor and author 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 publication by Simon & Schuster on Monday, Sept. 8.
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, beginning in 2007, had 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 had cited national security concerns in asking him to withhold specifics. But he quotes "several authoritative sources" as saying that "85 to 90 percent of the successful operations and 'actionable intelligence' had come from" these breakthrough techniques.
Overall, Woodward writes, four factors combined to reduce the violence: the covert operations; the influx of troops; the agreement 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 487-page book is Woodward's fourth to examine the inner debates of the Bush administration and its handling of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. The Washington Post will run a four-part series based on the book beginning Sunday. Fox News published a news story about the book on its Web site tonight after obtaining an embargoed copy.
The new book concentrates its attention 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 players in the intelligence, diplomatic and military communities. Woodward conducted two on-the-record interviews with Bush in May 2008.
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: Gen. George W. Casey Jr., then commander of coalition forces in Iraq, and Gen. John P. Abizaid, 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 anyone from the military, however, and proceeded secretly because of White House fears that news coverage of a review might damage Republican chances in the midterm congressional election.
"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 when "we're not getting a clear picture of what's going on on the ground."
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 the president 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 during one of the interviews, when asked if he had given his advisers a deadline for revising the war strategy.
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 detached, 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.
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 very nature of the war in Iraq, that the president focused too much on body counts as a measure of how the conflict was going.
"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.' Since the beginning, the president had viewed the war in conventional terms, repeatedly asking how many of the various enemies had been captured or killed."
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 feel that their advice is not reaching the president. Adm. Mike Mullen, then-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 as far as to refer to Baghdad as a "troop sump." Within the administration, only the NSC 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 needed "to 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 Iraq commander 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" tells the story of retired Gen. Jack Keane, a former Army vice chief of staff who has 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 to Petraeus, Keane made regular visits Iraq to advise the new commanding general, and then briefs Vice President Dick Cheney about each trip. In turn, Woodward reports, Bush used Keane to send a backchannel message to Petraeus, 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 re-centering 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."