White House doesn't dispute Woodward book's portrayal of Obama

"Obama's Wars," released Sept. 27, 2010, recounts how the president crafted his own strategy for a way out of Afghanistan.
By Anne E. Kornblut
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, September 22, 2010; 6:19 PM

With juicy nuggets from the new Bob Woodward book on President Obama starting to emerge, the official White House reaction so far is: It's just fine.

Many of Obama's senior advisers have already obtained and read the book, "Obama's Wars," and are satisfied with the image it conveys of the president, a senior administration official said Wednesday.

"The President comes across in the [Afghanistan] review and throughout the decisionmaking process as a Commander in Chief who is analytical, strategic, and decisive, with a broad view of history, national security, and his role," the official said in an e-mail.

White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel, comparing Woodward's book to a recent book by former Obama administration automobile task force chief Steven Rattner, said the net effect is positive for the president.

"In two very different books - one regarding the turnaround and recovery of the auto industry and the other regarding the turnaround of the Afghan war - what emerges in both is that despite difficult circumstances, the president brings a consistently tough, determined and clear-eyed strategic focus to these crises," Emanuel said.

But details of confidential meetings and classified documents, along with damning quotes from the principals, paint a picture of Obama's team that is at odds with the perception of decisiveness at the White House. In Woodward's telling, the president oversaw a staff of bickering advisers and an administration that was rife with infighting during the Afghanistan policy review. If there were any remaining doubts that the "No Drama Obama" mantra left the building long ago, the Woodward book puts them to rest.

That narrative arc is not new. Details of the Afghanistan-Pakistan rupture first emerged last September, when Woodward obtained a report from Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal, then the top U.S. commander in Afghanistan, describing his urgent demand for more troops. The document was the basis for a report that month in The Washington Post, where Woodward is an associate editor.

During the three-month review process that followed, rifts between senior advisers who supported sending more troops to Afghanistan (McChrystal, Gen. David H. Petraeus, Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates and Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton) and those who wanted to draw down (including Emanuel and Vice President Biden) were widely reported.

In responding to the book Wednesday, another senior administration official said, "I think the president comes across pretty well in the book, even if it looks crazy around him."

The first senior administration official played down the internal disagreements, saying "the debates in the book are well known because the policy review was covered so exhaustively."

The official offered points of proof from the text, noting Woodward's statement that Obama had focused the review around the "central questions" of whether al-Qaeda could be defeated, whether the Taliban also needed to be defeated and whether a counterinsurgency strategy could be effective given the Afghan government's limitations. Woodward also describes Obama as a voracious reader of intelligence reports - another positive the official noted.

The official also commented that the book portrays Obama as "preparing relentlessly." Richard C. Holbrooke, the president's special envoy to Afghanistan and Pakistan, at one point reprimands his staff for complaining about preparing analysis papers that went unread, saying they were read by one person - the one "they were intended for."

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