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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.

One complaint the White House had about the book concerned not its contents but the way it was portrayed in an early account in the New York Times, which quoted Biden as calling Holbrooke "the most egotistical bastard I have ever met."

In fact, on page 72 of the book, Woodward includes the full quote from Biden, which concludes, "but he's maybe the right guy for the job." The book makes clear that Biden was describing Holbrooke to Obama in those terms during the transition, before his appointment, not during the review process.

"The New York Times story misrepresents what appears in the book," a third senior administration official said. "The Times story leaves the impression that the vice president made this comment during the Afghanistan policy review, when in fact - as the book makes clear - it occurred during the transition. The Times story also leaves out the full quote from the book. In fact, the vice president was giving a lighthearted nod to Holbrooke's reputation while endorsing him for one of the most difficult jobs in government. The two of them go way back, have been friends for years, and the vice president has enormous regard for Holbrooke's abilities."

Many Republican candidates had no immediate comment, but Liz Cheney, a leading critic of Obama's national security strategy, issued a scathing statement. Cheney, chairman of the group Keep America Safe, seized on the president's statement to Woodward that "we can absorb a terrorist attack."

"This comment suggests an alarming fatalism on the part of President Obama and his administration," she wrote. "Once again the President seems either unwilling or unable to do what it takes to keep this nation safe. The President owes the American people an explanation."

"Obama's Wars" is also reverberating nationwide and globally, especially in Afghanistan, where one of the book's main assertions - that Afghan President Hamid Karzai has manic depression - has already been denied.

"This is a baseless, inflammatory comment that has its roots in a defaming propaganda campaign against President Karzai's personal integrity, leadership and his stances on matters of Afghan national interests," Afghan government spokesman Waheed Omar said Wednesday. "The president is safe and sound. I can confirm that he takes no medication."

Omar said Karzai administration officials are reviewing the material that has been released about the book. "We will need some time to react," he said.

The allegation about Karzai's mental health is attributed in the book to U.S. Ambassador Karl W. Eikenberry. Caitlin Hayden, a spokeswoman at the U.S. Embassy in Kabul, said the embassy would not comment on the quote.

A senior NATO official in Kabul said the sparring among Obama administration officials depicted in the book hurts the credibility of the alliance's mission in Afghanistan.

The varying ways in which U.S. officials have described the July 2011 deadline to begin drawing down American troops has been particularly harmful, the official said.

"That kind of example is unhelpful because it sends mixed signals," said the official, who briefed reporters on the condition of anonymity to speak candidly. "Those who are supporting the legitimate [Afghan] government, those who are fighting it - Pakistan, India, Russia, you name it - end up confused about our commitment. That is really unhelpful."

Correspondent Ernesto Londono in Kabul and staff writer Dan Balz in Washington contributed to this report.


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