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Power Wars: Inside Obama's Post-9/11 Presidency
     

Power Wars: Inside Obama's Post-9/11 Presidency

by Charlie Savage
 

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Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Charlie Savage's penetrating investigation of the Obama presidency and the national security state

Barack Obama campaigned on a promise of change from George W. Bush's "global war on terror." Yet from indefinite detention and drone strikes to surveillance and military tribunals, Obama ended up continuing-and in some

Overview

Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Charlie Savage's penetrating investigation of the Obama presidency and the national security state

Barack Obama campaigned on a promise of change from George W. Bush's "global war on terror." Yet from indefinite detention and drone strikes to surveillance and military tribunals, Obama ended up continuing-and in some cases expanding-many policies he inherited. What happened?

In Power Wars, Charlie Savage looks inside the Obama administration's national security legal and policy team in a way that no one has before. Based on exclusive interviews with more than 150 current and former officials and access to previously unreported documents, he lays bare their internal deliberations, including emotional debates over the fates of detainees held on torture-tainted evidence and acts of war that lacked congressional authorization. He tells the inside stories of how Obama came to order the killing of an American citizen, preside over an unprecedented crackdown on leaks, and keep a then-secret National Security Agency program that collected records of every American's phone calls.

Savage also pieces together the first comprehensive history of how American surveillance secretly developed over the past thirty-five years, synthesizing recent revelations and filling in gaps with new reporting. And he provides lucid explanations of legal dilemmas in a way that non-lawyers can understand. Highlighted by new information about the pivotal aftermath to the failed Christmas underwear bombing and the planning for the Osama bin Laden raid, Savage's own eyewitness reporting at Guantánamo, and detailed accounts of closed-door meetings at the highest levels of government, Power Wars equips readers to understand the legacy of Obama's presidency.

Editorial Reviews

The New York Times - James Mann
Mr. Savage…has succeeded in producing a book that will almost certainly stand as the most comprehensive account of the Obama administration's policies, views, theories and bureaucratic battles over national security laws and the legacy of the 2001 attacks. His account is thoughtful and consistently fair-minded. These virtues amount to no small achievement.
The New York Times Book Review - Gideon Rose
…a master class in how to think seriously about crucial aspects of the [war on terror]…Savage provides a comprehensive, authoritative history of the legal side of national security policy making during the Obama years. That might sound dry and forbidding, especially in a book so dense and long…But anyone truly interested in foreign policy or national security should find it essential and enthralling, thanks to the author's intelligence, objectivity, legwork and literary skill. Savage has the instincts of a journalist but the soul of a wonk. He understands that policy making is about choice, and for every issue discussed…he methodically describes the problems administration officials faced, the options they considered and why they decided as they did. Readers come away understanding not just what happened but why—and the legitimate grounds for agreeing or disagreeing with the choices made…Savage walks the reader through dozens of…debates with a sure hand, translating arcane legal reasoning into plain English.
Publishers Weekly
11/09/2015
A government of lawyers wrangles over the War on Terror in this sprawling study of national security policy in the Obama Administration from Pulitzer-winning New York Times correspondent Savage (Takeover). He follows law-professor-in-chief Obama, Attorney General Eric Holder, and their legal advisers as they try to square statutes, court rulings, and constitutional principles with harsh, dubious policies on terrorism detainees, Guantánamo Bay prisoners, targeted killings, drone strikes, warrantless NSA surveillance, and prosecutions of whistle-blowers. In a cogent critique, Savage portrays Obama's "lawyerly administration" as more concerned with legal authorization than civil liberties, embracing Bush administration policies that dismayed the liberal base. Working from insider interviews, Savage foregrounds human drama ("in Montclair, New Jersey, Jeh Johnson tried not to brood") as policymakers react to Republican political attacks and events such as the failed underwear bombing of an airliner. But this is largely the dry drama of attorneys taking meetings, pondering Talmudic legal niceties (how long can a suspect be held on a ship according to the Geneva Conventions?), and writing climactic memos. Savage's doorstop-size tome is a comprehensive, reasonably accessible account of national security legal issues that often bogs down in eye-glazing details of FISA courts and the like; this is a political saga that only a lawyer could love. Photos. (Nov.)
Kirkus Reviews
2015-11-05
It costs $3 million per year to house a single prisoner at Guantánamo Bay and $30,000 per year to house a prisoner in a federal maximum security prison under similar conditions. Why, given that "spectacle of astronomical waste," hasn't Guantánamo been closed?By definition, the presidency of Barack Obama is post-9/11, so New York Times Washington correspondent Savage's (Takeover: The Return of the Imperial Presidency and the Subversion of American Democracy, 2007) subtitle would seem superfluous. It's not, of course, since it speaks to the fact that after 9/11, a new security state came into being that, some would charge, makes whomever occupies the White House seem almost an afterthought. Certainly, as Savage details at considerable length, there are continuities between the George W. Bush administration and the Obama White House in the so-called global war on terror. Not least of them is Guantánamo, which Obama has been agonizing over since coming into office but which remains open despite his repeated pledges to close it. Of course, he has another year to do so, but by Savage's overlong but comprehensive account, much of what has occupied the administration has been lawyerly parsing of what constitutes torture and other fine distinctions. Said Eric Holder to this point, " ‘Due process' and ‘judicial process' are not one and the same, particularly when it comes to national security." Agonize they may, but Obama and his lieutenants have overseen a dramatic expansion of the security state and its abilities to act, whether to kill American citizens abroad or monitor their phone conversations at home. Savage does some parsing himself to sort out the administration's legal arguments: is Obama, he wonders, violating the rule of law or civil liberties? Either way, hawks have applauded Obama for "keeping many…major features of what Bush and Cheney had created," even as civil libertarians lament the continued erosion of individual rights—and even as the Obama administration positions itself as being merely pragmatic. A solid political exposé delivering news likely to please few—and certainly not the White House.
From the Publisher
A New York Times Editors' Choice

Named one of the best books of 2015 by ABC News and The Guardian

"Offers a master class in how to think seriously about crucial aspects of the [war on terrorism]. ... comprehensive, authoritative ... anyone truly interested in foreign policy or national security should find it essential and enthralling, thanks to the author's intelligence, objectivity, legwork and literary skill. ... Savage's superb book should stand as an indispensable guide to the debate."—Gideon Rose, New York Times Book Review

Power Wars "will almost certainly stand as the most comprehensive account of the Obama administration's policies, views, theories and bureaucratic battles over national security laws and the legacy of the 2001 attacks. His account is thoughtful and consistently fair-minded... no small achievement."—James Mann, New York Times

"Both the most comprehensive and the most engrossing look at how Obama morphed from a candidate beloved by the civil liberties community into what many saw as a continuation of George W. Bush...could not be more timely."—Trevor Timm, The Guardian

"The most essential explanation of modern-day American national security policy.... Anyone who has followed current events on drone strikes, surveillance, and encryption, and other essential issues at the forefront of modern America—and wants the entire inside baseball play-by-play to go with it—will love this book."—Cyrus Farivar, Ars Technica

"Delves deeply into the nooks and crannies of every significant national security debate touching on the intersection of national security and law. The product of prodigious research and interviews with seemingly every player, Savage's book provides a revealing picture of the inner workings of the Obama presidency."—Gabriel Schoenfeld, The Weekly Standard

"The book has much broader appeal than to those in the national security law bubble... [Deeply sourced] is an understatement, as Savage reveals the contents of never-before released documents, memos, and internal deliberations across a variety of topics."—Cully Stimson, Lawfare

"Over the years, Savage has become one of the most knowledgeable and tireless reporters chronicling the civil liberties and war powers controversies under the Obama administration. ... Savage has written a book that will clearly be the comprehensive historical account of these controversies."—Glenn Greenwald, The Intercept

"A rich blow-by-blow account of how and why the Obama administration determined the legality of its war-on-terrorism policies."—Jack Goldsmith, The New Rambler

"It is hard to imagine many journalists capable of writing a book on this topic on the scale, and with the ambition, of this one."—Robert Bauer, Time

"The value that Savage brings to his book is in reporting out how Obama's lawyers, who were often the toughest critics of Bush when they were out of power, wrestled with and ultimately sanctioned this retrenchment."—Eli Lake, Bloomberg View

There is "no more comprehensive guide to today's debates over national security and civil liberties."—Dina Temple-Raston, The Washington Post

"The most comprehensive account to date of the Obama administration's approach to national security law and policy-making."—Matthew C. Waxman, Time

"Extraordinarily comprehensive."—Marty Lederman, Just Security

Power Wars covers "in intricate detail nearly every major issue in Obama's national security policy: detainees, military commissions, torture, surveillance, secrecy, targeted killings, and war powers. Its behind-the-scenes story will likely stand as the definitive record of Obama's approach to law and national security. ... His main interest is presidential power in its perennial struggle with Congress and the courts. Ultimately, the stakes are high: whether we will continue to have, in John Adams's words, 'government of laws, and not of men.'"—David Luban, The New York Review of Books

Power Wars "offers a unique and thorough history of the American surveillance policy post-9/11, the inner machinations of the executive branch at the highest levels, the legal battles, the battling personalities, and the strange evolution from Bush to Obama in this critical area of law and policy ... As one who has studied and written about the Snowden phenomenon, I can't imagine a better, more total and fair inside history of that dramatic event."—Ronald Goldfarb, Washington Lawyer

"Already classic.... Savage's 700 page book, with access to a staggering 150 current and former top officials, including executive branch lawyers normally terrified of the press, paints a picture like no other."—Yonah Jeremy Bob, The Jerusalem Post

"Deserve[s] to be widely read, by the public at large and by those who will staff the next administration...Will stand among the definitive accounts of the United States' approach to national security and law over the past decade and a half."—Dawn Johnsen, Foreign Affairs

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780316286572
Publisher:
Little, Brown and Company
Publication date:
11/03/2015
Edition description:
New Edition
Pages:
784
Sales rank:
204,798
Product dimensions:
6.30(w) x 9.30(h) x 2.20(d)

Meet the Author

Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Charlie Savage is a Washington correspondent for the New York Times and has been covering post-9/11 legal-policy issues since 2003. A native of Fort Wayne, Indiana, he graduated from Harvard College and holds a master's degree from Yale Law School. His first book, Takeover, a bestselling and award-winning account of the Bush-Cheney administration's efforts to expand presidential power, was named one of the best works of 2007 by the Washington Post, Slate, and Esquire.

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