The War Within: A Secret White House History 2006-2008

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As violence in Iraq reaches unnerving levels in 2006, a second front in the war rages at the highest levels of the Bush administration. In his fourth book on President George W. Bush, Bob Woodward takes readers deep inside the tensions, secret debates, unofficial backchannels, distrust and determination within the White House, the Pentagon, the State Department, the intelligence agencies and the U.S. military headquarters in Iraq. With unparalleled intimacy and detail, this gripping account of a president at war describes a period of distress and uncertainty within the U.S. government from 2006 through mid-2008.

The White House launches a secret strategy review that excludes the military. General George Casey, the commander in Iraq, believes that President Bush does not understand the war and eventually concludes he has lost the president's confidence. The Joint Chiefs of Staff also conduct a secret strategy review that goes nowhere. On the verge of revolt, they worry that the military will be blamed for a failure in Iraq.

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice strongly opposes a surge of additional U.S. forces and confronts the president, who replies that her suggestions would lead to failure. The president keeps his decision to fire Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld from Vice President Dick Cheney until two days before he announces it. A retired Army general uses his high-level contacts to shape decisions about the war, as Bush and Cheney use him to deliver sensitive messages outside the chain of command.

For months, the administration's strategy reviews continue in secret, with no deadline and no hurry, in part because public disclosure would harm Republicans in theNovember 2006 elections. National Security Adviser Stephen J. Hadley tells Rice, "We've got to do it under the radar screen because the electoral season is so hot."

The War Within provides an exhaustive account of the struggles of General David Petraeus, who takes over in Iraq during one of the bleakest and most violent periods of the war. It reveals how breakthroughs in military operations and surveillance account for much of the progress as violence in Iraq plummets in the middle of 2007.

Woodward interviewed key players, obtained dozens of never-before-published documents, and had nearly three hours of exclusive interviews with President Bush. The result is a stunning, firsthand history of the years from mid-2006, when the White House realizes the Iraq strategy is not working, through the decision to surge another 30,000 U.S. troops in 2007, and into mid-2008, when the war becomes a fault line in the presidential election.

The War Within addresses head-on questions of leadership, not just in war but in how we are governed and the dangers of unwarranted secrecy.

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Editorial Reviews

Jill Abramson
Certainly, Woodward's conclusions about President Bush's certitude, intolerance of dissent and poor management of Iraq policy, including the legal overreaching of his antiterror campaign, have been explored more deeply in earlier fine books by Thomas Ricks, Michael Gordon, Ron Suskind, Robert Draper, George Packer and Jane Mayer, among others. But, on balance, it is impossible not to be impressed by Woodward's reporting, which provides a vivid week-by-week chronology, from the post-9/11 attack on Afghanistan to the Iraq surge, of how the president's war policy unspooled and of its consequences. His unadorned factual accounts have supplied many other authors and reporters with an invaluable record of what happened and what was said at pivotal junctures during this presidency.
—The New York Times
Josiah Bunting III
In important ways the book recalls David Halberstam's iconic The Best and the Brightest, a vivid chronicle of how another war, even less popular than this one, was made, and by whom. The War Within's controversial revelations and contentions are numerous…But, mainly, it is a study of what happens when men and women, charged with leading the country in wartime or with counseling those who lead, do not tell each other what they really think. White House advisers are faithless to their responsibilities if they withhold their conclusions and convictions from those they serve, or from their colleagues. It is a toxicity that, by Woodward's account, infected the whole grim process…The War Within makes its case quietly and persuasively.
—The Washington Post
Library Journal

This is Pulitzer® Prize-winning reporter Woodward's fourth national best seller-following State of Denial(2006)-on the Bush administration and its handling of the war in Iraq. In it, he provides a thorough and detailed description of the consequences of this war and of the decisions made by its various strategists. Solidly researched and benefiting from insider access, this title will be an essential resource for historians for decades to come, whether or not they agree with Woodward's conclusions (his portrayal of the Bush administration is quite critical). Tony® Award-winning actor Boyd Gaines keeps listeners engrossed as he expertly individualizes the various voices.
—Mary Knapp

From the Publisher
"[B]rilliantly reported..." — Timothy Rutten, Los Angeles Times

"A better first draft of history might be difficult to find." — Gilbert Cruz, Time

"More than mere anecdotal detail, this is the stuff of history... The fine detail is wonderfully illuminating, and cumulatively these books may be the best record we will ever get of the events they cover... They stand as the fullest story yet of the Bush presidency and of the war that is likely to be its most important legacy." — Jill Abramson, The New York Times Book Review

"...recalls David Halberstam's iconic The Best and the Brightest...The War Within's controversial revelations are contentions and numerous...But, mainly, it is a study of what happens when men and women, charged with leading the country in wartime or with counseling those who lead, do not tell each other what they really think." — Josiah Bunting, III, The Washington Post

"An extraordinary window into policy making." — The Kansas City Star

"The In Cold Blood of national security journalism." — The Nation

"If you want to know about the Iraq War, Bob Woodward is the guy." — Bill O'Reilly

"Bob Woodward is the latest to remind us that it is presidents, not their understudies, who shape the destiny of nations." — Fouad Ajami, The Wall Street Journal

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781436174329
  • Publisher: Recorded Books, LLC
  • Publication date: 11/6/2008
  • Format: CD

Meet the Author

Bob Woodward

Bob Woodward is an associate editor at The Washington Post, where he has worked for thirty-seven years. He has shared in two Pulitzer Prizes, first for the The Washington Post’s cov- erage of the Watergate scandal, and later for coverage of the 9/11 terrorist attacks. He has authored or coauthored eleven #1 national nonfiction bestsellers, including three on the current administration—Bush at War (2002), Plan of Attack (2004), and State of Denial (2006). He lives in Washington, D.C.


Perhaps the only journalist who can claim to feature both Judy Belushi and Ronald and Nancy Reagan on his list of enemies, Washington Post editor and Watergate watchdog Bob Woodward is famously (purposefully?) a lightning rod for criticism. Woodward raises as many eyebrows for his anonymous sourcing as he summons applause for his scorched-earth approach in interviewing masses of people for every project; the extensive information he digs up is held in awe, yet greetings from the nation's book critics and journalists don't always read like love letters. Joan Didion, in the pages of The New York Review of Books called The Choice, his account of the 1996 presidential campaign, "political pornography."

The New Republic opened its review of The Agenda: Inside the Clinton White House by pleading with readers not to buy the book. Frank Rich, the opinion columnist for The New York Times, said that Woodward's book Shadow: Five Presidents and the Legacy of Watergate should have instead been entitled All the Presidents Stink, since none of the nation's post-Watergate presidents seemed able to withstand the author's tut-tutting over minor peccadilloes.

For the record, Judy Belushi objected to what she called Woodward's overly negative portrait of husband John's drug use and lifestyle excesses in the 1984 biography Wired, and the Reagans didn't like what he had to say about deceased CIA Director William Casey in Veil.

Still, Woodward delivers the goods.

On the job for nine months as a night cops reporter for The Washington Post in 1972, Woodward lucked into the petty crime of the century: the break-in at Democratic National Headquarters at the Watergate complex. Woodward and reporter Carl Bernstein's investigation reached the highest levels of the Nixon White House, and has become a template for investigative journalism ever since. Thousands of students have poured out of journalism schools in the ensuing years -- for better or worse -- sniffing the winds for their own private Watergate.

Woodward himself hasn't found it, but he has maintained a reputation as the investigator within American journalism, often winning unparalleled access to his subjects and developing a reputation for almost manic multiple-fact-checking of information. After turning the Watergate story into the book and film All the President's Men, Woodward and Bernstein -- or "Woodstein," as they became known in the Post's newsroom -- collaborated on a second book, The Final Days, a look at the end of the Nixon presidency. In 1979, Woodward cast his glance around Washington and found The Brethren, an inside look at the inner workings of the Supreme Court, this time with co-author Scott Armstrong.

Aside from the Belushi biography, Woodward has stuck to the political. He went inside the Clinton White House with The Agenda, inside the CIA with Veil: The Secret Wars of the CIA, 1981-1987 (raising questions about his mysterious hospital interview with a groggy Bill Casey) and inside the 1996 Clinton-Dole duel for the presidency in The Choice.

Woodward is the only author to publish four books on a sitting president during the president's time in office. He spent more time than any other journalist or author interviewing President Bush on the record -- a total of nearly 11 hours in six separate sessions from 2001 to 2008.

His four books on President George W. Bush are Bush at War (2002), about the response to 9/11 and the initial invasion of Afghanistan; Plan of Attack (2004), on how and why Bush decided to invade Iraq; State of Denial (2006), about Bush's refusal to acknowledge for nearly three years that the Iraq war was not going well as violence and instability reached staggering levels; and The War Within: A Secret White House History 2006-2008 (2008), about the deep divisions and misunderstandings on war strategy between the civilians and the military as the president finally decided to add 30,000 troops in a surge.

In every case, Woodward digs deep. And it all started when he was a teenager, working one summer as a janitor in his father's law office in Wheaton, Ill. He made his way through the papers in his father's desk, his father's partner's desk and the files in the attic.

"I looked up all my classmates and their families, and there were IRS audits or divorces or grand juries that did not lead to indictment," he told U.S. News and World Report in 2002. "It was a cold shower to see that the disposed files contained the secret lives of many of the people in this perfect town and showed they weren't perfect."

Good To Know

Richard Nixon said his wife, Pat, had a stroke while reading the Woodward and Bernstein book Final Days.

Woodward once briefly dated reporter Leslie Stahl, who also covered the Watergate story, even to the point of following John Dean into a men's room to continue questioning him.

He voted for Richard Nixon.
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    1. Hometown:
      Washington, D.C.
    1. Date of Birth:
      March 26, 1943
    2. Place of Birth:
      Geneva, Illinois
    1. Education:
      B.A., Yale University, 1965

Read an Excerpt


Two Years Earlier

One weekday afternoon in May 2004, General George Casey bounded up the stairs to the third floor of his government-furnished quarters, a beautiful old brick mansion on the Potomac River at Fort McNair in Washington, D.C. His wife, Sheila, was packing for a move across the river to Fort Myer, in Virginia, the designated quarters of the Army's vice chief of staff.

"Please, sit down," Casey said.

In 34 years of marriage, he had never made such a request.

President Bush, Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld and the Army chief of staff had asked him to become the top U.S. commander in Iraq, he said.

Sheila Casey burst into tears. Like any military spouse, she dreaded the long absences and endless anxieties of separation, the strains of a marriage carried out half a world apart. But she also recognized it was an incredible opportunity for her husband. Casey saw the Iraq War as a pivot point, one of history's hinges, a conflict that would likely define America's future standing in the world, Bush's legacy and his own reputation as a general.

"This is going to be hard," Casey said, but he felt as qualified as anyone else.

Casey's climb to four-star status had been unusual. Instead of graduating from West Point, he had studied international relations at Georgetown University. He'd been there during the Vietnam War and was a member of ROTC, the Reserve Officers' Training Corps. He remembered how some students had spit on him and hurled things when he crossed campus in uniform. In 1970, after his graduation and commissioning as an Army second lieutenant, his father and namesake, a two-star Army general commanding the celebrated 1st Cavalry Division, was killed in Vietnam when his helicopter crashed en route to visit wounded soldiers.

Casey had never intended to make the Army his career. And yet he fell in love with the sense of total responsibility that even a young second lieutenant was given for the well-being of his men. Now, after 34 years in the Army, he was going to be the commander on the ground, as General William Westmoreland had been in Vietnam from 1965 to 1968. Casey had no intention of ending up like Westmoreland, whom history had judged as that era's poster boy for quagmire and failure.

Casey had never been in combat. His most relevant experience was in the Balkans — Bosnia and Kosovo — where irregular warfare had been the order of the day. He had held some of the most visible "thinker" positions in the Pentagon — head of the Joint Staff strategic plans and policy directorate, J-5, and then the prestigious directorship of the Joint Staff, which served the chiefs. But aside from a 1981 stint in Cairo as a United Nations military observer, he had spent little time in the Middle East.

After getting Sheila's blessing, Casey met with Rumsfeld. The two sat at a small table in the center of the secretary's office. "Attitude" was important, Rumsfeld explained — Casey must instill a frame of mind among the soldiers to let the Iraqis grow and do what they needed to do themselves. The general attitude in the U.S. military was "We can do this. Get out of our way. We'll take care of it. You guys stand over there." That would not spell success in Iraq, Rumsfeld explained. As he often would describe it later, the task in Iraq was to remove the training wheels and get American hands off the back of the Iraqi bicycle seat.

For the most part, Casey agreed.

"Take about 30 days, and then give me your assessment," Rumsfeld directed.

Casey was heartened that Rumsfeld and he shared a common vision. But he was surprised that the secretary of defense had devoted only about 10 minutes for a meeting with the man about to take over the most important assignment in the U.S. military.

The president held a small dinner at the White House for Casey and John Negroponte, the newly designated ambassador to Iraq, their spouses and a few friends. It was a social event, a way to say good luck.

Casey went to see Secretary of State Colin Powell, who had served in the Army for 35 years and been the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff during the 1991 Gulf War. Powell did not conceal his bitterness. Rumsfeld is screwing it all up, he told Casey. Marc Grossman, one of Powell's senior deputies and an old friend of Casey's, put it more pointedly. "These guys at DOD are just assholes," he said, "and I don't have any more patience for them."

Casey concluded that there was no clear direction on Iraq, so he invited Negroponte to his office at the Pentagon.

Negroponte, then the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, had volunteered for the Iraq ambassadorship. At 64, he was a 40-year veteran of the Foreign Service. He believed that an ambassador was the executor of policy made in Washington. He and Casey agreed that they weren't getting much guidance from above.

"What are we going to accomplish when we get over there?" Casey asked, and they started to hammer out a brief statement of purpose. The goal was a country at peace with its neighbors, with a representative government, which respected human rights for all Iraqis and would not become a safe haven for terrorists.

The general and the ambassador were pleased with their draft. They had laid out mostly political goals, despite the fact that the United States' main leverage was its nearly 150,000 troops on the ground.

• *

In Iraq, Casey relieved Lieutenant General Ricardo Sanchez, who had been the junior three-star in the Army when he had taken command of the forces the previous year. Casey asked him to stick around for a while after the change of command ceremony. Over dinner, Sanchez unloaded his bitterness about the lack of support he felt he had received from the Army, the Pentagon and Washington. "This is ten times harder than Kosovo," he said.

Casey could relate. He was familiar with the deep, irrational hatred that had driven the ethnic cleansing and other violence in the Balkans.

He met with officers from the CIA station in Baghdad. They posed ominous questions: Could the whole enterprise work? What was the relationship between the political and military goals? Casey and Negroponte had settled on the political goals, but how would Casey achieve the military goal of keeping Iraq from becoming a safe haven for terrorists? As he was briefed and as he read the intelligence, he saw that terrorists had safe havens in at least four Iraq cities — Fallujah, Najaf, Samarra and, for all practical purposes, the Sadr City neighborhood in Baghdad.

As Casey had passed through neighboring Kuwait on his way to Baghdad, the Third Army officers had a message for him: "If you want to understand this, you need to talk to Derek Harvey."

Harvey, a 49-year-old retired Army colonel and Middle East specialist who worked for the Defense Intelligence Agency, was a controversial figure within the U.S. intelligence world. He believed in immersion intelligence work, spending months at a time gathering information in the field rather than relying solely on reports and statistics.

In the late 1980s, Harvey traveled throughout Iraq by taxicab — 500 miles, village to village — interviewing locals, sleeping on mud floors with a shower curtain for a door. He resembled the television detective Columbo — full of questions, intensely curious and entirely nonthreatening. After the 1991 Gulf War, when the CIA was predicting the inevitable fall of Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein, Harvey, then a major, insisted that Hussein would survive because members of the Sunni community knew their fortunes were tied to his. He was right. Months before the 9/11 terrorist attacks, Harvey wrote an intelligence paper declaring that al Qaeda and the Taliban leadership in Afghanistan posed a strategic threat to the United States.

After the 2003 invasion of Iraq, Harvey had intermittent Army assignments in the country, traveling quietly, talking to insurgents, sitting in interrogation rooms.

One of his approaches was so-called DOCEX — document exploitation. He spent hours poring over files found in safe houses and financial data discovered in Saddam's briefcases. It was clear to him early on that a vacuum existed in Baghdad. Where was political power?

Harvey made scouting missions into the provinces in an SUV, making contact with tribes, learning that former Baathist regime leaders, generals and other former officers were reuniting. He studied documents and letters found in buildings that U.S. forces had raided. Together with his interviews, they told a story: The old regime elements had plans to create a violent, hostile environment.

Within U.S. intelligence agencies, a debate was taking place about how much real organization existed among the insurgents. Who was really in control? Harvey found that the insurgency was based on the old trust networks of professional, tribal and family relationships connected with the mosques. Guidance, instructions and exhortation — even the planning documents for operations — were often written in the religious language of holy war.

Harvey found that U.S. units had reported a lot of attacks when they first arrived, but the longer they stayed in Iraq, the fewer they reported. It wasn't because the troops had appeased or vanquished the insurgents. Rather, near the end of their tours, they ventured out into the population less and less — sometimes never. He also concluded that only 22 to 26 percent of the violence directed at U.S. forces was being reported.

General Sanchez never bought into Harvey's conclusions about the insurgency, even as officially measured violence in the classified SECRET reports kept rising. During one four-month period in mid-2004, the attacks doubled from about 1,000 a month to 2,000.

• *

Casey summoned Harvey to a meeting in early July 2004. Harvey found the general on a balcony at his new headquarters at Camp Victory, gazing out over Baghdad. Casey held up two cigars.

"Do you smoke?"

Harvey nodded.

"Okay, come with me."

What's really going on in Iraq? Casey asked.

The Sunni insurgency is growing and getting worse, Harvey explained. It's organized. It's coherent. And its members have a strategy. They are gaining popular support. They believe they are doing well, and by any measurement they are — the number of attacks, their logistics, their financing, their external support, freedom of movement, ability to recruit. Every trend line was going up. Way up.

The insurgency is not a guerrilla war designed to win political power, he said. "It's all about wearing you out, getting you to leave and subverting the existing order, and infiltrating and co-opting the emerging Iraqi institutions."

The Iraqi government was weak, he added. It needed to be stronger, much stronger, but the United States was not going to change the attitudes or the culture. "We have to work around them," he said. "You're not going to force them to make decisions that they're not comfortable with. We don't have the leverage. We really don't."

Harvey said the Americans must learn to operate with humility, because there was so much they didn't understand about how and why the Iraqis made decisions. We think we know, but we're delusional. We get these glimpses, and we extrapolate. But if you really dig, what's it all really based on? Only whispers of the truth. "We don't understand the fight we're in," he said.

Harvey said the revelations about abuse of prisoners at Abu Ghraib months earlier had inflamed Iraqis. Photographs of smiling U.S. soldiers alongside naked, hooded, manacled and leashed inmates had flooded newspapers, television screens and the Internet. They had spread like a lightning bolt through Iraqi society and sent a devastating message: The U.S. occupation was the new oppressor.

As their cigars burned down and their conversation drew to a close, Harvey fixed his gaze on the new commanding general. "We're in trouble."

In Washington, infighting over the war had gone from bad to worse within the administration since the 2003 invasion.

"Control is what politics is all about," legendary journalist Theodore H. White wrote. War is also about control — both on the battlefield and in Washington, where the strategy and policy are supposed to be set. But from the start, no one in the administration had control over Iraq policy.

In the early days of the war, the president's national security adviser, Condoleezza Rice, and Hadley, her deputy at the time, had worked on Iraq nonstop and yet they never got control over the policy making. They were no match for Rumsfeld. The president had signed a directive before the invasion, giving the authority for an occupation to the Defense Department.

Bush and Rumsfeld's selection of L. Paul Bremer, a career diplomat, to act as the viceroy of Iraq further diminished the role of Rice and Hadley, as well as Powell at the State Department. Bremer all but ignored the National Security Council.

"We're all told to stay out of it," Hadley complained to a colleague. "This is Don Rumsfeld's thing."

Bremer, who as a presidential envoy had a direct reporting line to the president, bypassed even Rumsfeld and made important decisions unilaterally and abruptly. Some of those decisions proved disastrous, such as disbanding the Iraqi army and excluding from government service tens of thousands of former members of Saddam's Baath Party.

Rumsfeld had his own view of how the U.S. should proceed. He would send out one of his "snowflakes," brief documents asking questions, looking for details, demanding answers, when it was unclear to him what had happened. Though unsigned, everyone knew they represented his orders or questions. But if a snowflake leaked, it provided deniability.

The snowflake sent on October 28, 2003, was two pages long and classified SECRET: "Subject: Risk and the way ahead in Iraq. In discussing the way ahead in Iraq, all agree that we should give Iraqis more authority more quickly."

Powell had a different view. Control was about security. In the first year after the invasion, Bush and Rice repeatedly expressed worry that the oil production in Iraq and availability of electricity were dropping — visible signs that conditions were worse in Iraq than prior to the invasion.

"Petroleum is interesting. Electricity is interesting," Powell said, but added, "Mr. President, none of this makes any difference unless there's security...Security is all that counts right now."

Copyright © 2008 by Bob Woodward

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Table of Contents


Author's Note

Cast of Characters

Book I Book II






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