Obama's Wars

In This Review

Obama's Wars
By Bob Woodward
Simon & Schuster, 2010
464 pp. $30.00
Purchase

Another president, another war, another fly-on-the-wall account by Woodward. A British politician once said that conducting foreign relations in a democracy is like playing bridge with a crowd of people behind you loudly discussing your hand and making suggestions about what cards to play. Public curiosity is certainly served by books of this kind; what is less certain is that the public interest benefits when the inner war councils of a serving U.S. president, complete with the hesitations and mental reservations that accompany any strategic discussion, are served out before an audience that necessarily includes U.S. enemies. Regardless, Woodward, as usual, has produced a riveting and at times revelatory read. Much attention has been paid to the book's insight into civil-military relations; some readers will be more interested in what can be learned about the quality of strategic thought in the White House and the Pentagon. The specter that haunts the war in Afghanistan is similar to the one that stalked Lyndon Johnson in Vietnam. Is this a war that an administration feels it cannot lose but does not know how to win? The answer to that cannot be determined from this book; one wishes the Taliban and Pakistan's Inter-Services Intelligence were blessed with Bob Woodwards of their own to give clues about how the current Afghan war will unfold.