Bob Woodward’s Scoop: Obama Cabinet Hates Itself

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Incorporating Washington Post Book World.Afghanistan always seemed like a fine place to make one’s fortune, what with its colorful poppy fields, rich and varied traditions of sculpture and architecture, and snow leopards slinking in and out of mountain caves. Exotic and fun, right? But your reviewer just learned that there’s some kind of war going on over there right now. Even the snow leopards have, en masse, joined death squads. Probably better to travel to Washington and …. try for a job with the Obama administration, maybe? But all they do these days is fight over policy in Afghanistan and address one another as “dick,” according to Bob Woodward’s new guided tour of Presidential Sadness, Obama’s Wars.

Woodward is that rare beast: a newspaper journalist with a brand name known by Regular People, due to his being played by Robert Redford in a movie 35 years ago. He has a reputation for being “the first historian of reality,” or something like that, because he likes to write about White House horror and intrigue while his subjects are still in office. It’s WILD, this method, because he actually gets people to Talk.

He begins Obama’s Wars with a list of “Dramatis Personae,” because this might as well be Henry IV, with Joe Biden as a thin, beardless Falstaff. The characters are mostly members of the “Obama administration,” which is a covert sub-section of ACORN that for whatever reason has control over the Americans and their NATO allies in Afghanistan. Wacky minor characters include bumbling CIA officials, Pentagon bureaucrats (“generals,” they’re sometimes called) and manic depressive Afghan president Hamid Karzai, who spends most of the book in his room, sprawled out on an Afghan rug, writing confessional poems. What’s going on with these people?

They’re having endless Situation Room meetings (from which Wolf Blitzer is confusingly absent) with Power Point slideshows, mostly. Your reviewer would like to say he read this thing carefully, but the minutiae of the meetings and slide shows and memo-writing is hard going. And it’s damn near impossible to keep all the characters straight. Who is “Rahm Emanuel” anyway? Didn’t he quit?

There might even be a problem with writing a book called Obama’s Wars and never saying much about the actual war(s). Woodward does go to Afghanistan for a few minutes to soak up the vibes, but he offers very little in the way of vividness, or insight into how these White House slideshows are shaping things on the ground. THOUGH IN FAIRNESS, he does mention marauding CIA paramilitaries that enjoy Murder in the night.

The only Big Conclusion you can really draw from this book is that no one has a clue what to do about Afghanistan. Biden has his ideas (focus on routing Al Qaeda, don’t set extravagant goals), military brass have their ideas (a more ambitious blizzard of death), and plenty of other people have their own suggestions. Obama seems to be splitting the difference between all of them (is that possible, mathematically? We’re not sure) and crossing his fingers. None of the ideas seems particularly realistic, which is to say that things seem more or less hopeless.

Let’s see, are there any Haw-Haw Funny revelations in this book?

HMMMMM … according to B-Wood, Barack Obama and Colin Powell sometimes gather in shadowy corners and whisper to each other about how lame the Pentagon kids are.

“You don’t have to be put up with this,” said Powell, a former chairman of the Joint Chiefs [oh, THAT Colin Powell]. “You’re the commander in chief. These guys work for you. Because they’re unanimous in their advice doesn’t make it right. There are other generals.”

“BLAH BLAH BLAH BLAH, etc.,” Powell continues, because he hates America’s Troops.

There’s also this weird incident with Very Important Diplomat and weird person Richard Holbrooke:

“Mr. President, I want to ask you one favor,” Holbrooke had said… “Would you do me the great favor of calling me Richard, for my wife’s sake?” It was her preference. She disliked the name “Dick,” which the president had been using.

At [Holbrooke’s coronation] ceremony, Obama referred to Holbrooke as “Richard.” But later, the president told others that he found the request highly unusual and even strange. Holbrooke was horrified when he learned that his request — which he had repeated to no one — had been circulated by the president.

Elsewhere in this thing: Hillary Clinton comes up with imaginative plans for getting Pakistanis to like us (fund development and infrastructure, which we can afford to do because that stuff isn’t really welcome in America anymore), and the Prez goes on Jay Leno, which adds to the all-engulfing gloom. Biden dislikes Dick Holbrooke, the generals don’t trust Obama, Obama feels pressured by the generals, everyone hates each other, etc.

And that’s pretty much it.

Bob Woodward is a serviceable, though not great, writer. He tries, though. Here he is going for the poignant and elegiac note:

About noon on Veterans Day, November 11, the president and his wife, Michelle, stepped out into a cold rain at Arlington Cemetery. They walked around Section 60, where the dead from the Iraq and Afghanistan wars are buried. One writer christened it “the saddest acre in America.” Obama moved down the aisles of small white headstones to greet the relatives and friends of those lost in battle. Heavy raindrops gathered in his hair, on his face, and on his black overcoat. New graves were being dug in the damp earth.

As they are still being dug today. Woodward should write a sequel to this book where he tours Afghanistan asking one-armed villagers, “SO, what are you: Team Biden or Team McChrystal?”

Obama’s Wars by Bob Woodward, Simon & Schuster, 464 pages, $15.00.

Standard wingnut-reviewing services will resume next week. Until then, email book-shame requests to greer.mansfield@gmail.com

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57 comments

  1. Lucidamente1

    Obama needs to wear a codpiece, prance around on an aircraft carrier, declare mission accomplished, and lie about shit in general. That'll get him re-elected.

  2. SayItWithWookies

    Yeah, this sounds as exciting as The Agenda, Woodward's first book about the Clinton administration, which was an interminable account of the meetings and petty intrigues of those first couple of years. At least this one has some innate drama, just because of our times — but Woodward's desire to get the story down before he knows what the main narrative ought to be can result in meandering nonsense.

  3. Weenus299

    I'm not reading Obama's Wars until it's a movie and all the text comes up and floats off into space right before the Obamerial Star Destroyer swallows up the freighter.

  4. BornInATrailer

    My name is not Richard.
    Then what is it?
    Dick.
    What?
    Dick. You heard me. Dick….
    No. Your name is Richard.
    Sorry, it's Dick.

    EDIT: I thought for sure that scene from "Rules of Attraction" would warrant far more thumbs ups. What, don't you people watch movies?

  5. slappypaddy

    the thing "to do about Afghanistan" is so clear, why can't the obamites see it? INVADE ONE OF ITS NEIGHBORS. hell, it worked before. kuwait seems a safe bet.

    1. e_z

      The bordering countries do not include Kuwait. China, Pakistan, Iran, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan are the list of potentials. none of which I would want,

      A.f-land being such a shit hole makes the Stans look as good as a vacation brochure

    2. BaldarTFlagass

      We should invade the Maldives before they're completely underwater. If nothing else it will make a good R&R spot for the troops, if they can get past the $9 beers.

  6. JMPEsq

    It's foolish for anyone to think they have a chance to win in Afghanistan; the last person to succeed in an attempt to conquer the place was Alexander the Great, even Genghis fucking Khan knew better and just marched his armies around it instead of trying to fight there.

    1. PocketsTheClown

      I agree. Don‘t fuck with hill people. Down to the last one, they will never forget to come back and kill your offspring a few hundred years from now.

      Have fun getting to sleep tonight, America!

    2. DemonicRage

      Afghanistan = "The Graveyard of Empires." Interesting that in the Sherlock Holmes stories, Dr. Watson is newly arrived back to London, having put time in supporting the British troops that were in Afghanistan back then.

  7. Lascauxcaveman

    Meh, Charlie Wilson's War was a lot funner. Naked hookers jumping out of hot tubs, Wilson's secretarial harem, Phillip Seymour Hoffman in curly black hair and walrus mustache, etc…

    1. bitchincamaro2

      Check out Chalmers Johnson's "Dismantling Empire" if you haven't already. He hands Charlie Wison and Tom Hanks a handful of fuckyouverymuch in one of his excellent essays on the demise of our democracy.

  8. DemonicRage

    Didn't close Guantanamo, didn't repeal DADT, didn't get a health care plan that covered everyone, caved into the Insurance industry and instead of a health care plan, made everyone buy insurance, siphoned troops out of Iraq and put them into greater harm's way in Afghanistan (Graveyard of Empires)….you don't need a Bob Woodward book to know that this is not going well.

    1. axmxz

      "Put them in greater harm's way?" A strange complaint to make about an army. I don't recall job safety being one of the cornerstones of the profession.

      1. DemonicRage

        Was referring to the fact that there have been more casualties lately from Afghanistan compared to Iraq, although things seem to be falling apart pretty badly in Iraq, too. So much of the Woodward book seems to be about the President's tortured response to the Generals who gave him only one real option in Afghanistan: send a lot more troops in.

        1. LibrulEleet

          I'm no military expert, but perhaps the reason "there have been more casualties lately from Afghanistan compared to Iraq" has something to do with the fact that we recently withdrew our combat forces from Iraq.

      1. DemonicRage

        Of course Bush was worse, but it's crushingly sad to see what has befallen someone who seemed so promising. Maybe the mess he inherited was just too much for anyone to deal with.

        1. Chet Kincaid

          I don't think Obama or anyone else expected that the exploding mass of lunacy, ignorance and racism would persist and grow this far into his Presidency, impeding the possibility of any kind of reasoning with the other side. Obama is like Bush only in that he either did not receive or did not take seriously the memo titled, "Right Wing Fanatics Determined To Take Back The United States." In hindsight, of course, the signs were there, but we were all so naive because the "good guy" won.

  9. hooray4anything

    So, in sum: "NOBODY KNOWS WHAT TO DO ABOUT SOMETHING NOBODY KNOWS WHAT TO DO ABOUT!!!!!!!" Also, "PEOPLE WHO DISAGREE OVER THINGS DISAGREE WITH EACH OTHER!!!!!!!!!" Not to mention "GEORGE W. BUSH IS A COCKSUCKER."

  10. natoslug

    My local phone book is coming out next month, and they're naming names. WHY HAVEN'T YOU REVIEWED IT YET?????!!!!!???? I sense a conspiracy.

  11. Dimitrios_M

    Because there is nothing really interesting and memorable in Woodward's book, does that mean that by just not doing anything Obama hasn't truly fucked up yet, or that Woodward just couldn't find the stains?

  12. bitchincamaro2

    I'm seriously considering purchasing the audio version of the book, but not if Bob does the reading. I'd rather listen to Diane Rehm on a bad day than his tortured tongue.

      1. bitchincamaro2

        It's not her fault. She's got serious trouble with the windpipes. But her brain is on all 8 cylinders. I kid Diane because I lover her.

  13. notreelyhelping

    "Well, Mr. President, we could just carpet-bomb the shit out of the place for four or five days, then get the heck out of Dodge."
    "Completely?"
    "Yeah. Pull out, leave nothing but smoking wreckage and dismembered bodies. As far as the eye could see."
    "Um. And this would work, right?"
    "Oh, hell no. But we could invite the media. It'd look terrific. Really…decisive."

    Pause.

    *sigh* "Okay. If that's all we got, we go with that. When's lunch today?"

  14. lochnessmonster

    I don't understand how this guy has such free access. Did Woodward get a key to the WH after the Whitewater book??? Or does the WH get a cut of every book he sells? If so, I hope they use the money to pay down the national debt.

    1. DemonicRage

      He was played by that actor who used to be so adorable years ago, in the movies. This gives the guy amazing access. You know, the one who was George Clooney before they came up with the new model.

  15. Pragmatist2

    Didn't Araianna Huffington (whose sole accomplishment is divorcing well) used to be Bob Woodward? I think there may have been surgery involved.

  16. Carrabuda

    “You don’t have to be put up with this,” said Powell…

    Well, I doubt he said it quite that way. At least I hope not.

  17. tribbzthesquidz

    Why doesn't anyone in power ever listen to Colin Powell except for that one time with the UN death-tube-tractor-trailer dealee?

Comments are closed.