Magazine article Newsweek International

A President's Private Doubts

Magazine article Newsweek International

A President's Private Doubts

Article excerpt

Byline: Daniel Stone

We don't often see U.S. President Barack Obama react under pressure--at least not publicly. By nature, he's cool and aloof, and like most leaders, he likes to be seen as decisive and wise. His moments of uncertainty are almost always private.

Of course, Bob Woodward's great talent is to reveal those private moments, and he has done so effectively in his new book, Obama's Wars, the most detailed account yet of Obama's growing pains with the battles against terrorism he inherited. Ten months into the job, Obama ordered his Afghanistan-Pakistan strategy review for a full accounting of America's commitment in two very uncertain war zones. After receiving conflicting guidance over how to draw down the conflict by July 2011--one of his big campaign promises--Obama appeared to be struggling to avoid comparisons to Vietnam. "I'm not doing 10 years. I am not doing never-ending nation building. I'm not going to spend a trillion dollars," a frustrated Obama told Woodward in an Oval Office interview last October.

The book's title refers not just to how Obama has reluctantly taken the reins of his predecessor's terrorist-busting efforts, but also to the intensity of internal squabbles over war strategy between senior administration figures and military advisers. Gen. David Petraeus, now the head of U.S. and Afghan troops in Afghanistan, and retired Gen. James Jones, Obama's national-security adviser, are generally at odds with Obama's inner circle, including David Axelrod and Robert Gibbs, whom they accuse of being more concerned with politics than sound military strategy. (The White House, which declined to comment on the book, has spun the sniping as proof that Obama is unwilling to surround himself with yes men.)

At times, Obama appears mistrustful of both sides. Before announcing his plan to send 30,000 additional troops to Afghanistan in December 2009, the president silenced the bickering and, sitting alone, dictated a six-page memo outlining his willingness to increase troop levels if he could be assured it would speed up America's ability to draw down. …

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