On ABC, Bob Woodward Sympathizes With 'Intellectual' Obama and His 'Internal Struggle'

According to Bob Woodward, Barack Obama is an "intellectual" who has agonized over Afghanistan. The Washington Post author appeared on Good Morning America on Tuesday and touted his new book, Obama's Wars, as a way of getting inside the President's "internal struggle" over military action in that country.

During the segment, it was co-host George Stephanopoulos, who actually pressed Woodward on what Obama really believes about Afghanistan. Speaking of the surge, he quizzed, "And it appears in many, many scenes throughout this book that the President is approving of a compromise that he doesn't fully believe in."

Stephanopoulos quoted Woodward's colleague at the Washington Post, David Ignatius, as saying that the President should not "ask young men and women to die" for something he doesn't believe in. Woodward responded by defending, "He is an intellectual, as we know. He's the law professor...And so, intellectually, he realizes [that the situation is] real, real, hard. He knows as commander in chief, he has to do something."

Later, the author promoted the thoughtful portrayal he constructed for the book: "And for the first time, you can see his internal struggle, his intellectual struggle. His dealing with the military. He's dealing with his political advisers."

Woodward also appeared on Monday's World News and touted what a serious and hard working Commander in Chief Obama is: "He works all day in the Oval Office and then he goes upstairs....Has dinner with his family, sees the girls, involved in homework and their lives. And then he gets the briefcase and the stack of stuff to read and digest."

A transcript of the September 28 segment, which aired at 7:07am EDT, follows:

GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS: And joining us now is Bob Woodward, the author of Obama's Wars. Thanks for coming in this morning. There's so much to talk about, but let's begin with the news of the morning. Stepped up drone attacks. 20 this month against Pakistan. But, one of the things you point out in Obama's Wars is this has been a theme of the entire administration from the very beginning. This is something the President has been very aggressive about.

BOB WOODWARD: He has. But, what's interesting, the former CIA director, Mike Hayden, warned Rahm Emanuel, the chief of staff, that you don't solve the Pakistan safe haven problem with drone attacks. Lessons of Vietnam, World War II. You can't change the conditions from the air. You have to get boots on the ground. The current CIA director, Leon Panetta, is quoted saying, "We have to get boots on the ground. We have to get in there where these safe havens are that are harboring al Qaeda, that are targeting not just Europe, but the United States."

STEPHANOPOULOS: But, that is something the Pakistanis have been reluctant to give any approval to.

WOODWARD: Yes, but, I mean, it's kind of a wink and a nod. And we're clearly at the point where we're going to go ahead and do it because the madness of conducting a war where, literally, the Taliban has safe haven in Pakistan and there is all this aerial surveillance showing trucks of fighters, Taliban insurgent fighters, going from Pakistan, where they rest and rearm themselves, being waved into Afghanistan, through Pakistani checkpoints. And what are they doing? They're going into Afghanistan to kill American soldiers.

STEPHANOPOULOS: You mentioned Rahm Emanuel. Likely, he'll leave by the end of the week. In Obama's Wars, he's clearly a big player in the war councils. Doubtful that this war can succeed in Afghanistan.

WOODWARD: He's the skeptic. He says Afghanistan is political fly paper. You get stuck to it. You can't get off. And at one of the meetings, President Obama literally says, nothing would make Rahm happier than if I said no to the 30,000 more troops.

STEPHANOPOULOS: So, what difference does it make if he leaves?

WOODWARD: It depends on who. Rahm, as you know, is one, tough cookie. And if there's something going on that the President doesn't like or he doesn't like, he goes in with a hammer.

STEPHANOPOULOS: You mentioned the scene with the President- it was almost a Freudian slip. He said Rahm would be happy. Nothing would make Rahm happier. There's another scene where he's talking to Secretary Gates, I believe, where Gates had been reluctant to sign on to the President's compromise. And the President himself says, I'd be happy to go with 10,000 troops in Afghanistan and, quote, "hope for the best." And I think it is one of many scenes in the book, and it's what struck me most about the book, where you see the President's deep ambivalence about this strategy. And it appears in many, many scenes throughout this book that the President is approving of a compromise that he doesn't fully believe in.

WOODWARD: Well, I think it's a compromise. And, so, I think he clearly embraces it. But he wants out of Afghanistan. He says repeatedly in these top secret meetings, "I'm not doing ten years. I'm not going to spend $1 trillion." And you look at this. When I interviewed him, I said, "Well, you can't lose a war on your watch." And he says, "Well, I don't think in terms of winning the war or losing the war. I want the country to be better off." And the thing you never see in all of these discussions is a President stepping up, like he did in his political campaign in 2008, and say, yes, we can.

STEPHANOPOULOS: And that's what gets your Washington Post colleague, David Ignatius, foreign policy columnist, he wrote about it. Wrote about your portrayal of the President. And he said this, "Woodward shows us an Obama who is halfway to war, doubting his strategy even as he asks young men and women to die for it. That's one thing a President must not do, sacrifice lives for a policy he does not think can succeed."

WOODWARD: He is an intellectual, as we know. He's the law professor. And he looks at the facts in Afghanistan, which I lay out. It's a dreary picture. In fact, last spring at the end of one of these briefings, he said, "Given that definition of the problem, I don't know we can come up with a solution." And so, intellectually, he realizes, real, real, hard. He knows as commander in chief, he has to do something.

STEPHANOPOULOS: And he's not alone in these doubts. Again, something that's so striking that comes across throughout the book, are how many key players on the president's team also don't fully believe. Richard Holbrooke, long-time diplomat. Special diplomat for Afghanistan and Pakistan, "It can't work." Major Doug Lute, the President's military adviser inside the National Security Council: "This is a house of cards."

WOODWARD: Yes.

STEPHANOPOULOS: Even General David Petraeus. And this is all from your book. Even General David Petraeus, the architect of the strategy says, "I don't think you win this war. I think you keep fighting." So, you have all these doubts. Yet, a President who insists, I'm not going to be there for ten years.

WOODWARD: Yes, that's right. And this is why I've written about this because the question that pulses throughout any long inquiry like this, is who is Barack Obama? Who is our president? And for the first time, you can see his internal struggle, his intellectual struggle. His dealing with the military. He's dealing with his political advisers. And he set a course. The problem here is so much is unsettled. The relationships are not settled. How long are we going to be there?

STEPHANOPOULOS: And they are changing again. We're now facing another review in December. Already, White House aides saying, well this isn't going to be a big deal. We'll probably continue on the same course for a while. The President promising the troops are going to come down in July, 2011. But, already a battle again, between the military and the political advisers over how deep that withdrawal is.

WOODWARD: Precisely. And, so, we have in this, the definition- I mean, this is one of the things that is going to define the Obama presidency. But in a more important way, the people particularly, families out there, who have somebody in Afghanistan. What is the level of- you know, there's the X-factor in any battle. And I guess I would call it the will to win. We're just going to do it. And I suspect as all of this goes out and people look at it, the President's going to have to give some speech or get out and say, "Look, this is really where I stand. This is what we're doing. This is where we go from here to there." Talk about unsettled, the relationships in the White House. There's lots of in fighting. The chairman of the Joint Chiefs and the Vice Chairman of the joint chiefs don't get along. Bob Gates, the Secretary of Defense, there's a scene in the book where President Obama asks him to stay for the whole term, four years and Gates doesn't want to do it. Gates concludes that the President sounds like a rug merchant, trying to get him to stay a little bit longer. Gates is going to leave sometime next year, so you have the key players-

STEPHANOPOULOS: He did stay longer than he planned originally.

WOODWARD: Yes, he did. But you have the Secretary of Defense Gates gets justifiable praise. He has one foot out the door. You know in any institution, when somebody has one foot out the door, can they lead?

STEPHANOPOULOS: That's going to have to be the last word.

Scott Whitlock
Scott Whitlock
Scott Whitlock is the senior news analyst for the Media Research Center and a contributing editor for NewsBusters.org