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"Obama’s Wars" by Bob Woodward: The inside scoop — so far

Subcultures spawn defining rituals: fans of Insane Clown Posse have the Gathering of the Juggalos; practitioners of radical self-realization congregate at Burning Man; and for the national journo-politico elite and its legion of camp followers there are the publication of Bob Woodward's inside-the-Beltway, memo-and-tell, docudramas.

Woodward's latest, Obama's Wars (OW), is scheduled to be in bookstores Monday, September 27. But some New York City booksellers already have it on sale.

Following pre-publication protocols, copies of OW were obtained by either stealth or arrangement by the two news organizations -- the New York Times and the Washington Post -- most likely to fan the flames of publicity to a fever pitch.

The theme? Afghanistan: should we stay -- and for how long; or should we go -- and how fast?

My favorite juicy bit is General David Petraeus saying that Team Obama was "fucking with the wrong guy" when he felt he had been done dirt. Oh, yes, this came after a glass of wine. Makes you wonder what the general really thinks.

In stark terms, this is a story about President Barack Obama (the commander in chief) at loggerheads with his uniform service chiefs (the alleged hired help). Obama's chief adversaries: Admiral Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and Petraeus, the onetime Iraq commander now running the show in Afghanistan.

The military brass, according to OW, are a gang of insubordinate subordinates (Surprise! Surprise!), failing to give Obama the exit plan he repeatedly requested. (Maybe the prez wasn't polite enough? Did he say, "Please"?)

There is no mistake that the military wanted an open-ended engagement in Afghanistan and the White House didn't - and still doesn't.

Some highlights: retired Marine General James Jones, the president's national security advisor, calls Obama's political team the "campaign set," the "mafia," the "politburo," and -- my favorite -- the "water bugs" . . . Before naming Hillary Clinton secretary of state, political aide David Axelrod asked Obama was he sure he could trust her . . . "I'm not doing ten years," Obama told Defense Secretary Robert Gates and Clinton . . . "I'm not doing nation building," Obama also said in OW. "And I'm not spending a trillion dollars." (Then why did he give the impression during the presidential campaign that Afghanistan was a "good" war - as opposed to the "bad" war in Iraq?) . . . Two days after Obama was elected, one of the nation's top spies told the president that the US had developed the capability to react to developments on the ground with greater speed than was widely realized, "They talk, we listen. They move, we observe. Given the opportunity, we react operationally." . . . US intelligence says Afghan President Hamid Karzai is a diagnosed manic-depressive. (Is it better to have an "ally" on meds as opposed to drugs? I wonder.) . . . The CIA has a secret 3000-member-strong army in Pakistan (I knew about the secret army, but not its exact troop strength.) . . . During an interview with Woodward, Obama said, "We can absorb a terrorist attack. We'll do everything we can to prevent it, but even a 9/11, even the biggest attack ever . . . we can absorb it and we are stronger." (That's a relief.)

A key part of the Woodward ritual is the press and speculation it generates. Here is some of the shrewdest to date:

John Dickerson explains in Slate that "Obama Is a Cheney Realist: What Obama really meant when he said American can ‘absorb' a terrorist attack."

In the New Republic, Derek Chollet asks, "Did the White House Play Woodward?"

Politico's two deadliest gunslingers, Mike Allen and John Harris, size up "Obama's Woodward gamble."

Out of London comes this short but sharp blog post from the left-wing New Statesman: "Petraeus won't be rushed out of Afghanistan." And in the conservative Spectator, Alex Massie analyzes the ménage a tois of "Obama vs. Petraeus vs. Bob Woodward."

Peter Kadzis can be reached at pkadzis@phx.com. You can follow him on Twitter @kadzis.

 
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