In the author's personal note to this book, Bob Woodward thanks his assistant Josh Bock with words of such kindness that I was completely taken aback by the grace that this man possesses. Many writers wouldn't take the time, or interest to be so encouraging to someone else.
Woodward's writing has the poet's touch. It is elegant, straightforward, and of such compelling interest that this book like many others he has written, is a page turner. You start it, and you just keep going until you are finished.
First we must discuss his sources and methods. This author doesn't publish unless he has confirmation of what he is being told by an additional 3rd party. His interviews are recorded, transcribed and then checked for errors. He sometimes revisits the same interviewee 4 or 5 times. He works with notes, documents and recollections.
Although a person being interviewed may request that it be background only, once Woodward gets the same story from another independent source, the story is no longer background. Many people have talked to Woodward on the basis of background in an effort to remain anonymous, and control him. It just doesn't remain that way. You are not going to fool this man.
When you read Obama's Wars, you realize that you can't obtain this much great information if you read a year's worth of the New York Times. You are getting the real deal here, and you don't get it anywhere else. Let me illustrate:
* When meeting President Bush's intelligence officer and hearing what he had to say prior to the election, then Senator Obama responds that he was worried about losing this election, now he's worried about winning the election with the information he is being told.
* Woodward confirms for us that Pakistani intelligence, the so called ISI has been giving aide to the Taliban, while taking $2 billion a year in cash from us.
* During the first half of 2008, the US made only 4 Predator strikes in Pakistan. Pakistan made the US warn the ISI ahead of time before a strike could be made. The ISI in turn would warn the Taliban and the bad guys would head for the hills prior to the strike. Once American got wise to the setup, we only gave the ISI simultaneous warning, and frankly we waited until the Predator was ready to fire its missiles before giving that warning. Where are you going to get information like this? I don't see it in the Washington Post, and certainly not the NY Times.
* President Obama was informed that 35 countries do not require Visas prior to coming to the United States. Terrorists are now coming to the US through those countries and forming cells. Our worst nightmare may be yet to come.
* Iran will have a gun-type nuclear weapon between 2013 and 2015 which will be demonstrated in the desert. Saudi Arabia will immediately notify Pakistan that you help us develop a nuclear weapon, or we cut off oil supplies to your country.
* Then Senator Obama was the victim of a cyber attack on his campaign by the Chinese government that copied his documents and files. The greater danger was what would happen if they destroyed the files as opposed to just copying them. The same thing happened to Senator McCain and his campaign.
* But Wait - there's more. Senator Obama was then told that every day both the Bank of NY and Citibank handle $3 trillion a day in funds transfers, whereas the entire economy is equal to $14 trillion in gross domestic product. Other countries now have the capability to interfere with those transactions through cyber war. The resulting financial chaos would be exponentially worse than the World Trade Center destruction. We do not have a cyber defense yet.
Woodward is at his best when discussing personalities. His discussion of Hillary Clinton's reluctance, then refusal and finally acceptance of the Cabinet position of Secretary of State is absolutely fascinating. Senator Clinton did not want the position, but Senator Obama's people sensed the door was still opened, so they told her to sleep on it over night. During the night Senator Clinton consulted Mark Penn, the Clinton pollster who basically asked her if she was crazy. Take it, "you will have an unmatched record of public service." He also reminded her that you are weak on foreign policy and national security, and now you will have absolute bonafides in both, and it didn't hurt that you she will finally show independence from her husband.
Yes, there's Richard Holbrooke the egotist, and General Petraeus comes through looking great. No one lays a glove on the General. The Secretary of Defense Robert Gates gets very high marks in the book. Over and over again, when you read Woodward, you recognize that the story you are reading is not something that is covered anywhere else. You are a part of the decision making process. You are involved. You know who makes sense and who doesn't, who's brilliant, and who's all talk, and no show.
I have given you pieces here and pieces there, a flavoring of a giant ice cream Sundae. Every page has a great story, and there is nothing superfluous in this great read. This book gets five stars. If you love politics, a good story, history, and reading what a great author operating at the peak of his powers can do, read Obama's Wars, and thank you for reading this review.
Richard C. Stoyeck