Woodward: Obama Aides Doubt Afghanistan Strategy

Watergate reporter Bob Woodward’s new book depicts Obama administration’s division over Afghanistan.

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BY Aliyah Shahid
DAILY NEWS STAFF WRITER

President Obama wanted out of Afghanistan last year.

And although the president agreed to triple troop levels in the embattled country, some in Obama's national security team doubt that his strategy in Afghanistan will even be successful, according to a new book by journalist Bob Woodward.

The book, Obama's Wars, details how the Obama Administration was -- and is -- extremely divided over strategy in Afghanistan. According to the book, the president said "I have two years with the public on this" and asked his advisers how to avoid a big escalation in the nine-year, U.S.-led Afghanistan war, The Associated Press reported.

Obama also told advisers "I want an exit strategy" and privately told Vice President Joe Biden to push his plan against the sending of additional troops.

While the president ultimately rejected that plan and decided to send in an additional 30,000 troops (the military wanted 40,000) the book says Obama was at odds several aides and set a withdrawal timeframe because "I can't lose the whole Democratic Party."

According to NBC's White House correspondent, Chuck Todd, the Obama Administration is trying to downplay the book and the divisions about the war. He said officials are saying "These policy divisions were well known at the time. This is the way the president operates. He wants different points of views."

In the book, Woodward, famed for his reporting about Watergate, said Richard Holbrooke -- the president's special rep for Afghanistan and Pakistan -- criticized Obama's strategy saying "It can't work," according to the New York Times, which obtained a copy.

According to the Washington Post, Obama is depicted in the book as being at odds with military commanders, including Adm. Mike Mullen, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and Gen. David Petraeus, who is now the top U.S. and NATO commander in Afghanistan.

Biden calls Holbrooke "the most egotistical bastard I've ever met." And Patraeus is quoted as telling a senior aide that he didn't like talking to David Axelrod, the president's senior advisor, because he was "a complete spin doctor."

The book also reveals that the U.S. has intelligence showing that Afghan President Hamid Karzai has been diagnosed with manic-depression and that he was taking medication for it.

Since the war began, at least 2,097 foreign troops have been killed -- about 60% of them American. Obama has said he'd start bringing home U.S. troops in July 2011.

But in the book, Patraeus is quoted as being skeptical, according to the Washington Post.

"You have to recognize also that I don't think you win this war," Patraeus said. "I think you keep fighting. It's a little bit like Iraq, actually. . . . Yes, there has been enormous progress in Iraq. But there are still horrific attacks in Iraq, and you have to stay vigilant. You have to stay after it. This is the kind of fight we're in for the rest of our lives and probably our kids' lives."