The Generals’ Victory

The arrival of a new Bob Woodward book is attended with rituals as solemn and predictable as those of the annual Congress of the Communist Party in North Korea-there are the three days of excerpts in The Washington Post; a few days before that the obligatory spoiler piece in The New York Times where an ...

Mario Tama/Getty Images
Mario Tama/Getty Images
Mario Tama/Getty Images

The arrival of a new Bob Woodward book is attended with rituals as solemn and predictable as those of the annual Congress of the Communist Party in North Korea-there are the three days of excerpts in The Washington Post; a few days before that the obligatory spoiler piece in The New York Times where an enterprising reporter has obtained a copy of the heavily-embargoed tome; Woodward appearing for the full hour with Larry King; the defensive comments from the institutions that have something to defend-when asked to comment on Obama's Wars, Pentagon press secretary Geoff Morrell demurred, explaining "We don't do literary criticism;" the quotable insider disses, the best being General Tommy Franks on the senior Bush Pentagon official Douglas Feith-"the fucking stupidest guy on the face of the earth"; and the telling anecdotes about key players in the narrative, such as the one about the intensely focused General Petraeus electing to stay in Iraq rather than attend the funeral of his father.

The action in all of Woodward's past five books has taken place largely in the bowels of the White House, often in the Situation Room, with occasional forays to the Pentagon and Capitol Hill. If there is a shift outside the Beltway, it is usually to Tampa to visit the headquarters of Central Command, which oversees U.S. military operations in the Middle East and adjoining parts of Asia. Woodward has written three books about the Iraq War and never visited Iraq, and he has written two books about the Afghan War and has visited Afghanistan for forty-eight hours (a visit well milked here).

As a result, Woodward's books do not have the whiff of cordite but the waft of stale coffee, as harried staffers pull all-nighters to write papers that the "principals" will probably never read, and meetings drone on interminably because, while everything has already been said, not everything has been said by everyone. The notoriously garrulous Joe Biden makes an intervention at one National Security Council discussion of Afghanistan that a backbencher clocks at twenty-one minutes.

The arrival of a new Bob Woodward book is attended with rituals as solemn and predictable as those of the annual Congress of the Communist Party in North Korea-there are the three days of excerpts in The Washington Post; a few days before that the obligatory spoiler piece in The New York Times where an enterprising reporter has obtained a copy of the heavily-embargoed tome; Woodward appearing for the full hour with Larry King; the defensive comments from the institutions that have something to defend-when asked to comment on Obama’s Wars, Pentagon press secretary Geoff Morrell demurred, explaining "We don’t do literary criticism;" the quotable insider disses, the best being General Tommy Franks on the senior Bush Pentagon official Douglas Feith-"the fucking stupidest guy on the face of the earth"; and the telling anecdotes about key players in the narrative, such as the one about the intensely focused General Petraeus electing to stay in Iraq rather than attend the funeral of his father.

The action in all of Woodward’s past five books has taken place largely in the bowels of the White House, often in the Situation Room, with occasional forays to the Pentagon and Capitol Hill. If there is a shift outside the Beltway, it is usually to Tampa to visit the headquarters of Central Command, which oversees U.S. military operations in the Middle East and adjoining parts of Asia. Woodward has written three books about the Iraq War and never visited Iraq, and he has written two books about the Afghan War and has visited Afghanistan for forty-eight hours (a visit well milked here).

As a result, Woodward’s books do not have the whiff of cordite but the waft of stale coffee, as harried staffers pull all-nighters to write papers that the "principals" will probably never read, and meetings drone on interminably because, while everything has already been said, not everything has been said by everyone. The notoriously garrulous Joe Biden makes an intervention at one National Security Council discussion of Afghanistan that a backbencher clocks at twenty-one minutes.

To read the rest of this article, visit TheNewRepublic.com, where this was originally published.

Peter Bergen, the editor of the AfPak Channel, is a senior fellow at the New America Foundation and at New York University’s Center on Law and Security, and the author of the forthcoming The Longest War: The Enduring Conflict Between America and Al-Qaeda. He is a national security analyst for CNN.

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