Book reveals bitter White House divisions


DIVISIONS within the US administration during an Afghanistan policy review last year that led to 30,000 more personnel being sent to the war zone and the setting of a July 2011 deadline for a withdrawal have been well reported. What is new is the level of personal acrimony that apparently accompanied that debate. In Obama's War, published on Monday (September 27) but leaked early to The New York Times, veteran reporter Bob Woodward claims that the infighting was ferocious, and punctuated by remarkably snide and bitter remarks. On one occasion General David Petraeus, the US commander in Afghanistan, is quoted as saying, in reference to Obama's administration: "You f***ed with the wrong guy." Another damaging section of the book reveals that Obama needed the withdrawal deadline for domestic political reasons, to keep the Democratic party happy. The revelations leave the president vulnerable to fresh attacks by Republicans just as Obama and the Democrats are struggling in the polls ahead of congressional mid-term elections in November.

The book also threatens to damage already strained relations between Washington and the Afghan president, Hamid Karzai, as well as with Pakistan. Yesterday the White House did not dispute Woodward's account, other than to correct a few minor points. But it stressed the extracts were selective and claimed that, when the book is read as a whole, Obama emerges as a president who is "analytical, strategic and decisive".

Among the other revelations are:

Obama's special envoy, Richard Holbrooke, is quoted saying the Afghan policy "can't work". The vice-president, Joe Biden, describes Obama's special envoy to Afghanistan, Richard Holbrooke, as "the most egotistical b*****d I've ever met".

Karzai is alleged to be suffering from manic depression and taking medication. Woodward quotes Karl Eikenberry, the US ambassador, as saying: "He's on his meds, he's off his meds."

But Abdullah Abdullah, foreign minister in Karzai's first cabinet turned opponent in last year's presidential election, said Karzai's alleged mental problems had caused problems for the country. "It has affected the situation because it affects his decision-making." In Pakistan, senior officials said Woodword's claims were out of date. "That was 2009 and this is 2010. Things have come a long way since then," said Pakistan foreign office official, Abdul Basit.

Blake Hounshell, managing editor of the Washington-based Foreign Affairs website, said the book would create enormous headaches for the White House. "If you thought the Rolling Stone article that got General Stanley McChrystal fired was damning, you ain't seen nothin' yet," he said.

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