You are using an outdated browser.
Please upgrade your browser
and improve your visit to our site.
Skip Navigation

Speed Reading 'the War Within': The Book's Main Point

It's possible to skip the interminable first section of Bob Woodward's book and peek at a two-page summary of his conclusions about the war on pp. 320-21. Reading these pages is a bit like watching the end of The Usual Suspects: Having fed you scene after grim scene of Casey, Petraeus, Rumsfeld, and company batting back and forth questions like "what are our goals in Iraq?" and "can we even define success?" Woodward reveals that it was Hadley, the unassuming guy right there next to Bush, who was deftly maneuvering everyone toward the surge all along:

For at least seven months during 2006, President Bush had known that the existing strategy in Iraq was not working. ... But somehow he set no deadlines, demanded no hurry, avoided any direct confrontation with Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld, General Pace or General Casey about the need for change.

The fear of a "hothouse" news story that would expose the administration's secret deliberations before the 2006 congressional elections delayed a serious strategy review. U.S. military planners were not brought directly into the review until after the election. Rumsfeld had made his resignation contingent on a political event rather than on the war itself--he would resign if the Republicans lost control of either the House or the Senate.

The president delegated the responsibility for finding a new strategy to Steve Hadley, his national security adviser, according to my reporting and the president's own words. The national security adviser is an appointed staff position in the White House that requires no Senate confirmation. The president can choose anyone to fill it, and he had chosen Hadley.

He kept hammering home the point about Hadley's key role. "See," he said, "you've got to understand Steve. I'm telling you, he drove a lot of this, you want to get it right in the book."

We discussed how many of his key staffers in Iraq--Rice, Gates and Hadley--had worked together in previous Republican administrations. I joked that I might someday write a book about people who never leave Washington, like Hadley. "No," the president said, "it ought to be 'The Life and Times of Stephen J. Hadley, Great American Patriot.'"


"Hard worker," the president said. "Clear thinker. Organized mind."

"And likes to be Mr. Invisible," I said.

"Does he ever," the president said. "When you've got a complex problem to describe on major national security issues, unleash Hadley." The president smiled and suggested a title for my book. "That ought to be the book: 'Unleash Hadley.'"

Bush had done exactly that. The commander in chief had handed off a war he was losing to his national security adviser.

--Barron YoungSmith