Bob Woodward's new book, Obama's Wars, has so many telling and compelling anecdotes. So many freshly reported vignettes that shed new and revealing light on senior-level policy-makers and U.S. wartime decision-making.
For this reason, Obama's Wars is an important book that surely will be a touchstone in the ongoing political and historical assessments, yet to be written, of the Obama presidency and the war in Afghanistan.
Wall Street Journal scribe Max Boot dissents. Woodward, he complains "tosses out facts seemingly at random, with no context or analysis."
This is true, but Boot misses the point. Woodward has never pretended to be an analyst. He's a reporter, and a superb one at that. The mass of facts, details and first-hand accounting that he provides all empower us, his readers, to conduct our own analysis.
But Boot nails Woodward with some well-deserved and amusing hits. He merrily exposes, for instance, Woodward's false conceit to have visited the Afghan front lines.
While chronicling the Obama administration's Afghanistan policy, Mr. Woodward apparently visited Afghanistan only once, traveling with Mr. Jones. His description of the trip is inadvertently hilarious and revealing. He recounts flying "into the heart of the Taliban insurgency in Helmand province."
Here, he proclaims, "was the war without the filter of a Situation Room briefing. The cool evening air hit my face as the plane's rear loading ramp was lowered.… All that was missing was the haunting and elegiac theme music from Oliver Stone's movie Platoon." The experience, he continues, is "exhilarating and frightening."
The camp is "supposedly safe from sniper and mortar fire," but when he makes a midnight head call, he is decidedly nervous, "anticipating a random shot."
You would think that Battlefield Bob had bivouacked in a foxhole a few hundred yards from an enemy position.
Actually he is in Camp Leatherneck, a giant Marine base (1,500 acres of housing, 10,000 personnel) in the middle of nowhere. The greatest danger at Leatherneck is overeating in the chow hall. That Mr. Woodward makes it seem like a frontline position is indicative of how far removed he is from the war.
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