President Barack Obama urgently looked for a way out of the war in Afghanistan last year, repeatedly pressing his top military advisers for an exit plan that they never gave him, according to secret meeting notes and documents cited in a new book by journalist Bob Woodward.
Frustrated with his military commanders for consistently offering only options that required significantly more troops, Obama finally crafted his own strategy, dictating a classified six-page “terms sheet” that sought to limit US involvement, Woodward reports in Obama's Wars, to be released on Monday.
According to Woodward's meeting-by-meeting, memo-by-memo account of the 2009 Afghan strategy review, the president avoided talk of victory as he described his objectives.
“This needs to be a plan about how we're going to hand it off and get out of Afghanistan,” Obama is quoted as telling White House aides as he laid out his reasons for adding 30,000 troops in a short-term escalation. “Everything we're doing has to be focused on how we're going to get to the point where we can reduce our footprint.”
Obama rejected the military's request for 40,000 troops as part of an expansive mission that had no foreseeable end. “I'm not doing 10 years,” he told Secretary of Defense Robert M. Gates and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. “I'm not doing long-term nation-building. I am not spending a trillion dollars.”
Obama is shown at odds with his uniformed military commanders, particularly Adm. Mike Mullen, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and Gen. David H. Petraeus, head of US Central Command during the 2009 strategy review and now the top US and NATO commander in Afghanistan.
Woodward reveals their conflicts through detailed accounts of two dozen closed-door secret strategy sessions and nearly 40 private conversations between Obama and Cabinet officers, key aides and intelligence officials.
Gates was once tempted to walk out of an Oval Office meeting after being offended by comments made by deputy national security adviser Thomas E. Donilon about a general not named in the book.
Suspicion lingered among some from the 2008 presidential campaign as well. When Obama floated the idea of naming Clinton to a high-profile post, the president's senior adviser David Axelrod asked him, “How could you trust Hillary?”
( In exclusive partnership with The Washington Post. For additional content, visit www.washingtonpost.com )