Before I get into my review, I’m going to warn you that it’s not, strictly speaking, my thing. My cousin reviews books and authors a lot on her blog, but she is pursuing her MFA in creative fiction from Fairfield University and knows the technical components which distinguish a good book from a pile of dung with a dust jacket. Alas, she is not writing this review, I am. I apologize in advance.
The first thing that becomes clear when you start reading Obama’s Wars, Bob Woodward’s latest foray inside the Oval Office, is that there was a lot of cooperation from the administration. An exposé this is not. President Obama even sat for an on the record interview with Woodward. Quotes from that interview, which appears to have been conducted at the end of this process, are interspersed throughout the book. This is also not a light read by any stretch of the imagination. It’s packed with facts and figures. At 380 pages (hardcover version) I figured it would take me a day or so to read – it took five and then another day to review it. I liked it, but I like policy stuff. If you’re looking for suspense and fast-paced action, pick up some Tom Clancy. If you’re looking for some insight as to how military actions are decided upon in the Obama White House, this is the book for you.
This book is not going to make you like or hate any of the people in it if you don’t already but it does bring them down from their senior staff pedestals and humanizes them all a bit – some more than others. It also shows some people in a manner they aren’t usually seen. Joe Biden, the goofy, gaffe-prone Vice President comes across as a lot smarter than he’s usually given credit for being. General Petraeus, in addition to being an exemplary military man, is also quite the politician and knows how to get his friends in the Senate to make his case when he can’t. The mistakes made in Vietnam are never far from any of their minds and neither is politics – either the 2008 presidential race or the 2010 mid-terms. It’s omnipresent. The book also casts a harsh light on the situation in Afghanistan – just how bad things were over there, how much of the problem is in Pakistan, and the problems we face with our allies in those two countries. If you take one thing away from Obama’s Wars, it is that essentially “pausing” the conflict in Afghan was a huge mistake that left us in a very bad way.
I liked the book, but I’m a bit of a policy geek – well, I’m actually just a bit of a geek in general. If you to know what went on in the Situation Room that lead to 30,000 troops being sent to Afghanistan, it’s right here. It’s not action-packed, but it is what happened.