The White House on Wednesday seized on a new expose of President Barack Obama's Afghan war deliberations by ace reporter Bob Woodward, saying it proved he was a thoughtful, decisive leader.
The Washington Post legend's past blockbusters have often wounded presidents, with their inside-the-room details of political infighting, indecision on the part of the commander-in-chief and West Wing turf wars.
Though it will not be in bookstores until Monday, excerpts published in major newspapers helped generate considerable buzz in Washington and across the blogosphere and could fuel skepticism among lawmakers who control military funding.
The White House did not dispute Woodward's account but played down the internal rifts he details, and insisted that when the book is read as a whole Obama comes across as a decisive, analytical leader in last year's policy review.
"The president shepherded through a process. It was thoughtful and deliberate," Obama spokesman Robert Gibbs said. "There was also a robust discussion about how important it was and in our national interest not to become involved in something in Afghanistan that was unlimited or open-ended."
"I hope people read the book. It is in our national interest, as I said a minute ago, to ensure that ... if we have a way in, we have a way out," White House spokesman Robert Gibbs said as Obama flew to New York for UN meetings.
I hope people read the book. It is in our national interest, as I said a minute ago, to ensure that ... if we have a way in, we have a way out
White House spokesman Robert Gibbs
It can’t work
The excerpts suggested that Obama, frustrated with the Pentagon as he sought to stop the war consuming his young presidency, dictated his own new six-page strategy.
Richard Holbrooke, Obama's Afghanistan envoy, is quoted as saying of the president's strategy, "It can't work." Lieutenant General Douglas Lute, White House adviser on the war, is said to have believed the outcome of the review did not "add up."
Asked about those doubts, a senior administration official said, "Everybody on the president's team signed off on the Afghan strategy, and is focused on implementing it."
Marine Colonel David Lapan, a Pentagon spokesman, said: "The department is fully focused on the mission at hand in Afghanistan and implementing the president's strategy there."
Woodward reports that the administration was besieged by warnings of possible terror attacks on U.S. soil and reveals the CIA established a covert army in Afghanistan to hunt and kill Taliban fighters.
Renowned for deep examinations
Half of the reporting team that brought down president Richard Nixon over Watergate, Woodward is renowned for deep examinations of successive administrations, which can set media and public perceptions of a new president.
His account is based on a lifetime of contacts in Washington's political and national security establishment and includes interviews with administration heavy hitters, including Obama.
Senior officials Wednesday were already seeking to shape the narrative provoked by the book, saying it portrayed Obama as shrewd and strong leader.
"The president comes across in the book ... as a commander in chief who is analytical, strategic, and decisive, with a broad and clear-eyed view of our national security and his role as president," a senior official told AFP.
"It shines a light on his strong leadership and his commitment to finding the right strategy in Afghanistan," the official said on condition of anonymity.
The Washington Post and New York Times obtained copies of the new book just six weeks before crucial mid-term elections in which Democrats fear heavy losses -- in a referendum on Obama's 20 months in the White House.
Woodward reports Obama flatly rejected any prolonged U.S. nation building effort, and was determined to send a signal to the American people along those lines, even as he surged 30,000 extra troops to Afghanistan.
"I'm not doing 10 years," he told Defense Secretary Robert Gates and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in a late October 2009 meeting, Woodward writes, according to the Post.
When Obama announced the surge in December, he also made clear that American soldiers would begin coming home in July 2011, a timeline that has caused intense public debate ever since.
The book appears to reveal internal fissures, distrust and infighting among the White House national security team as it debated every aspect of the Afghanistan war, a conflict which may define Obama's entire presidency.
The president rejected a Pentagon request for 40,000 troops, Woodward said, chronicling Obama's meetings with Gates and Clinton in the months leading up to his December announcement.
The New York Times reported that the famously cool-headed Obama at times lost his composure as pressure built to make a decision.
"I'm done doing this!" he exploded at one point, the Times reported.
The book describes the sometimes pointed and personal tone of the debate among the sparring factions within the administration.
Vice President Joe Biden was quoted as calling senior State Department Pakistan and Afghanistan envoy Richard Holbrooke as the "most egotistical bastard I've ever met."
Meanwhile, war commander General David Petraeus, hailed for his successful Iraq strategy, reportedly felt shut out by the new administration.
He reportedly told an aide that he considered the president's senior adviser David Axelrod to be "a complete spin doctor."
The president comes across in the book ... as a commander in chief who is analytical, strategic, and decisive
A senior US official