A reader's guide to Bob Woodward's The War Within.

How to read juicy books.
Sept. 10 2008 4:19 PM

I'm the Decider—Aren't I?

Juicy bits from Bob Woodward's latest book on George W. Bush.

The War Within by Bob Woodward.

Bob Woodward's first three books on George W. Bush were national best-sellers, and it's all but certain that his newly released fourth will be the talk of your next cocktail party. The War Within details the commander in chief's backseat approach to the Iraq war. It reveals a sharp disagreement between Bush and Gen. George Casey, the commander of U.S. forces in Iraq before Gen. David Petraeus, over how to assess combat progress and suggests that many key decisions regarding the troop surge were made not by Bush but by National Security Adviser Stephen J. Hadley. Woodward also describes three factors other than the surge that have led to a drop in violence. To help you keep up with political gossip, Slate has put together a reading guide that will fast-forward you straight to the juiciest bits.

The Real Decider

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Although Bush famously described himself as "the decider," Woodward makes the case that, leading up to the surge, the real decider was National Security Adviser Stephen J. Hadley.

Page 8: Asked about his relationship with the president, Hadley told Woodward: "If I feel it, he feels it. If he feels it, I feel it." When Woodward read this bold statement to Bush in Hadley's presence, Bush agreed. "I'm watching him all the time," added Hadley. "I'm watching him watch me all the time," Bush responded. "Hadley didn't need permission to walk into the Oval Office. He could stop by or call anytime."

Page 102: By the summer of 2006, Bush was worried that the administration's strategy in Iraq wasn't working. He told Woodward during an interview that "the fix-it was Stephen J. Hadley. … Look, here's the thing. Hadley knows me well enough that we don't need a major seminar to figure out that we got to do something different. So he starts a very thorough process and keeps me posted."

Page 177: In October of 2006, Hadley proposed starting "an informal internal review" with a small group of NSC staff to get the war back on track. Bush gave him carte blanche. "Do it," the president said. Later, Bush tells Woodward: "Let's just cut to the chase here. Hadley drove a lot of this. Why? Because I trust he and his team a lot."

Pages 320-321: Bush told Woodward he should write a book about Hadley: "[I]t ought to be 'The Life and Times of Stephen J. Hadley, Great American Patriot.' … When you've got a complex problem to describe on major national security issues, unleash Hadley. That ought to be the book: 'Unleash Hadley.' "

Page 27:Bush trusted Hadley in part because the feeling was mutual. "The guy's a real visionary," Hadley told Woodward. "He defies the conventional wisdom by his boldness. He's unapologetic. He sits there and reaffirms it, and clearly relishes it. And, you know, it traumatizes people. And they think, 'What's he doing … this cowboy?' … [But] those of us who are here [in the White House] believe in him. Believe in him and believe he has greatness in him."

Bush and Gen. Casey

Although Bush always backed Gen. George Casey in public, Woodward argues that each man mistrusted the other.

Page 4: Casey once told a colleague in private that Bush reflected the "radical wing of the Republican Party that kept saying, 'Kill the bastards! Kill the bastards! And you'll succeed.' "

Page 6: Bush infuriated Casey by suggesting he wasn't doing enough militarily. "George, we're not playing for a tie," Bush once told Casey. "I want to make sure we all understand this, don't we?" Casey later summarized Bush's approach as: "If you're not out there hooking and jabbing with American forces every day, you're not fighting the right fight."

Page 13: In interviews with Woodward, Bush lent credence to Casey's concerns: "What frustrated me is that from my perspective, it looked like we were taking casualties without fighting back because our commanders are loath to talk about our battlefield victories." He'd ask about kills and captures to "find out whether or not we're fighting back. Because the perception is that our guys are dying and [the insurgents are] not. Because we don't put out our numbers. We don't have a tally. … [I]f I'm sitting here watching the casualties come in, I'd at least like to know whether or not our soldiers are fighting."