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File ‘Obama’s Wars’ Somewhere ‘Between Fiction And Nonfiction’

Ambassador Karl Eikenberry: "Don't believe everything you read."
Ambassador Karl Eikenberry: "Don't believe everything you read."
When it was released in September, “Obama’s Wars,” "Washington Post" writer Bob Woodward’s latest insider account of high politics in Washington, made waves. Some saw the book as a sign of an administration divided -- unable to make a firm decision on what to do next in Afghanistan. Others thought the account showed the president and his advisers as deliberative and responsible, ultimately working toward what was clearly a series of difficult conclusions.

Retired General Karl Eikenberry, Washington’s ambassador to Afghanistan, was a central player in the debate. According to the book, Eikenberry repeatedly expressed doubts about whether any form of success was possible in Afghanistan, telling Obama, “Basically, we’re screwed.”

Eikenberry’s biggest concern, according to Woodward’s account, was whether Afghan President Hamid Karzai was a reliable partner for the United States, going so far as to question Karzai’s mental health.

In what is now an infamous passage from the book, Woodward quotes Eikenberry in a discussion about Karzai -- who, according to the book, has been diagnosed as a manic depressive -- as saying, “He’s on his meds, he’s off his meds.”

I caught up with Eikenberry on the sidelines of the NATO summit in Lisbon, where he told me that perhaps people should not believe everything they read.

“I heard one individual say that if you’re looking for that book in a book store, you find the stand that’s somewhere between the ‘fiction’ section and the ‘nonfiction’ section,” he said.

He continued, “There’s all kinds of quotes in there that are not footnoted. There’s no attribution at all. I’d like to say that on a personal basis.”

The ambassador went on to praise the decision-making process recounted in “Obama’s Wars,” telling me that Obama led the deliberations “brilliantly.” He continued, “President Obama encouraged different opinions to be brought to the table, and he established a climate in which everyone felt free to give their own views.”

Afghanistan is a complex and evolving situation, difficult for any single individual to pin down, irrespective of how good his or her sources may be. There are now 48 members in the NATO-led international Security Assistance Force (ISAF), which has 130,000 troops in the country. The Taliban and Al-Qaeda and other Islamic jihadists who fight against ISAF forces have vast nonstate networks from across the Islamic world -- from the Maghreb to Indonesia. This war is no longer limited to Afghanistan’s borders on the map and involves countries in South Asia, Central Asia, and Arabia.

Woodward’s book, whether all of it is factual or not, provides a good window to how the struggle is seen and debated in Washington.

- Abubakar Siddique