President Bush delivered a back-channel message of personal support to Gen. David Petraeus when the commander of U.S. forces in Iraq felt undermined late in 2007 by a lack of support from the Pentagon, State Department and his own military superiors, a new book says.
Gen. Petraeus believed any further troop reductions in Iraq should be contingent on reductions in violence. But he was under intense pressure from those above him to reduce the U.S. troop presence as soon as possible, according to “The War Within: A Secret White House History,” by Bob Woodward.
President Bush supported Gen. Petraeus, but did it through a back channel, without telling almost anyone.
Mr. Bush went outside the chain of command and delivered a message of support to Gen. Petraeus through a retired Army officer, Gen. Jack Keane.
“I waited over three years for a successful strategy. And I’m not giving up on it prematurely,” Mr. Bush said, in a message relayed by Gen. Keane to Gen. Petraeus, just after Gen. Petraeus’ two days of testimony on Sept. 11 and 12, 2007.
“I want Dave to know that I want him to win He will have as much force as he needs for as long as he needs it.”
Gen. Petraeus, after hearing this from Gen. Keane, said, “I wish he’d tell [Central Command] and the Pentagon that.”
The book opens a window onto the remarkable role played by Gen. Keane, who has been a key behind- the-scenes liason between Gen. Petraeus and the White House, according to Mr. Woodward’s book.
Gen. Keane was a public proponent of the surge in late 2006, but around that time also began to meet with top administration officials. He eventually held a series of private meetings with Mr. Cheney, a few of which included the president.
At an Aug. 18 meeting with Mr. Cheney at the vice president’s residence in Northwest Washington, Gen. Keane said that Gen. Petraeus had “an unsupportive chain of command for the first time in his career, when he has the most critical job he’s ever had and ever will have.”
“The impact of that is stunning for him,” Gen. Keane told Mr. Cheney.
Gen. Keane said that Secretary of Defense Robert Gates was not doing enough with his “enormous credibility” to build support among lawmakers on Capitol Hill for Gen. Petraeus and Ambassador Ryan Crocker, who also testified with Gen. Petraeus.
The Joint Chiefs of Staff, Gen. Keane said, were “more concerned about breaking the Army and Marine Corps than winning the war,” and Admiral William Fallon, who was head of Central Command, had “bought into all the political concerns in Washington.”
Adm. Fallon said he recommended to Mr. Gates that Gen. Petraeus be replaced that fall, because of the strain on him after three tours over five years in Iraq, though Mr. Gates disputed that story, the book says.
Adm. Fallon thought Gen. Petraeus might suffer the same fate as former military commanders, such as Adm. John S. McCain, the grandfather of current presidential nominee John McCain. Adm. McCain weighed 100 pounds at the end of World War II and died of a heart attack days after returning home.
Gen. Keane, on the other hand, told Gen. Petraeus that he had entered the select pantheon of famous U.S. generals, in the model of Gen. Dwight Eisenhower.
“We haven’t had a general like you in a long time,” Gen. Keane said, telling him there were only two posts in the military that he should accept after his tour in Iraq: head of CentCom or Chairman of the Joint Chiefs.
Other than that, Gen. Keane hinted, there was a possible future in politics.
Gen. Petraeus will hand over control of the U.S. military operation in Iraq on Sept. 16 to Gen. Raymond Odierno, and take control of CentCom. He has said he has no political plans.
“The War Within” is Mr. Woodward’s fourth book on the Bush White House and its response to the terrorist attacks on Sept. 11, 2001. It is the reporter’s 14th book in 36 years since helping uncover the Watergate scandal inside the Nixon administration.
The book tells the story of how the Bush administration decided to send a “surge” of 30,000 more troops into Iraq during the spring of 2007, after violence in 2006 spiraled out of control.
The book credits National Security Advisor Stephen Hadley with driving a secret strategy review process in late 2006, though Mr. Woodward faults Mr. Bush for being too disengaged from the process.
Mr. Woodward also says that Mr. Hadley was too often a “cheerleader for [Mr. Bush’s] greatness,” and that he failed, prior to the 2006 strategy review, to implement a thorough, deliberate policy-making process, instead relying too heavily on the president’s instincts.
Mr. Hadley on Friday issued a response to Mr. Woodward’s book, saying that the president was not “detached” from the review process, but instead “drove the process to conclusion and made a tough decision.”
Violence in Iraq has declined dramatically since the surge, and political progress among competing Iraqi factions, while moving at a much slower pace, has occurred.
Mr. Woodward’s book argues that reductions in violence are due in part to the surge, but that three other factors have been as or more important.
First, the U.S. military has used new, highly classified and advanced techniques to kill or capture insurgent leaders. Second, in fall 2006 Sunni sheiks west of Baghdad chose to side with the U.S. against Al Qaeda.
And third, in August 2007, powerful Shiite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr suspended the activities of his militia.
Mr. Hadley also debated this point.
“It was the President’s decision in January 2007 to ‘surge’ an additional 30,000 troops into Iraq that ‘enabled’ the other three factors,” Mr. Hadley said.
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