- The Washington Times - Tuesday, September 9, 2008

President Bush delivered a back-channel message of personal support to Gen. David H. Petraeus when the commander of U.S. forces in Iraq felt undermined late in 2007 by a lack of support from the Pentagon, the State Department and his own military superiors, a new book says.

Gen. Petraeus, as he prepared for a pivotal round of congressional testimony, was convinced that any troop reductions in Iraq should be contingent on reductions in violence. However, he was under intense pressure from many in the Bush administration to reduce the U.S. troop presence as soon as possible, according to “The War Within: A Secret White House History,” by Bob Woodward, which went on sale Monday.

Mr. Bush supported Gen. Petraeus but did it without telling his secretary of defense or even his national security adviser, the book says.

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, it adds.

“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 his 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 [U.S. 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 liaison between Gen. Petraeus and the White House, according to Mr. Woodward.

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 Vice President Dick Cheney, a few of which included the president.

Gen. Keane’s involvement in driving policy was noticed by Gen. George Casey, who was Gen. Petraeus’ predecessor from June 2004 to February 2007 and then took over as Army chief of staff.

In the summer of 2007, Gen. Casey went to Walter Reed Army Medical Center for a routine physical and encountered Gen. Keane standing in line at the radiology desk, the book says.

“We feel - the chiefs feel - that you are way too out in front advocating a policy for which you’re not accountable,” Gen. Casey told Gen. Keane. “We’re accountable. You’re not accountable, Jack. And that’s a problem.”

Gen. Keane had advocated for Gen. Casey’s removal from Iraq as far back as September 2006 in a meeting with then-Secretary of Defense Donald H. Rumsfeld.

“We have to put somebody in charge who knows what he’s doing,” the book says Gen. Keane told Mr. Rumsfeld, who himself would be asked to resign in November.

At an Aug. 18 meeting with Mr. Cheney at the vice president’s residence in Northwest Washington, Gen. Keane said 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 Secretary of Defense Robert M. Gates was not doing enough with his contacts on Capitol Hill to enlist support among elected officials for Gen. Petraeus and Ambassador Ryan Crocker, who also testified with Gen. Petraeus before Congress.

The Joint Chiefs of Staff, Gen. Keane said, were “more concerned about breaking the Army and Marine Corps than winning the war,” and Adm. 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 in Iraq over five years, 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 Sen. 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 D. Eisenhower.

“We haven’t had a general like you in a long time,” Gen. Keane said, telling him there were just two posts in the military that he should accept after his tour in Iraq: head of Central Command 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 T. Odierno and take control of Central Command. 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 spiraled out of control in 2006.

The book credits national security adviser Stephen J. 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 Mr. Hadley was too often a “cheerleader for [Mr. Bush’s] greatness” who failed, before the 2006 strategy review, to implement a thorough, deliberate policymaking process and instead relied 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 can be credited in part to the surge but that three other factors have been as important or more so.

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.

Third, in August 2007, powerful Shi’ite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr suspended the activities of his militia.

Mr. Hadley also contested Mr. Woodward’s conclusion on 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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