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Bob Woodward's tough takes on David Axelrod, Rahm Emanuel in "Obama's Wars"

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WASHINGTON -- White House senior adviser David Axelrod receives rough treatment in Bob Woodward's new book, Obama's Wars -- Gen. David Petraeus calls him a "spin doctor."

Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel emerges as a central character, deeply involved in national security policy. It is Emanuel who coolly informs Axelrod that there are contingency plans in place in case the January 2009 inauguration had to be canceled because of a threat of a terrorist attack by a group of Somali extremists.

The focus of the Woodward book is on how the Obama White House grappled with decisions dealing with the Afghanistan war, Pakistan and the often secret fight against terrorism.

The book is populated with men -- Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton is the only female of note in the 33 chapters -- who advised Obama and competed for his attention. Axelrod and Emanuel are portrayed as being concerned that the military was trying to push Obama into decisions.

The opening scene is in Chicago. It's Nov. 6, 2008, two days after the election in Obama's transition headquarters in the Kluczynski Federal Building in the Loop. Obama gets his first intelligence briefing as president-elect -- in what Woodward describes as a windowless, sound-proof "Sensitive Compartmented Information Facility" somewhere in the structure.

Woodward also relates how:

• Obama pressured Emanuel into taking the chief of staff job. "Rahm, you have to do this," Woodward quotes Obama as saying. (Obama told Woodward he would not confirm any quotes.) Emanuel "understood he could be a kind of a deputy president in the right circumstances."

• Axelrod had reservations about Obama appointing former rival Hillary Clinton as secretary of state, asking, "How could you trust Hillary?"

• Obama had a steep learning curve about the military. He "possibly knew as little about it as any major presidential candidate in years."

John Podesta -- who served as Obama's transition chief -- had this assessment of the president, according to Woodward: "He was unsentimental and capable of being ruthless. Podesta was not sure Obama felt anything, especially in his gut. He intellectualized and then charted the path forward, essentially picking up the emotions of others and translating them into ideas."

• Obama was "somewhat astonished and distracted" when he greeted then Director of National Intelligence Michael McConnell and CIA Chief Michael Hayden on Dec. 9, 2009 -- the day Rod Blagojevich was taken into custody. "They just arrested the governor for trying to sell my seat," Obama said.

• Hayden was dismayed when he read an online report in the Washington Post that he was being replaced. "Rahm Emanuel's goombah," he said in disgust.

• Emanuel was "astounded" that no one knew where Osama bin Laden was, what with $50 billion spent on intelligence. "What do you mean you don't know where he is ... you don't have a clue where the most wanted man in the history of the world is?"

• National Security Adviser James Jones called Emanuel, Axelrod, press secretary Robert Gibbs and two others "the water bugs," the "Politburo," the "Mafia" or the "campaign set."

"They flit around," Jones is quoted as saying. "Rahm gets an idea at 10 a.m. and wants a briefing by 4 p.m. and I will say no because the work can't be done in a day. The water bugs do not understand war or foreign relations," Jones felt.

Jones also called Emanuel out for essentially invoking Obama to get his way: Jones is quoted saying about Emanuel, "You have enough juice to say it on your own" and that in the military, a No. 2 "is not supposed to use the boss as cover for his orders. He is supposed to establish enough authority to issue orders on his own."

• Axelrod was on a conference call with Petraeus shaping what the general would say on a Sunday show. The suggestions, Woodward wrote, "were often unsophisticated and political. Petraeus told one of his senior aides he disliked talking with Axelrod, whom he called "a complete spin doctor."

1 Comment

Bill, your interview of woodward was a sleepy hollow no load on your face nothing to report about the man in our oval office.

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Lynn Sweet

Lynn Sweet is a columnist and the Washington Bureau Chief for the Chicago Sun-Times.

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This page contains a single entry by Lynn Sweet published on September 28, 2010 7:59 AM.

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