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Obama, an Afghanistan war exit plan, and getting 'rolled'

Excerpts from a new Bob Woodward book on the Obama administration's debates over the Afghanistan war reveal a president deeply leery of open-ended commitment – and a military pushing for more control over war policy.

By Staff writer / September 22, 2010

A US Army Chinook helicopter from the 101st Airborne Division transports US infantrymen from one position to another in Zhari District, southern Afghanistan on Sept.15.

Brennan Linsley/AP

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Bob Woodward's new book on the battle within the Obama administration over commitment to the Afghanistan war, objectives, and exit strategy promises to be awkward for the president and his party as midterm elections in November get closer.

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Excerpts published in the Washington Post this morning show Gen. David Petraeus demonstrating the kind of contempt for his civilian bosses that cost former chief of the Afghan war, Gen. Stanley McChrystal, his job. It shows a President Obama deeply leery of an open-ended commitment to war in a country referred to since the 19th century as the graveyard of empires.

Excerpts also show a military establishment pushing for more control over war policy, with senior officers favoring a long-term commitment to a population-centered counterinsurgency strategy, rather than a mission more narrowly focused on Al Qaeda.

IN PICTURES: US soldiers in Afghanistan

What's new?

Little in the substance of this is new. Obama's desire for a withdrawal timeline and a limit on the blood and treasure to be spent in Afghanistan, as well as historical evidence that points to the difficulty of getting a counterinsurgency strategy to work in Afghanistan, have been discussed in the press since at least last summer.

But Mr. Woodward's book does frame the extent to which strategy disagreements between the civilian leadership and the military brass approached open warfare. And it demonstrates that Obama appears to have more in common with the pre-9/11 Republican Party than he does with the liberal interventionist wing of the Democratic Party.

The book focuses on the strategy review last winter that led to an ongoing surge of about 30,000 troops in the country. It makes the case that Obama effectively overruled his own general's demands for more troops and more time by penning a six-page "term sheet" – a sort of work order – that placed limits on what the military can do in-country and made it clear that all steps should be in the direction of troop drawdowns, not more surges, starting in 2011.

Lobbying for counterinsurgency

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