THE WAR WITHIN: A Secret White House History, 2006-2008
By Bob Woodward. Simon & Schuster. 487 pages. $32.
The Washington Post's Bob Woodward specializes in reporting how the sausage gets made in the nation's capital, and as you might guess, it's not a pretty picture.
“The War Within” brings to a close his long-winded, four-volume chronicle of how after 9-11 the Bush administration launched first the war in Afghanistan, then the war in Iraq. By 2006, as the bodies piled up throughout Iraq, administration officials grudgingly admitted the wheels had come off the wagon. What to do about a losing war precipitated an internal fight pitting those who favored drawing down U.S. troop levels against an emerging view that favored the opposite: more American troops.
We know who won that fight. The surge, as it came to be called, sent 20,000 additional soldiers and Marines to Iraq with the mission of bolstering basic security in the hope of creating conditions for real political reconciliation among that country's warring factions. The book ends more or less at the present moment, with security gains indisputable but, in the words of surge proponent Gen. David Petraeus, “fragile and reversible.”
At bottom, Woodward isn't interested in passing judgment on the surge, although he clearly believes the dire situation in 2006 called for a dramatic change in direction. Rather, he's interested in the process, in how grave decisions get made in the highest circles of government. -- Fritz Lanham, Houston Chronicle
THE FOREVER WAR
By Dexter Filkins. Knopf. 384 pages. $23.95.
The literature of human conflict divides itself into two schools: One – the more ancient – is bardic and celebrates war and warriors; the other is the tradition of witness, which elucidates war and records the fates of those caught up in it.
Dexter Filkins' brilliant new reportorial memoir deserves to be ranked as a classic of the latter genre and is likely to be regarded as the definitive account of how the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq were experienced by those who actually waged them.
Filkins bases his account on his years of reporting in Afghanistan and Iraq. Rather than constructing a synthetic narrative, he proceeds from one meticulously constructed vignette to another.
One strength of Filkins' account is that he refrains from political judgments, but never hesitates to express a moving human solidarity that encompasses not only his fellow Americans under arms but also the tormented people of Afghanistan and Iraq. -- Tim Rutten, Los Angeles Times