Bob Woodward, Obama’s Wars, and the Perspective of History
Bob Woodward’s new book, entitled “Obama’s Wars,” will be released next Monday. The book covers the Obama administration’s decision-making process about troop levels in Afghanistan and details the internal squabbles among administration figures and military leaders.
Most of the juicy bits seem to be about these personality clashes, and in that context, it’s worth digging up this old gem from Joan Didion’s 1996 review of Woodward’s work:
…Mr. Woodward describes his role, “to sit with many of the candidates and key players and ask about the questions of the day as the campaign unfolded.” What seems most remarkable in this new Woodward book is exactly what seemed remarkable in the previous Woodward books, each of which was presented as the insiders’ inside story and each of which went on to become a number-one bestseller: these are books in which measurable cerebral activity is virtually absent. The author himself disclaims “the perspective of history.” His preferred approach has been one in which “issues could be examined before the possible outcome or meaning was at all clear or the possible consequences were weighed.”
Woodward, of course, does care about writing about issues that in his judgment will one day have historical import. As he told Charlie Rose in 2009:
The first nine months of the Bush administration I spent working on Bush’s tax cut, thinking that would be the center of gravity. Of course, I was dead wrong, and I still have boxes of interviews and notes if you run into anyone who wants to write a book about the Bush tax cut. It’s there. I worked for months on it thinking it was important. Of course, it’s important but compared to 9/11, which still defines our times, and the problems Obama has, the Bush tax cuts is probably not going to go in the history books.
Actually, with the “the perspective of history” (and the current debate on extending those tax cuts), those boxes of notes might be interesting. Any takers?