ABC's Diane Sawyer spoke with author Bob Woodward about his new book, "Obama's Wars" in an interview that first aired on "World News" on September 27, 2010. Below is a transcript of their conversation.
DIANE SAWYER, ABC NEWS: "Obama's Wars." Is President Obama going to like this book?
BOB WOODWARD, AUTHOR, "OBAMA'S WARS": Don't know. People are going to read it very differently because it's so intimate. It goes on for pages: this is exactly what he said, this is what the advisers said, this was the contradictions, this was the dilemma.
I suspect in the White House they're going to be shocked that somebody is so much into narrating their business in detail. They're used to controlling the message, this is what happened, rather than a simplified message.
SAWYER: You talked to 100 people, countless documents. You have details of some 40 meetings with the president and his advisers. Details of them.
Were people just eager to talk?
WOODWARD: I had the luxury of 18 months. And you go back and get a little piece, and then talk to other people and get a document.
Let me tell you a story. At the beginning of the project, one of the president's top advisers said to me when I said I want to do this book about the war, particularly Afghanistan, he said, "You're not going to find many Deep Throats around here." And by the end of the process, he was reading his own notes of the top-secret meetings.
SAWYER: What is your elixir? What is it – what is it you did, really, that got them to tell you these things?
WOODWARD: This is politically neutral. I'm not taking a position for or against the war or Obama. That this is really neutral inquiry.
SAWYER: Why "Obama's Wars"? Why not "Obama's Health Care"? Why not one of the other topics that will go down as with his stamp on it, his name on it?
WOODWARD: Well, the wars are going to go down with his name on it. The reason war is not like anything else -- health care, the economy -- vitally important, but we are defined as you travel around the world by our wars, who we decide to go to war with, how we wage that war. And perhaps in a more important way, I think we're defined to ourselves by who those wars are.
He also takes it seriously. He spends countless hours on it, and I think as the research here shows, it's a weight on his shoulders.
He writes a letter to the family of anyone who dies. And you can't do that week after week and not realize that this is not -- this is your choice, your war.
SAWYER: I guess there are people who think that some choices are so compelled, they're almost not choices anymore. Did he have choices when he came in? Real choices?
WOODWARD: Well, the war was going on. He promised in the campaign he was going to devote more resources to it.
But one of the things you find in looking at this meeting by meeting, memo by memo, is that the military had their idea of what they wanted to do. Forty thousand more troops last year. And they were, like I put it, five blocks of granite: Hillary Clinton; Secretary of Defense Gates; Admiral Mullen, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs; Petraeus, who was then CENTCOM commander; and then General McChrystal.
They said 40,000, and the president pushed them in this most direct way -- I want options, you promised options. And he never got them.
SAWYER: Before I go, I want to go into all of these meetings -- before we do, just a personal question. Of all the things you learned, what surprised you the most? Surprised you the most?
WOODWARD: That in many ways, this is the Obama we don't know, when at one of the meetings right before he's deciding on the strategy to send 30,000 troops, he just says, without qualification, this has to be a plan for a handoff to the Afghanis, and for us to get out of Afghanistan, there can be no wiggle room.
That is his bedrock conclusion. He wants out.
SAWYER: The meetings -- you said Obama felt -- you're writing in a general way, too, but "Obama felt disrespected and trapped, and at different times he felt that the military was maneuvering around him."
Did they think they could take a young president?
WOODWARD: Some of them might have thought that, but what happened, there's a sequence last fall in which General Petraeus goes out and gives an interview and says, well, the only plan is counterinsurgency, this is the only way to do it. Admiral Mullen, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs, says we probably need more troops. General McChrystal gives that speech in which he says no, this is the only way to do it.
So, you're the president, who's supposed to be the decider, who's supposed to have choice, and you've got these blocks of granite out there saying oh, no, you really don't have a choice. This is the way to do it. And he was not happy.
SAWYER: Do you think it was a concerted effort on their part to box him in before he had a chance to review it, to make a decision, to consider other options?
WOODWARD: No. I don't think it was a conspiracy. I think it came from conviction and belief that this is the way to do it.
And all of -- hanging over this is Vietnam, that the military wants to be independent, they want to be tough. They want to be in there saying we need more troops, we need enough troops to make sure that we are successful here.
So I think this is deeply felt. The political ramifications and the emotional ramifications for the president were stunning.
I mean, here he is, we're going to take a serious look at this, we're going to consider all options. The debate is open. There's all of these strategy sessions which I recount endlessly.
You see it's kind of the slate is blank. And before it really gets going or in the midst of it, they're out there saying oh, no, only one way.
SAWYER: Well, at one point he has, theoretically, four options, from 85,000 down to 20,000. The middle options are essentially 35 to 40,000. And he says is this an option? This is a choice?
WOODWARD: Yeah. And he's right.
They've given him small gradations. And he said, I've got 40,000 or nothing in terms of options. Then Secretary Gates gives him a secret memo saying, well, we can do a little less, but he really means we're going to postpone 5 or 10,000 until later. And literally -- I mean, think of this scene.
In the Situation Room of the White House, the president is saying, I want options, you're not giving them to me. And he says to Gates, this is unacceptable. And Gates says, you're entitled to that option. The president never got it.
SAWYER: I want just a few concrete details of the meetings which, again, are absorbing in their detail. But we now know what the Biden plan was. We now know what the vice president was doing.
You have to summarize it for me, but I gather it is maybe 20,000 troops with a concentration on counterterrorism, not counterinsurgency -- Pakistan, Pakistan, Pakistan, and maybe 20,000 troops, but not more, because that way lies mission creep and that way lies Vietnam?
WOODWARD: Precisely. And right at -- there's such a dramatic moment before the president issues these secret orders to everyone in the administration about what his decision is. And Biden -- this is Thanksgiving -- he's off in Nantucket, and he says, "I want to come back and talk to you, Mr. President." And Obama says, "No, no. Don't."
And Biden shows up anyway.
SAWYER: A surprise?
WOODWARD: A surprise visit in the portico there at the White House Sunday.
SAWYER: Waiting, lying in and wait for him.
WOODWARD: Waiting and he knows that the president might get angry. In this case, the president starts kind of smiling and laughing, because that's Biden being Biden. Of course, you tell him not to come and he comes.
And Biden says, "If you don't stick to these specific orders, we're locked into Vietnam." And the president says, "I am not going to sign on to failure. I am not going to be like those other presidents and stick with it because of my ego, my politics, my political security."
Other words, Barack Obama says, I'm not going to be Lyndon Johnson. We have to have a plan. We're getting out. We're ending this war.
SAWYER: The portrait you paint of the way they arrive at the 2011 and the exit plan reminds me of the president -- and I'm just imagining this, but lying in wait until someone says something. And Secretary Gates advances an idea, and the president locks it in, and that's 2011. And the withdrawal begins?
WOODWARD: Well, in the course of these meetings, Secretary Gates says, look, in 18 to 24 months we need to start thinning out our forces. Obama lands on that and says, OK. That means 18 months from -- this is last December -- and so we're going to begin thinning out withdrawing July 2011.
Also, Gates writes this memo saying, well, we could do less than 40,000, maybe 30, maybe 35,000, but we'll get more later. Obama just lands on that with, you know, OK, that's what we're using.
And then before Thanksgiving he calls Gates in and he says, I've decided it's 30,000. And Gates is kind of, now, wait a minute. I've got these requests for specialists, intelligence specialists, medical evacuation teams and so forth, that might be another 4,500. And Obama says, "Bob, that's it. Thirty thousand."
And he's like an auctioneer -- I have closed the bidding. I've decided.
SAWYER: Throughout, you feel this impulse to -- you feel this constant erosion of his position. He says 30,000, it's slightly adjusted. It's as if he has to watch out constantly or his 2011 date is going to be slightly eroded, his 30,000 is going to be slightly eroded.
What is that about? Is he under constant -- is the tension going on eternally between a military pushing for more and a president digging him?
WOODWARD: I think there's a natural disconnect, but I think in this case it's not been settled. He's not --- He's issued these orders, he said we're going to do it this way. Very specific.
Six pages of written orders, unprecedented. And then the military is out saying, well, we want --- we need a little bit more, or we want to do this. General Petraeus is quoted saying privately that this is a war we're going to be fighting for the rest of our lives and all of our kids' lives.
SAWYER: And it's clear in your book the president is saying, basically, what don't you understand about --
WOODWARD: About no.
SAWYER: -- about no?
WOODWARD: Yeah. And this is the situation in the fall of 2010 we were in where it's not -- there's not a direct line.
I think the president has in his head what he wants to do. One of these meetings before Thanksgiving, and there's a, there's a great line talking about Rahm Emanuel, his chief of staff. He said, "Nothing would make Rahm happier than if I said no to the 30,000," meaning within the White House political staff, there's tremendous pressure on the president to not do this.
SAWYER: He's visited on the eve of the decision again by two of his national security advisers who basically say again, you do not have to do this.
WOODWARD: There is a Saturday morning after Thanksgiving when he's essentially decided on 30,000, and it's kind of one of those meetings where he calls people who are around into the Oval Office, including General Lute, who is a sleeper figure in all of this, to say the least, somebody who is the three-star general who's in charge of Afghanistan through the National Security Council staff.
And the president opens the door and says, "What do you all think?" And one of the colonels says, "Well, you can't defy the military. You're going to have to do what they want."
General Lute then, in one of the most extraordinary interchanges in the White House I've ever heard about, says, "Mr. President, you don't have to do this," that this is not required. And "Let's look at the situation we're in right now."
SAWYER: And there are so many reasons that would worry anybody about the ability to succeed.
SAWYER: -- gambled right.
WOODWARD: He said there are four risks and said these risks are so great in terms of governing and Afghanistan and dealing with Karzai, as we now see unfolding with intense drama right now before our eyes, the issue of training the Afghan security force if they can take over, the issue of Pakistan, which is the X factor in all of this. And then international support, which is not as solid as it should be.
So, General Lute says to him, "All of these risks, they're not independent. They're cumulative. They make it worse and you move from a calculated risk to a gamble." You've got kind of one of the foremost experts saying, "You are taking a gamble, Mr. President."
Obama says, I think rather graciously, "I know that's hard for you to come in here and tell me that, but we are going to have to execute our heart out to make this work."
SAWYER: Yes. He basically says, thank you, I've decided. Done.
WOODWARD: Look, he --
SAWYER: So it's both sides?
WOODWARD: Yeah. And he --- there's a point after these meetings have been going on for about six or seven weeks where he's meeting with Gates and Secretary Clinton and General Jones, and a couple of others, and he just -- this is kind of -- you can see it's what he feels and what his conclusion is. He said, I'm not doing 10 years. I am not doing never-ending nation-building. I'm not going to spend a trillion dollars. He just --
You know, this is Obama wants exit. But he wants it with a certain kind of accommodation to the military.
SAWYER: But it seems, reading the book, how much that any of us knew -- how much firmer he is about 2011 and what that means. He has in his mind a cap? The military will not come back and ask for more? He has a cap?
WOODWARD: He has a cap. And the chairman of the Joint Chiefs, Admiral Mullen, finally told them at two of the meetings, when pressed by the president, Admiral Mullen said, "We will not come back and ask for more troops again." That's it.
SAWYER: What's the angriest he gets at the military?
WOODWARD: I think he --
SAWYER: General Petraeus. Anybody specifically? Admiral Mullen?
WOODWARD: I think he gets -- at one of the meetings, if I can quote indirectly, he just says, I'm pissed. And he is, because they keep coming back about details. And they're trying to push him in that direction, and he's pushing back.
SAWYER: However unhappy he is, his political team is not measured. You have scenes in which Rahm Emanuel and David Axelrod are going directly and complaining.
WOODWARD: And very upset about the push from the military.
SAWYER: At one point Rahym says to him, "You can't do that. The president hasn't made that decision. I didn't hear him make that decision."
WOODWARD: Yes. I mean, that's fascinating. This is day three of the administration.
They have their first NSC meeting, National Security Council meeting on Afghanistan. And the president leaves early, and General Petraeus, who is the central commander at that point, says, OK, I'm going to move on sending more troops that we've requested. Rahm Emanuel steps in like a sledgehammer and says, "General, I know you're doing your job. Thank you, but I didn't hear the president make that decision."
SAWYER: But at another point when there are complaints about General Petraeus giving a speech, and the word had gone out, "Button down, everybody," and he gave a television interview anyway, the spokesman delivers the anger to him. And what does he say?
WOODWARD: I won't quote it because it doesn't work on network news. I mean, they're -- this is Veterans Day, one of the last meetings they're having. And Petraeus is giving an interview to CNN about one of the soldiers who's been wounded who's recovered.
And Geoff Morrell, who's the Pentagon spokesman, sees this on television and he can't believe it. He goes ballistic. They had banned everyone from giving interviews. And he calls Petraeus' spokesman and calls him things I don't even want to repeat.
It turns out Petraeus' spokesman is with Petraeus, and he hands the phone to Petraeus, who then tells Geoff Morrell, "Calm down. I know how to do this. I know how to talk and not make news. Relax."
SAWYER: And they're blanking with the wrong man?
WOODWARD: Yes. And at one point -- and this is not a year ago, this is four months ago -- there's this sense that Petraeus is not included in the inner circle, is not part of the team. And they're...
SAWYER: Do they think he's going to run for president?
WOODWARD: I think some of them do. In fairness, Petraeus insists that he's not. But he's never quite there, and, in fact, they push him on some of these TV shows and Petraeus tells an aid that he thinks David Axelrod is nothing but a complete spin doctor.
And when they -- when they push him, last spring, he gets pretty angry, Petraeus does, and says they're F-ing with the wrong person.
SAWYER: A couple of quick things about this period and then we'll move on.
At one point, former Vice President Cheney comes out and says they're dithering. And while they're dithering, American lives are at stake.
As you went through this process -- this long process which was wearing for everybody on the outside, much more for those on the inside, what took so long?
Why did it take so long?
Was it too long?
WOODWARD: Well, as President Obama has said -- and he's correct about this -- the debate -- there was no request for more troops during that period. It was all going to begin this year. So it didn't delay any troops getting there.
There is a kind of ground hog quality to these meetings. At the same time, these are the real issues. And, you know, one which kind of pulses below the surface but really is what it's about is Pakistan. And in one of the meetings, President Obama says, the real cancer is in Pakistan, because that's where al Qaeda is, in the safe havens; that's where the Taliban leadership is; and the Taliban soldiers -- fighters come over from Afghanistan to Pakistan, have R&R, holiday, and then they're off back to fight and kill Americans.
And it's Leon Panetta, the CIA director, who goes to Pakistan and says, this is a crazy kind of war and literally tells the Pakistanis, we know from their intelligence, overhead and other intelligence, that the Taliban and Pakistan will load up a truck with weapons, get a bunch of fighters, go to the border, get waved through Pakistani checkpoints to go kill Americans.
SAWYER: And President Zardari, on his side, comes back with his own, what -- it's not -- I don't want to say paranoid -- but his own complete construct of what the war is about, which is India for him?
WOODWARD: And the Pakistanis. They're always concerned about India.
SAWYER: And the Pakistanis. And that the U.S. is somehow implicated in that. You're dealing -- you're dealing with everybody's suspicion about everybody else at such a level that it doesn't seem that they're talking about the -- the possibilities of strategies -- joint strategies...
WOODWARD: It's -- Leon Panetta's right, it's a crazy kind of war. Let me -- just take a, I think, one of the most revealing -- at least I've found -- moments in all of this, May 19th. Obama sends General Jones, his national security adviser, and CIA Director Panetta, to Pakistan. This is less than three weeks after the Times Square bomber almost killed hundreds or more people. And we discovered through intelligence quite conclusively that he was trained by the insurgent group called the TTP in Pakistan.
So Jones and Panetta go to Zardari, the president, the others -- leaders in Pakistan -- and they -- General Jones says to him, he says, you know, this attack in Times Square, it didn't happen, it didn't go off. But as far as we're concerned, it was successful, because we never stopped it, we didn't know about it -- American intelligence. Pakistani intelligence didn't know about it. And they roll out hair raising details about the intelligence, not only from this group, but from all the groups trying to attack in the United States.
SAWYER: When luck stops a potential terrorist, it's not the failure of -- or success for American intelligence?
WOODWARD: That's the right way to frame it, because we're supposed to know about these things, particularly given Pakistan is an ally.
SAWYER: You had a couple -- you have several big headlines about Pakistan I'd like to ask you about.
But, quickly, did President Zardari really say, in effect, you're more worried about casualties than we are – more collateral damage than we are?
WOODWARD: This has to do with the top secret drone attacks on the safe havens in Pakistan.
SAWYER: But he really...
WOODWARD: He met with the CIA director, Mike Hayden, before he left. And he said to him, you Americans are worried about collateral damage, we're not.
SAWYER: But does this mean he's not worried about his own people...
WOODWARD: That's what he said.
WOODWARD: That's what he said. And it shows a different culture and a different attitude. People in the U.S. government were quite surprised by that. At the same time, these drone attacks kill a lot of the al Qaeda leaders, the Taliban leaders. But they don't change the situation on the ground.
SAWYER: Does it hurt the American forces for you to publish that?
WOODWARD: No, I don't think so. I mean people in the government know it. And that's the attitude -- you know, the -- this is the -- my take on all of this. There are certain things I have not published that should be secret, about sources and methods and so forth. But we need to know about what's really going on and this is -- this is our war, not just Obama's war. And you've been there, to Afghanistan. You've seen the troops and the Marines and the Navy and the Air Force. And they are making an incredible sacrifice for us. They're our surrogates.
And in our business, I would argue we owe them and the public the best obtainable version of the truth about what really goes on.
SAWYER: You publish -- for the first time in this kind of detail, there is a 3,000 member CIA team, primarily Afghan people, going back and forth across the border and basically creating a whole new front -- a covert front in this war?
WOODWARD: It's one of them. This is the -- called the CTPT -- Counter-Terrorist Pursuit Teams. It's a 3,000-man army run by the CIA. This is the classic secret army. They do a lot of work in Afghanistan, but they also do cross-border operations into Pakistan, which are incredibly sensitive. I don't go into where, when, how often. I've talked with people ---
SAWYER: Did anybody know you were going to publish this?
WOODWARD: Yes. Yes.
SAWYER: Did anybody in the government come to you and say don't do that?
WOODWARD: No, they didn't. I told them I was going to publish it and they said as long as you keep the details out -- there are people in the government who also think that the public needs to know about what's going on.
SAWYER: You also tell us about RTRG -- real-time regional getaway -- a brand new kind of technological ability?
WOODWARD: Yes. The NSA, that does the eavesdropping, communication intercepts, have, over the years, developed what is called this RTRG, real-time regional gateway, where they can pick up things in a way and process literally so the second day -- it's two days after Obama was elected president, the intel people went with him and said now we're going to tell you the real secrets. And this is one of them. And it is a fantastic capability. It helped us in Iraq. It helped us everywhere, because – and I do not go into the details or the wiring diagrams of how it works. But it is one of those game changers.
SAWYER: But, again, the devil's advocate here -- isn't that one of the things you don't want your enemy to know?
WOODWARD: They know because...
SAWYER: And now it's in writing?
WOODWARD: -- because look at what we're -- we do to them. And it's -- it is an amazing -- it's one of those transforming technological breakthroughs that doesn't just have to do with intelligence gathering. In the end, it's going to have to do with about -- with civilian communications and our capacity to assimilate, you know, literally libraries of data and collate it with other libraries of data.
SAWYER: I'd love to just run through and do a few portraits, if I can, of some of the people who are so instrumental in the -- the drama in the book.
The president himself -- I want to read what you wrote about President Bush and how you compared the two of them. Here I am with my...
You wrote about former President Bush, that he was recalling. "First of all, a president has got to be the calcium in the backbone," he's saying. "If I weaken, the whole team weakens. If I'm doubtful, I can assure you, there will be a lot of doubt."
And then you go on to write, at one point, about him toward the end of your book, that "President Bush had displayed impatience, bravado, and unsettling personal certainty about his decisions. The result has too often been impulsiveness and carelessness, and perhaps most troubling, a delayed reaction to realities and advice that run counter to his gut."
WOODWARD: He told me. President Bush told me. He said, "I'm a gut player, not a textbook player. That's where I get my decisions from. And if you examine, as I did in four books, how President Bush decided and handled the Iraq War, all of the meetings were about how to do it, how to invade Iraq, not whether to do it. Barack Obama, on the other hand, is a head player. And the law professor, considering all the angles, looking at it.
People are going to -- I -- I'm, to folks, this is a -- such a detailed portrait of him. I mean we've had little portraits and spins and so forth. But this is him wrestling with probably the greatest decision a human being ever has to make.
SAWYER: Did you conclude that it was too much of a cerebral approach, too much of the professorial?
WOODWARD: I did not. It all depends on outcomes, as Karl Rove used to say. And you look at this and it turns out Barack Obama designed his own Afghan War strategy. He took a little bit from Gates, he took a little bit from Rahm Emanuel, he took a little bit from General Jones, he took a little bit here and...
SAWYER: And, again, he sits down and he writes a six page document?
WOODWARD: He dictates. He dictates.
SAWYER: He dictates a six page document...
WOODWARD: To the military.
SAWYER: Ever before done…
SAWYER: -- to your knowledge...
WOODWARD: Not that I can tell...
SAWYER: -- in American history?
WOODWARD: And, of course, in the White House, what they're saying one of the big problems in Vietnam was the orders were vague. And so make them specific in this case. Now with...
SAWYER: He also -- excuse me. But he also says that he wants every person in that room committed, on the record...
WOODWARD: He calls…
SAWYER: -- At one point he even says in writing, right?
WOODWARD: Well, he didn't ask for signed documents. But he said, I want everyone to look me in the eye and tell me they'll go along with this. And he pushes them. When he calls Admiral Mullen in, he literally says to him, now, look, I don't want you saying something different in public. You can testify to what you want, but you've got to tell me if it's going to be different here. I don't want you saying something differently internally in your own organization.
So he gets everyone to go along, but going along is not conviction. And that is part of the dilemma here for Barack Obama. He designed this. If it turns out July of next year, nine months away, things are much better in Afghanistan, it seems to be working, he's going to be a geo-strategic genius.
If it doesn't work, you've got all kinds of people -- generals, Republicans, Democrats -- who are going to say wait a minute, like Leon Panetta, his CIA director, goes to people in the White House, tells other members of the cabinet, look, when the -- a Democratic president is asked for more troops by the military, he has no choice. He has to give them. We should decide this in a week. It turns out, he never told that to Obama.
So this is Obama's war. He really became the strategist-in-chief.
SAWYER: And someone says to him, if you do this, it will become your war. He says?
WOODWARD: It already is. Even more so now, because and we know, as the news shows and as my reporting shows, the -- there are lots of things going on that are not positive.
SAWYER: Yes I mean, toward the end of the book, you talk about Marjah, which was going to be the great triumph -- a 155 square foot farm town. And it was going to be the great triumph.
WOODWARD: And it's -- literally, the people in the White House are, based on the negative news last spring, are saying well, let's do our December strategy review now, because things aren't going to change.
SAWYER: One of the things that is missing from this entire portrait is Michelle. You've written before about Laura Bush's role.
Where is Michelle Obama in all this?
WOODWARD: I don't know. And I've confessed to not cracking that code and I wish I had. That's something she can -- or somebody is going to -- you know, what's the pillow talk?
There always is, as there should be.
SAWYER: Did you glean anything about her role?
WOODWARD: She wants him home for dinner on time with her and the girls. And that the day of presidential business is set unless there is pressing business, which there often is, or a crisis.
SAWYER: Are the two people among the largest in -- in the book, for you, General Petraeus and President Obama?
SAWYER: Very different personalities.
WOODWARD: And at the height of...
SAWYER: You quote, you quote Podesta saying you compared Obama to Spock from "Star Trek." The president-elect wanted to put his own ideas to work, he was unsentimental, capable of being ruthless. He was not sure that Obama felt anything, especially in his gut. He intellectualized and then charted the path forward.
Is that admiring?
WOODWARD: Well, a president should do what he wants and should be intellectual about it, but I think that's kind of the Obama we know. So I'm not surprised at that and he -- the question – war is in part a question of will, the will to win. And the will to win needs to be conveyed. George Bush, there was no doubt. You know, bring 'em on, I'm going to, you know, take bin Laden dead or alive. He took that back, but you knew there was this will to win and crush.
SAWYER: Does this president have the will to win in Afghanistan?
WOODWARD: That's where -- that's what we don't know. And if I were to look for an overall here, then I'd give it an incomplete. It's not over at all. He's got this remarkable general, General Petraeus, who I've known since he was a major going back more than 20 years. And there's no one in the military, there's an almost an inhuman power of concentration and focus and will, if you will, on the part of Petraeus.
Now the question is, is the task too hard, does he have all the tools he needs, does he have the time? He tells people privately if he shows some measurable progress, he can put more time on the clock. You listen to Obama in this firm, you know, we need a plan, we're going to have a plan to hand off and get out of Afghanistan, there's a different view there. And so we're going to find out in the coming months and year where that lands.
SAWYER: What else about Petraeus? What would surprise us about him?
WOODWARD: That he -- he's very, as you know, with the media. He has his own message machine, which he controls. He realizes that that's important. He has this success or apparent success in Iraq with the counterinsurgency strategy, which is protect the people.
As I report in the book, he wakes up at night and worries that maybe he's the victim of his own success. And one of the questions he is asking and asking all of his people, how does the Iraq model apply to Afghanistan? Some places it does, some places it doesn't.
There's a scene in which he's written a memo, Petraeus, to the president. He hands it out and Admiral Mullen, the chairman, hasn't seen it and he passes a message to Petraeus, said, I haven't seen this. Petraeus, literally, before the president of the United States, in the situation room, Petraeus says, can I have the homework back? And they all hand it in.
And it's a discussion about how much of the reconciliation model in Iraq applies to Afghanistan, and one of the points he makes in this memo is that you need a nuanced understanding of what's going on in each tribe, in each group in Afghanistan.
And General Petraeus' favorite intelligence officer is a man named Derek Harvey, who is kind of like a homicide detective, and he put him on the case in Afghanistan with hundreds of people. And early on, Derek Harvey tells General Petraeus, we don't know what's going on, it's the blind leading the blind.
SAWYER: Well, you do paint a portrait when the president comes in of a place on pause, no strategy for Yemen, no strategy for Somalia, no real strategy for dealing with a nuclear Iran, Afghanistan adrift in mission creep. What are you saying about the Bush administration?
WOODWARD: One of the real surprises is that the Obama people found that President Bush lost his appetite for contingency planning in places Iran and some of those countries you mentioned and that they actually had to develop and expand and make all of these contingency plans more up to date.
SAWYER: And a stack of requests from the military unanswered, unfulfilled. You also -- this is just a small thing, but you talk more about the role of the Saudis than I had seen before. It approaching the Taliban in Queta, in dealing with the Iranians.
WOODWARD: There's a secret channel that the Saudis have with the Taliban, and it's not really delivered much so far.
SAWYER: Some other portraits here -- Karzai. Karzai, what they are saying about President Karzai, that's he's bipolar, that he's off his meds?
WOODWARD: This is -- see, we -- we wonder why this unreliable partner and of you go into the intelligence as I had about Karzai, it turns out he's a diagnosed manic depressive, he's on medication --
SAWYER: You believe this?
WOODWARD: The intel agencies believe it at the highest level and with the most graphic detail. And the intelligence shows that sometimes he's delusional, sometimes, as our ambassador reports to Joe Biden last spring, Karzai's on his meds, off his meds.
SAWYER: Delusional? In what sense?
WOODWARD: Well for instance, when our representatives went to Karzai in the election last year and it looked like there might have to be a runoff as required by the Afghan constitution, they told Karzai that and Karzai said this is a British-American plot against him. And it was merely -- gee, Mr. President, that's in your own constitution, and he wouldn't hear of it.
And if you look at what's going on now about him springing his aides who are arrested or under investigation. In one of these meetings, General Petraeus says, the Karzai government is a criminal syndicate.
SAWYER: Is he talking about the Karzai government or talking about the constellation of Taliban to corruption to the whole thing?
WOODWARD: Well, it's all connected. That's the problem.
SAWYER: So what does this say about the future and dealing with Karzai?
WOODWARD: Well this is one of General Lute's four risks, how do we govern. Not good news.
SAWYER: Secretary Clinton -- what did you learn about her role?
WOODWARD: Well, first of all, David Axelrod, the president's key adviser, when the president said I'm thinking of Hillary for a cabinet post, asked, how can you trust Hillary? And Obama, then president-elect, said, no I know how she'll be loyal, I'll be able to use her, this is important.
But again, it's one of those unsettled relationships. She never -- in the political White House, they look at her and they remember the bloody campaign of 2008 and --
SAWYER: Shame on you.
WOODWARD: Yes, when she said, shame on you, Barack Obama. And, you know, that's politics and you don't forget. To the president's credit, he's used her as secretary of state.
But when she says things at meetings, for instance, at one of the meetings she said, well, you, Mr. President, have a hard decision. And on the back bench, people like Press Secretary Gibbs just go, see, she's putting it all on the president, she's not being a team player. And so there are suspicions that linger.
SAWYER: And she was allied with the military straight through.
WOODWARD: She and -- and out of conviction. But she believed that we needed to send 40,000 troops, we needed to do what the military wanted and there was no give on her part. So the president and the White House team looked at this, you've got Hillary, you've got Gates, you've got the entire uniform military establishment saying you've got to do it this way, where's the choice.
SAWYER: It was interesting that Chelsea, her daughter Chelsea, wanted her to take this job; her husband was less certain, and she worried aloud about him.
WOODWARD: Sure. And she -- you know, tough decision, but for her own purposes and for the purposes of the Obama administration, it made sense. It's pointed out in a very interesting way that this rounds out her resume to run for president someday and if she ran in 2016, she'd be younger than Ronald Reagan when he was elected.
So, you know, women live longer, avoid health problems more than men, don't rule her out. And you look at this and look at her travels around the world, the world leaders, the public in all of these countries, they look at her as a possible future president.
SAWYER: You think she'll do what you got-- ?
WOODWARD: She says no, but come on, who -- you know, the list would run longer than our arms of people who said no and then did.
SAWYER: General Jones, National Security Adviser General Jones, he is there in the White House to be the president's first call on national security issues. It's a stunning story you tell of the way he feels about the political team -- Rahm Emanuel, David Axelrod and also some of the members of his own staff -- that they are water bugs cutting off his access. He treats them -- he feels they're a kind of a mafia ganging up against him.
WOODWARD: I'm not -- excluding him. And what -- what happens is, Rahm Emanuel, the chief of staff, will come down to the suite, the national security adviser and deputy, and go see the deputy, Tom Donilon. And finally, at one point, General Jones said to Rahm, I'm the national security adviser, come see me, not Donilon.
And it got better for awhile, but it's back to -- Donilon is the workhorse. He is the person who spends day and night, immerses himself in the detail to the point that the president himself turns to Donilon on many of these things.
SAWYER: But "water bugs"? "Water bugs"?
WOODWARD: Water bugs flitting around. General Jones is the odd man out in this West Wing. He's not part of the campaign --
SAWYER: Leaving soon?
SAWYER: Were you shocked he said these things to you?
WOODWARD: You know, I don't say where I get information and I authoritatively say that he has told people. And he felt isolated and if you look at this, I'm not sure it puts anyone in a good light the way they treated him, excluding him, how he defined his job in a different way, but it's -- it's not one of those things where it comes together for instance.
On the troop level recommendation for the Afghan strategy review, General Jones thought 20,000 should be it. He typed out an memo, put it in his computer, it never got -- he never gave it or showed it to the president. Here's the national security -- can you imagine Henry Kissinger holding back his opinion?
SAWYER: Not marching right into the office.
Former Secretary of State General Colin Powell came in as an unofficial -- what? -- wise man? What did he say about all this?
WOODWARD: Right at the moment in the Afghan strategy review, Obama called him in and said, you know, what do you think. And here is Powell -- former secretary of state, former chairman of the joint chiefs, had been in the Army 35 years and he -- and he told Obama, he said, look, they -- just because the military is unanimous doesn't mean they're right. You are commander in chief, and he said interestingly and maybe ominously, there are other generals, don't get rolled. Don't do it just because they say. It doesn't mean -- you're the boss, you're the decider here.
SAWYER: They have a particular relationship that you can name?
WOODWARD: They talk frequently. And you know this -- if you were president and ad to make a big decision, Colin Powell would be one of those people that I think anyone, republican or democrat, would call on.
SAWYER: You do have a heart-pounding description of a brand new president arriving in office and he gets the briefing. He already knew somewhat, because his inauguration was threatened, would be threatened, but he gets the briefing about the constellation of terror in the world trying to make its way to the United States.
WOODWARD: It's a cold shower. To imagine the high of being elected on that Tuesday and they come in two days later and say, by the way, here's -- here are the secrets, and one of the secrets is Pakistan. We're attacking with -- in a top secret, covert operation the safe havens in Pakistan, but Pakistan is living a lie. And this is a theme throughout the whole Obama presidency --
SAWYER: Is this presidency…
WOODWARD: -- how do you get control of Pakistan.
SAWYER: --- really ready to go in? Should there be a terrorist who comes to this united -- to the United States, trained in Pakistan, ready to go in and take out 150 sites as you report here, 150 training sites?
WOODWARD: What we have -- and this is -- this is sensitive, to say the least, that -- you know, what do we do when Jones and Panetta go to see the Pakistanis? You've got all this -- this cascade of threats. Even the terrorist group LET that did Mumbai -- remember Mumbai? Held a giant city hostage for 60 hours. That group is trying to attack in the United States.
They list for the Pakistanis our intelligence. And General Jones says to President Zardari, look, if there is a terrorist attack in the United States that is postmarked Pakistan, where somebody was trained or got assistance in Pakistan, the president would not have a choice. And he said there's political reality in Pakistan...
SAWYER: And this is new? This is a new Obama administration protocol? They will do this?
WOODWARD: Well, they have the plan. It's up to the president. But if it happens, what General Jones tells the Pakistanis is -- there's political reality in Pakistan. There's political reality in the United States. Something like this happened, and the president would not have a choice.
And it's a retribution plan, as it is called technically, to attack -- we would have to respond, just like after 9/11 we responded in Afghanistan.
SAWYER: At one point later on, the president is told there are 20 Al Qaida converts from -- with American passports, Canadian passports, European passports trying to get into the United States at that moment. No way -- no way to have their -- no way to get their names and no way to trace them if they want to come in, because...
WOODWARD: And then it turns out it's 100 being trained. And so it's -- the more you live in this world, as the president must, it -- it's a drumbeat. They're coming. They're -- they're planning. They're plotting. They've -- they're communicating.
SAWYER: And what is his reaction to that when he gets these briefings?
WOODWARD: Well, if you want to play what he told me, I'll -- I mean, I was -- I jumped in my chair a little bit when he told me, when he literally said, "We can absorb a terrorist attack."
SAWYER: And we will play that at the moment. A couple of things though – COOPEX? They had a kind of -- well, a kind of test run...
WOODWARD: Exercise, yes.
SAWYER: ... an exercise, a test run, of a terrorist attack on Indianapolis and then one on Los Angeles, and the result was...
WOODWARD: What happened, they have an exercise because the president, as he told me, is worried about terrorists getting a nuclear weapon and setting it off in an American city. So last spring they had an exercise called a Continuity of Operations Exercise to see how we might respond.
And in the exercise scenario, a nuke went off in Indianapolis, killed thousands of people, and then you take all the leaders of the departments, and say, OK, what do we do? How do we respond? And it turned out maybe there was enough to make a second bomb in Los Angeles. One of the CIA men said there might be a third bomb.
And people I talked to who were at this exercise said that, you know, we're not ready. We don't know what to do. It was all in the -- it was an exercise where the government dealt with other arms of the government, the public, the media, the Congress played no role.
Now, imagine something like that happening in the media and the public and the Congress playing no role. I mean, we would -- you can't factor that out. And they did in this case, and some participants said, you know, this is -- this is the nightmare. And are we ready?
SAWYER: And you indicate they know that -- they seem to know that Osama bin Laden is still out there and he is still in contact and he is still -- he is still a sponsor, if not the -- the prod, for more action for more missions.
WOODWARD: This was last year in the Riedel review of Afghanistan/Pakistan, where the CIA veteran was called in personally by Obama and said, "Look at this." And Riedel is an expert, and he had -- they put him on Air Force One when President Obama was going out to do the Jay Leno show in California, and so he had time with Obama alone.
And he said, look, I've looked at the intelligence, and Osama bin Laden is still communicating. They're still plotting, and they're still recruiting. It's as dangerous as it was on September 10, 2001, the day before the big terrorist attack. So...
SAWYER: And then the president goes on Jay Leno and has to do what he's...
WOODWARD: What presidents do and everyone does on Jay Leno. I wouldn't fault him for that. It's...
SAWYER: No, I just mean the contrast of having to be...
WOODWARD: But to go back to Pakistan and -- I keep drumming on this, because they kept drumming on it in these meetings in secret...
WOODWARD: ... intelligence. Bruce Riedel, who knows as much about Pakistan as anyone, said to President Obama, said that you have to change Pakistan, what he calls their strategic calculus. You have to get them to think differently. They're living this lie of they fight some of the terrorists, and they sponsor and support some of the others.
SAWYER: But that's changing a history, a culture, essentially.
WOODWARD: This is Riedel's point. He said it may take decades. And then he said -- in a quite direct way -- he said you may never be able to do it.
SAWYER: Just a question again about everything you unearthed. Even you can be rolled, right? Even you can be spun? How can you believe this? These are people who are willing -- who are willing to tell you about private meetings at the White House. How can we believe this?
WOODWARD: Because I have gone over notes. I have seen the documents. I talked to not one person or two, but dozens, and at some points talked to eight or 10 people at these meetings. This happened, that happened.
SAWYER: Does it keep you up at night worrying that some part of it's wrong?
WOODWARD: This is not an engineer's drawing. It's journalism. But it is an honest, intense effort to tell what's really going on.
SAWYER: Anybody going to come after you?
WOODWARD: Oh, always. You know, welcome to our business. You just never know who it's going to be.
SAWYER: But you're absolutely confident that you have done nothing -- nothing that endangers American strategies, endangers American troops, endangers America's approach to the war?
WOODWARD: I am, because I've gone to the experts and the intel people and the other people and said, "This is what I'm going to use." And I'll -- and they weren't happy with some of it. I say, "I'm going to draw the line here."
And, you know, it's -- it's -- it's a green light. I think I should tell you -- and there's one thing I found out about that they asked me not to publish. And I asked, where would it be on the Richter scale, from zero to 10? And one of the top people said a nine. And it's not in the book.
SAWYER: You said that, at the end of the day, you conclude President Obama is a reluctant warrior.
WOODWARD: Now, I'm not saying -- I don't say he's a reluctant warrior. I've -- what he did when I talked to him -- it's fascinating. He -- I said, well, war, you know? Because his famous Iraq speech, he said, well, in -- if there's an Iraq war -- because this was before the invasion -- he said you go into a world of undetermined costs, consequence and time.
And I asked -- said, well, all war's like that, and he jumped on it. He said it sure is. And he quoted General Sherman from the Civil War. He said, "War is hell."
And he went on -- and you listened to him on this, and you realize -- he said his job is to impose clarity on the chaos. And I showed him a quote from a book from a Post colleague about World War II, about how war corrupts everyone, no heart goes unstained, showed it to him. And he read it, and he said, "I'm sympathetic to this view. Go read my Nobel acceptance speech."
And you read that speech, and he talks about war sometimes being necessary. He says it's never glorious, and it is an expression and manifestation of human folly.
SAWYER: So looking at everything you found out and everything you reported, is this any way to run a war?
WOODWARD: You know, the nice thing about being a journalist is you don't have to give grades or make judgments. You just try to chart what happened. I'm convinced people will have very different reactions to this. I think there's so much new about what -- how he looks at this, how his mind works, what the turmoil and danger is out there.
I -- I -- I suspect a lot of people are just going to say, "Oh, you mean that group, and that group, and this group is trying to attack us?" And we don't know. We didn't -- you know, the Times Square bomber, he's not going to be in the history books, because it didn't go off. Well, Leon Panetta went to Pakistan and said, if this had gone off, hundreds if not thousands of people would have been killed. Then it would have been in the history books.
And General Jones and Panetta made the point. They just said, you are putting us in a corner. Panetta said, all bets are off about being allies, about being strategic partners. If this happens, you know, the world's going to change in lots of ways. And Dick Cheney is going to be out there, wagging his finger. Whether with justice or wrongly, he's going to be wagging his finger and going to say, "We didn't let it happen again on our watch."
And so, you know, you come away with the feeling -- somebody said to me the other day, this will be my last book, and it'll be called, "It's Hard to be President."
SAWYER: You dedicate it to those who serve. At the end of the day, what do you say to them about how flawed, how good, how capable their leaders are and are not?
WOODWARD: They're going to -- they're going to have to judge for themselves, but the -- the question you have to ask -- and I asked some of the major players in all of this -- what do we owe those people who serve? They're out there. We're not. What do we owe them? And one of them just said, "Everything."
And I just asked, how are we doing? Are we giving them everything? No. And that's part of the dilemma in this, and this is why I pick war. And it's different. It's defining. It's at the center of the being of whoever is president. It is at the center of the being of this country. And how we do -- tell me, how we do in this war in 10 or 20 years and I'll tell you a lot about America's place in the world.
SAWYER: And are we not giving them everything because we can't, because we are too distractible? Why?
WOODWARD: A lot of things seem petty, don't they, when you look at what has happened and what -- the sacrifices people make. I don't have the answer to that. But what I think you -- you know, we have a limited role, journalists and book authors, and that is, peer inside. And if you don't -- if you get caught up in, you know, the daily gossip and the daily stuff they talk about on television too much and on blogs and so forth, you're peering in the wrong direction.
And the inside of what this country is and who President Obama is and who this administration is, as close as you're going to get is to how they wrestled with really life-and-death decisions. Obama went out to Dover to see the returning caskets and cases and so forth. And people -- you know, what's he doing that for? What's going -- he told an aide, he said, I want to see how the families react and deal with this. And he spent the time not looking at caskets. He spent the time talking to the families, listening to them.
So he's engaged in the consequence with those families. And I that's not an easy trip to make, I'm sure, when you know it's right -- you know, that casket's there somewhat because of the decision that's on your shoulders.
SAWYER: At the end of the day, what's his biggest flaw and what's his biggest strength, as you learned it
WOODWARD: You know, I -- boy, I'm ducking, because he -- you know, in a way, they opened up, not willingly, but a lot of people responded. I got a lot of information. There's that -- I think in almost every one in government, there's that secret part of them that wants to -- yes, this is what it's really like. This is what's going on.
And somebody with the time can go around and pull on that string, and so in many cases, there was a dump of lots of data. And so, you know, I'm going to let others judge.
SAWYER: Can we play the tape?
(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP)
OBAMA: I said very early on as a senator and continued to believe as a presidential candidate and now as president that we can -- we can absorb a terrorist attack. We do -- we'll do everything we can to prevent it, but even a 9/11 -- even a -- the -- the biggest attack ever, that ever took place on our soil, we absorbed it and we are stronger. That this is a strong, powerful country that we live in, and our people are incredibly resilient.
(END AUDIO CLIP)
SAWYER: Did he say it before?
WOODWARD: As best I can tell, no. And for the president of the United States to say we can absorb a terrorist attack, some -- somewhat like the head of a Wall Street firm saying, you know, we can absorb another financial crisis, it's realistic. I think we can.
My sense, knowing the cascade of warnings and data and worries -- I mean, all the people run around the White House and say, "We're living on borrowed time, in terms of a terrorist attack," it's -- you know, presidents are always in the messaging business, and I suspect consciously, unconsciously, he's laying the groundwork for telling the people we can absorb it, we'll try to prevent it, we're strong, we got over 9/11, but it's not a world of zero defects.
SAWYER: He talked, though, about a game-changer.
(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP)
OBAMA: A potential game-changer would be a nuclear weapon in the hands of terrorists blowing up in a major American city or a weapon of mass destruction in a major American city. And so when I go down the list of things I have to worry about all the time, the -- that is at the top, because that's one area where you can't afford any mistakes.
(END AUDIO CLIP)
WOODWARD: Good warning. And it's right that it's at the top of his list. And this exercise they conducted four months ago about a nuclear weapon going off in Indianapolis, you see we're not quite prepared to deal with a calamity like that.
SAWYER: As you were covering it, did anything in you say, "I think there's more you could do. I think there's more you should be doing"? No part of you, non-journalist part of you said, "Hey, there is something more"?
WOODWARD: Yes, there is a lot more. President Bush was criticized by a lot of people for not asking after 9/11 for more from people. He said go shopping. And he said more, but he also said go shopping. He didn't come out and say, we all are going to have to sacrifice something. We're going to, in fact, maybe have to sacrifice a lot. I'm going to call on all of you for something.
And it may be more in taxes. It may be voluntary service to inspect bags at airports. There's a great history of leaders calling for sacrifice. And you wonder -- it's always struck me as a little odd that President Bush, President Obama, they don't -- they praise the military. They genuinely love the military. But they don't do recruiting ads. You don't see presidents out there saying, "Go join the Marine Corps or the Army or the Navy. It is honorable, necessary service." Maybe that's part of something somebody owes them.
SAWYER: Just one more clip I think we have.
(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP)
OBAMA: All those things have had an impact in securing better cooperation. But, number one, it's not enough. Al Qaida is still dangerous. Number two, what you've seen is a metastasizing of Al Qaida, where a range of loosely affiliated groups now have the capacity and the ambition to recruit and train for attacks that may not be on the scale of a 9/11, but obviously can still be...
WOODWARD: One man, one bomb?
OBAMA: One man, one bomb in Times Square.
(END AUDIO CLIP)
SAWYER: So the Pakistanis have not done enough, he's...
WOODWARD: Of course they haven't done enough. And, you know, what -- one man, one bomb could change a great deal. One of the other things, if I may, that is so important in understanding this is Secretary of Defense Bob Gates. And at one point, President Obama said to General Jones, my goal is to keep Gates. I don't want to break with the secretary of defense. And it turns out that late last year, Obama called Gates in, Gates, holdover from the Bush era, agreed to stay for a year, and Obama said to him, I want you to stay for the whole term, four years.
Gates, who was hoping to come in and say I want to leave, I've fulfilled my year-plus, was taken aback and really kind of -- it got under his skin, and actually told people the president sounded like a rug merchant, negotiating how long he was going to stay.
Clearly, Gates wants out. And he's agreed to stay for that second year, but as the president told me and is so clear in all -- Gates is a -- kind of a connective tissue and somebody who helps Obama with the Republicans, needless to say, because Gates was appointed to lots of jobs by Republicans.
It's -- we've all seen in institutions when somebody is a short-timer, wants to get out, wants to leave, that's something that's got to be settled. The secretary of defense is the -- kind of the final window into the world of choice for a president.
And that's one of those things ticking away. What's -- what's Gates going to do? What's the nature of the relationship for -- for Gates to feel kind of preempted, pushed around, feel that the president is negotiating with him like a rug merchant, when Gates and his wife, Becky, want to go back to Washington state, where they have a home? That's another thing that's got to be fixed. And you wonder how and when.
SAWYER: Big -- a big convulsion when he leaves?
WOODWARD: Depends on who and how it's done and when, under what...
SAWYER: Before -- and before 2011, July 2011?
WOODWARD: You know, the -- as all this reporting shows, the Afghan war is not going well. There are lots of downsides. Petraeus is there, and, you know, if anyone can pull it out -- no one thought he'd pull Iraq out, and a convergence of factors led to -- you know, it's not over, but it's in the column that's a potential success.
Who's going to want to be secretary of defense on the eve or in the midst of a moment where the president has said we're going to start withdrawing in nine months from now, where the president, as we now know, has said that this has to be a plan where we hand over and get out of Afghanistan? There can be no wiggle room. Hard sell.
SAWYER: Hard sell. The president was surprisingly, as I read your book, surprisingly -- had surprising equilibrium about McChrystal and the famous Rolling Stone article.
WOODWARD: Yeah, because he was able to pick Petraeus to take his place, and Petraeus is the general.
SAWYER: But he didn't seem to take it personally. You sort of see him at his word when he says, I just don't -- I don't get -- I don't react like that.
WOODWARD: That's Barack Obama.
DIANE SAWYER & BOB WOODWARD WALK & TALK IN FRONT OF WHITE HOUSE
SAWYER: So tell me about the moment that the national security advisers are saying that he -- that he'll be there and everyone else will be gone.
WOODWARD: This is right at the moment of decision for the strategy last year. And some of them are meeting and they're -- they realize that in 2012, when Obama is running for reelection, quite likely, he'll be the only one left, that Gates, the secretary of Defense, will be gone...
WOODWARD: McChrystal will be gone -- of course, it turned out he -- McChrystal was gone sooner. Petraeus will be gone. Admiral Mullen, the chairman, will be gone. So he is going to be left with it totally on his shoulders. And Tom Donilon, the deputy national security adviser, says, "My God, what are we getting this guy into?"
SAWYER: That they have led him into. Everybody has led him into this solitary responsibility.
WOODWARD: And that he's holding the bag at the end...
WOODWARD: And others might be kind of a -- a moment of oh my god.
SAWYER: You know, the -- I know that it's lonely for every president, but did you feel the loneliness in this decision-making more -- as a more acute?
WOODWARD: No, because he's so talky. And he calls Colin Powell in and he talks to his advisers...
WOODWARD: He talks -- asks the colonel, what do you think?
In a sense, there's a little bit of Bill Clinton in this, of, you know, turning to the person -- and the janitor in the room, well, what do you think we ought to do?
So it was inclusive, there's no question about that. One of the tensions with the military, the military kept saying we need to train 400,000 Afghans to meet this counter-insurgency formula, which is kind of an abstraction, which Obama didn't buy into at all. And they made presentations to him.
And he said I -- I -- guys, what is the evidence that this is either necessary...
WOODWARD: -- or doable. And they didn't really come up with a good answer. And so he said to them, he said, this presentation strains credulity. And he said no, we're not doing it.
SAWYER: You do get the feeling several times he's pushing and saying you can't to prove me this is the case and -- and for -- for a president who's still new at this to be pushing on the 400,000 troops and saying, do you really believe it's possible, given the defection rates...
WOODWARD: Yes, as one person said it -- in terms of the police attrition rate in Afghanistan is so great, it's like pouring water in a bucket with a big hole in it -- more runs out than goes in. So he's -- there's an intellectual engagement here.
SAWYER: But when you look in, does the -- does the whole shape of the White House change when you know the occupant inside and you know his mind?
WOODWARD: Well, it's kind of permanent, isn't it?
It -- it's beyond the individual. What's so interesting is there's the Situation Room over there...
WOODWARD: There's the national security adviser, there's the Oval Office, there are the political advisers, there's this kind of hot house of action. And one of the things you find is Obama drives them. He really -- I want answers. What about this, what about that?
And it's not exactly a relaxing job for him or for the people who work there.
SAWYER: Where do you rank this tension, military and White House, against any other administration?
WOODWARD: Well, it's pretty high, because we're in this war and it's a Democratic president who didn't start it. He's adopted it.
SAWYER: A post-Vietnam president.
WOODWARD: A post-Vietnam. And one of the things he said to me is while he -- he was not around during Vietnam, he was a young kid. And so this idea of the civilian military tension is really not something he pays a whole lot of Attention to. But it's there in every meeting, every phone call, every decision, because, look, what's the military -- what are they in this for?
What's the word he never uses publicly?
Win. He doesn't talk about winning.
SAWYER: Well, he talks them back from talking about defeating the Taliban to degrading the Taliban.
SAWYER: And he has to keep bringing them back and they keep going there again, because they don't -- in the -- he seems to believe in the world, there are not enough resources, or certainly in this country, there are not enough resources to do that.
WOODWARD: I'm not doing 10 years. I'm not doing...
WOODWARD: -- a trillion dollars. But you're a soldier out in Afghanistan and they tell you, your mission is to degrade the Taliban insurgent. And you -- it's a hot, violent environment. You see an insurgent. What do you do?
Oh, I'm not supposed to defeat him or kill him, necessarily, I'm supposed to degrade him?
What does that mean?
To shoot him in the foot?
So there is a translation problem. What's the president...
SAWYER: Does General Petraeus think you can defeat the Taliban?
WOODWARD: No, he does not. He says to them, he said, no, they're going to be a part of the political fabric.
WOODWARD: What you have to do is win them over but you win them over by being strong and changing the -- the momentum, as everyone says, has been with the Taliban. You have to change the momentum and so we're on top and then you say, let's go to the negotiating table. And they say, oh, OK. Maybe that's a good idea.
When they're on top, you can say let's go to the negotiating table and they say, no, because...
SAWYER: See you at sunrise.
WOODWARD: Yes, we're winning. Or they think they're winning.
WOODWARD: So it's a real -- the -- the unsettled state of it -- and if I had to predict -- which I hate to do -- but one can't predict outcome, but in the next six months or a year, President Obama is going to face a series of decisions about Pakistan, about Afghanistan, about who replaces Secretary Gates, who replaces General Jones, where does all of this fit together, where does the political team in the White House fit in on these decisions, what is the impact on his possible reelection, how is he viewed as commander-in-chief -- tough.
SAWYER: As he said in the beginning, after reading that briefing, how much he wanted this job and how hard he fought to win and then you look at the Problems.
WOODWARD: And he joked, half joked. He said, well, I'm not sure, I've spent a long time chasing this bus and now I caught it and I'm not sure that -- you Know, there was a lot of unease about it.
SAWYER: Yes, sure.
WOODWARD: And it was -- it's a tough job. And so he works all day in the Oval Office and then goes upstairs...
SAWYER: Right. For dinner.
WOODWARD: -- has dinner, has family, sees the girls, involved in homework and their lives. And then he gets the briefcase and the stack of...
WOODWARD: -- stuff to read and digest and so forth. And one thing you never know about presidents is how they sleep. And, you know, there's got to be a lot on his mind.
This transcript has been edited for clarity and brevity.