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.