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.