The Must-Read Book for Obama’s War Team

By Nitya

Sep 22, 2009 12:12pm

It’s not uncommon in Washington for a book or an article to become the must-read of the moment for every player in town.  (You may recall Atul Gawande's New Yorker article last Spring looking at the health care system in McAllen, Texas that was required reading for everyone at the White House and up on Capitol Hill as the health care debate was kicking into high gear. )

With President Obama expressing skepticism about a further troop buildup in Afghanistan and his commander on the ground, Gen. McChrystal, advising that more troops are urgently needed to avoid "mission failure," the Afghanistan war is front and center.

And so Washington has a new must-read book.

My colleague Martha Raddatz and I have been told that many on the national security team at the White House are now reading "Lessons in Disaster" by Gordon Goldstein.

It’s a very powerful book focused on Vietnam-era national security adviser McGeorge Bundy.

From the Publishers Weekly blurb:

“As national security adviser, McGeorge Bundy was the prototypical best and brightest Vietnam War policymaker in the Kennedy and Johnson administrations. Bundy was, according to foreign policy scholar Goldstein, an out-and-out war hawk who again and again demonstrated a willingness, if not an eagerness, to deploy military means in Vietnam. Goldstein worked with Bundy in the year before his death, in 1996, on an uncompleted memoir and retrospective analysis of America's path to war. While drawing on that work in this warts-and-all examination of Bundy's advisory role, this book is something different, containing Goldstein's own conclusions. He painstakingly recounts his subject's role as national security adviser and ponders the complexities of the elusive inner Bundy: for example, the buoyant good humor in the 1960s that seemed unbowed by the weight of difficult strategic decisions. Among the surprising revelations: late in life Bundy came to regret his hawkish ways, although he maintained to the end that the presidents, not their advisers, were primarily responsible for the outcome of the war. Vietnam, he said, was overall, a war we should not have fought. “

One of the conclusions Goldstein says Bundy reached is that President Kennedy would have likely NOT escalated US involvement in Vietnam had he lived. He says that JFK emerged from Cuban Missile Crisis determined not to get rolled again by military.  

The book was reviewed last November in the New York Times by Richard Holbrooke with comments relevant to the current situation in Afghanistan.

A great, great book. Well worth the read as the Afghanistan debate heats up.

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