Woodward offers insights into ‘War Within’

By Arthur I. Cyr, Special to The China Post

Journalist and author Bob Woodward’s new book “The War Within” provides informative insights concerning the United States military occupation of Iraq, not least because of his remarkable access to very senior officials of the Bush administration. Earlier books include “State of Denial,” “Plan of Attack” and “Bush at War.” His continuing access to top officials is particularly impressive in light of criticism of the administration in regard to Iraq. Despite this, for a time at least one of his books was listed on the White House Web site.

Woodward and fellow journalist Carl Bernstein first gained fame by investigating the Washington burglary which unfolded into the Watergate crisis and the resignation of President Richard M. Nixon, chronicled in their book “All the President’s Men.” One Watergate result was inspiration of many young people to become investigative journalists. Some driven writers anxious to become the next Bernstein or Woodward have put ambition over accuracy, leading to ongoing — essentially healthy — debate about media professional standards. Woodward so far has had no difficulty getting facts straight. Despite complex and controversial topics, he has yet to be tripped up. This makes his evaluation of Bush foreign policy particularly noteworthy. A principal conclusion of “The War Within” is that covert operations have been key to improved security in Iraq. The increase in total U.S. troops in the country, the famous “Surge,” has been the center of public attention. Covert operations, secret missions which can include killing targeted individuals, are rarely discussed publicly. There are very direct parallels with the Vietnam War, where the covert Phoenix program eliminated approximately sixty thousand Viet Cong agents. After that war, Madame Nguyen Thi Dinh, a principal Viet Cong leader, confided to journalist Stanley Karnow that Phoenix was feared far more than conventional attacks by American and South Vietnamese divisions. She was explicit that crucial comrades were eliminated and vital information compromised as a result of the program. Other reliable sources have provided equally telling confirmation. The Phoenix program was one part of an eventually effective overall strategy. The Tet Offensive early in 1968 destroyed American public support for the war. President Lyndon B. Johnson retired and field commander Gen. William Westmoreland was replaced by the far more insightful Gen. Creighton Abrams. The new administration of President Richard M. Nixon drastically changed Vietnam strategy. Steady reduction in force levels was begun, and large-scale conventional search and destroy operations were replaced with small unit actions and tactics.