Woodward: Obama 'divided man' when it comes to war

Bob Woodward

May 4, 2011 3:14:17 PM PDT
A key observer of the weekend's historical events was Washington Post reporter and author Bob Woodward. The reporter who co-authored the key stories of the Watergate scandal says the killing of Osama bin Laden is a "hinge point of history," but he says the president is ambivalent about war as ever.

The author of 14 books, mostly on the inner workings of the White House -- including his latest, Obama's wars -- was in town Wednesday to speak at a Roosevelt University event. He said the greatest threat to democracy is government secrecy, and he reflected on the killing of Osama bin Laden, what it means for how the Obama administration does business, and how that's not so different from previous administrations.

The 68-year-old, arguably the best investigative reporter of his generation, told laid back stories about dealing with powerful politicians and their habit, no matter the political stripe, of hiding information.

"You have to develop a method to get around spin and the message-making apparatus that exists in any institution particularly in the White House," said Woodward.

That method is on display again in Obama's Wars, a review of how the president came to his decisions to escalate the war in Afghanistan, and wind down the fight in Iraq. Woodward said the president is a "divided man" on the question of war, but faced with the post-9/11 fights overseas, he took the strategic step of focusing on getting bin Laden.

"Action is character," said Woodward. "So I picked the war decisions, because those are the hardest a president makes. There is nothing like deciding to go to war and escalating a war and getting out of a war...That is something he put in motion by saying we are not going to go along with the passivity that has sometimes been the policy."

In an interview later, Woodward stressed the action on bin Laden is only what we see that government does, and his reporting, and that of others, only marginally ramps up the percentage of what we know.

Still, the successful conclusion to a high-risk mission shows American resolve

"The intelligence community, which was thwarted, not making headway, stuck at it with the knowledge that bin Laden and his people would make a mistake," Woodward said.

A victory, at least 10 years in the making.

"Neither would like it, but it is the truth, Bush-Obama cooperation that yielded this," said Woodward.

Woodward's method has been called the fly-on-the-wall style of reporting and he says he takes great pains to be neutral towards his subjects.

When asked what he thought about how President Obama might now prosecute the war in Afghanistan with Bin Laden dead, all he would say is, "We'll see."