OCTOBER 7, 2009
Behind Afghan War Debate, a Battle of Two Books Rages
By PETER SPIEGEL and JONATHAN WEISMAN
WASHINGTON — The struggle to set the future course of the Afghan war is becoming a battle of two books — both suddenly popular among White House and Pentagon brain trusts.
The two draw decidedly different lessons from the Vietnam War. The first book describes a White House in 1965 being marched into an escalating war by a military viewing the conflict too narrowly to see the perils ahead. President Barack Obama recently finished the book, according to administration officials, and Vice President Joe Biden is reading it now.
The second describes a different administration, in 1972, when a U.S. military that has finally figured out how to counter the insurgency is rejected by political leaders who bow to popular opinion and end the fight.
It has been recommended in multiple lists put out by military officers, including a former U.S. commander in Afghanistan, who passed it out to his subordinates.
Crew members ride a U.S. Chinook helicopter over the mountains after leaving Cop Cherokee base in Kherwar district in Logar province Tuesday.
The two books — “Lessons in Disaster,” on Mr. Obama’s nightstand, and “A Better War” on the shelves of military gurus — have become a framework for the debate over what will be one of the most important decisions of Mr. Obama’s presidency.
On Tuesday, in a White House meeting that went well over its allotted hour, Mr. Obama discussed the war with 31 members of Congress. Republican leaders, and some Democrats, pressed him to quickly accept the judgment of his commanders and send as many as 40,000 additional troops to Afghanistan. But some Democrats asked if the war was winnable.