A year and a half since the surge in Iraq, violence is the lowest it has been since the invasion. The idea of throwing another 30,000 troops into Iraq was a desperate gamble in a dark time. And only now are we finding out just how much opposition there was by the nation's top military leaders. That's among the revelations in a new book by Washington Post Associate Editor Bob Woodward.
"The War Within" is Woodward's fourth insider account from the Bush White House.
60 Minutes correspondent Scott Pelley sat down with Woodward for his first interview in advance of the book's release and asked him about the war within the administration after the surge was proposed by civilians in the White House.
Asked what the generals at the Pentagon thought when presented with the idea of a surge, Woodward told Pelley, "They think that it won't work. And the president actually at one point goes and meets with them. And the Army chief of staff, General [Peter] Schoomaker, says 'You can't add five brigades, it will take many more,' 'What about another crisis?' 'We don't have troops for this,' 'What about the damage your doing to the force, the young kids who see nothing but endless rotations?'"
"What does General Casey, sitting in Baghdad, think of having additional troops?" Pelley asked.
"He thinks that Baghdad is a troop sump-a place you can put endless numbers of troops in. And he does not want to add force," Woodward said.
"The president, who has said in public, endless times, that he relies on his generals to tell him what they need, is actually going his own way here," Pelley remarked.
"That's right," Woodward agreed. "The records of the joint chiefs show that the idea of five brigades came from the White House, not from anybody except the White House."
"The War Within," published by CBS-owned Simon & Schuster, tracks the growing alarm inside the White House in 2006, as U.S. casualties mounted during Iraq's plunge toward civil war. The book is based on more than 150 interviews, including recorded conversations with the president. Mr. Bush told Woodward that he was frustrated with his commanders - and asked for enemy body counts so he could keep score.
"I ask that, on occasion, to find out whether or not we were fighting back. Because the perception is that our guys are dying and they're not, because we don't put out numbers. We don't have a tally. On the other hand, if I'm sitting here watching the casualties come in, I'd at least like to know whether or not our soldiers are fighting," the president explained in one of Woodward's recorded interviews.
"It gets so intense that in one of the secure video conferences between Washington and Baghdad the president says to Casey, 'George, we're not playing for a tie.' And Casey's knuckles, according to witnesses, literally go white as he's gripping the table. And he says, 'No Mr. President. We are not playing for a tie.' And this is Bush's concern that we're not going out and killing; in fact, Casey told one colleague privately that the president's view is almost reflective of 'Kill the bastards. Kill the bastards,' and that way we'll succeed," Woodward told Pelley.
"You've obtained a number of documents, classified secret that the president was receiving in this period of time. What was the president hearing about what was going on in Iraq?" Pelley asked.
"On July 20th, the top secret special compartmented information report that went directly to him quotes from an intelligence report saying, 'Violence is so out of hand, so extensive that it is self-sustaining,'" Woodward said.
Woodward reports that a secret study for the Joint Chiefs of Staff in 2006 concluded that the U.S. was losing the war, but the president didn't give a hint of that in public.
"Absolutely we're winning," the president said. "We're winning and we will win unless we leave before the job is done."
"Why do you think that the president didn't level with the American people in this dark period in this war?" Pelley asked.
"Because he wanted it to work," Woodward explained. "Did not wanna deflate the morale of the troops. And there was a political election coming up. The November 2006 Congressional elections. It was a raw, political calculation that if you tell the public - or let it get out - that they are reconsidering what they're doing, that they're acknowledging that it's not going well, all political hell would break loose."