Election Issues

Kevin Wolf/AP
Bob Woodward, author of “The War Within: A Secret History of the White House 2006–2008"

Political Book Must-Reads

October 21, 2008
by Shannon Firth
The days of beach reading are long past, the election looms and it’s time to catch up on what matters. You may not agree with what each author has to say about the war in Iraq or Afghanistan, the current or the future president, but at least you’ll get a wider understanding about the issues involved.

The War Within: A Secret White House History

In her review of “The War Within: A Secret History of the White House 2006–2008,” Jill Abramson of The New York Times says Bob Woodward ditched his signature, “flat, just-the-facts-ma’am style,” trading it in for a severe and critical approach for his final book on the Bush administration. Abramson says that cynics believe he could afford to skewer the president and his aides in this book, because he’d already gotten all the information he needed. Still she argues, “On balance, it is impossible not to be impressed by Woodward’s reporting, which provides a vivid week-by-week chronology, from the post-9/11 attack on Afghanistan to the Iraq surge, of how the president’s war policy unspooled and of its consequences.”

Bob Woodward discussed Iraq’s improved stability with NPR’s Terry Gross. Woodward said the change in Iraq is not due solely to “the surge” but to other factors as well:  the tens of thousands of Sunnis who broke rank with Al Qaeda—prior to the Surge—the “stand-down” by Shia cleric Moqtada Sadr, and the U.S.’s highly confidential military techniques. Woodward says these new strategies “allowed the U.S. to locate, target and kill extremists, Al Qaeda members and members of the insurgency.”

The Forever War

Vietnam War vet and President Reagan’s assistant secretary of defense Bing West reviewed New York Times correspondent Dexter Filkins’s “The Forever War” in the Washington Post, dubbing it “splendid.” The book is a series of vignettes drawn from Wilkins’s experiences in Iraq and Afghanistan. West writes, “Filkins's singular skill in this book rests in showing how war shatters lives and how some people manage to survive amid fear, violence, intrigue and chaos.”

In an interview on NBC’s “Today Show,” Filkins said the situation in Iraq, though fragile, has improved dramatically since he began writing his book. He described a conversation he’d had with an Iraqi soldier, who, he said, “was probably blowing up humvees 18 months ago.” The soldier described why he transferred his loyalties and support to the Americans: “[Al Qaeda] wanted us to kill Iraqi government leaders, police officers and we didn’t want to do that. Then they started killing us. That’s when we made the deal. The past is past.”

The Case Against Barack Obama

David Freddoso, a writer for the National Review, questions the Democratic candidate’s campaign promise of “change” in “The Case Against Barack Obama: The Unlikely Rise and Unexamined Agenda of the Media's Favorite Candidate.” In a CNN interview, Freddoso argued that the media has “bought uncritically into the idea that Senator Obama is a reformer.” He adds, “Senator Obama tends to take the easy way … by coming to Washington and supporting the same old special interests that have dominated there forever, and also in Springfield, pushing legislation that generally helped friends and contributors.”

Liberal Web site Media Matters for America argues that much of Freddoso’s book is misleading. For example, Obama’s opponents in a 1996 Illinois state senate primary weren’t thrown off the ballot on a “technicality,” as Freddoso claims, but because they “failed to adhere to election laws.”

In contrast, The Economist opined, “Although it is a conservative publication and the author makes no secret of where his political sympathies lie, this is a well-researched, extensively footnoted work.”

Third Term: Why George Bush (Hearts) John McCain

Salon writer Edward McClelland cobbles together a portrait of Senator John McCain by reviewing four books about the senator. The third of these is former “Crossfire” co-host Paul Begala’s “Third Term: Why George Bush (Hearts) John McCain.” McClelland is critical of Begala’s seemingly gratuitous character attacks in “Third Term”: “[He] depicts the senator as a corrupt, ill-tempered saber-rattler, determined to continue Bush's policies.” McClelland continues, “Scholars say newspapers are written on a sixth-grade level. ‘Third Term’ certainly is, because its taunting message is that Bush and McCain love each other so much, they should be boyfriends.”

Paul Begala spoke with Wolf Blitzer on CNN, asserting, “The McCain persona has three elements. One part, very real, is war hero, absolutely real. The more research you do, the more admiring you become … But the other two parts, maverick and reformer, are just myth.”

Most Recent Features