SCOTT SIMON, host:
This is Weekend Edition from NPR News. I'm Scott Simon. The war in Iraq has been President Bush's war. But the commander-in-chief that Bob Woodward depicts in his latest book seems committed to the war but often careless about strategy and implementation, maintaining what Mr. Woodward calls "an odd detachment from its management." Mr. Woodward's latest book, his fourth about decisions in the Bush White House, is "The War Within: A Secret White House History 2006-2008." Bob Woodward joins us in our studio. Thanks so much for being with us.
Mr. BOB WOODWARD (Author, "The War Within: A Secret White House History 2006-2008"): Thank you.
SIMON: I think it's safe to say that you've been on a few other shows before we got to you this week.
Mr. WOODWARD: Yes.
SIMON: And we're very pleased to have you. But because of that, I want to talk about both some of the revelations in your book and give you a chance to answer questions that have been raised about the book. The U.S. was listening to Iraqi President al-Maliki's decision-making process, let's call it that way.
Mr. WOODWARD: Spying on him.
SIMON: That's another way of putting it.
Mr. WOODWARD: Yes. That's the English way of saying it.
SIMON: How extensive was this?
Mr. WOODWARD: To the point that one of the sources who knows about this told me we know everything he says. Others say you can't ever know what anybody says all the time. But clearly, it is a major effort.
SIMON: Given all the questions that have been raised about Mr. Al-Maliki's loyalties, would it have been irresponsible for you as intelligence not to put an ear to him?
Mr. WOODWARD: Well, there's some interesting questions as President Bush has said repeatedly, trusts Maliki. They talk frequently. People in the embassy and U.S. command in Iraq deal with him regularly, but the problem is simply that you get information about what he's saying and doing and you focus on that when you should be focusing on what we're doing. And I am a prisoner of going back to Watergate many decades ago, but Watergate really began with spying on friends.
SIMON: You suggest that most of the high-ranking military commanders who were consulted were opposed to what we now call the surge. Some people who defend President Bush's conduct of the war will point out we have civilian control of the military for a reason. The president makes those decisions, not military commanders.
Mr. WOODWARD: That's right, as it should be. That's not the issue. The issue is did President Bush develop a relationship with senior military leaders but they really were advisers? What was interesting about the first part of the secret review was that no one from the military was included. The military recommendation was to send two brigades. And I asked the president, where did it get up to five? And Steve Hadley, who is the national security adviser, was in the Oval Office and chimes in and says, well, it came from my, Steve Hadley's discussion with General Pace. And the president just said, OK, I don't know that. I'm not in these meetings, you'll be happy to hear. Now this is one of the most important decisions he's made.
SIMON: But the president said this to -
Mr. WOODWARD: To me.
SIMON: Your book suggests that the troop surge of 2007 was perhaps not the primary factor behind this deep drop in violence we've seen over the past 16 months. Why don't I get you to...
Mr. WOODWARD: The surge was part of it. But I point out that there are top-secret operations going on that really had tremendous impact in the drop in violence because the operations allow us to locate, target and kill key leaders and players on the other side. Also the Anbar Awakening and all of the Sunnis coming over - tens of thousands of them - to our side. And then the radical Shiite leader Muqtada al-Sadr's standdown that was ordered in August of 2007. So these four parts all converge.
SIMON: Your books depend on people talking to you if not exclusively, at least speaking with you in depth.
Mr. WOODWARD: I try, yes.
SIMON: Do you sometimes run the risk of necessarily reflecting the perspective of people who will talk to you?
Mr. WOODWARD: Sure.
SIMON: And then perhaps at the sacrifice of people don't give you interviews?
Mr. WOODWARD: I try to reflect the point of view of the president, the vice president and his role in this, though it's not large. Secretary of State Rice, Rumsfeld, some of the intelligence people, Steve Hadley, the national security adviser in the White House, because they're part of the decision-making process. That's the focus.
SIMON: But does it wind up, sometimes, sounding like Steve Hadley's story because he spoke with you, I gather, at great length?
Mr. WOODWARD: It's not Steve Hadley's story. It's the president's story. He's the focus. Because this is in the tradition of accountability reporting, that the president should be accountable for his decisions and actions.
SIMON: Bob Woodward, thanks very much.
Mr. WOODWARD: Thank you.
SIMON: In our studios, Bob Woodward. His new book is "The War Within: A Secret White House History 2006-2008." And you can read an excerpt of Bob Woodward's new book on our Web site, npr.org.