Bob Woodward’s four books chronicling the wars of President George W. Bush are sensitive barometers of conventional wisdom in Washington. Whereas the first volume, published in 2002 at the height of the self-righteous nationalism gripping the capital after the September 11, 2001 attacks, hailed Bush’s self-confidence in acting to protect the homeland, the 2008 installment depicts the same man as cocksure and incurious. More educational are Woodward’s hints about the worldviews that will outlast this unpopular administration, embedded in the organs of the national security state.
Consider the words of retired Gen. Jack Keane, reported by Woodward to have been spoken to Gen. David Petraeus in Baghdad in March: “We’re going to be here for 50 years minimum, most of the time hopefully preventing wars, and on occasion having to fight one, dealing with radical Islam, our economic interests in the region and trying to achieve stability…. We’re going to do it anyway because we don’t have a choice.”
“Here”, in Keane’s formulation, was not Iraq, but the sprawling theater of operations for US Central Command, or CENTCOM, of which Petraeus will assume control when his tour in Iraq is over. Keane’s message to Petraeus was clear: CENTCOM, whose borders happen to coincide roughly with those of the Islamic world, is where the action is, now and as far as the eye can see.
While Keane is known as the architect of Bush’s “surge” in Iraq, and is a favorite of neo-conservatives and other hawks, his ideas about US grand strategy are common across the ideological spectrum that matters in Washington.