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CBS's Smith: Obama Didn't Want to Give Military a 'Blank Check' In Afghanistan

In an interview with 'Obama's Wars' author Bob Woodward on Wednesday's CBS Early Show, co-host Harry Smith sought to defend the President's uncertainty on Afghanistan: "...when he takes over they're already in this war for seven years and what he was not going to do...was give the military a blank check in an open-ended deal, say, 'go do your best.'"

Moments before that comment, Smith spun severe division in the White House over the war this way: "...these folks are infused with ambition and intelligence and have lots of things at stake and there really is quite a lot of friction among them all, as they're theoretically trying to get to the same place." Woodward replied: "I mean, it's intense....so much is unsettled. The President's committed to 30,000 more troops into Afghanistan. But, in these secret meetings in the Situation Room in the White House, he repeatedly says, 'we need a plan to get out. There can be no wiggle room. I'm not going to do ten years.'"

The Washington Post reporter then observed: "[Obama] is out of Afghanistan psychologically and the question is, for a commander in chief, don't you have to be kind of the guy who's up there, 'Yes, we can. We're going to win.'?" At that point, Smith ran to Obama's defense with the "blank check" remark.

Near the end of the interview, Smith briefly noted objections to Woodward's research process: "One of the criticisms that comes to you when you write these books is people think you must give truth serum to the people you interview, but also that some of the people who come off best are the ones who talk to you the most. How you would respond to that?" Woodward argued: "Well, I talk to nearly everyone in this case....So, it's not somebody's favored spun recollection. It is exactly what happened. You can look at it, like the White House read it...essentially embraced the book. Said, 'read the whole book. This is a story of a president struggling.' Other people have read it and said this is a story of a president who doesn't know exactly where he's going."

Smith concluded the segment with a ringing endorsement of the book: "...lots of really very interesting and amazing things in here." One thing the CBS host forgot to mention, the book is put out by publisher Simon & Schuster, a division of the CBS Corporation.

Here is a full transcript of the September 29 interview:

7:08AM ET

HARRY SMITH: Joining us is Bob Woodward, author of the new book, 'Obama's Wars.' And he's with us live in the studio this morning. This is a book, ostensibly about Afghanistan. As it turns out, it really is about Pakistan, which is in the news these days because of all the drone attacks. The Lara Logan piece, right on the border, on 60 Minutes there over the weekend. This is a war that's not going away. But, as it turns out, it ends up being so much more about Pakistan.

[ON-SCREEN HEADLINE: Obama's Wars; Woodward Book Depicts Divided White House]

BOB WOODWARD: Exactly. I saw that 60 Minutes piece and you see how violent it is in Afghanistan and, of course, the dirty little secret here that's not a secret is that the safe havens for Al Qaeda and the Taliban are in Pakistan and so they literally are there in Pakistan, the Taliban insurgents go back for R & R weekends, and then their trucks being waved through by Pakistanis at their border checkpoints to go into Afghanistan to kill American soldiers.

Obama's Wars, CBS SMITH: The thing that is, I think, so interesting about this book is it puts all the characters in their proper places. And then you see, though, that these folks are infused with ambition and intelligence and have lots of things at stake and there really is quite a lot of friction among them all, as they're theoretically trying to get to the same place.

WOODWARD: Yes, that's right. I mean, it's intense. What I find is that - and kind of the summation of some of this - is so much is unsettled. The President's committed to 30,000 more troops into Afghanistan. But, in these secret meetings in the Situation Room in the White House, he repeatedly says, 'we need a plan to get out. There can be no wiggle room. I'm not going to do ten years.' He is out of Afghanistan psychologically and the question is, for a commander in chief, don't you have to be kind of the guy who's up there, 'Yes, we can. We're going to win.'?

SMITH: Uh-huh. Well, of course, when he takes over they're already in this war for seven years and what he was not going to do, in the book, was give the military a blank check in an open-ended deal, say, 'go do your best.'

WOODWARD: Yes. And he tried to limit it, in terms of the number of troops and the strategy. Some people in the military, like General Petraeus, felt, 'well, we've got 30,000, we asked for 40,000.' The limitation on the mission is - is not that great and what we have to do - and, I mean, this is true at CBS, the Washington Post, any institution-

SMITH: It's reality.

WOODWARD: Show progress and you'll be given more time.

SMITH: One of the criticisms that comes to you when you write these books is people think you must give truth serum to the people you interview, but also that some of the people who come off best are the ones who talk to you the most. How you would respond to that?

WOODWARD: Well, I talk to nearly everyone in this case, including the President and the Vice President, and the Secretary of Defense have said they talked to me. The key to this, in the spine of the book, are these notes of NSC meetings, the documentation. So, it's not somebody's favored spun recollection. It is exactly what happened. And, you know, some people - you know, there are many - this is what can make your head hurt. You can look at it, like the White House read it, people there, and Robert Gibbs, the press secretary, essentially embraced the book. Said, 'read the whole book. This is a story of a president struggling.' Other people have read it and said this is a story of a president who doesn't know exactly where he's going.

SMITH: It's a - it depends on your - where you come from, what you take away from it, without question. One of the other very telling things is Stanley McChrystal, sort of the foretelling of his own downfall and there lots of really very interesting and amazing things in here.

WOODWARD: Thank you.

SMITH: Bob Woodward, we're out of time. Thank you very much for being here this morning.

-Kyle Drennen is a news analyst at the Media Research Center. You can follow him on Twitter here.