How Obama squandered the surge

Political Punch

The war in Afghanistan has faced mountainous hurdles, many of which, a new book reveals, originated not in the desert mountains of Kandahar or Helmand Province, but at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, where Washington infighting reached a fevered pitch.

"We squandered the troop surge," says Rajiv Chandrasekaran, author of Little America: The War Within the War for Afghanistan, "because of this nasty bickering in Washington."

Much of the tension centered around Richard Holbrooke, the veteran diplomat appointed by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in early 2009 to be the point man for Afghanistan policy. Holbrooke was brought in to try to forge a path toward peace talks with the Taliban, essentially ending a decade-long war. But he was undermined, says Chandrasekaran, by the White House and even members of his own team.

"They just didn't like him," says Chandrasekaran. "Senior members of President Obama's National Security Team just thought he had too big of an ego ... And instead of harnessing what was good about him they focused on his shortcomings and on what was bad about him."

When push came to shove, and Obama's National Security Adviser started making moves to fire Holbrooke, it was Clinton who came to his defense, butting heads directly with the new president.

Clinton, says Chandrasekaran, marched into the Oval Office and said, " 'Mr. President, you can fire Richard Holbrooke, over the objections of your Secretary of State.' "

In Afghanistan, the military surge, argues Chandrasekaran, was a mistake.

"What we fail to understand was that the Afghan people largely wanted to be left alone and they hate their government, in many cases, as much as they hate the insurgents. And when we went to them and said, 'Ah, we're coming here to help bring your government to you.' They said, 'Whoa we don't want out government!' "

All the Afghans wanted, says Chandrasekaran, was to be left alone, "and we didn't get that."

ABC News' Sarah Burke contributed to this report.