DS: I think it is pretty self-evident that they are making the argument that the president acted decisively and in their view rightly. I would not say that that is a unique characteristic of the Obama administration. Throughout the Bush administration, how many tick-tocks did you read about decisions to invade Afghanistan, to invade Iraq? It was exactly the same thing.
PS: So it’s basically a sophisticated form of public relations and image building?
DS: Yes, I think it’s a sophisticated form of trying to portray whoever the president is, Democrat or Republican, as a strong leader. If you’re a sophisticated correspondent, and have been doing this for a while, you recognize that for what it is. That isn’t to say that the facts you gather along the way are wrong.
PS: You’re based in Washington, and I have the impression, from reading the book, of a reporter who is extremely well plugged into the highest levels of Washington policymaking. Yet we know there is this phenomenon of groupthink in places like Washington. How can you avoid groupthink? How can you escape the collective wisdom of the community from washing over you and influencing your own judgments, whether consciously or not?
DS: It’s a constant challenge. There is a huge amount of groupthink in Washington. You have to guard against it all the time. The only thing that I’ve found that works is getting out and traveling a fair bit so that you’re getting an entirely different view.
I’ll give you an example. From Washington there is a view that President Obama reacted very quickly to the Tahrir Square uprising. By Washington standards, he decided to abandon a longtime ally in Mubarak and back the uprising at record speed, just in a matter of weeks. I sort of went along with that assumption. Then I got to Egypt for reporting on the book, and went out one night with a number of twenty-somethings who had been out in Tahrir Square. And their view was entirely the opposite—that Obama had taken far too long, that he had dithered. And they felt somewhat permanently alienated from him.
So the only way I know to combat the groupthink of Washington is to go out and have these conversations.
PS: Are you feeling at any legal risk because of the leaks investigations?
DS: I think most of the investigations don’t appear to be focused on journalists.
PS: Have you hired a lawyer?
DS: The Times has people who handle all of this, as does Random House [publisher of Confront and Conceal].
PS: This book is a follow-on to your first volume, The Inheritance, on Obama’s national-security decision making. Is there a third volume on the way?
DS: [Laughing.] I haven’t given it a moment’s thought.
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