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The first of 10 "AFPAK" meetings came on Sept. 13, when the president gathered 16 advisers in the Situation Room in the basement of the White House. This was to be the most methodical national-security decision in a generation. Deputy national-security adviser Tom Donilon had commissioned research that backed up an astonishing historical truth: neither the Vietnam War nor the Iraq War featured any key meetings where all the issues and assumptions were discussed by policymakers. In both cases the United States was sucked into war inch by inch.
The Obama administration was determined to change that. "For the past eight years, whatever the military asked for, they got," Obama explained later. "My job was to slow things down." The president had something precious in modern crisis management: time. "I had to put up with the 'dithering' arguments from Dick Cheney or others," Obama said. "But as long as I wasn't shaken by the political chatter, I had the time to work through all these issues and ask a bunch of tough questions and force people to sharpen their pencils until we arrived at the best possible solution."