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State of Denial: Bush at War, Part IIIby Bob Woodward
Synopses & Reviews
"Insurgents and terrorists retain the resources and capabilities to sustain and even increase current level of violence through the next year." This was the secret Pentagon assessment sent to the White House in May 2006. The forecast of a more violent 2007 in Iraq contradicted the repeated optimistic statements of President Bush, including one, two days earlier, when he said we were at a "turning point" that history would mark as the time "the forces of terror began their long retreat."
State of Denial examines how the Bush administration avoided telling the truth about Iraq to the public, to Congress, and often to themselves. Two days after the May report, the Pentagon told Congress, in a report required by law, that the "appeal and motivation for continued violent action will begin to wane in early 2007."
In this detailed inside story of a war-torn White House, Bob Woodward reveals how White House Chief of Staff Andrew Card, with the indirect support of other high officials, tried for 18 months to get Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld replaced. The president and Vice President Cheney refused. At the beginning of Bush's second term, Stephen Hadley, who replaced Condoleezza Rice as national security adviser, gave the administration a "D minus" on implementing its policies. A SECRET report to the new Secretary of State Rice from her counselor stated that, nearly two years after the invasion, Iraq was a "failed state."
State of Denial reveals that at the urging of Vice President Cheney and Rumsfeld, the most frequent outside visitor and Iraq adviser to President Bush is former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger, who, haunted still by the loss in Vietnam, emerges as a hidden and potent voice.
Woodward reveals that the secretary of defense himself believes that the system of coordination among departments and agencies is broken, and in a SECRET May 1, 2006, memo, Rumsfeld stated, "the current system of government makes competence next to impossible."
State of Denial answers the core questions: What happened after the invasion of Iraq? Why? How does Bush make decisions and manage a war that he chose to define his presidency? And is there an achievable plan for victory?
Bob Woodward's third book on President Bush is a sweeping narrative — from the first days George W. Bush thought seriously about running for president through the recruitment of his national security team, the war in Afghanistan, the invasion and occupation of Iraq, and the struggle for political survival in the second term.
After more than three decades of reporting on national security decision making — including his two #1 national bestsellers on the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, Bush at War (2002) and Plan of Attack (2004) — Woodward provides the fullest account, and explanation, of the road Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld, Rice and the White House staff have walked.
"If there ever was a crystalline indictment of a president's wartime decisions, this is it. In the third volume exploring the political carnage and bureaucratic infighting prompted by the September 11 attacks, legendary investigative journalist Woodward (Bush at War, Plan of Attack) dissects the Bush administration's conduct of the war in Iraq. The picture isn't a pretty one, and Woodward's disarming, matter-of-fact prose makes his page-turning account more powerful still. The incompetence and arrogance on display in the highest levels of the executive branch is as stunning — and as unsettling — as the dismay voiced by civilians and soldiers who endeavor and fail to open the administration's eyes to the failures in Iraq, from the complex security challenges to simple logistical matters like securing sufficient translators. Unable to manage the war they unleashed, the principals — President George W. Bush, Vice President Dick Cheney, Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld and national security advisor, later Secretary of State, Condoleezza Rice — fare poorly here. Many of the charges are familiar — the president lacks inquisitiveness, the vice president is obsessed with WMD, Rice is 'the worst security advisor in modern times' — but gel anew in the light of Woodward's explication. The breakout star of this disturbing spectacle is Rumsfeld, who presides over the conflict with a supreme self confidence that literally leaves Woodward at a loss for words. If journalism is the first page of history, then Woodward's opus will be required reading for any would-be historians of the time." Publishers Weekly (Starred Review) (Copyright Reed Business Information, Inc.)
"On July 20, 2005, a remote-activated explosive device detonated during a senior staff meeting at the White House. That device, according to Bob Woodward's remarkable new book, was a new form of stealth whoopee cushion, placed strategically under the chair of Karl Rove, senior adviser to the president, and discharged to cacophonous laughter all around. The prank had been planned for a staff meeting... Washington Post Book Review (read the entire Washington Post review) on July 7 but was postponed because of the terrorist bombings in London that day. July 20 was deemed a much more propitious day — all that happened was the release of a new survey of the war placing the total number of Iraqi dead at 25,000. A week after its hasty release, millions of Americans have heard the stunning accusations leveled in 'State of Denial.' If journalism is the first draft of history, President Bush is going to have a very hard time in the posterity he is now approaching. Woodward's new book, the third in his trilogy on George W. Bush, conveys a great deal of information, none of it good for the president and his team. It gives far more operational detail on Iraq than its predecessor, 'Plan of Attack.' It also goes much further in asserting the author's distaste for the war and the administration's handling of it than anything Woodward has written previously. In fact, it is the angriest book Woodward has written since his first, 'All the President's Men.' Like that masterpiece, State of Denial feels all the more outraged for its measured, nonpartisan tones and relentless reporting. It is nothing less than a watershed. The book begins in December 2000, with a shaky president-elect searching for the right secretary of defense and giving in to Dick Cheney's suggestion that his old friend Donald Rumsfeld is available. The story continues to very near the present (July 2006), when Woodward conducts the last of his many interviews with Rumsfeld. It gives a full chronicle of the Iraq adventure, including far more than has been previously reported on what our leaders said and did after the apparent victory of March 2003. In so doing, it reveals a government crippled by dysfunction at precisely the wartime moment when leadership was most necessary. For many years, we have been hearing the stories of both the failures and the successes coming out of the Iraqi desert. It now appears that the failures were more pronounced than we knew and the successes more fabricated. Judging from the alacrity with which nearly everyone on the Bush team has talked to Woodward, it seems the entire enterprise is now foundering under a pessimism completely out of sync with the cheerful optimism of presidential pronouncements. With whom did Woodward speak? It's hard to find someone he didn't speak with — itself a sign of creeping executive dysfunction. It's a sort of Noah's Ark in reverse, with every animal leaving the ship. A quick guess list would include Andrew Card, George Tenet, Colin Powell, Richard Armitage, Jay Garner, David Kay, Prince Bandar bin Sultan and a lot of top military brass, including, to his credit, the book's chief victim, Donald Rumsfeld. But neither President Bush nor Vice President Cheney sat for interviews. By freezing out the author, they appear increasingly trapped in a Nixonian bunker — perhaps why Woodward has returned to his original home in the opposition. It's not just that so many people talked — it's how mad they all seem to be at each other. Often the drama unfolds like an episode of 'Desperate Housewives.' George is mad at Condi. Condi is mad at Don. Don is mad at Colin. Dick is mad at everybody. Andrew Card, the sane presence at the center of all this bickering, gives the perfect quote: 'I was frequently the person trying to take sand out of people's underwear, which is a very difficult task if it's not your underwear.' In crisis after crisis, the government simply failed to operate the way it was designed to. Memos failed to circulate or arrived after they became irrelevant. Briefings conveyed only the news that listeners wanted to hear. Controversial information was rarely presented to the president, who rarely asked for it. New proposals were quashed, and policy was stymied by terrible infighting, or worse, indifference. On point after point, the government's performance was over budget, unapologetic and late. In other words, the Bush administration has become the new Amtrak. No one fares especially well in this retelling. The familiar stereotypes emerge — Rice as powerless, Cheney as dark and secretive, Bush as blithe. Even Colin Powell, often lionized, fails to assert himself at crucial moments when the secretary of state might have used his prestige to alter the course of history. But Rumsfeld takes the worst of it. For a public that demands heroes and villains, he will appear in the latter role. Part of Woodward admires him and his charisma, intelligence and willingness to take on the Pentagon bureaucracy. Quoting John le Carre on George Smiley, Woodward writes of a man who 'had been given, in late age, a chance to return to the rained-out contests of his life and play them after all.' But throughout the book, with building intensity, Rumsfeld commits mistakes of the highest order, both strategic and tactical. Woodward calls his micromanaging 'almost comic.' He overwhelms his staff with short administrative notes (called 'snowflakes') that he sends around the Pentagon. He crushes bureaucratic opponents such as the National Security council and the Joint Chiefs of Staff, then vacillates before important decisions or blames others when they go badly. He cherry-picks intelligence and distributes it unevenly before meetings. He badly misses crucial warnings before 9/11, sends too few troops to Iraq to do the job and blows the chance to train the Iraqi army when that might have saved it. So many of Rumsfeld's subordinates appear to have talked to Woodward that the book suggests the feeling of a palace revolt. One Pentagon colonel penned a series of haikus to chase his blues away, including what must be the first poem in history to begin with the five-syllable line, 'Rumsfeld is a dick.' That gnomic sentence may be the book's motto. But even if Rumsfeld becomes the fall guy, the book is damaging to the president as well. Like Rumsfeld, he is presented as intelligent and charismatic. But he never asks to be challenged or asks for dissenting views. Clearly, Woodward believes that the ultimate responsibility for Iraq rests on the president's desk. In one of many damning passages, Woodward writes, 'the whole atmosphere too often resembled a royal court, with Cheney and Rice in attendance, some upbeat stories, exaggerated good news, and a good time had by all.' Long after reading this book, lasting images will remain of an 'inexperienced president' with his 'legs dancing' under the table during serious briefings, failing to rein in his quarreling deputies and laughing inordinately at inappropriate jokes. There are many revelations like this, tiny pinpoints of light that illuminate the secret workings of a bureaucracy lumbering toward war. There is also a lot of dish, from the glimpses of George H.W. Bush's great sadness over the recent turn of events to inside stories of how the White House made decisions and who was considered a part of the team. It may not help Sen. Joseph Lieberman's quixotic campaign to learn that he was seriously considered to be either secretary of defense or secretary of homeland security in the second term. More than anything, there are countless examples of ineptitude (for example, Vice President Cheney urging that David Kay's team of weapon-trackers look for evidence of Saddam Hussein's WMD at a precise location that turned out to be in Lebanon). The more we learn about the hard facts of the decision to invade, the more it appears to have rested on faulty information, most of it collected before 1998, flimsy enough to assemble in a child's loose-leaf binder of 15 or 20 pages. What impresses the reader throughout is the quiet force of Woodward's anger. He is no carping liberal, and no such person would be able to secure the kind of access he has. But slowly, the force of his unemotional condemnation overwhelms the reader. One senses, though he never says so, that he is arguing against the White House and the secretary of defense on behalf of one of their most loyal constituencies: the men and women of the U.S. military. But it's also personal to Woodward, more so than in recent books. He does not simply quote Rumsfeld — he remembers a remark from 'a dinner party at my house a dozen years after he had left the Pentagon the first time.' These are old friendships that are sundering, rawly, before the klieg lights of his glare. If overfamiliarity weakened some of his earlier books, here it is a strength. One of the book's arresting observations is how audible the echo of Vietnam has become — a comparison that no one especially wants to make but is increasingly hard to avoid. If Iraq is slowly Vietnamizing, one reason must be that so many of the original players are still on stage. And that, too, adds to the nostalgic feeling of this book. We often forget how intricately connected the Watergate scandal was to the parallel efforts by the Nixon administration to tamp down dissent about the war, muzzle critics both inside and outside the administration, and prevent the full history of the war from being told. Rumsfeld and Cheney, of course, were in the White House on the day the helicopters removed the last stragglers from the roof of the embassy compound in Saigon. Henry Kissinger makes a lengthy cameo appearance as a maven of deep influence in the Bush White House, blindly repeating the mantra 'victory' without ever quite defining it. Wise men are summoned for meetings that adjourn with no results. Body counts are cited as indices of progress. Stephen Hadley, now Bush's national security adviser, wonders about ways that we might be able to retreat quietly and declare victory. It's deja vu all over again. Near the beginning of his tenure, President Bush said, 'time is our ally at the beginning of the administration. It will at some point turn against me.' Abraham Lincoln, whose name graces the aircraft carrier where President Bush declared victory in Iraq, once wrote, 'We cannot escape history.' That remains true, even for presidents. Soon the full story of the Iraq War will be told by historians, who will be swayed less by the heat of the moment and adhere instead to the simple tally sheet of promises made and kept. They will not be swayed by ABC television scripts, or executive privilege or lofty claims that were once made but, like snowflakes, melted upon human contact. This book, heavy in every sense, will be at the top of their shelves as they proceed to the altar of judgment. Ted Widmer is the director of the John Carter Brown Library at Brown University. He was director of speechwriting at the National Security Council between 1997 and 2000." Reviewed by Ted Widmer, Washington Post Book World (Copyright 2006 Washington Post Book World Service/Washington Post Writers Group)
(hide most of this review)
"Whereas Mr. Woodward has tended in the past to stand apart from his narrative...he is more of an active agent in this volume — perhaps in a kind of belated mea culpa for his earlier positive portrayals of the administration." Michiko Kakutani, New York Times
"Woodward's impressively detailed and eye-opening revelations about the Bush administration's handling of the Iraq war and its aftermath are meeting with some of the same 'denials' referenced in the book's title." Boston Globe
After two #1 New York Times bestsellers on the Bush administration's wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, Woodward's new book on the Bush White House again provides an unparalleled, intimate account of the present state of national security decision-making.
Bob Woodward's third # 1 New York Times bestseller on President George W. Bush's wars tells the detailed, behind-the-scenes story of how the Bush administration failed to tell the truth about the Iraq War.
About the Author
Bob Woodward, a reporter and editor at the Washington Post since 1971, has authored or coauthored ten New York Times #1 bestsellers, including Plan of Attack, Bush at War, Shadow, The Agenda, The Commanders, Veil, Wired, The Brethren, The Final Days, and All the President's Men.
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History and Social Science » Military » Iraq War (2003-)