BOOKS OF THE TIMES; A Portrait of the President as the Victim of His Own Certitude
By MICHIKO KAKUTANI
State of Denial
Bush at War, Part III
By Bob Woodward
560 pages. Simon & Schuster. $30.
"In Bob Woodward's highly anticipated new book, ''State of Denial,'' President Bush emerges as a passive, impatient, sophomoric and intellectually incurious leader, presiding over a grossly dysfunctional war cabinet and given to an almost religious certainty that makes him disinclined to rethink or re-evaluate decisions he has made about the war....Read more.
As this new book's title indicates, Mr. Woodward now sees Mr. Bush as a president who lives in a state of willful denial about the worsening situation in Iraq, a president who insists he won't withdraw troops, even 'if Laura and Barney are the only ones who support me.' (Barney is Mr. Bush's Scottish terrier.) Mr. Woodward draws an equally scathing portrait of Secretary of Defense Donald H. Rumsfeld, who comes off as a bully and control freak who is reluctant to assume responsibility for his department's failures, and who has surrounded himself with yes men and created a system that bleached out 'strong, forceful military advice.' Mr. Rumsfeld remains wedded to his plan to conduct the war in Iraq with a lighter, faster force (reflecting his idée fixe of 'transforming' the military), even as the situation there continues to deteriorate.
Mr. Woodward reports that after the 2004 election Andrew H. Card Jr., then White House chief of staff, pressed for Mr. Rumsfeld's ouster (he recommended former Secretary of State James A. Baker III as a replacement), and that Laura Bush shared his concern, worrying that Mr. Rumsfeld was hurting her husband's reputation. Vice President Dick Cheney, however, persuaded Mr. Bush to stay the course with Mr. Cheney's old friend Mr. Rumsfeld, arguing that any change might be perceived as an expression of doubt and hesitation on the war. Other members of the administration also come off poorly. Gen. Richard B. Myers is depicted as a weak chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, who routinely capitulated to the will of Mr. Rumsfeld and who rarely offered an independent opinion. Former C.I.A. director George J. Tenet is described as believing that the war against Iraq was a terrible mistake, but never expressing his feelings to the president. And Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice (who appears in this volume primarily in her former role as national security adviser) is depicted as a presidential enabler, ineffectual at her job of coordinating interagency strategy and planning.
For instance, Mr. Woodward writes that on July 10, 2001, Mr. Tenet and his counterterrorism coordinator, J. Cofer Black, met with Ms. Rice to warn her of mounting intelligence about an impending terrorist attack, but came away feeling they'd been given 'the brush-off' -- a revealing encounter, given Ms. Rice's recent comments, rebutting former President Bill Clinton's allegations that the Bush administration had failed to pursue counterterrorism measures aggressively before 9/11.
As depicted by Mr. Woodward, this is an administration in which virtually no one will speak truth to power, an administration in which the traditional policy-making process involving methodical analysis and debate is routinely subverted. He notes that experts -- who recommended higher troop levels in Iraq, warned about the consequences of disbanding the Iraqi Army or worried about the lack of postwar planning-- were continually ignored by the White House and Pentagon leadership, or themselves failed, out of cowardice or blind loyalty, to press insistently their case for an altered course in the war.
Mr. Woodward describes the administration's management of the war as being improvisatory and ad hoc, like a pickup basketball game, and argues that it continually tried to give the public a rosy picture of the war in Iraq (while accusing the press of accentuating the negative), even as its own intelligence was pointing to a rising number of attacks against American forces and an upward spiral of violence. A secret February 2005 report by Philip D. Zelikow, a State Department counselor, found that ''Iraq remains a failed state shadowed by constant violence and undergoing revolutionary political change' and concluded that the American effort there suffered because it lacked a comprehensive, unified policy.
Startlingly little of this overall picture is new, of course. ..."
Photo Credit: Simon & Schuster
- U.K. reportedly tried to curb U.S. on Iraq
The British government tried to rein in US policy in Iraq from the outset of the March 2003 invasion but found itself powerless to do so. David Blunkett, Home Secretary at the time of the invasion, told newspapers that Vice President Dick Cheney and Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld could not be diverted from their goal of dismantling the Iraqi Baathist government system.