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State of Denial: Bush at War, Part III Paperback – Bargain Price, September 3, 2007
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About the Author
Bob Woodward is an associate editor at The Washington Post, where he has worked for forty-one years. He has shared in two Pulitzer Prizes, first for The Washington Post’s coverage of the Watergate scandal, and later for coverage of the 9/11 terrorist attacks. He has authored or coauthored twelve #1 national nonfiction bestsellers. He has two daughters, Tali and Diana, and lives in Washington, DC, with his wife, writer Elsa Walsh.
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Woodward had several targets in this book. The first one is George W. Bush, who is characterized as being satisfied with the direction of foreign affairs and plays the role of cheerleader. Throughout the book I grew more anxious about whether anybody can truly communicate with Bush. One would hope the president listens to advisors, experts in different matters, as nobody knows everything and we all rely on others in this way. There just didn't seem to be evidence that Bush listens to others, although we can't know without being able to observe Bush in person.
The second target is Donald Rumsfeld. Rumsfeld seems to be very smart, self-confident and hard-working. He also is clearly a micromanager. Micromanaging the Pentagon is an impossible thing to do. It's too large and diverse. What went lacking is focused management of the war. This was extremely unfair to the volunteer troops deployed in Iraq and Afghanistan. I kept wishing if only the late Colonel David Hackworth could be put into the mix of war leaders. Hackworth was famous for being a great warrior, leader and having utmost concern for the fighting troops.
There are several third echelon targets. An interesting one is Condoleezza Rice. Rice also worked hard as did Rumsfeld. The work ethic and the brains were there. But being George Bush's friend was apparently more important to Rice than playing the role of National Security Advisor, leaving the country with nobody identifiable to give unpopular advice to the president. I felt the tragedy here yet we have to acknowledge that many countries have a nepotism system that precludes the kind of checks and balances that we used to take for granted. I felt that Rice could have been working in her capacity for a country with a dictatorship. Still, I have to allow the possibly that the greater tragedy put me in this frame of mind.
It occurred to me that Woodward has quite a staff. I can't imagine one man producing this set of books all by himself. There is simply too much research for one journalist to do solo. I'm glad also to live in a country where critical expressions such as this are possible.
Like Bob Woodward's former books on Bush and the war, this makes excellent reading. It is as free from bias as anyone could write in the circumstances. Everyone has a different take on what went right and what went wrong regarding Iraq. How readers see this book will be greatly influenced by the viewpoint they bring to the table.
That said, unless you are firmly set far to one side or the other of the subject, this book will surprise you. If you expect it to "bash Bush," it does not. Nor does it excuse him. Bush comes across as ill prepared for the job of leading. He bowed to the judgment of others and then made the mistake of defending the direction they took him. Admittedly, you won't find many "good guys" in this story and unless you have been a student of the war, you may not recognize the names of those cast in the most favorable light. Those with well-publicized names do not come off very well. In fact, people are so familiar with the names of those players that I am going to dispense with their first names.
Rumsfeld and the officers who served as Chairmen of the Joint Chiefs during the Bush administration come across as misleading the President, obstructing any efforts to change the direction Rumsfeld took the Pentagon, and failing to admit mistakes made. Chaney appears as a mysterious figure who wielded great power until late in Bush's second term. He seemed to lose that grip on things when "Scooter" Libby, his second in command, was indicted in the CIA leak case. Others in the administration - Rove and Wolfowitz for example - had their own agendas which Bush and Chaney often followed without anyone acting as a check on their influence.
Rice and Powell are special cases that come across with both high marks and serious negatives. Powell and his close associate Richard Armitage are credited with having a clearer vision of world affairs than other advisors to the President. Unfortunately, their advice was too often ignored or overruled. In the case of Powell, he acquiesced too easily in decisions that he sincerely doubted.
Anyone questioning the intelligence of the people who make it into the top echelons in our government is making a mistake. However, Rice's knowledge and skill stand out. She understood the workings of the government and the roles she played better than most. She was a loyal lieutenant to the President and during his first term was both an access point and conduit by which to reach the President. As National Security Advisor to the President, she wielded considerable additional power. In fact, she was such a key player that it spread her energies pretty thin while also threatening to compromise her role of palace guard. This changed after she became Secretary of State and she served the country well in that role despite whatever baggage she may have been carrying from Bush's first term.
Two other players are mentioned throughout the book but their influence on the President is unclear. The former President, George H. W. Bush, deliberately avoided having undue influence or conflict with his son. He was a loyal supporter as a father, but not an advisor. The second person is Prince Bandar bin Sultan, longtime Saudi Arabian ambassador to the United States and a longtime friend of the Bush family. He advised George W. Bush during the campaign for his first term. Both then and throughout the two terms of the second Bush administration, Bandar provided the President insight into the Arab world, as well as Saudi policy.
There are a multitude of other players from the Administration, the Pentagon, Iraq, Congress, and from outside of government. Woodward is adept at trying to keep the players straight. He fails only occasionally as the story shifts between locations, times, and centers of power. Overall, this is an excellent journalistic effort. When released, it was good reading on current events. Now, it is still that but is rapidly becoming good history as well. It is, of course, only a beginning of that history. New revelations about the Bush administration and the Iraq war are surfacing at an ever increasing rate. One wonders if Woodward will write a Part IV of his series. Undoubtedly, many others will write their own versions.
The book in large part follows Donald Rumsfeld, as he was the key player in this war. His refusal to play ball with other agencies and accept differing opinions is incomprehensible. Reading this book is like watching a group of preschoolers playing around with a toy, not realizing its a grenade. You're just waiting for something to go horribly wrong.
I know many people may be put off by the size of this book, but I assure you it is a book every American with a concern towards the Iraq War should read. It illustrates how President Bush created a "happy news only" atmosphere and how Rumsfeld refused to heed the advice of the military leadership. And it also demonstrates that the only solution our leaders could think of when things weren't going right was to send study group after study group over to Iraq to find out how to fix it...and then change absolutely nothing.
Eye-opening and maddening.