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November 1-7, 2006

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'State of Denial: Bush at War, Part II'

State of Denial: Bush at War, Part II
(By Bob Woodward; Simon & Schuster; 560 pages; $30 cloth)

The administration's plans/goals/timelines/benchmarks for Iraq are unraveling so fast that Bob Woodward's inside look at Bush's failures already feels dated barely a month after its publication. Who really cares if Laura Bush wanted W to dump Rumsfeld. Bush's December 2005 quip—"We're not leaving if Laura and Barney are the only ones who support me"—tells you all you need to know about how big a stick the First Lady carries. Woodward's detailed (too detailed; he is obsessed with how tall people are, right down to the half-inch) narrative contains plenty of evidence of rampant incompetence, from the utter failure on WMDs to a complete blindness toward the accelerating pace of daily insurgent attacks in Iraq. Two years ago, for instance, Rice and Rumsfeld were arguing about who was responsible for rebuilding the Iraqi security forces and army—unfinished business still. Depressingly, Woodward provides repeated instances of advisers who vowed to tell the president the dire truth about Iraq, but who simply wimped out when they got to the Oval Office, deterred either by the malevolent presence of Cheney and Rumsfeld, or simply deflected by Bush's seeming indifference to contrary ideas. Jay Garner, for instance, given his shot, failed to tell Bush what he really thought about Paul Bremer's major mistakes (shattering the Baath Party, disbanding the Iraqi army); instead he "told Bush that everyone on the Iraqi street loved him." Woodward notes drily, "Once again the aura of the presidency had shut out the most important news—the bad news." In one painfully ironic moment, during the early months of 2006, when a new leader for Iraqi's government had yet to be chosen, Bush started complaining to Chief of Staff Andrew Card about the process: "Where's the leader? Where's George Washington? Where's Thomas Jefferson?" Good questions—the American people are asking that about their own leaders, much less Iraq's. (Woodward touches briefly, and gingerly, on the Scooter Libby/Valerie Plame outing incident, but remains somewhat annoyingly coy about his own role in the sordid affair; a much fuller account can be found in Michael Isikoff and David Corn's Hubris.)

Review by Michael S. Gant


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