Sunday, October 15, 2006

 

State of Denial by Bob Woodward

"I've never thought Bush was dumb at all. But I think he's intellectually lazy and I think he wants people around him who will not challenge him but will give him the ammunition which he needs or wants in order to achieve some more general goal."
Sen. Carl Levin (D-Mich.)

By Edward Copeland
When the shock-and-awe publicity barrage began for Bob Woodward's State of Denial, I admittedly was skeptical. Was it news that Dubyaland encased itself in a bubble to avoid the realities of the mess they'd created in Iraq? Was Woodward trying to return a polish to his reputation after his first two glowing books on Bush and the revelation of his role in the investigation of the leak of CIA agent's Valerie Plame's covert identity? Still, I felt compelled to read the book and while the overarching theme of an administration with blinders on is not surprising, Woodward makes up for it with the amount of specifics he's managed to ferret out.

As it's been said many times before, the devil is in the details and the details are what make State of Denial such a fascinating read.

By now, most of the tidbits from the book have been revealed through countless television discussions both with and without Woodward but, needless to say, though Dubya comes off looking clueless, it's nothing to the portrait painted of Donald Rumsfeld.

One of the funniest things is that Rummy didn't want to cooperate with Woodward on his first two Bush administration books, but was ordered to. This time, the administration's overall ineptness didn't get the word to him that they didn't want to help Woodward this time and Rummy gave him more interviews — and lots of ammunition.

Yes, Rummy is arrogant, a power-mad control freak and incompetent, but when you read some of the quotes attributed to him in State of Denial, I have to ask — and not in jest — if anyone has ever asked the question whether Rummy could be showing signs of Alzheimer's disease. The defense secretary's insistence on having everything go through him at the same time he does his best to present himself as out of the loop is simply astounding.

Other revelations from the book that I found most interesting is its assessment of Jay Garner, the first U.S. administrator for post-invasion Iraq. The news reports all portrayed him as a bumbler who had to be removed from the job, but his extensive talks with Woodward — and his decision not to cash in by writing his own book (Who does that anymore?) — make it clear that Garner had much more on the ball than the people who hired him who repeatedly ignored his advice, replacing him with the completely in-over-his-head Paul Bremer.

Woodward also provides more insight from sources such as former Sen. David Boren and Brent Scowcroft of how concerned Dubya's mom and dad were (and presumably still are) about how their son has bungled Iraq.

The other thing about the book that surprised me, especially since it deals with a subject as bleak as Iraq, is how much humor can be found in it — or at least that I found in it. In addition to a colonel's haikus, many players including Richard Armitage and others give plenty of laugh lines. I also found it supremely ironic that when former Saudi Ambassador Prince Bandar discussed Arafat with Dubya he described him as "a schmuck." A Saudi using Yiddish to describe the late Palestinian leader actually made me laugh out loud.

If I found one major criticism, other than Woodward glossing over his role in the CIA leak investigation and not identifying Armitage as his source, it's that as the book goes along, Afghanistan disappears much as it has in the media over the years. The deterioration of the situation over there because of being bogged down in the wholly unnecessary mission in Iraq seemed deserving of further mention.

The book is long, but it can be a fairly quick read thanks to mostly short chapters. It's not as compelling as Frank Rich's recent The Greatest Story Ever Sold, but it's well worth the effort.


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