Talk Talk Talk Talk Talk Myself to Death: Who's in Denial, Bush or Woodward?

Saturday, September 30, 2006

Who's in Denial, Bush or Woodward?

The gray is simply getting overwhelming. Before going to bed last night (though not necessarily before going to sleep as I was writing), I posted about how we have to do everything we can to deliver one or both houses of Congress to a deeply flawed and morally compromised Democratic party.

And now we're getting the return of Bob Woodward. You may remember Woodward for such activities as helping to expose the Watergate cover-up and bringing about Richard Nixon’s resignation (for which he was justly seen by some as a hero). More recently, in the books Bush at War and Plan of Attack, he's been a mostly lapdog extolling the virtues and determination of the resolute Bush administration. But he's popping up this time apparently to repair his reputation and ride to our rescue all over again. State of Denial: Bush at War III, Part III is out today (moved up from Monday after The New York Times circumvented the sales embargo), and he's telling us now that maybe his two previous books on the Bushies' war plans didn't quite tell the whole story. This time around, he's telling us that maybe the administration's war planners didn't quite know what they were doing, that they were offered wise counsel and not only didn't recognize it but actively spurned it.

It's not quite clear what's happened since Woodward's last outing. He's famous for his access, of course, but according to the hype, he has less access this time around than he did before. The Prez himself did not talk to him for this book, and neither did Cheney. Are they so powerful and charismatic that their mere presence was enough to convince Woodward that everything was peachy? Is he just sticking his finger in the wind and supplying the public what it wants? When Bush's numbers were high, Woodward praised him; now that those numbers are down, Woodward dumps on him. Is it a coincidence or . . . something more?

In this morning's New York Times, Michiko Kakutani makes the same point in her book review.
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. It's a portrait that stands in stark contrast to the laudatory one Mr. Woodward drew in "Bush at War," his 2002 book, which depicted the president — in terms that the White House press office itself has purveyed — as a judicious, resolute leader, blessed with the "vision thing" his father was accused of lacking and firmly in control of the ship of state.

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.)

Later in the review, Kakutani points out more Bushie misbehavior.

Were the war in Iraq not a real war that has resulted in more than 2,700 American military casualties and more than 56,000 Iraqi civilian deaths, the picture of the Bush administration that emerges from this book might resemble a farce. It's like something out of "The Daily Show" or a "Saturday Night Live" sketch, with Freudian Bush family dramas and high-school-like rivalries between cabinet members who refuse to look at one another at meetings being played out on the world stage.
There's the president, who once said, "I don’t have the foggiest idea about what I think about international, foreign policy," deciding that he's going to remake the Middle East and alter the course of American foreign policy. There's his father, former President George Herbert Walker Bush (who went to war against the same country a decade ago), worrying about the wisdom of another war but reluctant to offer his opinions to his son because he believes in the principle of "let him be himself." There's the president's national security adviser whining to him that the defense secretary won't return her phone calls. And there's the president and Karl Rove, his chief political adviser, trading fart jokes.

Are these the same people that Woodward has been writing about for the past several years? Apparently so, but it's not clear quite why his opinion on them has changed. Is Woodward overcoming his own period of denial? Kakutani points out a couple of previous works to which Woodward seems to be in debt: a 2004 Ron Suskind piece in The New York Times Magazine and Thomas E. Ricks's Fiasco. Has Woodward’s own reporting fallen behind others who have already staked out this territory? I suppose Woodward might feel that it's inappropriate to step up and explain himself, but that's exactly what we need. He's on the record reporting both sides of these events, often in contradictory terms. Which is correct? Why has his thinking changed?

Apart from the editorial content and Woodward's opinions (Kakutani tells us that, contrary to his usual style, Woodward does insert himself and some of his personal reactions into the narrative), the writer does give us some new info. The New York Times detailed some of what they found in a preview copy yesterday, and Woodward provides his own preview in tomorrow's Washington Post. He'll also be featured in an interview with Mike Wallace tomorrow night on 60 Minutes.

Will any of this change the dynamic of the war or the election? Will the substance of this report be helped or hindered by the fact that former Bush cheerleader Woodward is the messenger?


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