More News That Isn’t News

Bob Woodward’s new book says the White House ignored pleas from an Iraqi adviser that thousands more troops were needed to put down the insurgency. David Sanger writes in today’s New York Times:

The book describes a White House riven by dysfunction and division over the war.

The warning is described in “State of Denial,” scheduled for publication on Monday by Simon & Schuster. The book says President Bush’s top advisers were often at odds among themselves, and sometimes were barely on speaking terms, but shared a tendency to dismiss as too pessimistic assessments from American commanders and others about the situation in Iraq.

As late as November 2003, Mr. Bush is quoted as saying of the situation in Iraq: “I don’t want anyone in the cabinet to say it is an insurgency. I don’t think we are there yet.”

More juicy bits:

The book describes a deep fissure between Colin L. Powell, Mr. Bush’s first secretary of state, and Mr. Rumsfeld: When Mr. Powell was eased out after the 2004 elections, he told Andrew H. Card Jr., the White House chief of staff, that “if I go, Don should go,” referring to Mr. Rumsfeld.

Mr. Card then made a concerted effort to oust Mr. Rumsfeld at the end of 2005, according to the book, but was overruled by President Bush, who feared that it would disrupt the coming Iraqi elections and operations at the Pentagon.

Vice President Cheney is described as a man so determined to find proof that his claim about weapons of mass destruction in Iraq was accurate that, in the summer of 2003, his aides were calling the chief weapons inspector, David Kay, with specific satellite coordinates as the sites of possible caches. None resulted in any finds.

One big dysfunctional family. I like Laura Rozen’s comment here:

And what is Cheney’s source for coordinates for nonexistent WMD stockpiles in Iraq? Seriously, if you watched Cheney on Tim Russert the other week, you start to wonder if someone is briefing the vice president on intelligence reports that do not appear to be coming from the known US services. He seems to be being briefed from a totally different stream of intelligence. It’s quite disturbing. He doesn’t seem fully aware even now how much the public analysis of US reports contradicts what he seems to believe is true (for instance, he still seems convinced about Atta in Prague, even though, US intel services that we at least know about contradict that according to the new Senate Select Intel committee Phase II report).

(Waving arm) I know! I know! He’s got a reverse polarity tin foil hat that detects thought waves that bounce off the moon and channels them directly into his brain!

Sanger points out that Woodward’s other books give a different impression.

Mr. Woodward’s first two books about the Bush administration, “Bush at War” and “Plan of Attack,” portrayed a president firmly in command and a loyal, well-run team responding to a surprise attack and the retaliation that followed. As its title indicates, “State of Denial” follows a very different storyline, of an administration that seemed to have only a foggy notion that early military success in Iraq had given way to resentment of the occupiers.

As Steve M. says, “When you’ve lost Bob Woodward, there’s no where else to go but down.”

I like these bits from David Sanger, too.

Mr. Woodward writes that in the weeks before the Sept. 11 attacks, Mr. Tenet believed that Mr. Rumsfeld was impeding the effort to develop a coherent strategy to capture or kill Osama bin Laden. Mr. Rumsfeld questioned the electronic signals from terrorism suspects that the National Security Agency had been intercepting, wondering whether they might be part of an elaborate deception plan by Al Qaeda.

On July 10, 2001, the book says, Mr. Tenet and his counterterrorism chief, J. Cofer Black, met with Ms. Rice at the White House to impress upon her the seriousness of the intelligence the agency was collecting about an impending attack. But both men came away from the meeting feeling that Ms. Rice had not taken the warnings seriously.

Hmm, where have we heard this before

If you’ve never read “Blind Into Baghdad,” James Fallows’s Atlantic Online article from 2004, I suggest you go ahead and read it now. If there’s a subscription wall at Atlantic Online you can read the article here. In a nutshell, before the invasion, the Administration got tons of advice from experts that anticipated every bad thing that would happen. Every one.

Tomorrow CNN will be running a documentary on Rumsfeld in which Rummy says, “Well, I think that anyone who looks at it with the benefit of 20/20 hindsight has to say that there was not an anticipation that the level of insurgency would be anything approximating what it is.” In fact, all kinds of people anticipated that the force Rummy sent into Iraq would be inadequate to keep the peace. Rummy just wouldn’t listen to them.

Anyway, at the end of this essential piece Fallows speculates why the Bushies are such flaming idiots that they didn’t think they needed to worry about the occupation:

How could the Administration have thought that it was safe to proceed in blithe indifference to the warnings of nearly everyone with operational experience in modern military occupations? Saying that the Administration considered this a truly urgent “war of necessity” doesn’t explain the indifference. Even if it feared that Iraq might give terrorists fearsome weapons at any moment, it could still have thought more carefully about the day after the war. World War II was a war of absolute necessity, and the United States still found time for detailed occupation planning.

The President must have known that however bright the scenarios, the reality of Iraq eighteen months after the war would affect his re-election. The political risk was enormous and obvious. Administration officials must have believed not only that the war was necessary but also that a successful occupation would not require any more forethought than they gave it.

It will be years before we fully understand how intelligent people convinced themselves of this. My guess is that three factors will be important parts of the explanation.

One is the panache of Donald Rumsfeld. He was near the zenith of his influence as the war was planned. His emphasis on the vagaries of life was all the more appealing within his circle because of his jauntiness and verve. But he was not careful about remembering his practical obligations. Precisely because he could not foresee all hazards, he should have been more zealous about avoiding the ones that were evident—the big and obvious ones the rest of the government tried to point out to him.

A second is the triumphalism of the Administration. In the twenty-five years since Ronald Reagan’s rise, political conservatives have changed position in a way they have not fully recognized. Reagan’s arrival marked the end of a half century of Democrat-dominated government in Washington. Yes, there has been one Democratic President since Reagan, and eventually there will be others. But as a rule the Republicans are now in command. Older Republicans—those who came of age in the 1960s and 1970s, those who are now in power in the Administration—have not fully adjusted to this reality. They still feel like embattled insurgents, as if the liberals were in the driver’s seat. They recognize their electoral strength but feel that in the battle of ideology their main task is to puncture fatuous liberal ideas.

The consequence is that Republicans are less used to exposing their own ideas to challenges than they should be. Today’s liberals know there is a challenge to every aspect of their world view. All they have to do is turn on the radio. Today’s conservatives are more likely to think that any contrary ideas are leftovers from the tired 1960s, much as liberals of the Kennedy era thought that conservatives were in thrall to Herbert Hoover. In addition, the conservatives’ understanding of modern history makes them think that their instincts are likely to be right and that their critics will be proved wrong. Europeans scorned Ronald Reagan, and the United Nations feared him, but in the end the Soviet Union was gone. So for reasons of personal, political, and intellectual history, it is understandable that members of this Administration could proceed down one path in defiance of mounting evidence of its perils. The Democrats had similar destructive self-confidence in the 1960s, when they did their most grandiose Great Society thinking.

The third factor is the nature of the President himself. Leadership is always a balance between making large choices and being aware of details. George W. Bush has an obvious preference for large choices. This gave him his chance for greatness after the September 11 attacks. But his lack of curiosity about significant details may be his fatal weakness. When the decisions of the past eighteen months are assessed and judged, the Administration will be found wanting for its carelessness. Because of warnings it chose to ignore, it squandered American prestige, fortune, and lives.

Ah, but Fallows wrote that in 2004. The nation has learned so much more since … oh, wait …

3 thoughts on “More News That Isn’t News

  1. It’s so maddening to see Woodward (whom I picture running into Andy Sullivan at their weekly Bushaholics Anonymous meetings) finally coming round to what Fallows was reporting two goddamn years ago.

    By the way, that was Bulworth (guest-blogging for Steve M) who made the Woodward comment (I’m also guest-blogging there, so I have a small stake in seeing credit go where it’s due).

  2. My guess as to why Woodward came out with this book is Bush’s approval numbers. If the approval rating get above 50% again, I would expect another ‘Bush is Great’ book.

  3. It will be years before we fully understand how intelligent people convinced themselves of this.

    One need only read Smartest Guys in the Room to see this in action. This administation and Enron have a lot in common. The blind eye to realities on the ground, an obsession with appearance of success rather than success itself, and the belief that all problems can be managed with photo ops and optimistic speeches.

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