Bob Woodward's take on the Iraq war
The account given in State of Denial covers people and events from the point at which George W. Bush began to campaign for president of the U. S. through the first five years of his presidency. Wide-ranging data including hundreds of meeting dates, their attendees and concerns, provides a steady drumbeat of what has come to be recognized as a dismal failure to provide leadership after the successful invasion of Iraq in 2003.
Bush surrounded himself with experienced appointees from previous administrations as he commenced his presidency. As a result, he took the line of least resistance, relying on his appointees to keep him posted. They could apply decisive measures as they saw fit, as long as their actions did not adversely affect his determination to carry out democratization in the Middle East.
Rumsfeld, likewise brought in old friends and acquaintances from his previous dealings in defense and other positions in government. His modus operandi, however, was to grab for greater power at every opportunity. Through devious manipulation, he mostly managed to thwart the implementation of any but his own ideas. As a result, his and President Bush's approach to handling matters relating to the War in Iraq were quite different. Resorting to a cheerleader-style of optimism, Bush faced the ever-increasing demands from Congress and the public for information, saying we will win; we will win. We must stay the course. There is no alternative to victory. Many of his lackies looked upon any criticism of Bush and his policies as personal attacks and unpatriotic pronouncements.
Bush tended to disregard unpleasant reports provided him through multiple sources including the CIA and our various agencies in Iraq. In spite of their content, he frequently declared that victory was at hand, and all we had to do was be patient. He gave no indication that he ever listened to facts that he did not want to accept. Rumsfeld listened; although in the case for both men, their informers frequently told them what they wanted to hear, rather than the truth. Whether they did so out of fear of reprisal, to curry favor, or to simply take the easy way out depended on the persons doing the reporting.
The outcome was a lack of organization, lack of communication, lack of direction, and lack of anyone being held accountable for providing obligatory leadership. Furthermore, disagreement ran rampant between agencies of the State Department and the Department of Defense, especially if Rumsfeld was involved. Solutions to a given problem were rare since the President didn't care to intervene or make decisions. Rumsfeld did not tolerate opposition in his domain.
The result was that both men were in a state of denial, and both denied that there had been any errors made or deception committed with regard to their handling of War in Iraq. Both men denied making mistakes. When presented with inconertible evidence to the contrary such as on the topic of Iraq's weapons of mass destruction, they weaseled and made excuses. Bush, more or less, said there could have been weapons, and what then? Rumsfeld placed the blame for the perception of mistakes on his part on somebody else. Mostly he claimed that no one could be effective if dealing with the morass of bureaucracy in Washington, particularly the State Department.
Rumsfeld wasn't as critical of the Department of Defense because in the chain of command, he was at the head of that chain as far as he was concerned. He viewed himself as being in charge of everything. The result was that very little ever changed from day to day despite requests for money and equipment, or for other little things necessary to prosecute a successful war. His mantra became, let Iraq take care of its own problems.
A strategy for pulling Iraq together after the fall of Hussein's dictatorship did not exist, nor was anyone ever able to effectively articulate one, much less implement it. There were appointments and elections, charts and Power Point presentations, and dinner meetings. But due to the nature of the opposition among the Sunnis, the Shiites, and the Kurds, matters only worsened as Americans tried to compel the implementation of a democratic form of government.
By the end of the book, a bevy of military men had taken a crack at trying to halt the growing insurgency of the Sunnis vs. Shiites, thereby providing the security for the Iraqi people. Their efforts were largely unsuccessful; no significant progress was made. Among the critics of the war, one could almost hear the echoes of Vietnam reverberating in the corridors in D. C. The book ends before the 2006 election; however, it relates details of Bush's agonizing night following election day in 2004.
Considerable attention is given to Condoleeza Rice, as head of National Security. Her constant presence with the President, and many of her later activities in Iraq as Secretary of State are covered in detail. Many other principals are looked at closely from time to time including Vice President Dick Cheney, Karl Rove, Paul Wolfowitz, George Tenet, and Colin Powell. In dealing with these people as well as the heads of the military, Bush and Rumsfeld maintained their state of denial, despite their being the two men with the most power over the War in Iraq.
I have provided a skeletal summary of the content of this book. The only way to appreciate it fully, however, is to read it, cover to cover.