Posted April 24 8:05pm
by Aaron Huertas
U-WIRE Washington Bureau
Washington Post writer Bob Woodward is no stranger to Presidential politics. Along with fellow Post writer Carl Bernstein, he helped break the Watergate story that eventually led to Richard Nixon’s resignation.
With such a start in the world of Presidential reporting, it’s almost surprising that he has been allowed unprecedented access into several administrations. Woodward’s latest book, “Plan of Attack,” chronicles the buildup to the war in Iraq. The book is a product of interviews with 75 people and reviews of documents surrounding the decision to go to Iraq. The Washington Post has been running excerpts from the book for the past several days.
Overall, Woodward says he feels President Bush is absolutely convinced that going into Iraq was the right thing to do. Woodward says Bush asked Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld to draft plans for a war in Iraq on Nov. 21, 2001. While Bush went to the United Nations to try to get the rest of the world on board, Rumsfeld was meeting with generals and commanders to get a handle on the operations.
Woodward states that Bush decided to go into Iraq on Jan. 11, 2003. He details a meeting among several principles and the Saudi ambassador, Bandar bin Sultan. Sultan was shown a map of the planned war. He received an assurance from Vice President Cheney that “once we start, Saddam is toast.”
On January 13, Bush met with Secretary of State Colin Powell. For six months, Woodward says, Powell had “been hammering on this theme” that the United States would be taking down a regime, would have to govern Iraq, and the ripple effect in the Middle East and the world could not be predicted.”
By Woodward’s account, Powell did not approve of the idea to go to war, but supported the President as Secretary of State.
Woodward says CIA Director George Tenet described the WMD case against Saddam Hussein as “a slam dunk.” Bush and other aides expressed some skepticism at the data, but were assured the WMD would be found in Iraq. Powell was chosen to present that case to the United Nations because of his level of credibility at home and abroad, and by most accounts did a spectacular job.
Woodward portrays Cheney as the biggest hawk in the administration.
“Talk of diplomacy and now patience was wrong in his view. Nothing could more effectively slow down the march to war, a war he deemed necessary,” Woodward wrote.
According to Woodward’s book, Cheney and Powell are no longer on speaking terms. “Powell thought that Cheney had the fever,” Woodward wrote, “The vice president and [undersecretary of Defense Paul] Wolfowitz kept looking for the connection between Hussein and Sept. 11. It was a separate little government that was out there.”
Powell has since said in a televised interview, “My support was willing, and it was complete.”
He also disputed the idea that he and the vice president are not on speaking terms. “When the vice president and I are alone, it’s Colin and Dick,” he said.
Woodward maintains that his characterization of their relationship is accurate. “Powell is the diplomat. He is the reluctant warrior. He is the cautious person, and Cheney is much more hard-lined, believes that with someone like Saddam Hussein, you can’t play patty-cake, diplomacy doesn’t work,” he said.
Woodward said the decision to go to the United Nations the second time was mainly to help bolster British Prime Minister Tony Blair’s standing with his own people, who were generally opposed to the war. This is a sticking point for the administration which maintains that the absolute final decision to go into Iraq was made in March, after the second attempt at getting U.N. support failed.
It seems the administration knew it was going in since January, but it wasn’t officially official till March.
Interestingly, the book is getting a welcome reception from both the Bush and Kerry camps. In an online chat Woodward said, “This book, ‘Plan of Attack,’ is not a one-dimensional portrait of the president or the administration. People are going to read it very differently depending on what they bring to the book. I was surprised and frankly somewhat happy that both the Bush/Cheney campaign and the Kerry campaign have put the book on the recommended reading lists on their Web sites.”
Woodward has high journalistic standards. This might be one of those few and far in between neutral political books. That both Kerry and Bush have endorsed the book shows that beyond the rhetoric and accusations, voters have a choice in November to endorse the Bush doctrine of preemptive action and unilateralism or reject it. Woodward doesn’t portray the Bush White House as a Machiavellian or sinister in its intentions. He shows that Bush has a vision for a peaceful, democratic Iraq serving as an example and bringing stability to the Middle East.
To what extent his vision pans out in the next few months, could determine Bush’s fate at the polls in November.
This article appeared in the April 22, 2004 issue of the Hatchet.