Monday, April 19, 2004


Last night on 60 minutes, famed journalist Bob Woodward-- the other guy that helped uncover the Watergate scandal-- gave an interview about his new book, Plan of Attack, that chronicles the White House leading up to the Iraq War. It should be noted that Viacom is the parent company of CBS, the network that airs 60 minutes, and is also the parent company of Simon and Schuster, the publishing house that is publishing Woodward's book. Nonetheless, it was certainly a compelling interview. Gleaned from transcripts and interviews with 75 top officials in the White House, including President Bush, Woodward's book conveys an unflattering image of a White House eager to go to war, and racked with division. The rift was clearly between hawkish Vice President Dick Cheney and the realist dove Colin Powell. Others in the administration like Rumsfeld, Rice, and Wolfiwitz, also advocates for the war in Iraq, managed to acquire more access to the President, which ultimately influenced his decision. Chief among them was Cheney. An article by the New York Times today states that the relationship between Powell and Cheney had soured through the years:

In 2002, Mr. Cheney was openly disdainful of Mr. Powell's insistence on getting approval of the United Nations Security Council before going to war, spreading consternation at the State Department. Mr. Powell won that argument, and President Bush authorized a bid to get a Security Council resolution supporting war.

Mr. Powell's memoir also recalls an exchange in the early 1990's, in which Mr. Powell accused Mr. Cheney " jokingly, he insisted " of being surrounded by "right-wing nuts like you." In the last year, the Woodward book says, Mr. Powell referred privately to the civilian conservatives in the Pentagon loyal to Mr. Cheney as the Gestapo

But irrespective of these variables, it appears that a greater force my have interceded on Bush's behalf: God. Woodward speaks of one exchange with the president, asking him with whom he sought advice for about the decision to go to war:

Did Mr. Bush ask his father for any advice? "I asked the president about this. And President Bush said, "Well, no," and then he got defensive about it," says Woodward. "Then he said something that really struck me. He said of his father, "He is the wrong father to appeal to for advice. The wrong father to go to, to appeal to in terms of strength." And then he said, "There's a higher Father that I appeal to."

It's difficult to interpret this exchange without thinking: WOW. I'm mean surely faith is an integral guide in politics, and always has been. Further, public office should not be exclusive to only those who renounce thier religious faith. But, inasmuch as religious faith informs political practice, it should not be used demagogically to impose values. A decision to undertake war should be deliberative and discursive, involving all relevant members of cabinet. Woodward adds that Powell and, strangely, Rumsfeld weren't informed by the Preident when he made his decision:

"The president, in making the decision to go to war, did not ask his secretary of defense for an overall recommendation, did not ask his secretary of state, Colin Powell, for his recommendation,"says Woodward.

It seems as early as November of 2001, Bush tasked Rumsfeld to prep a War Strategy for Iraq; Joshua Marshall speaks to this here. Yet somehow, post war planning has been abysmal, if existent.

The justifications for war begin to look more threadbare with the passage of time. In the month of Apirl, thus far, 99 us soldiers have died-- the worst for any month since Operation Iraqi Freedom began. The Administration's logic that the worse it gets in Iraq, will only be evidence of how much progress is being made, needs to be rethought. Woodward 's book comes at an extremely vulnerable time for the Administration, already reeling from Richard Clark's critical book, Against All Enemies.

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