It’s hard to know what is more disturbing. That George W. Bush misled the public by stating in the months before the Iraq war that he was seriously pursuing a diplomatic resolution when he was not. That he didn’t bother to ask aides to present the case against going to war. That he may have violated the U.S. Constitution by spending hundreds of millions of dollars secretly to prepare for the invasion of Iraq without notifying Congress. That he was misinformed by the CIA director about one of the most critical issues of the day and demanded no accountability. Or that he doesn’t care if he got it wrong on the weapons of mass destruction.
Bob Woodward’s new book, Plan of Attack, illustrates all these points. The full book, which details Bush’s march to war, is not yet out, but as is routine for a Woodward book, the more noteworthy passages have preceded the book’s release via a well-orchestrated PR blitz ( 60 Minutes, installments in Woodward’s Washington Post, and leaks). And before this book–which follows Woodward’s Bush at War, a mostly pro-Bush chronicling of the war in Afghanistan–hits the racks, it is already possible to draw conclusions. (Isn’t life in the information age wonderful?)
Let’s assume Woodward has gotten the story right. He may not deserve the full benefit of the doubt. Everything in the book is apparently drawn from off-the-record interviews except for two sessions with Bush. And some longtime Woodward critics still maintain (reasonably) that his book on the CIA in the 1980s, Veil, ended with a supposedly secret deathbed interview with CIA director William Casey that did not pass the smell test. But after Bush at War was published, the Bush crowd did not take exception to Woodward’s work. So it is clear that he has the access and contacts (particularly with Secretary of State Colin Powell) to pen an insider’s account of the Bush crowd.
The disclosure that appears to unsettle the White House the most is Woodward’s assertion that in mid-January 2003 Bush decided to proceed with the invasion of Iraq. Woodward also notes that in November 2001, Bush asked the Pentagon to whip up a plan for war with Iraq. Such an order can be defended by the administration as prudent planning. After all, in the post-9/11 world, you never know when you might need such a plan. (Yes, General Tommy Franks lied to the public in May 2002 when he said, “My boss has not yet asked me to put together a plan” for attacking Iraq. Who, though, expects a military commander to reveal his secret plans?) But in the months before the war, the White House insisted that Bush was pursuing diplomatic options in good faith. At a November 20, 2002, speech in Prague, Bush said, “Our goal is to secure the peace through the comprehensive and verified disarmament of Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction.” And in late January, Bush spokesman Ari Fleischer said, “Nobody, but nobody, is more reluctant to go to war than President Bush….He does not want to lead the nation to war.”