As Bob Woodward's latest book climbed the bestseller charts last week, the personal fortunes of Don Rumsfeld tumbled. The one man's rise and the other man's fall were not totally disconnected. Published weeks before the mid-term elections, State of Denial effectively rehashed the Bush administration's many mistakes made before and after 9-11, and before and after the Iraq invasion. If Woodward sees a particular weak link in the administration, it's Don Rumsfeld. Targeting him for the better part of the book, Woodward portrays the Defense Secretary as a micromanager who browbeat his subordinates and cut strong military thinkers out of the war planning process, and who went to war with 140,000 troops (instead of the 600,000 recommended by General Tommy Franks), and then oversaw the ill-planned occupation. Now #5 on the New York Times bestseller list, Woodward helped intensify the criticism of Rumsfeld throughout October, and, when the elections went the Democrats' way, the Sec. of Defense was gone. (If you don't own the book, check out Woodward's piece in Newsweek, which gives you the short version of how Rummy dropped the ball.)
One of the bigger revelations in State of Denial is that Rumsfeld almost got cut back in 2004, when Bush won his second term. Andrew Card, Bush's former Chief of Staff, quietly tried to engineer a shuffle, but political considerations ultimately got in the way. (Woodward summarizes this part of his book in a recent Washington Post article.) What you get here is trademark Woodward. He gives you an intriguing insider view of how politics gets played out in Washington -- how Rumsfeld won't return Condi Rice's phone calls, how the Chief of Staff tries to sack Rummy, how no one will tell Bush the problems they see in Iraq, etc.
Woodward's account is all very interesting. But it's also troubling in a way. The third installment of a trilogy called Bush at War, State of Denial re-examines some of the same ground that Woodward already covered in first two books, but it turns a previously enthusiastic analysis of the war effort into a critical one. You can't help but feel that Woodward, like so many others now, wants to distance himself from this president and his war. And he's more than willing to make his case by interviewing former administration members (Andrew Card) who are looking to do the same. So, what you get here is a case where a credibility gap unfortunately casts doubt on the substance.
You can read the full first chapter of Woodward's book here.
Franklin Foer reviews Woodward in the New York Times, Nov 12, 2006.
Finally, you can also catch Woodward on Letterman: