It would be too much of a stretch to believe that Bob Woodward is in cahoots with the Democrats and has timed the release of his new book State of Denial for any other reason save the fact that political books are best published during the political season.
That said, it is fascinating to see the Democrats and the press leap upon this book like ravenous beasts, eagerly pointing out this little tidbit and that in order to “prove” something. What they are trying to prove is a mystery since from what I can gather from this story in the New York Times, there are absolutely no factual revelations contained between its covers. Instead, we have a typical Woodward book that gives us all the gossipy details of history in the making; what were people thinking and feeling as the Iraq War went to hell in a handbasket.
In fact, as is Woodward’s wont, he has relied on unsurpassed access to policymakers who for one reason or another, spill the chatty details about who they like, who they hate, why someone is strange or weird or just plain awful. They highlight their little stories by illustrating their points with vignettes of what goes on behind the scenes when high matters of state are being decided. Dishing dirt on co-workers may not be very elevating but it makes for damn fine reading.
Woodward then takes this raw material and fashions a narrative that is at once both gossipy and historical – an instant classic inside the beltway where people are always interested in gossip about politicians and their fellow travellers.
In this respect, Woodward will always be a highbrow Kitty Kelly, never quite descending into the personal muck that Kelly eagerly wallows in but at the same time, giving us the same angles and views of the high and mighty that Kelly so relishes. Both writers expose the powerful in ways that bring them down to the level of the rest of us by ripping aside the mystique of high office to reveal the petty, the quirky, the personality conflicts, and – dare I say it – the humanity of our national leaders.
The problem is that once you’ve read one Woodward book and the technique becomes familiar, most intelligent readers will start asking basic questions. How does he get those long, extended quotes from conversations between principals? How can he possibly know this particular detail of what someone else was thinking? Woodward’s books are usually riveting affairs because he has a reporters eye for important details and a novelist’s flair for making those details interesting. The question ultimately arises then; does he ever get his two personae confused? Does he try and logically extrapolate what was said or thought from known facts? Or does he truly have people on record revealing such intimate details of their thoughts and reactions?
Here’s Woodward himself on how he is able to write the way he does:
Woodward says that people talk to him because they know he has the time to get it right—which is also part of the reason these seemingly unattainable sources show him a little leg. “I have the significant luxury of time, which enables me to really look at something in depth,” he says. “I can go to people and then go to other people, and then go back and track and try to develop a documentary trail. I have time; most reporters don’t have time. Like you, for instance,” he said to me, “when you called me you said you had a tight deadline [for this story]. I don’t have that.”
It sounds plausible but it doesn’t answer some critics who believe he has actually fabricated some of the more noteworthy incidents in some of his books. Perhaps most famously, his 1987 book Veil which chronicled the extraordinary exploits (and crimes) of William Casey’s CIA, Woodward claims to have visited Casey on his deathbed in a hospital and gotten a confession from him that he knew about the transfer of funds from Iran to the Contras in Nicaragua. Casey’s widow stated that Woodward could not possibly have gotten access to her dying husband at that time – especially with a cadre of FBI agents guarding the Director’s door.
Somehow, this kind of thing has never damaged Woodward’s credibility. His eye opening books on the Clinton presidency – the towering rages by Clinton, the fights with Hillary, a cowed and brutalized staff – made for fascinating reading. But again, there really were no earth shattering revelations regarding policy or world events. Instead, the reader was treated to a front row seat at the greatest show on earth – how the powerful behave in various circumstances and the fact that they truly are no more or less human than the rest of us.
Woodward’s latest effort in this regard happens to arrive on book shelves at a very inopportune moment for the Administration. Just as the Republicans are making some headway in focusing attention on the fact that voting Democratic in November means handing the reins of power to politicans who have yet to annunciate anything approaching a policy on Iraq, the War on Terror, or homeland security, people are reminded once again what a truly botched effort the Iraq War has been and that the principals involved either through overweening hubris or tragic miscalculation quite simply blew it.
This hasn’t stopped the New York Times (who apparently got an advance copy – even before the Post was able to serialize the book prior to publication) from breathlessly reporting as “news” those facts which are already well known and whose only shock value will be in the way they are reported not that there is anything revelatory about them. In this respect, the Times and other news organs do the Democratic party a favor by going “green” and recycling – not to conserve but rather to destroy.
- Did we know the White House was warned that we would need hundreds of thousands of more troops in Iraq in order to get control of the country following the invasion? Perhaps we should ask General Shineski who testified before Congress and sounded that very warning.
- Did we know that Rumsfeld mismanaged the occupation and reconstruction? One need only look at Iraq today in order to draw that conclusion.
- Did we know that Rummy had lost credibility with the Generals by last fall? I guess the Times doesn’t read their own newspaper very often because that fact has been widely reported.
- Did we know that the Administration was in a state of denial about the insurgency? This is a little trickier because again, the Times would have to read their own newspaper to see the 180 degree change in policy regarding how we were fighting the insurgency in the spring of 2004 compared to the previous summer.
What we are treated to and told is “news” are all the little gossipy details like the fact that Rummy hated Condi and wouldn’t return her calls unless the President told him to or that Cheney was obsessed with proving that WMD’s existed in Iraq by going so far as calling David Kay, who was in charge of finding Saddam’s weapons, in the middle of the night to give him satellite coordinates of a place to look for them. (Now what does that do to the moonbat theory that we absolutely knew there were no WMD’s in Iraq and invaded anyway?)
As an inside look at the Bush Administration, I have little doubt that Woodward’s book will be an entertaining read. But its political utility will be to block the small amount of momentum that Republicans had been gathering this month in their efforts to keep control of the House and Senate not by revealing anything new but by dressing up old news in the latest anti-Bush couture.
Allah describes the impact of the book in much more apocalyptic terms and is filled with “heart-ache.”
I hadn’t read the Daily News blurb about Tenet coming to Rice in July of 2001 begging for funds to go after Bin Laden. If true, all it does in my mind is add to the ongoing argument about how responsible Bush or Clinton was for 9/11. And, of course, going after al-Qaeda at that point would not have stopped the 9/11 plot which was ready to step off, only needing a the Saudi muscle guys to show up in America and a firm date (the date was set in early August).
As for the descriptions of Rummy, this again is nothing new. He’s an incompetent fool and Republicans on the Hill who didn’t join with Democrats in getting this guy kicked out should be ashamed of themselves. When the investigations into what’s gone wrong in Iraq begin, we will not have to look any farther than Rumsefeld’s extraordinary mismanagement of the entire occupation. One disasterous decision after another while going before the American people and telling us how rosy things really were.
The gossip dished on Rumsfeld in the book will reveal nothing we didn’t know about him already. And I will reiterate what I said above; the impact of this book will not be in anything new but in how it is being reported. In that respect, it may, as Allah thinks, be something of an earthquake. More likely, it will stall the Republican comeback and cost some GOP representatives their seats. And in a close race like this one, that may be enough to tip the balance toward the Democrats in the House.