Correction to This Article
An earlier edition of this article appeared with a different headline.
Clarification to This Article
Headlines on a Sept. 30 article mischaracterized the White House reaction to revelations in Bob Woodward's new book, "State of Denial." The White House disputed certain assertions and conclusions in the book but did not deny that then-White House Chief of Staff Andrew H. Card Jr. tried twice to persuade President Bush to fire Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld. A photo caption that accompanied the story mischaracterized Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice's response to the book as well. Through a White House spokesman, she called reports that she had regular disputes with Rumsfeld "ridiculous," but she did not directly address Woodward's report that she supported Card's efforts to replace Rumsfeld.

New Book Fuels Election Year Debate Over Bush, Rumsfeld

By Peter Baker
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, September 30, 2006

New revelations that White House aides tried twice in the past two years to persuade President Bush to fire Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld fueled a caustic election-season debate yesterday over the president's wartime leadership and underscored divisions within his administration.

The latest book by Washington Post journalist Bob Woodward, "State of Denial," paints a portrait of an administration riven by personal and policy disagreements exacerbated by a deteriorating situation in Iraq that has grown even worse than Bush admits to the public. In Woodward's account, Bush has become increasingly isolated as his team has rejected advice to shift gears in Iraq before it is too late.

The White House tried yesterday to dismiss the significance of Woodward's assertions, while Democrats eagerly seized on the book to bolster their campaign attacks five weeks before midterm elections. Coming days after the partial release of a National Intelligence Estimate concluding that the Iraq conflict has spread the "global jihadist movement," the latest disclosures kept the focus on the missteps and consequences of an unpopular war.

The book reports that then-White House Chief of Staff Andrew H. Card Jr. twice suggested that Bush fire Rumsfeld and replace him with former secretary of state James A. Baker III, first after the November 2004 election and again around Thanksgiving 2005. Card had the support of then-Secretary of State Colin L. Powell and his successor, Condoleezza Rice, as well as national security adviser Stephen J. Hadley and senior White House adviser Michael J. Gerson, according to the book.

Even first lady Laura Bush reportedly told Card that she agreed Rumsfeld had become a liability for her husband, although she noted that the president did not agree. "I don't know why he's not upset with this," she told Card, according to the book. But Vice President Cheney and senior Bush adviser Karl Rove argued against dumping Rumsfeld, and Bush agreed.

The book details how Rumsfeld alienated key figures throughout the government and military: Rice complained that Rumsfeld would not return her telephone calls, forcing Bush to personally intervene. Rumsfeld rebuffed Card when he conveyed Bush's order to send National Guard troops to Louisiana after Hurricane Katrina until hearing from the president himself. Gen. John P. Abizaid, the senior U.S. commander in the Middle East, concluded that "Rumsfeld doesn't have any credibility anymore."

It also reports on ultimately futile attempts by civilian officials to persuade the Bush team to send more troops to Iraq and outlines secret government findings about escalating attacks on U.S. troops and dire forecasts about the war worsening over the next year rather than improving.

The White House has been bracing for weeks for the book, which is scheduled for release next week and will be excerpted in The Washington Post tomorrow and Monday. Woodward, a Post assistant managing editor, has built a career on producing bestsellers with sensational revelations from unnamed sources that touch off Washington furors and send politicians racing to explain themselves.

The White House cooperated extensively with Woodward's first two books on the Bush presidency, "Bush at War" and "Plan of Attack," granting him extraordinary access, including four interviews with the president. The books were criticized by some as overly favorable to Bush. But the White House seems to have anticipated that Woodward's third book would take a more critical view, and Bush declined to speak with him for it.

After the New York Times managed to buy an early copy of "State of Denial" and reported on it on yesterday's front page, Bush aides frantically called Woodward and asked for copies, which he sent over. A squadron of White House aides then spent hours tearing through the book and doing quick research to try to undercut its more damaging elements. They settled on a strategy of disputing certain conclusions while broadly dismissing it as old news.

"In a lot of ways, the book is sort of like cotton candy -- it kind of melts on contact," White House spokesman Tony Snow said at a briefing dominated by the topic. "We've read this book before. This tends to repeat what we've seen in a number of other books that have been out this year where people are ventilating old disputes over troop levels." Snow said it was well known that events in Iraq have been difficult and that officials have debated the right approach. "Rather than a state of denial," he said, "it's a state of the obvious."

Senate Democrats beat Snow to the punch and called their own news conference about the book two hours earlier, before they even had a copy. The title alone quickly became a Democratic mantra throughout the day. House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) said four times at a separate briefing that Bush was "in denial," and Democrats released a series of statements and "fact sheets" trumpeting the line.

CONTINUED     1        >

© 2006 The Washington Post Company