STATE OF DENIAL: Conflict in the Cabinet
Should He Stay?
Monday, October 2, 2006
This is the second of two articles adapted from the book "State of Denial: Bush at War, Part III" by Bob Woodward, Simon & Schuster, New York, © 2006.
After President Bush won reelection in 2004, White House Chief of Staff Andrew H. Card Jr. got out an 8 1/2 -by-11 spiral notebook, half an inch thick, with a blue cover. He called it his "hit-by-the-bus" book -- handy in case someone in the administration suddenly had to be replaced. He had intentionally used a student notebook, something he had bought himself, so it wouldn't be considered a government document or presidential record that might someday be opened to history. It was private and personal.
A second term traditionally leads to personnel changes. The question was whether one of them would involve Secretary of Defense Donald H. Rumsfeld.
Card had to approach the issue with delicacy. Iraq was the centerpiece of everything now, and the president was clearly predisposed not to do anything that would disrupt the war effort. If Rumsfeld left, what would the impact be on overall momentum and on the morale of those who were doing the fighting? Rumsfeld had a virtual monopoly on defense contacts with the president, so there was no way the president could get independent information to answer those kinds of questions.
The champions of change at the Defense Department included Condoleezza Rice, the national security adviser who would soon be nominated to become the new secretary of state; her replacement as national security adviser, Stephen J. Hadley; and Card himself.
Card had the names of 11 possible Rumsfeld replacements in his "hit-by-the-bus" book, among them Sen. Joseph I. Lieberman (D-Conn.), who had been Al Gore's vice presidential running mate in 2000 and was a staunch defender of the Iraq war, and Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.).
But Card thought the best replacement for Rumsfeld would be James A. Baker III, who had been White House chief of staff and Treasury secretary under President Ronald Reagan, then secretary of state and chief political adviser to the president's father.
Card floated the names to Bush over the course of several weeks, all the while underscoring the advantages of change. But his focus was on Baker.
"Mr. President, this is my quiet counsel," Card said. "Put a diplomat in the Defense Department."
The president seemed genuinely intrigued.
"You don't have to rush to make a decision," Card advised.
Card spoke with Rumsfeld, who talked as if he presumed there would be no change. One of Rumsfeld's minions told Card, "Nothing will happen until the war is over."