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White House Disputes Book's View of Bush

By Dan Eggen
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, September 6, 2008

The White House yesterday disputed several elements of a new book detailing internal administration battles over Iraq, saying that a news story about the book wrongly portrays President Bush as detached from decision-making and misleading in his public statements about the war.

The book by Washington Post associate editor Bob Woodward, "The War Within: A Secret White House History, 2006-2008," depicts an administration riven by dissension and slow to confront the deterioration of its strategy in Iraq during the summer and early fall of 2006. The book, due for release Monday, also says Bush privately believed U.S. efforts were failing during that period, even while declaring publicly that the war was being won.

In a seven-paragraph statement, national security adviser Stephen J. Hadley disputes several of the book's main themes, reported in a Post article published yesterday, calling Woodward's portrayal of Iraq war policy "at best incomplete."

Hadley says that Bush "acknowledged the violence in his public statements and discussed what we were doing about it" in 2006 and that "there were positive developments that suggested our strategy at the time might work" until that fall.

Hadley quarrels with the contention that Bush was largely detached from an internal Iraq strategy review in late 2006, saying the president "drove the process." He also says it is "not true" that the review was kept secret to avoid damaging GOP chances in the midterm elections.

"The president wanted a private internal review process precisely so as not to politicize the process," writes Hadley, who conducted the review. "If he had wanted to boost the Republican chances in the election, he would have publicly announced both the strategy review and the decision to change his Secretary of Defense."

Finally, Hadley writes that the Post article about the book is wrong to say an increase in U.S. troops in Iraq, beginning in early 2007, was not the primary reason violence has dropped in that country. Hadley reiterates the White House's contention that the "surge" in troops was the crucial step that allowed other improvements to take hold.

"Because of the President's decision, Iraq is a much more stable and secure country today," he writes.

Woodward responded that "the book and the article in The Post are fully supported by reporting, documents, interviews and the president's own words."

White House press secretary Dana Perino said earlier in the day that the administration had been given two advance copies of the book Thursday night and that senior officials were "working through it."

The statement does not address the allegation in Woodward's book that the Bush administration has conducted an extensive spying operation on Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, his staff and others in the Iraqi government. Perino and other officials declined to comment.

In several respects, Hadley's statement represents another round of litigation over the failures and successes of the Iraq war, including the relative importance of the troop surge and whether the Bush administration reacted too slowly to an expanding insurgency that claimed thousands of U.S. and Iraqi lives.

Some of Hadley's claims are called into question by statements from Bush himself, either to the public or in two interviews he granted Woodward for the book.

For example, Hadley rebuts the book's depiction of Bush as detached from the strategy review: "Nothing could be further from the truth," he writes. Yet the president is quoted in the book as saying: "Let's cut to the chase. Hadley drove a lot of this."

Hadley also argues that the death of al-Qaeda in Iraq leader Abu Musab al-Zarqawi in June 2006 "provided reason to believe that the tide of the insurgency was turning." But even at the time, military analysts warned it was unlikely to stem the killing. And in announcing Zarqawi's death, Bush said, "We can expect the terrorists and insurgents to carry on without him."

Staff writer Karen DeYoung contributed to this report.

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