By Dan Froomkin
Special to washingtonpost.com
Friday, September 29, 2006 12:46 PM
After two books that made President Bush look pretty good, Bob Woodward is out with a new one that comes awfully close to calling the president a liar.
I can't imagine Woodward himself ever using the word -- it's much too shrill for the poster boy for the mainstream media.
But is there any other way to describe what seems like the central theme of his new book, tartly titled "State of Denial"?
Woodward is an assistant managing editor of The Washington Post, which is scheduled to run excerpts of the book in its Sunday and Monday editions. But the news about the book first came from CBS, which yesterday uncorked a preview of Woodward's upcoming interview on "60 Minutes". The New York Times ran a long piece this morning, after somehow managing to buy a copy of the book four days before the official release date.
CBS News reports: "Veteran Washington reporter Bob Woodward tells Mike Wallace that the Bush administration has not told the truth regarding the level of violence, especially against U.S. troops, in Iraq. He also reveals key intelligence that predicts the insurgency will grow worse next year. . . .
"According to Woodward, insurgent attacks against coalition troops occur, on average, every 15 minutes, a shocking fact the administration has kept secret. . . .
"The situation is getting much worse, says Woodward, despite what the White House and the Pentagon are saying in public. 'The truth is that the assessment by intelligence experts is that next year, 2007, is going to get worse and, in public, you have the president and you have the Pentagon [saying], 'Oh, no, things are going to get better,' he tells Wallace. 'Now there's public, and then there's private. But what did they do with the private? They stamp it secret. No one is supposed to know,' says Woodward."
Woodward also tells Wallace that aged Republican war-horse Henry Kissinger is closely advising Bush, telling him there is no exit strategy other than victory.
"Woodward adds. 'This is so fascinating. Kissinger's fighting the Vietnam War again because, in his view, the problem in Vietnam was we lost our will.' . . .
"President Bush is absolutely certain that he has the U.S. and Iraq on the right course, says Woodward. So certain is the president on this matter, Woodward says, that when Mr. Bush had key Republicans to the White House to discuss Iraq, he told them, 'I will not withdraw, even if Laura and Barney are the only ones supporting me.'"
Here's a video clip , worth watching if for nothing else to hear Woodward say of Kissinger: "He's back!"
David E. Sanger writes in the New York Times: "The book describes a White House riven by dysfunction and division over the war. . . .
"The book says President Bush's top advisers were often at odds among themselves, and sometimes were barely on speaking terms, but shared a tendency to dismiss as too pessimistic assessments from American commanders and others about the situation in Iraq. . . .
"Vice President Cheney is described as a man so determined to find proof that his claim about weapons of mass destruction in Iraq was accurate that, in the summer of 2003, his aides were calling the chief weapons inspector, David Kay, with specific satellite coordinates as the sites of possible caches. None resulted in any finds. . . .
"Mr. Woodward's first two books about the Bush administration, 'Bush at War' and 'Plan of Attack,' portrayed a president firmly in command and a loyal, well-run team responding to a surprise attack and the retaliation that followed. As its title indicates, 'State of Denial' follows a very different storyline, of an administration that seemed to have only a foggy notion that early military success in Iraq had given way to resentment of the occupiers."
William Hamilton picked up the story for washingtonpost.com this morning, writing: "Former White House chief of staff Andrew Card on two occasions tried and failed to persuade President Bush to fire Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, according to a new book by Bob Woodward that depicts senior officials of the Bush administration as unable to face the consequences of their policy in Iraq. . . .
"Woodward writes that Bush considered the move, but was persuaded by Vice President Cheney and Karl Rove, his chief political adviser, that it would be seen as an expression of doubt about the course of the war and would expose Bush himself to criticism."
On CNN, Jack Cafferty had this to say: "President Bush is absolutely certain that the United States is on the right track in Iraq. That's according to this new book by Bob Woodward. In fact, Bush is so sure that he supposedly told a group of Republicans gathered at the White House quote, 'I will not withdraw even if Laura and Barney are the only ones supporting me', unquote.
"Apparently it doesn't matter that almost two-thirds of Americans oppose the war in Iraq. That only a quarter of this country thinks we're winning the war in Iraq. And that most Americans think the situation in Iraq has degenerated into a civil war, 65 percent, as long as Barney supports him."Quite the Turnaround
The new book may also write a new chapter in Woodward's storied career.
Famous for being half of the reporting team credited for exposing the Watergate scandal and bringing down the presidency of Richard Nixon, Woodward went on to become the quintessential Washington insider, publishing scores of stories and books based on highly-placed confidential sources.
His first two books on Bush -- "Bush at War" and "Plan of Attack" -- were largely flattering depictions of the president.
Woodward's image took a major bruising last November, (see my November 16 column ) when it was revealed that he had kept secret for more than two years that he was the first reporter to whom a senior administration official leaked the identity of CIA operative Valerie Plame.
Woodward apologized for failing to tell his superiors at The Post. But the irony of a journalist sitting on information like that, along with murmurings in Washington about what he had given up in return for the unparalleled access to the Bush White House, combined to raise doubts about his reportage.
So does this book mark a return to Woodward as Washington iconoclast, rather that Woodward as Washington icon?
Perhaps tellingly, the New York Times reported that according to the book, neither Bush nor Cheney agreed to be interviewed this time around.More Denial
Daniel Benjamin and Steven Simon , writing in a Washington Post op-ed, marvel at Bush's current refusal to acknowledge that the war in Iraq has made the terror threat worse.
"Just as President Bush urges that we take the terrorists at their word about their wish to create a new caliphate, we take them at their word about their motivation: Iraq has been crucial. . . .
"Then there is the claim that Iraq has not had a catalytic effect because the terrorists were already after us, an argument the president repeated Tuesday. 'We weren't in Iraq when we got attacked on September the 11th. . . . We weren't in Iraq when they first attacked the World Trade Center in 1993.'
"No doubt the United States would have had a serious struggle against radical Islam after Sept. 11 under any circumstances. But the occupation of Iraq, by appearing to confirm bin Laden's arguments about America's antipathy toward the Muslim world, has had an incendiary effect and made matters dramatically worse."
And blogger Brendan Nyhan notes some unintentional irony in a Bush speech yesterday. Said Bush: "We are a nation at war. I wish I could report differently, but you need to have a President who sees the world the way it is, not the way somebody would hope it would be."The Abramoff Revelation
And here's some amazing news. After Scott McClellan and others hotly denied that now-convicted lobbyist Jack Abramoff had anything more than passing contact with the White House, a Congressional report out today suggests the contrary.
Here's the report from the House Government Reform Committee.
John Bresnahan and Paul Kane write for Roll Call: "A House committee has documented hundreds of contacts between top White House officials and former lobbyist Jack Abramoff and his associates, as well as tens of thousands of dollars worth of meals and tickets to sporting events and concerts that were offered to these officials during a three-year period starting in early 2001."
Philip Shenon writes in the New York Times: "The authors of the report said it was generally unclear from available records whether the aides reimbursed Mr. Abramoff for the meals or tickets. Ethics rules bar White House officials from accepting lobbyists' gifts worth more than $20. . . .
"Mr. Rove has described Mr. Abramoff as a 'casual acquaintance,' but the records obtained by the House committee show that Mr. Rove and his aides sought Mr. Abramoff's help in obtaining seats at sporting events, and that Mr. Rove sat with Mr. Abramoff in the lobbyist's box seats for an N.C.A.A. basketball playoff game in 2002.
"After that game, Mr. Abramoff described Mr. Rove in an e-mail message to a colleague: 'He's a great guy. Told me anytime we need something just let him know through Susan.' The message was referring to Susan Ralson, Mr. Abramoff's former secretary, who joined the White House in February 2001 as Mr. Rove's executive assistant.
"Ms. Ralston, who did not return phone calls seeking comment Thursday, was lobbied scores of times by Mr. Abramoff and his partners, the report found, and was instrumental in passing messages between Mr. Abramoff and senior officials at the White House, including Mr. Rove and Ken Mehlman. . . .
"On learning in July 2002 that Mr. Rove planned to dine at Signatures with a party of 8 to 10 people, Mr. Abramoff wrote to a colleague: 'I want him to be given a very nice bottle of wine and have Joseph whisper in his ear (only he should hear) that Abramoff wanted him to have this wine on the house.' In another e-mail message, Mr. Abramoff directed his restaurant staff to 'please put Karl Rove in his usual table.'
"[Dana] Perino, the White House spokeswoman, said the offer of a free bottle of wine was actually proof of how little acquainted Mr. Abramoff and Mr. Rove were because 'Karl doesn't drink alcohol.'"
Peter Wallsten and Walter F. Roche Jr. write in the Los Angeles Times: "A news release from [the committee's Republican chairman, Rep. Thomas M. Davis III]'s office said the 95-page report revealed only 'scant and circumstantial evidence that Abramoff's encounters and entreaties had a dispositive impact on administration policy or personnel decisions.' But it singled out Ralston -- Rove's assistant and Abramoff's former employee -- who was lobbied 69 times, the most contacts with any individual named in the report. She also received numerous tickets to concerts and sporting events.
"'Her role in brokering requests to Rove from her former boss raises questions . . . about some of her activities,' the release said."
Susan Schmidt notes in The Washington Post: "The report did not determine how many of those contacts -- referenced in e-mails and Abramoff's often falsified client bills -- actually occurred. . . .
"'The only thing this report demonstrates is what a lot of us already know: Jack Abramoff had a penchant for exaggerating and charging his clients for minor contacts with government officials,' White House spokeswoman Dana Perino said."
Here's McClellan on January 17, responding to a question about Abramoff's contacts with the White House: "I checked on this. What I was asked is to go and check on this, and I did. And there were only a couple of holiday receptions that he attended, and then a few staff-level meetings on top of that. And that's the way I would describe it.
"Now, what I can't do is go and say with absolute certainty that he did not have any other visits. We did a check at your request and what I have learned from that request is exactly what I am telling you."
As for Rove, McClellan said "he knows Mr. Abramoff. They are both former heads of the College Republicans. That's how they got to know each other way back, I think it was in the early '80s. And my understanding is that Karl would describe it as more of a casual relationship, than a business relationship. That's what he has said."
George Stephanopoulos reports for ABC News: "Outside his home in Washington, D.C., Karl Rove commented exclusively to ABCNews on his dealings with Jack Abramoff.
"In answer to inquiry on whether he had accepted gifts from Abramoff, Rove simply replied, 'afraid not.'"The Detainee Bill
Rick Klein writes in the Boston Globe: "The Senate yesterday passed a sweeping measure authorizing military tribunals for some suspected terrorists and permitting aggressive interrogations of top terror suspects, handing President Bush a major victory five weeks before crucial congressional elections."
Charles Babington and Jonathan Weisman write in The Washington Post: "The Senate joined the House in embracing President Bush's view that the battle against terrorism justifies the imposition of extraordinary limits on defendants' traditional rights in the courtroom. They include restrictions on a suspect's ability to challenge his detention, examine all evidence against him, and bar testimony allegedly acquired through coercion of witnesses. . . .
"Democrats . . . nearly amended the detainee bill to allow foreigners designated as enemy combatants to challenge their captivity by filing habeas corpus appeals with the federal courts. But Republicans held fast, gambling that Democrats will fail in their bid to convince voters that the GOP is sacrificing the nation's traditions of justice and fairness in the name of battling terrorists and winning elections."
R. Jeffrey Smith writes in The Washington Post: "The military trials bill approved by Congress lends legislative support for the first time to broad rules for the detention, interrogation, prosecution and trials of terrorism suspects far different from those in the familiar American criminal justice system."
David G. Savage and Richard Simon write in the Los Angeles Times: "Bush is expected to receive a bill he can sign into law in the next few days, but legal challenges almost assuredly will be pursued against the prosecution process, which the administration considers a key element in its war on terrorism."
I'm still amazed that Democrats didn't filibuster the bill in the Senate. Indeed, 12 Democrats actually voted for it.
By contrast, Carl Hulse , writing in the New York Times, is amazed at how many Democrats voted against it: "The Democratic vote in the Senate on Thursday against legislation governing the treatment of terrorism suspects showed that party leaders believe that President Bush's power to wield national security as a political issue is seriously diminished. . . .
"It was a stark change from four years ago, when Mr. Bush cornered Democrats into another defining pre-election vote on security issues -- that one to give the president the authority to launch an attack against Iraq. At the time, many Democrats felt they had little choice politically but to side with Mr. Bush, and a majority of Senate Democrats backed him."
The White House released this statement from Bush last night: "Today, the Senate sent a strong signal to the terrorists that we will continue using every element of national power to pursue our enemies and to prevent attacks on America. The Military Commissions Act of 2006 will allow the continuation of a CIA program that has been one of America's most potent tools in fighting the War on Terror."The Morning Visit
Ted Barrett writes for CNN: "President Bush barely mentioned the war in Iraq when he met with Republican senators behind closed doors in the Capitol Thursday morning and was not asked about the course of the war, Sen. Trent Lott, R-Mississippi, said.
"'No, none of that,' Lott told reporters after the session when asked if the Iraq war was discussed. 'You're the only ones who obsess on that. We don't and the real people out in the real world don't for the most part.'"Gloves Come Off
Jim Rutenberg writes in the New York Times: "President Bush took on the Democrats on Thursday with some of his most pointed language yet this campaign year, telegraphing the start of the last, intensive phase of the election season for the White House. . . .
"'Five years after 9/11, the worst attack on the American homeland in our history, the Democrats offer nothing but criticism and obstruction and endless second-guessing,' Mr. Bush said at a fund-raising event for Gov. Bob Riley. 'The party of F.D.R. and the party of Harry Truman has become the party of cut and run.' . . .
"Mr. Bush has been honing his offensive against Democrats for weeks as his political team seeks to shift the election-year focus from a debate about him and the unpopular war to one about terrorism in general, his party's efforts to combat it and what he describes as the opposition's promotion of defeatism and retreat.
"But until now he had left the sort of hard-charging talk that he used here to his political strategist Karl Rove, Vice President Dick Cheney and the Republican national chairman, Ken Mehlman."
Here's the text of the speech in question.Wall Street Journal Interview
John D. McKinnon writes in the Wall Street Journal: "President Bush said he would speed up his alternative-energy push during the remainder of his term with new spending focused on easing bottlenecks that are slowing the spread of ethanol in the market.
"In an interview with The Wall Street Journal on a swing through Alabama, Mr. Bush said he is seeking ways to overcome difficulties in transporting the fuel, and to increase the number of stations selling it."
Here's the transcript of the interview, in which Bush also suggested that if the elections go his way, he'll take another shot at entitlements.
"Q: Do you envision an entitlement reform combining those two into one effort? In other words, Social Security and Medicare?
"THE PRESIDENT: Well, it's an interesting strategy. I'm working with [Treasury] Secretary Paulson on that. We're obviously watching the elections closely, and we're strategizing internally."Fighting Over History
President Clinton's fiery interview with Chris Wallace of Fox News last weekend, in which he revived charges that Bush didn't take the threat of terrorism seriously enough before Sept. 11, is still reverberating around Washington.
Michael Duffy writes for Time: "The Bush White House has always been hugely sensitive about this charge because, well, there is some truth to it. The new administration came into office and put terror about third or fourth down on its list of big worries, behind Russia, the ABM treaty, and sorting out that unexpected spy plane problem with the Chinese. (Many Republicans just refuse to believe this.)
"And the person (besides Bush himself) most responsible for ordering things that way was Condoleezza Rice, then the National Security Adviser, a longtime Russia expert. It was always my impression that Rice made it through all the after-action reviews of 9/11 surprisingly unscathed."
E.J. Dionne Jr. writes in his Washington Post opinion column that in the weeks and months after 9/11, "Democrats rallied behind President Bush. For months after the attacks, Democrats did not raise questions about why they had happened on Bush's watch. . . .
"Republicans were arguing simultaneously that it was treasonous finger-pointing to question what Bush did or failed to do to prevent the attacks, but patriotic to go after Clinton. Thus did they build up a mythology that cast Bush as the tough hero in confronting the terrorist threat and Clinton as the shirker. Bad history. Smart politics."Two Presidents and a Comedian
Caren Bohan writes for Reuters: "When President George W. Bush hosts Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbayev at the White House on Friday, he will seek to bolster ties with an oil-producing Central Asian country that has lent Washington support on Iraq and Afghanistan.
"But Bush, who has made promoting democracy a centerpiece of his foreign-policy agenda, faces a difficult balancing act with Nazarbayev, whose autocratic ways have been criticized by human rights groups."
From a Washington Post editorial : "Mr. Bush has given numerous speeches in the past several years repudiating what he says was the mistake of backing corrupt authoritarian regimes in the Middle East in exchange for economic and security cooperation, as well as an illusory 'stability.' But that is exactly what he is doing in Kazakhstan -- and in Azerbaijan, Pakistan, Libya and Egypt, among other Muslim countries."
But it's comedy, not hypocrisy, that has Washington abuzz about Kazakhstan today.
Amy Argetsinger and Roxanne Roberts write in The Washington Post about Sacha Baron Cohen, the British comic who is currently playing the role of "Borat Sagdiyev -- an anti-Semitic, oversexed Kazakh journalist who spins tales about the national sport of killing dogs and the practice of keeping women in cages -- much to the continuing dismay of the Kazakh government. In a brilliant stunt to promote his movie 'Borat' (opening next month), Baron Cohen held a guerrilla news conference outside the embassy at 16th and O streets NW -- without ever breaking character."
Cohen then led the media hordes to the front gates of the White House.
Andy Sullivan writes for Reuters: "Secret Service agents turned away British comedian Sacha Baron Cohen, in character as the boorish, anti-Semitic journalist, when he tried to invite 'Premier George Walter Bush' to a screening of his upcoming movie."
Here are Borat's adventures in photos .