Books: State of Denial

Bob Woodward
Author and Assistant Managing Editor, The Washington Post
Friday, October 20, 2006; 12:00 PM

Assistant Managing Editor for The Washington Post and author Bob Woodward was online Friday, Oct. 20, at Noon ET to discuss "State of Denial," his third book about the Bush administration, which traces in narrative form the first days George W. Bush thought about running for president through the recruitment of his national security team and cabinet, the war in Afghanistan, the war in Iraq and the struggle for political survival in the second term.

Read Excerpts from "State of Denial."

Woodward's other two national bestsellers about the Bush administration are "Bush at War" (2002) and "Plan of Attack" (2004).

A transcript follows.


Santiago, Chile: Mr. Woodward, you got hard criticism for your previous books "Bush at War" and "Plan of Attack," mainly because they were perceived to be somehow sympathetic to the administration. I read a headline that said "from watchdog to lapdog." Did that kind of criticism influence in any way the title (that is not neutral, like the previous two) and the tone of "State of Denial"? Did it influence the way you're promoting it? Thank you very much.

Bob Woodward: Not at all. All the books are books of reporting. If people went back and carefully read the first two books they would see that it is a balanced portrait with many, many negatives. But books, like everything, tend to be pigeonholed. Readers who know the books realize they are the basic in-depth story of what happened in all stages of the Bush presidency for the last five and a half years.


Ellicott City, Md.: If you get a great nugget for a book well before you think the book will come out, how do you deal with the thought of sitting on the information (and possibly being "upstaged" by someone else who also finds it)?

Bob Woodward: If there is something that is so significant that I believe it should be immediately reported, I would go back to the sources and get release to put it in The Washington Post. This has happened a number of times and in the months after the 9/11 terrorist attacks. Because of their obvious significance I devoted full-time to reporting.


Santa Barbara, Calif.: Dear Bob,

Congratulations on your new book. It has been suggested that when Bush was high in the polls you wrote a book praising him, and now that he is low in the polls you write a book attacking him. How would you respond to this?

Bob Woodward: It's just not true. This is the same question that was asked in the first question. You report on the information you have. No serious, careful reader of these books could conclude that I am responding to public opinion or any external pressures.


Richmond, Va.: Bob,

Were you able to establish to what degree Bush was determined to invade Iraq prior to 9/11? And, if so, was there any forethought from Bush or advisers regarding the long-term consequences of such an invasion, the increased burden on our resources, etc.?


Bob Woodward: One of the themes of denial is how they failed to pay significant attention to the aftermath and the details and analysis of how a country might be occupied. Essentially Bush and the war cabinet thought it was all going to be easy and ignored or paid little attention to the warnings issued before the war and in the months after the invasion. Specifically, Jay Garner, the man in charge of post-war Iraq, told Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld in June 2003 that "three tragic decisions" had been made and could be reversed. They were disbanding the Army, getting rid of 50,000 senior Baath Party members in the government, and sending home an interim Iraqi governing council. But Rumsfeld chose to stay the course.


Atlanta Ga.: Bob,

In the first part of his presidency, Bush was accused of taking directions from V.P. Cheney and talk of him being the most powerful V.P. in history. Do you think that's still true, or do you think he is now "his own man?" Thanks!

Bob Woodward: I don't think Bush ever took directions from Cheney. Nonetheless, as I report, the vice president has been a powerful, steamrolling force, particularly when he pressed for the invasion of Iraq. Management of Iraq in the last three years has been handled largely by Rumsfeld, the military and the State Department. Cheney is still probably the most influential adviser but as the violence and chaos in Iraq have escalated, handling the war is done increasingly by the military and on the ground.


Bowie, Md.: There have been a number of reports / rumors regarding the relationship of Bush 41 and 43 as it relates to the latter's presidency. Do you believe that George W. intentionally ignored advice from his father regarding foreign policy? And overall, do you believe that George W. respected the overall presidency of George H.W.?

Bob Woodward: Good questions. I have asked President Bush about his father's advice on the Iraq war and he insisted none was given. I report in this book that his father wanted to let his son have his own presidency and so he kept his distance and did not offer much, if any, advice.


Alexandria, Va.: Do you feel, personally, that we should have gone into Afghanistan and dealt with whatever terrorists we knew about to the best of our ability and stayed out of Iraq until we had better reason to invade if at all? Thanks and regards.

Bob Woodward: What I tried to do is stick to the information I can obtain and not speculate on what might have been or should have been. But there is no question that the mounting evidence over the last years shows we invaded and really didn't have an effective strategy for dealing with a persistent and violent insurgency. What is most alarming is that the administration has not told the truth about how bad it has been. Finally today, one of the generals in Iraq seemed to be much more realistic in assessing and providing bad news.


Austin, Tex.: Mr. Woodward,

Thanks for taking questions today. I just finished "State of Denial" and have a question for you. Of the three, Bush, Cheney and Rumsfeld, which would you say is the primary "decider" of policies in Iraq? If you could vote one of them "off the island, which one would it be?

Bob Woodward: The president is the commander in chief and ultimately responsible. In a practical sense, Rumsfeld is the deputy president for the Iraq war. Happily, journalists don't have a vote about who stays on the island and who goes off. But Bush, Cheney and Rumsfeld are in the same boat on this issue and history will likely judge them together.


Washington, D.C.: Dear Mr. Woodward,

Are you currently working on a fourth book in this series?

Bob Woodward: Not yet but obviously books and much will be written about the next phase or phases of the war.


Atlanta, Ga.: Mr. Woodward,

Do you believe there is any significant difference between Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara and Donald Rumsfeld?

Bob Woodward: Certainly they're very different people. They both have been or were secretaries of defense during incredibly controversial, drawn out foreign wars. I found that Rumsfeld, as I report in the book, very much feels that it's time to, as he puts it, "get our hand off the back of the bicycle seat" in Iraq and turn more and more of the security and other responsibilities over to Iraqis. But because of the overwhelming level of violence not much has been done or could be done. Increasingly other administration figures are joining in saying let's get the "training wheels" off. But I have not yet heard anyone with a plan, timetable or a strategy to do this effectively.


Newport Coast, Calif.: Does the title of your new book refer to your state of mind in your previous two books on the Bush presidency or the current state of mind of the Bush administration?

Bob Woodward: This is the same old question from people who are not carefully reading the earlier books. Just to pause for a moment on this issue, the second book, "Plan of Attack," about Bush's decision to go to war in Iraq, resulted in two front-page stories in The New York Times. One of them said the book had "jolted the White House." We ran five front-page stories from the book in The Washington Post that outlined the disagreement, tension and hostility among senior war cabinet members. For example, the book reported that Colin Powell, the secretary of state, believed that Vice President Cheney had a "fever" about Iraq and that Cheney could not be trusted to reliably use intelligence reports. The Los Angeles Times reviewer of "Plan of Attack" said, "The American people seldom have been given this clear of a window on their government's most sensitive deliberations."


Tel Aviv, Israel: Do you believe that your access to President Bush after "State of Denial" will be as before? Furthermore, will Rumsfeld survive in this administration following midterm elections? If he does not, then is it fair to assume that your book facilitated his departure? Thank you.

Bob Woodward: The president declined to be interviewed for "State of Denial" and I have no idea what role the book might play in Rumsfeld's future. I do believe it is as close an intimate account of what really has happened with Iraq policy making in the last three and a half years. That is the issue, not some newspaper article or some book or some assessment that might be made by a think tank. Outcomes will be judged by the overall records both public and private.


Alexandria, Va.: Sir:

Was there a single, catalytic event or period that caused what you see as a state of denial to start, or was it a gradual, creeping process?

And are you optimistic that this refusal to face the facts can be reversed?

Bob Woodward: Those are very good questions. The optimism and expectation the war would be short and easy created an environment of denial from the beginning. This has gone on for three and a half years but it is now so bad and the violence is so off the charts and unmanageable that the entire political system in our country is going to have to come to grips with it.


Rancho Palos Verdes, Calif.: You recently said on television that the hours you worked during the Watergate years were "murderous." Another character from that time, John Dean, recently stated something to the effect of "it would be very difficult today for reporters to have caught something like Watergate" because of the work cycle and time necessary to do investigations.

Do you agree?

Bob Woodward: The Washington Post gave me several years to work on this book and without that luxury of time it's very difficult to get secret information, documents and candid assessments from those in power.


Indianapolis, Ind.: Why do politicians let reporters, such as yourself, into the inner circle? What's in it for them?

Bob Woodward: There are lots of people in government, the White House, the Pentagon, the State Department and the intelligence agencies, who want the truth out. It just takes time to develop relationships and trust so you can get that kind of authentic insider information.


Richmond, Va.: Mr Woodward, thank you for doing this chat. How do you respond to criticism that your books are biased in favor of people who choose to be interviewed by you versus those who do not? Do you do anything specifically to correct for this as part of your editing process?

Bob Woodward: Many reviewers and commentators have said that the book places Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld in a harsh light. He was interviewed extensively on the record for the book. I have a process of talking or trying to talk to everyone and get what we used to call "the best obtainable version of the truth." This is a pretty full account and I believe it's fair-minded.


Chicago, Ill.: Mr. Woodward,

A consistent theme in your book is that President Bush does not consistently challenge the views of his advisers. Some in your book attribute this to intellectual laziness, others to loyalty. Why do think President Bush is willing to accept the opinions of others without question and do you think this practice will continue?

Bob Woodward: Any chief executive needs informal ways to get unvarnished information. There is evidence the president is reaching out more but as Republican Sen. Chuck Hagel told the president he tends to be "bubbled-in" and does not actively solicit alternative views.


Washington, D.C.: Congratulations on the success of your book. Among your sources willing to be named on record, I was most surprised by Gen. Jones, given his current active-duty status as NATO commander. Have any of your sources indicated to you that they have faced professional blowback for cooperating with your research?

Bob Woodward: Not that I know of. Gen. Jones was willing to affirm on the record some private conversations he had with Gen. Pace before he became Chairman of the Joint Chiefs, such as his belief that Iraq had become a "debacle" and that the Joint Chiefs of Staff had "surrendered" too many of their responsibilities and authority to Rumsfeld.


Richmond, Va.: What does Carl Bernstein think of the book?

Bob Woodward: Carl said he's read it and thinks it's one of the best books I've done.


Arlington, Va.: Do you ever go back to the deep throat parking garage in Rosslyn by the Gold's Gym to breathe in the Watergate nostalgia?

Bob Woodward: I did have the opportunity to go there with Tom Brokaw of NBC who did a TV special on the identity of our Watergate source, Deep Throat, who was W. Mark Felt, the number two in the FBI at the time.


Indianapolis, Ind.: What amount of impact do you think that your book has had on the last weeks of the midterms?

Bob Woodward: I have no idea and books and news coverage become part of the debate at times but they are done to inform people, not have an impact on political elections or campaigns.


Anonymous: Dear Mr.Woodward:

Is it fair to quote somebody in a book when you had obtained those quotes by claiming that you were working on a different project?

I am referring to the quotes attributed the vice president in the book "State of Denial." I understand that you had not interviewed him specifically for this book, but had interviewed him when you were supposedly working on a different project.

Bob Woodward: That is correct but it was a totally on the record interview and the Vice President brought up the fact that he met monthly with Henry Kissinger. The discussion, the interview was about President Ford and obviously the current situation involving Cheney's meetings with Kissinger had nothing to do with President Ford. So an on the record interview is on the record. The vice president was not happy. He clearly disagreed. I can see his point of view but the transcript shows it was on the record. Instead of discussing it, he hung up on me.


Lund, Sweden: How do you respond to Condoleezza Rice's statement that the rift between her and Rumsfeld never became so critical as you described in "State of Denial"? Is she lying or did you overstate the disagreements?

Bob Woodward: Andy Card, the former White House chief of staff, has confirmed publicly what I quoted him saying in the book, namely that Rumsfeld occasionally did not return Rice's phone calls and the president had to talk to Rumsfeld about it. So what's in the book is reported accurately and subsequently confirmed by a first-hand witness.


Anonymous: Bob,

When The Washington Post takes a stance in its editorial pages on major issues, for example, prior to the war in Iraq, The Washington Post ran an editorial basically stating that the war was necessary, do you provide, or does the editorial staff ask you for input on those positions, or do you know what information on which they based their decision to back the war?

Bob Woodward: That is a very important question. The news side of the newspaper where I work has nothing, absolutely zero, to do with the editorials which are written by a separate staff. The editorial writers, no doubt, read the news in The Washington Post but how they use it or ignore it or have other sources of information is unknown to me.


Bob Woodward: Thank you for the questions. I wish I had time to answer more. I have spent so much time reporting on the war because I believe it is the defining event for the Bush presidency and the whole country. The 150,000 U.S. servicemen and women have one of the most difficult tasks ever assigned the American military. They deserve our support and they deserve the truth about what got us there and what is going on now. The reporting is all to that end.


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