A new book says President Bush's advisers had grave doubts about the early course of the war in Afghanistan and suggests that the ultimate defeat of the Taliban was due largely to millions of dollars in hundred-dollar bills the CIA handed out to Afghan warlords to win their support.
"Bush at War," by Washington Post assistant managing editor Bob Woodward, draws on four hours of interviews with Bush and quotes 15,000 words from National Security Council and other White House meetings in reconstructing the internal debate that led to U.S. military action in Afghanistan and the decision to aggressively confront Iraqi President Saddam Hussein.
In detailing tensions within Bush's war cabinet, the book describes Secretary of State Colin L. Powell as frequently at odds with Vice President Cheney and Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld, and struggling to establish a relationship with Bush. But it depicts Powell as determined to make his case that military action against Iraq without the help of allies could have disastrous consequences, a chance he finally got at a dinner with Bush last Aug. 5.
While the dinner has been previously reported, the book describes in detail the case Powell made -- reading from an outline on loose-leaf paper -- that the United States has to have international support against Iraq. "It's nice to say we can do it unilaterally," Powell told the president bluntly, "except you can't."
The dinner persuaded Bush to seek a resolution from the United Nations over the objections of Cheney and Rumsfeld.
The book reports that despite their outward optimism, Bush's advisers had deep doubts about their strategy of bombing the Taliban while relying on ground forces from the Northern Alliance, the ragtag, factionalized opposition. At one point, the Pentagon developed plans to send in 50,000 U.S. troops. Bush, according to the book, hated what he saw as "hand-wringing" by his aides, but even he expressed doubts about the strategy, roaring at one point that he was "concerned about the fact that things aren't moving."
At a climactic meeting in the Situation Room two weeks into the campaign, Bush went around the table, demanding that his aides affirm their support for the strategy. They pledged allegiance to his plan, and his call for alternatives was met with unanimous "no's."
"Don't let the press panic us," Bush said.
According to "Bush at War," the CIA spent $70 million in direct cash outlays on the ground in Afghanistan, a figure that also included money for setting up field hospitals. "That's one bargain," the president said in an interview with Woodward last August.
In the interview, conducted at the president's ranch in Crawford, Tex., Bush was unusually reflective about his personal style and his ambitions as president. "Sometimes that's the way I am -- fiery," he said, describing his relationship with his aides, and adding: "I can be an impatient person." He spoke about his "instincts" or his "instinctive" reactions a dozen times during the ranch interview. "I'm not a textbook player; I'm a gut player," he said.
Bush outlined a far-reaching moral mission for his presidency in the aftermath of the attacks.
"I will seize the opportunity to achieve big goals," Bush said. "There is nothing bigger than to achieve world peace." Bush, discussing his experiences as a troubleshooter during his father's presidency and campaigns, said, "The vision thing matters. That's another lesson I learned."
Describing his aspirations for an ambitious reordering of the world through preemptive and perhaps unilateral action, Bush turned first to Iraq but then to North Korea and its dictator Kim Jong Il. With the administration contemplating a response to North Korea's nuclear weapons program, Woodward reports that Bush shouted and waved his finger in the air as he vented about Kim.
"I loathe Kim Jong Il," Bush said. "I've got a visceral reaction to this guy, because he is starving his people. And I have seen intelligence of these prison camps -- they're huge -- that he uses to break up families, and to torture people."
During the interview Bush was joined by first lady Laura Bush, who said she had been nervous and anxious after the terrorist attacks on Sept. 11, 2001. "I woke up in the middle of the night," the first lady said, gesturing toward her husband. "I know you did. I mean, I'd wake up in the middle of the night and know he was awake."
"I don't remember that. Was I some?" Bush asked, looking at her.
Woodward recounts that she nodded a strong affirmative.
"Yes," the president conceded. "Yes. Right after the attacks, I mean, I was emotional."
Bush said security fears forced him to cancel two White House poker games with friends from East Texas. Bush also said he was "floored" to learn that 11 days after the attacks on the Pentagon and World Trade Center, the FBI had interviewed 417 people as part of its terrorist sweep and that agents had put 331 people on their watch list, which consists of potential terrorists who might be in the United States or traveling to the country. Bush said he decided to keep the number secret because of the trauma that remained from the attacks.
In Bush's fractious war cabinet, previously unreported personal differences appear to be at least as pronounced as the widely known policy disputes: Cheney takes a swipe at Powell, Powell perhaps unintentionally denigrates the military, and Powell and Rumsfeld "had at times been almost glaring at each other across the table" over Afghanistan operations. Gen. Richard B. Myers, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, bypasses Rumsfeld to give to Powell and his deputy, Richard L. Armitage, the military information they need and the gossip they crave.
National security adviser Condoleezza Rice, whose role has been something of a mystery to those outside the inner circle of the administration, emerges as a backstage broker among members of Bush's war council who absorbs Bush's frustration when deliberations or events peeve him. Bush described her as "a very thorough person, constantly mother-henning me."
Rumsfeld is portrayed as irascible and visibly unhappy during the early days of war planning that the dominant figure was CIA Director George J. Tenet, a holdover from the Clinton administration. "This is the CIA's strategy," Rumsfeld railed at an NSC meeting nine days after the invasion of Afghanistan. "They developed the strategy. We're just executing the strategy."
The book's extensive portrait of Powell conveys his frustration with having to pretend that there was a policy consensus within the war cabinet on Iraq and the Middle East. He called it being "in the icebox" during periods when the White House banned him from television.
During the 2000 presidential campaign, according to the book, Karl Rove, Bush's chief political aide, "detected a subtle, subversive tendency, as if Powell were protecting his centrist credentials and his own political future at Bush's expense."
The ill will continued into the administration, when Rove "felt Powell was beyond political control and operating out of a sense of entitlement."
Powell's sense of isolation was so great that last March he began requesting private time in an effort to bond. Rice sat in on the meetings, held once a week for 20 or 30 minutes. "I think we're really making some headway in the relationship," Powell is quoted as telling Armitage, his best friend, after a summer conversation in the Oval Office.
Bush decided to take his case against Hussein to the United Nations in response to Powell and over the initial opposition of Cheney, who is described as "beyond hell-bent for action against Saddam." Cheney continued to argue against new resolutions giving Iraq one last chance, but Bush yielded to Powell's case for such an offer.
When Bush spoke to the U.N. General Assembly, however, the president realized that the addition to his speech had been left off the TelePrompTer. "With only mild awkwardness, he ad libbed it," according to the book.
Bush said during a February visit to the North Korean border that he had no intention of invading North Korea, but made it clear in the interview with Woodward he is not content with the status quo. "They tell me, we don't need to move too fast, because the financial burdens on people will be so immense if we try to -- if this guy were to topple," Bush said. But, he went on, "Either you believe in freedom and want to -- and worry about the human condition, or you don't."
In another sign of how deeply the president personalizes international relations, the book describes how Bush's relationship with Russian President Vladimir Putin flowered after the president heard that Putin had been given a cross by his mother. In his interview, Bush recalled saying to Putin: "That speaks volumes to me, Mr. President. May I call you Vladimir?"
During a meeting in New York with Pakistan's leader, Gen. Pervez Musharraf, Bush bluntly denounced an article by investigative reporter Seymour M. Hersh in the New Yorker magazine. The article, published in December, reported that the Pentagon had contingency plans to work with an Israeli special operations unit to seize Pakistan's nuclear weapons if the country became unstable. "Seymour Hersh is a liar," Bush is quoted as telling Musharraf.
The president is shown to be preoccupied by public perceptions of the war, looking at polling data from Rove, now his senior adviser, even after pretending to have no interest.
Roger E. Ailes, a media coach for Bush's father and now chairman of the Fox News Channel, sent a confidential communication to the White House in the weeks after the terrorist attacks. Rove took the Ailes communication to the president. "His back-channel message: The American public would tolerate waiting and would be patient, but only as long as they were convinced that Bush was using the harshest measures possible," Woodward wrote. He added that Ailes, who has angrily challenged reports that his news channel has a conservative bias, added a warning: "Support would dissipate if the public did not see Bush acting harshly."
The book is based on interviews with more than 100 people involved in planning and executing the war. Woodward would not describe the records of NSC meetings he reviewed beyond saying that they were official and verbatim, and that in many cases he was able to check the accounts with multiple sources.
In a note to readers, Woodward said that most of the interviews were conducted on background, meaning that he could use the information but the sources would not be identified by name. The 378-page book includes copious instances of Woodward's hallmark of revealing the interior monologues of key newsmakers, including a description of Rice's thoughts as she watched television alone.
Since his Watergate collaboration with Carl Bernstein, Woodward has written a parade of bestsellers on subjects that include intrigue at the Pentagon, the Federal Reserve Board and the Supreme Court. Woodward, 59, shared in his second Pulitzer Prize this year as part of a team of reporters from The Post's national staff recognized for covering the war on terrorism.