Woodward's Book Release Will Chill Next Bush Cabinet Meeting
The damage from Bob Woodward's new book is already starting, just in time for the weekend news shows. On a day when 1) the media is heavily reporting that an American soldier is being paraded as a hostage in Iraq; 2) John Kerry is attacking directly and forcefully the smears against him by combat-dodger Dick Cheney and others, and 3) the families of soldiers expected to be home now are enraged at their just-extended deployments, the details of Woodward's book are leaking out, and they don't look good.
Woodward describes a relationship between Cheney and Secretary of State Colin L. Powell -- never close despite years of working together -- that became so strained that Cheney and Powell are barely on speaking terms. Cheney engaged in a bitter and eventually winning struggle over Iraq with Powell, an opponent of war who believed Cheney was obsessed with trying to establish a connection between Iraq and the al Qaeda terrorist network and treated ambiguous intelligence as fact.
Powell felt Cheney and his allies -- his chief aide, Lewis "Scooter" Libby, deputy defense secretary Paul Wolfowitz and undersecretary of defense for policy Douglas Feith and what Powell called Feith's "Gestapo" office -- had established what amounted to a separate government. The vice president, for his part, believed Powell was mainly concerned with his own popularity and told friends at a private dinner he hosted a year ago to celebrate the outcome of the war that Powell was a problem and "always had major reservations about what we were trying to do."
Before the war with Iraq, Powell bluntly told Bush that if he sent U.S. troops there "you're going to be owning this place." Powell and his deputy and closest friend, Richard L. Armitage, used to refer to what they called "the Pottery Barn rule" on Iraq -- "you break it, you own it," according to Woodward.
But, when asked personally by the president, Powell agreed to present the U.S. case against Hussein at the United Nations in February, 2003 -- a presentation described by White House communications director Dan Bartlett as "the Powell buy-in." Bush wanted someone with Powell's credibility to present the evidence that Hussein possessed weapons of mass destruction -- a case the president had initially found less than convincing when presented to him by CIA deputy director John McLaughlin at a White House meeting on December 21, 2002.
McLaughlin's version used communications intercepts, satellite photos, diagrams and other intelligence. "Nice try," Bush said when he was finished, according to the book. "I don't think this quite -- it's not something that Joe Public would understand or would gain a lot of confidence from."
He then turned to Tenet, McLaughlin's boss and said, "I've been told all this intelligence about having WMD and this is the best we've got?"
"It's a slam dunk case," Tenet replied, throwing his arms in the air. Bush pressed him again. "George, how confident are you."
"Don't worry, it's a slam dunk," Tenet repeated.
At no point apparently, if you are to believe Woodward, did Bush question the two guys who were actually feeding him this "the best we've got" intelligence, namely Cheney and Rummy.
Tenet can now start writing his resignation letter. And then there's this:
"I believe we have a duty to free people," Bush told Woodward. " I would hope we wouldn't have to do it militarily, but we have a duty."
This from a man who disdained nation-building and attacked Gore for it during the 2000 campaign.
Asked by Woodward how history would judge the war, Bush replied: "History. We don't know. We'll all be dead."
Yikes! A man so unconcerned about how he will look in history should never have as much power over life and death as George W. Bush does now.