“State of Denial: Bush at War”

Bob Woodward

In “Bush at War” Bob Woodward recounted the first 100 days of what began as the “War on Terrorism” but may eventually become known as the “War of the 21st Century”. In “Plan of Attack” he chronicled the decision to attack Iraq. In the latest volume on what has become a series – “Bush at War” – that promises to be as interminable as one of Harry Turtledove’s alternate history series he tells us how the war in Iraq has been conducted. The story is so painful that the reader is left wishing that this were an alternate history

This appalling tale of Bush administration incompetence focuses on defense secretary Donal Rumsfeld, here portrayed as a big-talking bully who accomplished nothing. Secretary of State Colin Powell and National Security Adviser Condoleeza Rice appear weak, at best. Most appalling of all, though is the administration’s repeated willful ignorance of the facts concerning the ever-declining situation in Iraq. You have to look to 1945 Berlin to find a leader so out of touch with reality.

As usual, Woodward’s sources are excellent, but the book is limited by single reporter’s view: there is little about areas he doesn’t have so well-covered. In particular, events in the military below Pentagon general officer level and any account of goings-on in Vice President Dick Cheney’s office are missing.

The book shows signs of being hastily written, but this is a criticism of its prose, not its content. Woodward tells the story chronologically and never steps back to analyze events. When his sources give conflicting accounts of events, Woodward relates both; this is fair but I would have welcomed some guidance as to what he thought really happened.

Unfortunately for a book that uses Rumsfeld’s tenure in the Pentagon for structure, it ends – abruptly – in summer 2006, a few months before Rumsfeld’s November 2006 resignation. Sadly, I expect there will be more books in the series.