“If it feels good, do it, and if you’ve got a problem, blame something else.” George W. Bush’s encapsulation of the 1960s is actually a summary of the ethos of his Administration. And what feels good to its leading figures, even more than enriching the wealthy or overthrowing dictatorships, is feeling perfect. The chief function of the Administration is to make clear that it has never made a mistake. What emerges from State of Denial is how easily they find it to blame not only Democrats and wimpy allies, but each other, when things go wrong—and boy, have they gone wrong.
Secretary Rumsfeld is more than anyone the focus of the book, and anyone who reads it will understand why half a dozen prominent retired generals have called for his resignation. He trusts almost no one but himself, insists, like Robert McNamara, in getting into almost everything, and treats his bureaucratic rivals with contempt. He initially insisted upon Pentagon control of both the war and the civil Administration of Iraq, although neither he nor his main subordinates such as Paul Wolfowitz and Douglas Feith had any clear idea of how to run postwar
It was when things began to go wrong that Rumsfeld’s worst qualities began to emerge. When the
Secretary Rice emerges as a person who wants to do the right thing, but who is too concerned with appearing to be on top of things to find out what that actually might be. (Woodward reports her thoughts on a number of occasions, suggesting that she gave off-the-record interviews.) Having no background in the
The book includes remarkably little about Vice President Cheney and his staff, and that in itself must be significant. Cheney’s absence reminds me of the reaction to Joe Klein’s novel about the
President Bush, with whom Woodward had long conversations during his first Administration, declined all Woodward’s interview requests this time. Ron Suskind argues that in meetings he focuses on sizing his interlocutor up, and Woodward portrays a number of meetings in which he showed an astonishing lack of curiosity—particularly when, as in a meeting with WMD-seeker David Kay, his interlocutor has no very good news to give him. But in November 2003, when a CIA briefer told him that “we are seeing the establishment of an insurgency in
Andrew Card, who stepped down as Chief of Staff early this year, gave Woodward a lot of material, much of it about his own decision to step down after he had repeatedly tried and failed to get Rumsfeld replaced. Card quoted many of his own conversations with the President. They are both poignant and pathetic, because Card, by his own account, could not bring himself even to suggest that the Administration was on a wrong track or that Bush had made mistakes, much less that he no longer believed in the President’s leadership. Instead, he persuaded the President (and a hard job it was) that Card had to leave for the President’s own good. The kind of certainty of righteousness that Bush, Cheney and Rumsfeld share is actually the sign of a deep lack of self-confidence. Everyone with a long relationship with George W. Bush, it seems, instinctively bolsters his self-image. Richard Nixon, Lyndon Johnson, and William II of
The crisis of