State of Denial

(Literary Masterpieces, Volume 4)

Some savvy political analysts consider Bob Woodward’s State of Denial the most significant political book to be produced thus far in the twenty-first century. Certainly it has been among the most controversial. This third volume by Woodward on the George W. Bush presidency is distinguished from the others by its harsh criticism of Bush’s entry into and handling of the war against Iraq and his denial of the realities of that war.

Whereas Bush granted Woodward extended in-depth interviews when he was preparing Bush at War (2002) and Plan of Attack (2005), the president followed the counsel of his advisers and declined to be interviewed for State of Denial. Woodward, however, had extensive interviews with those closest to the presidentRichard Cheney, Donald Rumsfeld, Colin Powell, Condoleezza Rice, and Andrew Card. Many of them were sufficiently forthright that Woodward soon became aware of the dysfunctional state of the Bush administration.

When State of Denial was released five weeks before the midterm elections of 2006, Bush’s approval rating was in the low thirties and the Republican Party was in a state of disarray. The day the book first became available, White House operatives read it and did all in their power to discredit it, questioning its factual base as well as Woodward’s motives for writing it. The Bush administration lapsed into an attack mode, denying much that Woodward had reported and, by doing so, added increased cogency to the author’s contention that the White House is in a state of denial.

Although the first two volumes of Woodward’s analysis of the Bush administration pointed out flaws and raised serious questions about the validity of its entering a war with Iraq, especially in the absence of any detailed plan for dealing with the postwar consequences of such a conflict, the current volume attacks the administration head-on. It portrays Bush as a befuddled bungler unwilling to consider information contrary to his own perceptions and dismissive of those few who have the temerity to proffer conflicting information.

The upshot is that Bush is surrounded by people who agree with him and who generally shield him from the realities of the actual problems facing his administration. Not only has Bush appointed yes-men to the highest offices in his administration, but he has chosen some, such as Rumsfeld, his secretary of defense, whose arrogance and intransigence make them lightning rods of dissension within it.

Rumsfeld, undeniably highly intelligent, is arrogant and power-hungry. Having only minimal contact with Secretary of State Powell and Rice, who was then national security adviser, Rumsfeld blundered into making plans for postwar Iraq based on his supposition that Iraqis, hungry for freedom, would welcome American forces and would soon take over the democratic government now available to them. The Americans would then go home, leaving behind an idyllic country upon which democracy had been bestowed benevolently.

Neither Bush nor Rumsfeld understood the deep-seated religious divisions in this country that for more than a millennium had produced considerable unrest and dislocation. Bringing down Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein could not cure a plague that had infected Iraq for centuries.

The matter of retaining Rumsfeld as secretary of defense became a heated issue in political circles. When Bush began his second term as president, he reorganized his cabinet. Rather than calling for Rumsfeld’s resignation, he called for Powell to step down, which caused considerable rancor, especially among such advisers as Richard Armitage who, following Powell’s forced resignation, declined Card’s suggestion that he become the new head of the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) as George Tenet’s replacement.

Card, as Bush’s chief of staff, was deeply concerned about the course the administration was taking. He scheduled a ninety-minute meeting with Laura Bush every six weeks. These meetings sometimes exceeded their scheduled time. Woodward reports that the First Lady often pressed Card for classified information that he could not share with her; the war with Iraq was her constant concern....

(The entire section is 1736 words.)


(Literary Masterpieces, Volume 4)

Foreign Affairs 86, no. 1 (January/February, 2007): 160-161.

London Review of Books 28, no. 23 (November 30, 2006): 11-13.

New Statesman 135 (October 30, 2006): 56.

The New York Times 156 (September 30, 2006): B7-B12.

The New York Times Book Review 156 (November 12, 2006): 9.

The Spectator 302 (November 4, 2006): 64-65.

The Wall Street Journal 248, no. 86 (October 11, 2006): D10.