- The Washington Times - Wednesday, November 20, 2002

Well, the worst is over. The Washington Post's three part excerpt from The Washington Post's Bob Woodward book, "Bush at War" (copyright Bob Woodward, Simon & Schuster) has been published and the Republic yet stands.

For most people around the country, the publication hoopla surrounding a Woodward expose book is barely noticed amidst the clamor of their busy lives. But here in Washington this almost semi-annual event has become a tradition looked forward to by the cut-throat politicians, journalists, public relations sharpers and lobbyists who make up the nation's political class much as little kids look forward to Halloween. A few unfortunates may inadvertently bite into a hidden razor blade, but for the rest of us, we just have a good scare and then go on with our unproductive, but prestigious and lucrative careers.

There is, of course, no need to buy the book. The players in the current melodrama just can check the index for their names while standing in the bookstore. The rest of us read, with discerning eye, the three-part excerpts, confident that The Post has carefully rummaged through Mr. Woodward's text for all the newsworthy bits. The remainder of the book is just transactional stuff between Mr. Woodward and his sources and should be of little interest to the reading public.

A lot of conservatives speak ill of Mr. Woodward, but that is not fair. He merely faithfully transcribes the offerings of the various government sharks and minnows who offer themselves up to his transcription service. (Except for former CIA Director William Casey, who was probably dead at the time he was quoted back in the 1980s.)

As I can testify to from firsthand experience, the Woodward method is simplicity itself. He just calls up the various players and their senior staff tells them what horrible things are being said about them by their co-workers and offers them a chance to get their side in.

When Mr. Woodward was doing one of his books about Newt Gingrich and Bill Clinton, I received such a call. In one of my smarter decisions, I turned down the offer on the theory that I was likely to get Newt and me into more trouble by talking than by keeping my mouth sealed (a difficult act of restraint on my part). Mr. Clinton's press secretary my friend Mike McCurry had a go at talking and even that very smart chap lived to regret it. There are surely several for-the-time-being-still-current adminstration employees who are in the early stage of the regret process (not to worry guys, there really is life after politics).

Mr. Woodward's book more aptly should be titled: "What I shrewdly saw, brilliantly thought and nobly did in the Bush adminstration by Colin Powell and George Tenet, as told to Bob Woodward." Not surprisingly, Mr. Powell and the CIA turn out to be the heroes of this story. One gets a clue in the opening sentence of the excerpt: "In early August, Sec. of State Colin L. Powell made the diplomatic rounds … . On the long flight back … he jotted down some notes. Virtually all the Iraq discussions in the National Security Council had been about war plans … . It was clear to him now that the context was being lost." Mr. Powell and his top assistant Richard Armitage, (the Dick Darman of this Bush administration), dominate the opening pages of the excerpts. Their interior thoughts and self-admiring assessments shape the story, to the detriment of Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld who appear on the pages without benefit of self-description.

Actually, the most important sentence in all this doesn't appear in the excerpts, proper, but rather in the last sentence of The Post's description of the methodology of the book: "Thoughts, conclusions and feelings attributed to the participants come either from the people themselves, a colleague with direct knowledge of them or the written record." The operative word is colleague, as in the sentence: "Benedict Arnold was George Washington's colleague before he was hanged."

In other words, those who talk to Mr. Woodward get the chance to describe the motives and thoughts of their fiercest opponents within the adminstration as well as their own. Mr. Woodward has been an accurate reporter, carefully transcribing Mr. Powell's assessment of Mr. Rumsfeld's thoughts. As Don Rumsfeld that magnificent, insouciant mensch refused to chat with Mr. Woodward, readers do not get the benefit of Mr. Rumsfeld's view of either himself or Mr. Powell. Pity.

The other self-aggrandizing talker was George Tenet and his operatives. After recounting pages of CIA heroics, Mr. Woodward (read Mr. Tenet) concluded: "In all, the U.S. commitment to overthrow the Taliban had been about 110 CIA officers and 316 Special Forces personnel plus massive air power. Tenet, the CIA director, was extremely proud of what the agency had accomplished." Tell that to the young men of the 10th Mountain Division who were taking bullets in the chest in the war's bloodiest battle, as they directed fire on the enemy. Of course, their boss didn't talk to Mr. Woodward.


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