February 27, 2007
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State of Denial

by Bob Woodward

The court history of the American expedition to Iraq. Woodward had unequalled access to the upper echelons of the White House, the Pentagon, and the State Department, and so provides a fascinating exploration of tensions and conflicts within the administration, and between the upper echelons in Washington and their representatives in Iraq. To a considerable extent, this volume is an indictment of Donald Rumsfeld, whose machinations and weaknesses Woodward finds to be primarily responsible for the debacle. Woodward depicts Condoleeza Rice as an overmatched simpleton, and Colin Powell as a team player who was systematically deceived and duped by his peers and his president. Woodward's access to Bush diminished as the rosy glow of post-9/11 adulation faded and as Iraq began to unravel, but clearly Woodward finds Bush inattentive and easily manipulated, first by Saudi Prince Bandar and then by Rumsfeld and his neoconservative dream. Throughout, Cheney looms as a specter whose role and influence was largely unknown, a silent presence at meetings who was rumoured to wield great influence but whose actions even Woodward cannot actually detect.

The corridors of power in this story are less interesting than the world inhabited by those who tried to change Iraq. In future years, I suspect, we’ll show decreasing interest in these feeble, narrow, and ultimately powerless men and women at the top. But they did exercise something like control, and it seems certain that any of them could have prevented the disaster had they been able to summon the right mix of eloquence and courage at the critical moment.