From a strictly non-partisan point of view, this third part of a political as opposed to a military war memoir, is concerned principally with chronicling in some detail the attack by the United States of America on Iraq, a tyrannical but non-threatening sovreign state, as led by George W. Bush (Wubya) President, and orchestrated by his minions. There is no credible doubt about that.
Closely described, this mass of detailed data begins with the appointment of Donald Rumsfeld as US Secretary of Defense, and with the beginnings of what would become an on-going tuteledge of the inexperienced Wubya by Prince Bandar of Saudi Arabia, undertaken at the direction of former President George H.W. Bush, and continues past the 09/11 incident, nothing that (at that time) the Gallup Poll gave Wubya the highest job approval rating in its history.
From its beginning DENIAL reveals the lack of adequate preparation by the Pentagon, to handle possile contingencies, as for instance
(a) the existence (or non-existence) of Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMDs) possibly or at least probably scattered throughout Iraq. There was insufficient information about their nature. There was never any data on the location of these putative WMDs;
(b) the intractability of Secretary Rumsfeld at every turn, and his dual insistence that all military, political and diplomatic decisions about Iraq be made by himself, and/or that such decisions pass through his office for review, coupled with his unwillinhgness to accept responsibility for the adverse consequences of any critical or crucial decisions, as well as his unwillinness or inability to facilitate realistic timetables for actions of any kind;
(c) the installation through confusion and compromise within the Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld Triumverate (TRIUMVERATE) in Washington, of Paul Bremer as on-the-spot Viceroy in Bagdad (in the mode of the British Empire) and his abrupt and total destruction of all Iraqui military, social and political structures within the country; which destruction led directly to the rise of an armed and determined insurgent opposition to American occupation as part of what was now clearly seen by the world to be a Colonial War.
(05/15/09) After yet another examination of DENIAL I'm convinced the single most telling incident is related in chapter 35. It begins early in 2005 after Rumsfeld sent retired General Gary E. Luck to Iraq, to review the effect of the US's efforts. He, Luck reported, "...The training of the new Iraqui army was really screwed up, a distaster. In some cases it consisted of not much more than handing a recruit a rifle, giving him three days of training and calling him a member of the New Iraqui Army." Secretary of State Rice eventually saw through this and more or less out of Rumsfeld's vision, hired and sent Philip Zelikow, an old friend, as the counselor to the State Department, to Iraq with a small team. The Memo he and his team sent to Rice after their assignment was an unpleasant revelation. She read that "At this poinht Iraq remains a failed state shadowed by constant violence and undergoing revolutionary political change." It was certainly not what the DC Triumverate wanted to hear. It contiued, saying "Because the Shiites and Kurds had dominated the election, there was a danger of a backlash from the disaffected Sunnis. . . . The astonishing fact was that there had been 3,000 attacks in January -- about two thirds on coalition forces and about one third on Iraqui security forces and civilians -- but that informaiton was kept classified." In sum, Zelikov stated, "The United States effort suffered because it lacked an articulated, comprehensive, unified policy." So impressive was Zelikov's assessment of the situation in Iraq, that one can safely say that the Domestic propaganda effort to name a serious adjustment in US's Iraq policy "The Surge" -- and to have it presented to American voters as an affirmation of the GOP's insistence on a military triumph -- was a clear response to the utter failure of previous military strategy. Zelikow advised change; (Intense, focused bribery for the Sunnis, as well as a distribution of small arms, euphemized as a focusing on the secuity of the Iraqui citizens) and rebuilding and stabilizing fresh water, electricity and sewerage services as the only workable solution. By so doing Zelikow through his intelligence and integrity is easily identifiable as the pre-eminent, but unsung hero of the conflict. In other words, bribery and fire arms worked.
DENIAL is a hefty book of 45 chapters, in 560 pages, with an INDEX of 31 pages. It includes as well, 4 pages of Acknowledgements, and two pages of picture credits, as well as the pictures themselves, and 29 pages of NOTES ON SOURCES, a Dedication and Prologues. In the Index I find one of the simplest and most helpful and direct paragraphs in DENIAL, and I quote it here. Woodward writes, "The books I have found most useful include FIASCO by Thomas E. Ricks; MY YEAR IN IRAQ by L. Paul Bremer; THE ASSASSINS' GATE by George Packer; RISE OF THE VULCANS by James Mann; NO TRUE GLORY by Bing West; THE UN'S ROLE IN NATION-BUILDING by James Dobbins et al., RUMSFELD'S WAR by Rowan Scarborough, and AMERICAN SOLDIER by General Tommy Franks.
It has been about two months since I finished this book, and I find myself still puzzled and diffident about it; or, about what my reaction to it is, and how I should feel... No! Should write about the book in a brief Amazon.com review. And that has been a difficult choice.
The most disturbing aspect of DENIAL is not the chronological documentation of Wubya's ill-conceived and poorly executed agression directed against Iraq, or even those sections of that unfortunate story which, highlighted by focused inquiry reveal a depth of managerial ineptitude neither conceived of either by professionals in American statecraft or governance, nor by American citizens themselves, or their allied nations, or even by America's enemies, but by Woodward's locked-in re-telling of hese massive, deadly and fantastically expensive blunders. No. What disturbe most about DENIAL is the writer's tone; his voice, his language and the way he uses it to describe these events. Re-reading and reflecting, one gets the feeling that these four sections of BUSH'S WAR -- BUSH AT WAR, PLAN OF ATTACK, etc. -- are in a sense official or at least semi-official utterances not unlike dispatches from Headquarters, and that feeling is a direct result of the narrator's apparent neutrality. Even within the journalist's tradition of accurate, non-speculative reporting, this bland, polite impartiality is unexpected and seems even phoney in some subtle, undefinable way. And then, reaching for a parallel I came upon an historical situation that appears to strongly resemble the present case.
In 1677 Jean Racine, famous French playwright and man of letters, and his friend and associate Boileau, poet and intellectual icon, were appointed by King Louis XIV to be Historiographers Royal, and accepted the king's money. The duties of royal histriographers was the expansion, defense and propagation of the king's legend; that is, his reputation in all its dimensions. In that sense both these men, Racine and Boileau who'd both depended fomerly on public adulation for their living, or who had in other words, secular and non-official careers, became Louis the tyrant's publicists, and to some extent, his propagandists. By hiring or pensioning them, the King, as sole, unopposed ruler, was buying if not their silence, then their promise to refrain from any criticism of him and/or his official policies. Thus, Racine and Boileau became if not courtiers or Lobbyists or actual bureaucrats, then informal functionaries within the anti-democratic mechanism of the Dictator King's will.
When Wubya in all his stage-Texan fatuousness declared War on Terrorism, he forced the legislative branch to give him autocratic power, or carte blanche, and ruled through the equivalent of Martial Law. He functioned, then, as an elected Emperor.
Now, Woodward is not, nor did he become part of Wubya's coterie. He has never to my knowledge been identified as a "Team Player" by the Whitehouse Junta, and never jeopardized his reputation as an independent-thinking, conscientious investigative journalist allied to eminent, prestigeous newspapers. He didn't compromise himself in any way, and was never identified by any reputable person as the lackey of any political party. But, though he was not hired for any official post, what was he given by this most secretive of national executives? In politics nobody gets anything for free. So, in exchange for something unspecified, he was given or granted, Access. Which is to say, access to the oval office and its environs and personnel. And it is through this access he gained that which he was able to sell; the four books (to Simon & Schuster) that make up his wartime chronology; and to reap hefty benefits therefrom. He was not paid by the Whitehouse (the COURT) for his servicdes, no, but he was able to make his living by selling his opinions and insights to newspaper, magazine and book publishers; stuff he gleaned from the officials of the regime, both civilian and military. Through these connections he became in some sense of the word, a Courtier, offering Wubya temperate, respectable or "balanced" outlets for his (Bush's) efforts to promote a favorable image of himself to the American voters, meaning non-critical coverage despite frequent waves of bad news from the battlefields.
Therefore, although it is virtually unavoidable, one shouldn't focus on What Woodward Says; rather, one should focus on what DENIAL is, and what it does and how it does it.
DENIAL is a piece of journalism as well as something else. As journalism, in DENIAL Woodward has taken pains not to express his opins about any of the events he describes, or to describe too closely any of the personalities he quotes. Instead, he maintains a careful neutrality that gives the reader the impression that the material offered was extruded, rather than written; and that it is somehow, plausible. What kind of language is this? Not English as I understand it, but something like BureauSpeak, a neutered, all-purpose jargon contrived for and by Lobbyists and Spindoctors, to fill space with sound-bites and bits of skewed information. It is, most of all, a patois designed to offer deniability to the user and the user's backer. (The probable need for Deniability must seem unavoidable to an executive who not only contemplates breaking laws and treaties, and does so, but who in foresight actually attempts to secure legalistic shelter for the consequences of doing so.) Make no mistake, DENIAL is a professional job in every way, and worthy of the considerable reputation of its author. Yet, is DENIAL intrinsically confusing, or is it confusing because it is about systemic and purposeful government obfuscation? The latter, I believe. Nevertheless, reading and owning this book or the others in the series is not a mistake. If they do not easily and readily deiliver up their marrow, and they don't, I suggest that the reader would be best served by taking them in chronoligical order and one by one, opening them up for autopsy. When the incidents reported on are laid out in a strict and accurate chronology -- like THE PEOLE'S CHRONOLOGY by Trager, or THE TIMETABLES OF HISTORY by Grun -- the reader can use Woodward's frame of reference as an armature into which he can insert other, more specific books of differing viewpoint, by different authors, to fill out and fill in the details of motive in this decade of vainglory. The Reader will be in a position to flesh out his own History of the Wubya Decade.
Nevertheless, DENIAL offers at least one startling revealation. If one reads it backward and forward, through deduction one can untanble the secret code; which thinly disguised essence is timply that the US government -- or the Bush Administration -- was for nearly a decade, run as a clandestine Triumverate consisting of Bush, Cheney and Rumsfeld, with Rice as the official Beard. This secret tri-lateralism led to a series of inevitable and inexhaustible miaunderstandings within all the government's branches. Once this fundamental (the TRIUMVERATE) is grasped, the book can be re-read for sense and coherence, and much of the confusion about direction and asymetry disappears. What is clearly seen, afterward, is what used to be called an Harem Government; that is, a sequestered depotism with a young, inexperienced Sultan seated on his throne before his legislative Divan, and whispering through the screen directly behind him, the sibilant voice of Prince Bandar. (The Screen is the metaphor for the Vice President. As Screen, Cheney's function is to mask the identity of the Prince of Oil from representatives of American voters.)
NOTE: This effort can be called an exercise in Journalism by Omission. What I mean is this: Napoleon famously said "An army travels on its stomach," meaning the greatest cost of war is the cost of provisioning the army. Bringing that wise point up to the present time, one could easily say our army travels on the nation's economy. So, if you read this book or plan to do so, consider as you read it that the author rigorously avoids talking about money; about costs. Is this because the Bush Administration went to extravagant lengths to hide the cost of the war, including not only lying about statistics but refusing every attempt to publish competent accounts of expenditures or estimates of future (hidden) expenditures? (See THE THREE TRILLION DOLLAR WAR.)
However you look at it, the writer's refusal to engage the enormous fraud used by Bush & Co. in financing this debacle, looks like and can well be considered taking part in the fraud and, ultimately, profiting by it. It is a sin of omission to be expected from a member of the Washington DC moneyed caste that involves key members of both parties in an attempt not to disclose their greed and mendacity. We can see them in the rotunda, under the great dome, in their dark suits and flag lapel brooches, cringing, squealing and shaking their fists in the air: "Not the accountants! Don't let them send in the accountants! For God's sake wait until I'm out of office!" (And presumably safe from prosecution.) What the times call for is an angry semite with a knotted rope who will drive the speculators out of our temple of government.