US on defensive over Woodward book

An explosive new book by star journalist Bob Woodward alleging President George W. Bush hid the truth of the deteriorating Iraq situation has rocked the White House just five weeks before key US congressional elections.

Woodward’s book, State of Denial, said Mr Bush told Congress and the public that US efforts to establish a democratic government in Iraq were progressing steadily, even as internal White House reports detailed a growing threat of civil war.

It also said Mr Bush rejected pressure from White House officials to sack Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld on the grounds that his policies were contributing to the worsening security situation in Iraq.

“There was a vast difference between what the White House and Pentagon knew about the situation in Iraq and what they were saying publicly,” Mr Woodward said today in a Washington Post article adapted from the book.

“In memos, reports and internal debates, high-level officials of the Bush administration have voiced their concern about the United States’ ability to bring peace and stability to Iraq since early in the occupation,” he said.

The book’s official release is tomorrow, but details were reported by US media days earlier from leaked copies. More excerpts were published today by the Washington Post, where Woodward works, and Newsweek magazine.

The book threatened to damage efforts by Mr Bush’s Republican Party to maintain control of the Congress in November elections, in which the ongoing US occupation of Iraq is an important issue.

White House counselor Dan Bartlett today insisted Mr Bush had been candid about the war.

“I know the president has been very blunt with the American people about the challenges we face in Iraq. We’ve given that information,” he told CBS television.

And on Saturday, White House spokesman Tony Snow said: “Nobody’s tried to mislead anyone about (Iraq),” in response to the charges by Woodward, whose reporting on the early 1970s Watergate scandal helped force the resignation of president Richard Nixon.

Citing interviews with top officials and internal documents, State of Denial portrays Mr Rumsfeld as running roughshod over the advice of the country’s top generals and ignoring advice against US policies since seen as contributing to instability in the country.

It also shows that some senior government advisers were unwilling to argue over US policies with Mr Bush in White House meetings, viewing Mr Bush as not open to advice contrary to existing policies.

In one episode recounted by Woodward, Mr Rumsfeld flatly rejected pleas by Jay Garner, the first US administrator in Iraq following the March 2003 invasion, to reverse “tragic” decisions to disband Iraq’s military and to ban members of the former ruling Baath party from government service.

That rebuff left Mr Garner too timid to raise the same points in a meeting with Mr Bush.

“In my thinking, the door’s closed,” Mr Garner later told Woodward, who noted the decisions left hundreds of thousands of unemployed, armed Iraqis to join the insurgency.

After Condoleezza Rice became secretary of state in January last year, her personal emissary reported that Iraq “remains a failed state” beset by violence and that Washington had no comprehensive, articulated policy for it.

Yet, Woodward shows, the White House steadfastly maintained publicly that the US was progressing toward defeating the insurgents.

He contrasts positive public remarks by Mr Bush over the past three years with concurrent, candid secret reports and memos in the White House that showed the Iraq situation worsening.

For instance, on November 11, 2003, Mr Bush said in a speech that the US was “not only containing the terrorist threat, we are turning it back”.

On the same day, a senior CIA official told Mr Bush: “We are seeing the establishment of an insurgency in Iraq.”

Newsweek speculated today Woodward’s revelations could bring renewed pressure on Mr Rumsfeld to leave office, noting some White House officials would not preclude that possibility.

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Religion News Blog posted this on Sunday October 1, 2006.
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