SPIEGEL Interview with Bob Woodward: "A Systematic State of Denial"
US star journalist Bob Woodward, 63, discusses in an interview with DER SPIEGEL the resonance of his new book "State of Denial," which explores the Bush administration's policies in the wake of the Iraq invasion.
Bob Woodward's new book "State of Denial" looks at how the Bush administration's handled Iraq after the US invasion.
Woodward: Two-and-half years. I interviewed several hundred people -- including the key people in the White House, the Pentagon, the State Department and intelligence agencies. Many of them multiple times. I interviewed Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld on the record and lots of other key people on background. Andy Card, the former White House chief of staff, has acknowledged he was interviewed extensively.
SPIEGEL: The image you draw of the president differs from your previous books in that it is much less flattering.
Woodward: Actually, it doesn't. If you go back and read those books, there are scenes in which he doesn't want to hear the doubts that people have. But "Bush at War" and "Plan of Attack" cover entirely different circumstances. Even John Kerry who ran against Bush for president acknowledged the president did a good job (after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks).
SPIEGEL: But the difference in tone is very apparent with this book.
Woodward: There are three distinct issues though very interrelated in the three books. The first was about the decision about what to do after the 9/11 attacks, the second describes the decision to go to war in Iraq. "State of Denial" covers the three-and-a-half years after the invasion. I am trying to write as exactly about this theme of history and what really occurred in this government over the last five years.
SPIEGEL: "State of Denial" is a powerful accusation. Does the president truly deny reality?
Woodward: Yes, it is a strong title and my editors at Simon and Schuster and at the Washington Post were concerned about it. Then they read the book and said it proves it
I'll give you an example: Jay Garner was the first civilian administrator in Iraq after the war. Already in June 2003, he told Defense Secretary Rumsfeld that three tragic decisions had been made that, in his opinion, were reversible at the time: the dissolution of the army, ignoring the Iraqi leadership stratum and the wide-reaching ban on former members of the Baath Party from participating in efforts to rebuild the country. Rumsfeld dismissed his warning. Things are the way they are, he told Garner. When I asked the secretary of defense about this several months ago, he praised Garner, but said he could only vaguely recall the warning.
SPIEGEL: So do Rumsfeld and the others systematically conceal the truth?
Woodward: It is a systematic state of denial. The assessment in their secret intelligence reports is that violence and attacks in Iraq are going to get worse in 2007 -- and the president is out saying that terrorists are in retreat, which is really the opposite of what the reports say. If you go through the book, you will see there is incident after incident. By the end of 2003, intelligence people -- using the Pentagon's own definition -- were already saying there was an insurgency in Iraq. Rumsfeld and the president dismissed it, voicing concern that this analysis could show up in the New York Times.
SPIEGEL: Your critics are now coming forward and saying that you could have discovered all of this information much earlier.
Woodward: No. The problem is that with a book like this, you have to build and obtain information from sources and then you want to get responses. I didn't learn the stuff about Jay Garner until he made the decision last year not to write his own book. I wanted to have Rumsfeld respond, but the interview with the secretary of defense didn't happen until this July. You want as a complete a picture as possible.
SPIEGEL: You had good access to the president for your former books. How did you fare this time?
Woodward: They refused interview requests. I had information that showed the inconsistency of the secret reports and the behind the scenes behavior with what was being said publicly.
SPIEGEL: So the White House closed up?
Woodward: Yes. I gave them notes of secret meetings I had and said, "Is this correct?" Do you want to add anything? Is anything wrong? And they just wouldn't respond.
SPIEGEL: That must be familiar to you: Governments do not tell the truth and you cannot fully trust them.
Woodward: This isn't about just some little scandal ?? we're talking about a war where we have 147,000 of our troops on the line. I was shocked and surprised by the vivid and repeated disparity between what the secret reports said and what they say publicly.
SPIEGEL: There are a couple of scenes in your book where I got the impression that you are personally disappointed and speechless -- when Donald Rumsfeld compared the situation in Iraq to fruit in a fruit bowl.
Woodward: I was astonished that he would compare these attacks to a fruit bowl and say the insurgents are as (diverse) as apples, bananas and oranges. These are the attacks that have killed several thousands of our soldiers. I served in the Navy during the Vietnam War. At such moments I became a reporter who remembered his own experience speaking and in the book I let people know that. In writing a book about a state of denial, I could not be in a state of denial myself and fail to convey those personal emotions to somebody who might be reading it. But at those points in the book, I make it clear that I'm stepping out of my role as a reporter and providing a personal reaction.
SPIEGEL: Can one compare the situation in Iraq today to the Vietnam War.
Woodward: There are a lot of alarming similarities. We will have to see. What the book doesn't do is forecast an outcome. I'm more optimistic than most. I really hope that we find some way to get this situation back on the track.
SPIEGEL: What can and should President Bush do?
Woodward: I don't know. That's for somebody else to discuss and debate.
SPIEGEL: Earlier, you considered it a possibility that Bush could become a great president and that history would recognize his achievements. How do you see that today?
Woodward: The overwhelming amount of information available to us so far does not suggest that. But things can be viewed through the lens of history quite differently. So, I'm not going to make any forecasts. During our last interview, for "Plan of Attack," I asked Bush: How do you think history will judge you? He said we won't know -- by then, we'll all be dead.
SPIEGEL: Can Americans still trust this president?
Woodward: They are going to have to judge that. But the larger question that I will not answer for you is this: Does he still have moral authority?
Interview conducted by Georg Mascolo.
© DER SPIEGEL 41/2006
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