There were many moments in this book that made me put it down in my lap and gaze somewhat mournfully off into space, thinking, “Wow… that would make for a serious dramatic moment in the movie version.” My favorite is the scene at the end of the election chapter, after Bush receives a phone call from Kerry (that useless twat) conceding the election. Bush promptly breaks into “convulsive sobbing” and goes around hugging everyone in the room. “This is a wonderful gift you’ve given your dad,” someone tells him. When he reaches Cheney, Bush tells him “I know you’re not the hugging kind!” and shakes his hand. It’s all there: the unexpected display of emotional weakness, the reference to the creepy father-son undertones (which are especially emphasized in the book’s first few chapters), Cheney’s fundamental creepiness.
Reading this book was a pleasant walk down the memory lane of the past five years. More accurately, it was like receiving one stomach suckerpunch after another: Katrina, Harriet Meirs, that whole crazy CIA identity leak scandal, the non-existent WMDs based on evidence that was blatantly inaccurate, the Abu Gharaib prison photos, Cheney’s blatant fear-mongering for reelection. I could go on and on.
What was most interesting to me in this book was reading about how people’s personalities and fucked-up psychological makeup directly affected the administration’s handlings of the war. Rumsfield is the principle villain of this work (Cheney remains dark and inscrutable). Woodward emphasizes how Rumsfield frenzied need to control everything really fucked Washington in the ass. Basically, everyone in this book just came off as hopelessly incompetent. There are some moments in the book that are real killers. Like when Bush is asked by Republican Senator Chuck Hagel if he believes that he is getting “bubbled” in the White House on Iraq. Or Woodward describing the atmosphere in the Oval Office following the early days of the invasion as a royal court: “some upbeat stories, exagerrated good news, and a good time had by all.” (226) I found particularly sickening how Bush seemed to only think of his strategy in Iraq in regards to what Kerry and the Democrats had said or did that way: lots of Iraq rhetoric and pep talk in terms of how it would affect his reelections, but not once asking a specific question of what was going on there and what should be done.
What Thomas Pychon would have called the “whole sick crew”—Bush, Cheney, Rumsfiled, Rice, and to a lesser extent Wolfowitz—come off as completely and utterly clueless. Simply put, they had no idea of the reality of the situation. They existed in their own little world. It’s one thing to have that attitude if you’re running an NGO, or a university, but as the leading administrators of the most powerful and influential nation-slash-imperial power, it’s inexcusable. I know it’s easy in retrospect for people to stand outside an incredibly complex situation and criticize—ooooh, I woulda done this, I woulda done that—but is it really too much for me to want people in those kinds of positions, power and influence to achieve a certain level of competence? Even if it was just enough to realize the need for translators for soldiers before 18 months had passed.
I’m grateful for journalism of this sort, that is both readable and accessible, and yet highly detailed. I feel like the book could have been edited down a little bit; the last hundred pages in particular felt to me like Woodward was getting mucked up in the slog and losing his bite (how many times can he use the “Rumsfield was furious” example of his control freak tendencies?). I wish Bush’s and Cheney’s motives had been explained a little more: why the heck was Cheney so obsessed with connecting Hussein with Al-Qeada? Did Bush really believe all that democracy-in-Iraq rhetoric trash? This book was useful for me in light of the upcoming presidential elections. It makes selecting a viable candidate I truly want to support more difficult. Ideally, I would want somebody hardass and smart enough to deal with the kind of bureacratic mess that is the politics and military that this book describes. But what a person psychologically brings to a table as well (what they “represent” as a leader) is just as, if not more, important. On a scale of 90 second segments officially produced to an angry Ani Difranco song, I rank this a stars and stripes that is only slightly bent.