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White House arrogance is textbook case
by Brian Dickerson
The Detroit Free Press
April 21, 2004

Suppose that in January 2003, more than two months before the United States invaded Iraq, the Detroit Free Press had published a front-page story asserting:

* That President George W. Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney had already committed the country to war, and that the White House's public efforts to seek a diplomatic solution in Iraq were phony.

* That the White House had diverted hundreds of millions of dollars appropriated to protect Americans from terrorism to the secret war effort against Iraq.

* That the president had decided to go to war without asking Secretary of State Colin Powell what he thought of the idea, and that Cheney and Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld had briefed the Saudi ambassador to the United States about America's war plans before anyone thought to tell Powell.

Can you imagine the uproar, the allegations of libel that would have been heaped on the Free Press' editors?

Nothing to quibble about

Bob Woodward makes all of these assertions in "Plan of Attack," his new book about the months leading up to the U.S. invasion of Iraq.

But has the White House turned purple with indignation? Has it embarked on a systematic campaign of character assassination, as it did earlier this year when former Treasury Secretary Paul O'Neill and former counterterrorism chief Richard Clarke published their own tell-all books?

Not at all.

The president, cultivating his reputation as a fellow far too busy to read anything longer than a box score, says through his press secretary that he has not seen Woodward's book.

But the other senior Bush administration officials Woodward interviewed clearly have, and the consensus among them appears to be that their inquisitor has done them proud.

There are quibbles about this fact or that characterization. National security adviser Condoleezza Rice, who specializes in putting a decorous face on her male colleagues' private towel-snapping, insists that Powell was kept in the loop on Iraq and denies Woodward's assertion that the Cheney-Powell relationship was one of mutual loathing. Powell, for his part, insists that he was far from being the dissenting dupe depicted in "Plan of Attack."

But with Woodward's overarching theses -- that the decision to invade Iraq grew out of religious conviction rather than strategic necessity, and that American diplomatic efforts to avert war were largely a charade -- there has been remarkably little quarrel.

Arrogance of epic proportion

Like Mafiosi marveling at the authenticity of the latest "Sopranos" episode, the president's true believers have gazed into Woodward's mirror and taken perverse pride at what they see reflected there.

Were they less than candid with the public, the Congress, their own secretary of state? Did their disingenuous diplomacy amount, at times, to outright duplicity? Did they exceed their constitutional authority?

Well, the president's men (and women) shrug, what if we did? Even a nervous Nellie like Powell must have smiled when he read the part where Cheney told the Saudi ambassador (two months before the invasion, no less) that Saddam was "toast."

Arrogance? Woodward's account -- and the administration's reaction to it -- beggars the word. No, this is hubris -- the mythic sort on which great empires are smashed and great alliances sundered.

Posted: April 26, 2004


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