Last September, when Bob Woodward's fourth book about the Bush administration, The War Within, was released, Derek Chollet argued in TNR that, despite the general perception that the book was harshly critical of Bush, the Bush White House had, in fact, expertly played Woodward. Chollet wrote:
[B]eneath the surface, the core of Woodward's account actually seems to reinforce the narrative that Bush is trying to spin about Iraq--that against mighty resistance inside and outside the government, a small group made the gutsy decision to double-down with the surge. As with every Woodward book, there's a story within the story. His sources share their tales (or in some cases, secret papers) to settle a score or shape the historical narrative. And here we see National Security Adviser Steve Hadley taking over Iraq decision-making and guiding Bush as he stared down leery Generals and worried political advisers to push the 2007 surge.
According to the Politico, it was Hadley who helped shepherd Woodward throughout the West Wing and the national security bureaucracy to conduct his research. But wait, one asks, wasn't it Hadley who has also spoken out against the book? Last week, after initial news reports of Woodward's book appeared, the White House released a lengthy statement in Hadley's name rebutting some of Woodward's depictions as "at least incomplete." Such a move heightened the drama and guaranteed further coverage; instead of trying to delegitimize the book completely, the statement is actually an effort to spin it, bolstering the perspective the Bush team wanted Woodward to convey. It still has the Bush-as-hero arc.
Today's long WaPo article by Tom Ricks about Army General Ray Ordierno--which is excerpted from Ricks's new book, The Gamble--backs up Chollet's argument. Ricks reports:
In a recent interview, Odierno expressed surprise that a book by The Washington Post's Bob Woodward, published just as Odierno took command in Iraq, credited White House aides and others in Washington with developing the surge. From Odierno's perspective -- and that of many other senior officers in Iraq -- the new strategy had been more or less conceived and executed by himself in Baghdad, with some crucial coaching from Keane in Washington.
"We thought we needed it, and we asked for it and we got it," he said, referring to the strategy. "You know, General Petraeus and I think . . . I did it here, [and] he picked it up. That's how we see it. And so it's very interesting when people back there see it very differently."
Of course, Odierno said, ultimately Bush had to make the policy decision, and some White House aides encouraged that step. But, he continued, "they had nothing to do with developing" the way it was done. "Where to go, what [the soldiers] would do. I mean, I know I made all those decisions."
Of course, this wouldn't have been the first time Bush played Woodward. With Bush now gone, let's hope it was the last.