Bob Woodward

                   State of denial

Of course, with all the stories, jocularity, buddy-buddy talk, bluster and confidence in the Oval Office, Garner had left out the headline.  He had not mentioned the problems he saw, or even hinted at them.  He did not tell Bush about the three tragic mistakes he believed that Bremer, supported by Rumsfeld, had made—de-Baathification, disbanding the army and dumping the Iraqi governing group.  Instead, he had said Bremer was great and had painted a portrait of an Iraq where a Shiite cleric envisioned an Iraq governed on the principles of Jesus Christ and joining the union as the 51st state.  On top of that, he told Bush that everyone on the Iraqi street loved him.  Once again the aura of the presidency had shut out the most important news—the bad news. 


It was only one example of a visitor to the Oval Office not telling the president the whole story or the truth.  Likewise, in these moments where Bush had someone from the field there in the chair beside him, he did not press, did not try to open the door himself and ask what the visitor had seen and thought.  The whole atmosphere too often resembled a royal court, with Cheney and Rice in attendance, some upbeat stories, exaggerated good news, and a good time had by all. 


It was 100 percent public grovel, and Tenet was privately furious.  He had the CIA search all its records to see what had been passed in writing to the White House.  The CIA found two memos sent to the White House just before the October 2002 Cincinnati speech voicing doubts about the intelligence that Iraq was trying to buy uranium in Africa. 


Kay left the meeting almost shocked at Bush’s lack of inquisitiveness.  Kay had a Ph.D. and had taught at high levels, and he was used to being asked challenging, aggressive questions.  A lot of the trauma in getting a graduate degree was surviving the environment of doubt, skepticism and challenge. 

“He trusted me more than I trusted me,” Kay later recalled.  “If the positions had been reversed, and this is primarily personality, I think, I would have probed.  I would have asked.  I would have said, ’What have you done?  What haven’t you done?  Why haven’t you done it?’  You know, ‘Are you getting the support out of DOD?’  The soft spots.  Didn’t do it.” 


The principals meetings or NSC meetings with Powel and Rumsfeld were not as coarse but had the same surreal quality, rarely airing the real issues.  Blackwill, a veteran of the Kissinger style, was astonished.  Rumsfeld made his presentation looking at the president, while Powell looked straight ahead.  Then Powell would make his to the president with Rumsfeld looking straight ahead.  They did not even comment on each other’s statements or views.  So Bush never had the benefit of a serious, substantive discussion between his principal advisers.  And the president, whose legs often jiggled under the table, did not force a discussion. 


David Kay’s people developed a solid explanation for why Saddam’s regime had been so bent on acquiring 60,000 aluminum tubes.  Powell had told the U.N. the tubes were for centrifuge system to be used in Saddam’s nuclear weapons program.  The evidence now showed that the tubes were meant for conventional artillery shells, just as the Iraqis had maintained before the war.  The propellant for the rockets was produced by an Iraqi company run by a close friend of Saddam’s son Qusay.  The propellant was lousy, but nobody in the Iraqi military had the clout to tell a friend of Qusay’s to improve his product or lose the contract.  So the artillery scientists came up with a work-around:  tighten the specifications on the aluminum tubes, making them smaller and lighter so that the weak propellant would still work. 


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Updated: November 27, 2010


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