The Rittenhouse Review

A Philadelphia Journal of Politics, Finance, Ethics, and Culture

Saturday, May 08, 2004  

The Times Reviews Plan of Attack
Douglas Feith: “Stupidest Guy on the Face of the Earth”

In tomorrow’s New York Times there will appear a review of Bob Woodward’s new book, Plan of Attack, a book haven’t read the book yet (I’m waiting to borrow it from a friend), and one about which I’ve been skeptical. I’ll reserve judgment, but I like the following portions of Ted Widmer’s review:

The more zealous advocates of the war are handled more harshly. Paul Wolfowitz and Scooter Libby, Vice President [Richard B.] Cheney’s chief of staff, persistently dredge up dubious intelligence to overstate Iraq’s threat to the United States, and Douglas Feith, an under secretary of defense, earns the distinction of being called the “stupidest guy on the face of the earth” by General [Tommy] Franks. Even more disturbing is the portrayal of Cheney, who, described as almost deranged (“beyond hellbent”) in his desire to go to war, initiates far more policy than is normal for a vice president and exerts a heavy influence on the president’s thinking. […]

The same calm passivity that allows Woodward to glean so much information also limits his book in important ways. . . . Woodward rarely calls Bush to account. Throughout, in fact, Bush controls his part of the story, and Woodward dutifully repeats what he has been told. To cite just one example, Woodward blithely repeats the claim that Bush is the first president to support the spread of democracy in the Middle East; it is difficult to think of an administration in the last 70 years that did not.

The result is an odd split screen, on which convincing accounts of White House failures are presented alongside genial encounters with the president. At one point, Bush actually asks why the search for weapons of mass destruction has to be in the book: “What’s this got to do about it?” You get the feeling that Woodward is too stunned to answer. It’s not as if he does not know that he is being massaged -- an interesting passage records Woodward’s guilt that he did not do more to expose shaky intelligence claims about Iraqi weapons through [t]he Washington Post. But the president’s presence is disarming, and Woodward mutes his criticism whenever Bush walks into the room. One suspects that a younger Woodward would have been less willing to accord this shock and awe to Richard Nixon. In a sense, Woodward has turned into Deep Throat -- he gives us the information we need to make our personal judgments about the White House, but he stops short of doing it himself.

No wonder the White House likes it.

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