Since publishing his memoirs last month, former Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld has endured his share of bad reviews and public shamings. If Rumsfeld thought being called an alien lizard was tough, Bob Woodward's new review of Known Unknown for Foreign Policy should set him back a bit. It's easy to poke fun at Woodward's foibles, but it's important to remember that the Washington Post reporter didn't just write the book on the Bush administration's handling of the Iraq War--he wrote four of them.
Woodward gets right to the point. The book is just "one big clean-up job, a brazen effort to shift blame to others--including President Bush--distort history, ignore the record or simply avoid discussing matters that cannot be airbrushed away." It's a "travesty," but Woodward is confident Rumsfeld's "rewrite job won't wash" with the public. Though the ultimate responsibility does rest with the president, Woodward says "the record shows that it was Rumsfeld stoking the Iraq fires--facts he has completely left out of his memoir."
Woodward questions Rumsfeld's contention that his version of events is supported by his own detailed series of notes, which he cites throughout the book. While interviewing the Secretary of Defense for The Washington Post in 2002, Woodward says Rumsfeld told him, "I don't have notes. I don't have any notes."
In addition, he points out that Rumsfeld claims that President Bush "started the Iraq clock" on September 26, 2001 when he directed the Defense secretary to "take a look at the shape of our military plans on Iraq," a timeline Rumsfeld himself directly contradicted in 2003 when he told Woodward military action against Iraq was only first mentioned on November 21. Logically, Rumsfeld's new version of the facts is the more problematic one, says Woodward. On September 26, the Pentagon was "intensely trying to figure out how to begin the military aspect of Afghanistan War with bombing and inserting Special Operations teams...by Nov. 21, the United States had had unexpected success in Afghanistan and controlled half the territory. Thousands of Taliban and al Qaeda fighters had fled the capital Kabul into Pakistan. If Bush were looking for another target -- and he clearly was -- that would be the time, not on Sept. 26."
Woodward also doesn't buy Rumsfeld's claim that right up until the invasion in March of 2003, he wasn't sure war in Iraq was a given. Rumsfeld, says Woodward, attended a meeting two months earlier where Dick Cheney told Prince Bandar of Saudi Arabia that "Saddam is toast." Later that year, Rumsfeld would tell Woodward how he told Bandar he could "count on this" and "take [it] to the bank this is going to happen."
When it comes to his departure from the White House, Woodward says Rumsfeld "launders the whole episode. Because he was willing to resign, he makes it sounds almost voluntary." In reality it was a "firing." Rumsfeld takes obvious pride in the fact President Bush praised him as "a pro" the day he agreed to step down. For once, Woodward agrees. "Rumsfeld is indeed a pro--at ducking and weaving and dodging responsibility, a reflection of much of what is worst in Washington." Ouch.