You would be a rare North American to have not seen at least one interview with Bob Woodward this week, out promoting his book Plan of Attack about how the decision to invade Iraq was made.
I’ve seen full interviews by Charlie Rose and Peter Mansbridge, and snippets of more than half a dozen others.
My initial feeling, and the apparent conventional wisdom, was that Woodward’s book would be bad for Bush because it makes him look like a religious zealot and a bad leader who went to war on a conviction-based whim.
You would think that Americans would see this as a “smoking gun.”
But, after some reflection, I don’t think they will. And I’ve come to think that Bush, or at least Bush’s minders, have scored a brilliant public relations coup, with Woodward as the star.
Woodward has the best credentials in North America as a reporter; I think most people consider him as unimpeachable as Walter Cronkite.
While much of what Woodward reveals in his book makes it look, to the informed eye, like Bush is an idiot, none of this will come as a real revelation to his critics: they already knew he was an idiot, and this only confirms what they thought.
The power in Woodward’s book is what it doesn’t reveal about the war plan. While Woodward details the personal intrigue, the lack of consultation, how Powell was left out, or at least ignored, and so on, the broad strokes of what he reports are in sync with what the Administration paints.
In other words, Bush gave uncommon access to the toughest reporter in Washington, and the result was some tough reporting about process.
It’s as if a bank robber hired Superman to review the process that led up to robbing the bank; Superman reports that things were chaotic. Full stop.
This is good for Bush because, in the end, it comes off looking like a vindication, not a condemnation. And even Woodward’s critique of the process distracts from the war itself, which is good for Bush (the chat shows are filling with debates over when Bush briefed Bandar; nobody’s talking dead bodies these days).
Of course this is good for Woodward too: on one hand he looks like a tough reporter, dragging Bush through the mud; on the other hand, he looks like a tough reporter who showed that the “smoking gun” amounted to some procedural jealousy.