Book Review: State of Denial by Bob Woodward

by Jeffrey Caminsky - Date: 2007-01-18 - Word Count: 529 Share This!

The most recent addition to our understanding of our difficulties in Iraq, State of Denial by Watergate reporter Bob Woodward deals less with military insights and operations than with the conflicts and tensions among the personalities involved. Though lacking the tactical insights that make books such as Cobra II and Fiasco such alarming works, Woodward's gifts as an interviewer lets him paint a portrait of an Administration largely trapped by its rhetoric, and held prisoner to its own unchallenged assumptions. Confronting the tragedy of the September 11th attacks, the new Bush Administration moved quickly and resolutely to the offensive, determined to confront and destroy those whose hatred of the West led them to murder innocents on American soil.

Old Scores to Settle
Though blessed with an abundance of technical, military, and human resources-including a presidential father with a gift for diplomacy and a secretary of state who was respected and admired throughout the world-the Bush Administration soon turned, as if by instinct, toward an old enemy. Iraq, though it had not participated in the 9/11 attacks, was still unfinished business as far as some top-level aides and policy makers in the Administration were concerned. And once the dust had settled, and we had dispatched the Taliban from Afghanistan, eyes turned to settle scores with Saddam, whose sympathies were clearly with those who wish this country harm.

The Roots of Our Problems
Certainly, no one can waste much sympathy on the old Iraqi dictator. Saddam was a brutal ruler, inflicting death and torture on his enemies and heading a regime that survived by brute force and fear. But Woodward's account suggests that by creating a system which punished the expression of contrary points of view, and equated misgivings with disloyalty, the Bush Administration was setting itself up for a disaster at some point during its term of office. When coupled with a secretary of defense who insisted on making all important decisions himself, and who dismissed or ridiculed any non-conforming points of view, the nation was at high risk that the disaster would take a military form. Add what appears to be a world view based on personal or political loyalty rather than objective fact, and a defense secretary unwilling to consider the suggestion that Iraq could become another Vietnam, and the result is an unending chain of bad decisions, culminating in our current predicament.

State of Denial will not add to the reader's understanding of what has gone wrong in Iraq from a military standpoint. It contains little military history or analysis, and struggles to place the events in their historical context. Its strength lies in Woodward's tenacity as an interviewer, and his unparalleled access to official Washington. The book is at its best when unraveling the inner workings of governmental insiders. Unfortunately, the view it gives of our government is not for the faint of heart. It is often said that watching laws and sausage being made often causes the viewer to lose his appetite for either. But watching our government setting its course for Iraq is like watching a fatal crash in slow motion: we are helpless to change things, even if we cannot keep from watching in morbid fascination.

Related Tags: war, iraq, book review, state of denial, woodward

Jeffrey Caminsky, a veteran public prosecutor in Detroit, Michigan, specializes in the appellate practice of criminal law and writes on a wide range of topics. Both his science fiction adventure novel The Star Dancers, the first volume in the Guardians of Peace (tm) science fiction adventure series, and The Referee's Survival Guide, a book on soccer officiating, are published by New Alexandria Press,

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