Washington Post associate editor and famed Watergate investigative journalist Bob Woodward has returned to his recent stomping grounds -- the Bush White House -- for another "deep inside" look at the inner machinery that has driven the nation to war. The result, apparently, is the upcoming The War Within. It's Woodward's fourth such excursion, the previous three yielding Bush At War, Plan Of Attack, and State Of Denial, and, as usual, the Bush administration is happily looking forward to its release.
You can see the contrasting expectations for the book playing out in a single article in The Politico, today. The conventional wisdom is summed up with this sentence: "The book's revelations are likely to propel a re-examination of the Iraq war into the headlines just as the fall presidential campaign is taking off."
Like before, Woodward has again enjoyed "remarkable cooperation" from the White House at "all levels," and "top officials" participated in the effort. The Politico sells "two mornings" of interviews with the President as a major feature of the book, indicative of a sorry state of affairs in which the granting of an interview from the nation's most important public servant is seen as an act of extraordinary generosity and wonderment.
On that score, Woodward can rightly claim to have been greatly fortunate. But I guess none dare ask why it is that after four trips inside the White House, and all the touting -- unparalleled access! -- that has underpinned the sales strategy of each book in this Iraq War tetralogy, we are only now arriving at the one that might "propel a re-examination."
Back in November 2007, Woodward offered up a bit of a confession before a "War And The Fourth Estate" panel discussion, saying that he "was not nearly aggressive enough" during the period before the Iraq War began. Still, he strangely suggested that Bush's "driver" was "a duty to free people." Woodward said these words while the President was in the midst of running offshore prisons and passively sitting on his hands while our partner in the War On Terror, Pervez Musharraf, was suspending the rule of law in Pakistan.
It's a fitting example of the gap between activity and achievement that has persisted in Woodward's work on the Bush White House. The accounts are filled with scintillating details, but there's an overall refusal or inability to connect the dots. Joan Didion perhaps captured Woodward's latter day oeuvre the best by highlighting the intellectual "passivity" that emerges in the crush of quotidian detail, yielding work "in which measurable cerebral activity is virtually absent" amid "an agreement to cover the story not as it is occurring but as it is presented, which is to say as it is manufactured."
Naturally, White House officials aren't exactly concerned about what Woodward may write about them, confidently predicting that The War Within will burnish Bush's legacy:
White House officials say they are optimistic that the book, which the publisher says "declassifies the secrets of America's political and military involvement in Iraq," will reflect more favorably on Bush than Woodward's previous volume, "State of Denial," which came out in September 2006.
The president's surge strategy for Iraq, albeit late, has slowed the violence on the ground, and Bush aides believe the book will reflect that.
This is par for the course. The last time a Woodward tome was released amid the furtive speculation that it might "propel a re-examination" of the President in an election year, it was 2004, the book was Plan Of Attack, and the Bush/Cheney Re-Elect website gave it "a greater prominence than Ten Minutes From Normal, written by the administration's own in-house propagandist, Karen Hughes." Since the McCain campaign has made it a point to approach the Iraq War as good policy while simultaneously pretending to break with the current White House on the war's execution, no one should be surprised when the McCain website pimps Woodward's book in similar fashion.