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Did Bush Spin Woodward?

Last September, when Bob Woodward's fourth book about the Bush administration, The War Within, was released, Derek Chollet argued in TNR that, despite the general perception that the book was harshly critical of Bush, the Bush White House had, in fact, expertly played Woodward. Chollet wrote:

[B]eneath the surface, the core of
Woodward's account actually seems to reinforce the narrative that Bush
is trying to spin about Iraq--that against mighty resistance inside and
outside the government, a small group made the gutsy decision to
double-down with the surge. As with every Woodward book, there's a
story within the story. His sources share their tales (or in some
cases, secret papers) to settle a score or shape the historical
narrative. And here we see National Security Adviser Steve Hadley
taking over Iraq decision-making and guiding Bush as he stared down
leery Generals and worried political advisers to push the 2007 surge.  

According to the Politico,
it was Hadley who helped shepherd Woodward throughout the West Wing and
the national security bureaucracy to conduct his research. But wait,
one asks, wasn't it Hadley who has also spoken out against the book?
Last week, after initial news reports of Woodward's book appeared, the
White House released a lengthy statement
in Hadley's name rebutting some of Woodward's depictions as "at least
incomplete." Such a move heightened the drama and guaranteed further
coverage; instead of trying to delegitimize the book completely, the
statement is actually an effort to spin it, bolstering the perspective
the Bush team wanted Woodward to convey. It still has the Bush-as-hero

Today's long WaPo article by Tom Ricks about Army General Ray Ordierno--which is excerpted from Ricks's new book, The Gamble--backs up Chollet's argument. Ricks reports:

In a recent interview, Odierno expressed surprise that a book by The
Washington Post's Bob Woodward, published just as Odierno took command
in Iraq, credited White House aides and others in Washington with
developing the surge. From Odierno's perspective -- and that of many
other senior officers in Iraq -- the new strategy had been more or less
conceived and executed by himself in Baghdad, with some crucial
coaching from Keane in Washington.

"We thought we needed it, and
we asked for it and we got it," he said, referring to the strategy.
"You know, General Petraeus and I think . . . I did it here, [and] he
picked it up. That's how we see it. And so it's very interesting when
people back there see it very differently."

Of course, Odierno
said, ultimately Bush had to make the policy decision, and some White
House aides encouraged that step. But, he continued, "they had nothing
to do with developing" the way it was done. "Where to go, what [the
soldiers] would do. I mean, I know I made all those decisions."

Of course, this wouldn't have been the first time Bush played Woodward. With Bush now gone, let's hope it was the last.

--Jason Zengerle

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