While the book exposed a lot of the systemic rot in the Bush administration’s Iraq-related decision-making process, there were several things wrong with Bob Woodward’s State of Denial.
To discuss one of these, Woodward was duped about the diminishing power of Vice President Cheney and his team. Woodward clearly spent a lot of time with Defense, State, and intelligence officials, but he failed to see the forest for the trees in his analysis of who was driving and influencing America’s national security portfolio.
Clearly, the President is important and calls a lot of the shots, but the key question that Woodward never gets to is who really controls the national security bureaucracy. As former State Department Chief of Staff Lawrence Wilkerson so clearly put it on October 16, 2005, a “Cheney-Rumsfeld cabal” hijacked the national security decision-making process. Woodward puts most of the responsibility for failure on Rumsfeld with a weak President and national security team too frequently acquiescing to Rumsfeld’s outrageous behavior.
But what Woodward completely misses is that Dick Cheney is the only figure in this presidential administration who has followers — or what one might otherwise call disciples and acolytes.
The President has no followers — or very few. They just don’t know what his “world view” is. Some are loyal to the persona of George W. Bush, but that is different than knowing what the President would think about some policy or situation. Rice has few followers in the administration. Hadley none. Rumsfeld was despised, and his brilliant “snowflake” strategy helped keep everyone on edge and also helped him evade accountability at every turn. Such types don’t generate “followings.”
George Tenet, John Negroponte, and others in the intelligence community never cultivated a crowd dedicated to institutionalizing and pursuing their policy prerogatives.
The closest anyone came to challenging Cheney’s many followers was Colin Powell who with Richard Armitage and Lawrence Wilkerson at his side tried to breed “sensibility” and “caution” among those who made national security policy — but at the end of the day, Powell and his team tended to matter when they were in the room and didn’t matter when they weren’t. Any followers he had dissipated with his departure from the Bush administration.
But Cheney’s followers populate the entire national security bureaucracy. He has allies, spies, and fellow travelers in State, Defense, the CIA, the NSA, the DNI, the DIA, all of the uniformed services, and throughout the government. They know his world view and don’t need instructions on what to do or what he might think. They know it. They know he wants a war with Iran — and his team of followers are doing what they can to move us in that direction.
There are many inside the Bush administration who do not want what Cheney and his followers prescribe — but they are poorly organized and don’t have the bureaucratic muscle to compete with Cheney’s machine.
Some friends in the blogosphere like Brad DeLong contest my view and argue “that they all work for the czar” — meaning that George Bush is much more in control of matters than my model would suggest. That may be the case — but still, within the bureaucracy it is the paradigm that Cheney has established which has tied together a network of like-minded adherents. Bush may ultimately be driving that franchise, but Cheney’s frame is still the dominant structure that followers connect to.
Woodward’s book — which is excellent on a vast number of fronts — totally misses the Cheney machine and underestimates what Cheney has done and continues to do to wrestle the course of national security policy the way he wants it to go.
— Steve Clemons