State of Denial, the third book in famed journalist Bob Woodward's examination of the Bush administration's approach to war, is sure to be one of the most controversial. State of Denial looks at the policy decisions and inner maneuverings of the administration as America got deeper and deeper into the quagmire that is the Iraq War. As one can see by the reviews already up on Amazon, emotions are running high since Woodward has taken a decidedly harsh view towards the administration. Ironically for Woodward, he was taken to task for being an administration cheerleader in the first two volumes. What State of Denial shows us is that no matter your personal politics, it's important to understand why decisions were made, who were making them, and what people inside the government are saying about the conduct of the war to date. Woodward accomplished that quite well here, thanks to interviews with many of the key players in the process (though notably not with the President and Vice-President.)
One of the main focuses of the book is Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, who has been under heavy criticism for his heavy-handed management of the war and his failures to make tactical and strategic adjustments. Rumsfeld is in charge of a Pentagon intent on spending billions on high tech and unnecessary weapon systems like the F-22, the DDG-1000 destroyer, and the Army FCS while making little effort on raising the overall troop strength of the Army and Marine Corps. Even with the chorus of military and politicians calling for Rumsfeld's firing, it still comes as a surprise that Andrew Card, Bush's chief of staff and top advisor was pushing for Rumsfeld's ouster as early as 2004. Woodward also claims Card enlisted First Lady Laura Bush in the effort, a story that seems somewhat apocryphal. In several in-depth interviews with Woodward, Rumsfeld comes across as honest, arrogant, and firmly believing in his own success despite the torrent of criticism he receives from the military and NSC staffers interviewed for the book.
Some of the newer nuggets of information offered in the book are fascinating. Woodward reveals that then National Security Advisor Condi Rice was briefed in July 2001 by CIA Director George Tenet and CIA counter-terror expert Cofer Black on the increasing likelihood of an attack on US interests. Woodward discusses how Prince Bandar, the Saudi ambassador to the United States, was a key player in advising President Bush before and after 9/11. Another of the book's most interesting revelations is that Henry Kissinger regularly advises President Bush and Vice-President Cheney. Considering Kissinger's status as the architect of a failed Vietnam policy, this tidbit only reinforces Woodward's assertion that the administration refuses to do anything other than "stay the course." Throughout the book the administration is portrayed as as blind to the reality of the Iraq War as it was eager to paint a rosy public picture, ignoring or classifying facts that didn't fit its view of success and labeling those who disagreed as negative and not "team players."
As with many other Woodward books, the book reads quickly and quite cleanly. The level of detail is impressive, and State of Denial expands upon the material covered by James Risen and Thomas Ricks. The material on Bremer and his disasterous tenure as head of the Coalition Provisional Authority was adroitly addressed in detail in Rajiv Chandrasekaran's Imperial Life in the Emerald City, and Woodward doesn't add anything new in that regard. One wonders how much of the material given by Woodward's sources is slanted to better represent their role in history's judgemental eye and how much is actual truth. Woodward lays out the material in its entirety from the many sources, and lets the reader decide which is revisionist and which is reality. Partisans on both side will either love or hate this book regardless of its content, but as a whole this book is fair and balanced. Woodward is no partisan attack dog, he is a journalist committed to telling a story fairly and accurately without regard to what his critics may think. Highly Recommended.