Bob Woodward's new book "Plan of Attack" tells the story of White House speechwriter Michael Gerson, a former reporter for U.S. News & World Report, who accompanied President Bush to West Point, where Bush announced a signal change in American foreign policy: a call for more pre-emptive actions. Afterward, Gerson told a reporter the speech would be quoted for years to come. The reporter replied, "There's no news in that speech. You don't use the word Iraq."
"Gerson was stunned," Woodward wrote.
That episode tells you in a nutshell how American newspapers and political pundits have fallen down on the job of covering the war in Iraq. Too often, those of us in the media, including moi, concentrate so much on how one statement contradicts another or on the latest superficial question of the week -- Was there rancor between Vice President Dick Cheney and Secretary of State Colin Powell? Is Bush introspective? -- that we can miss the real picture.
That's why the Bushies talked to Woodward and why they recommend his book even if it has provided much fodder for Bush critics. As White House spokesman Ken Lisaius noted, "Plan of Attack" is a "comprehensive account." The Bushies weren't interested in getting a good headline. They talked to Woodward so that they could set the historical record and lay out the context in which they made their decisions.
Yes, the book has launched a number of stories and items that the White House can't like. (You've heard the sound bites: Secretary of State Colin Powell out of the loop. Bush dismissed weapons of mass destruction case as "nice try.") But as media critic Neal Gabler said on "Fox News Watch" over the weekend, people who say "Plan of Attack" vilified Bush "haven't read the book."
Woodward chronicles what impelled the march to war, starting with Iraqi forces firing on U.S. and United Kingdom planes enforcing the United Nations' no-fly zone for years before President Bush assumed office.
After Sept. 11, the administration was alert to the possibility of another big-target attack on American soil. They were terrified at the prospect of a nuclear-powered terrorist attack after a CIA team found a diagram of a dirty bomb and documents on nuclear weapons in Osama bin Laden's Afghanistan sanctuary. Bin Laden had said he had nukes. Where did he get them?