WASHINGTON -- Did President Bush really brief Prince Bandar on his Iraq war plans before he informed Colin Powell? Did the Saudi ambassador really cut a deal with the Bush administration to increase oil production in time for the presidential election? The answer to both questions is no, but those allegations entered the election-year bloodstream thanks to distortion of Bob Woodward's "Plan of Attack."
The crack investigative reporter's latest blockbuster does not make those allegations, but still became instant Democratic talking points, employed by presidential candidate John Kerry himself. In contrast, Woodward's revelation of Saudi Arabia's support for the Iraq invasion went virtually unmentioned.
Judging by published excerpts, news accounts and even some of Woodward's comments on television, "Plan of Attack" is of a piece with kiss-and-tell anti-Bush memoirs on the best-seller list. The full 443-page text, however, portrays George W. Bush as a conscientious, well-informed leader presiding over a military team that devised an ingenious attack plan. Whether Bush made the right decision to remove Saddam Hussein by force, he does not come across as the nitwit portrayed by Democrats.
Publicity about the book has overlooked Woodward's account of the Saudi connection. While the Israeli government and its ardent American supporters have waged a disinformation campaign against the kingdom, Prince Bandar bin Sultan -- a senior member of the Washington diplomatic corps -- actively collaborated in preparing for war. Early in 2003, he went to Paris to try to bring around an obdurate French President Jacques Chirac.
Woodward reveals that war planning always included sending U.S. Special Operations Forces through and from Saudi Arabia into Iraq. Last Sunday, amid the anti-Saudi buzz inadvertently spawned by Woodward's book, the Associated Press reported "Saudi Arabia secretly helped the United States far more than has been acknowledged." U.S. and Saudi officials told the AP not only about special operations but also that the kingdom provided the U.S. with at least three air bases on Saudi soil, plus cheap fuel.
In return, Bandar wanted ironclad assurances that this time the U.S. was intent on removing Saddam Hussein. On. Jan. 11, 2003, Woodward reports, the Saudi ambassador met with Vice President Dick Cheney and Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and was shown a war-planning map. On Jan. 13, Bandar received confirmation of war plans from Bush himself, according to the book.