Thursday, January 25, 2007

Woodward On Bush And The State Of The Union

Legendary Washington Post investigative reporter, Bob Woodward, took questions from the public in an online Q & A the day Bush delivered his 2007 State Of The Union speech.

Here's some of his thoughts on Bush today, the War In Iraq, and what the last two years in the White House may hold for him..

We've paraphrased the questions posed to Woodward, but you can read them all in full here :

If Bush sees the outcome of the Iraq War as his legacy, at what point of ongoing disaster, would volatile and rebellious Republicans go to Bush and tell him to change course?

Woodward : That is a great question, and a similar situation occured in August 1974, when Sen. Barry Goldwater went to the White House to tell then-President Richard Nixon that he would be impeached and certainly removed from office in a Senate vote.

Within 24 hours, Nixon announced he was going to resign.

If this gets to be a similar situation as the Iraq War becomes graver and the situation further deteriorates, the question is, Who is the conscience of the Republican party?

Sen. John Warner, the Republican from Virginia who until recently headed the Senate Armed Services Committee, is already challenging the president's policy.

The big question mark is Senator McCain and other Republican leaders.

Is it true that Bush has some deep and troubling psychological problesm when it comes to accepting responsibility for failure in Iraq?

Woodward : People who strongly oppose the war don't necessarily want to hear this, but I have interviewed Bush for hours on the question of the Iraq war and there is a lot of idealism driving his decisions.

He told me in late 2003, nine months after the invasion, "I believe we have a duty to free people" -- to liberate and bring democracy to other countries.

He jumped in his chair in the Oval Office when he said this. The problem is, as I pointed out in my book, "State of Denial," he has not told the truth about what Iraq had become as the insurgent violence and sectarian violence have gotten totally out of hand.

If Bush continues to disagree the feelings and will of the American people, what can he hope to accomplish in his final two years in the White House?

Woodward : He has a very hard road ahead of him, particularly on Iraq.

The challenge in Iraq is not just to show progress but to clearly define some sort of exit strategy or timeline because the political system in this country will not continue to tolerate such an unpopular war with such high casualties.

The political system at some point -- and no one knows when that might be -- will force a new, different resolution unless things get better. That may not be until January 2009, when a new president takes office. Under the Constitution, that's the one thing Bush, his admirers and his detractors can count on.

If the new "surge" troop inscrease fails, will Congress move to censore the president?

Woodward : I haven't heard much talk at all about censure.

A formal censure of a president or commander in chief at a time of war would be to my knowledge unheard of. But maybe somewhere in the past there have been such actions.

I think it more likely that the hydraulics in the political system will create so much pressure that the president himself would alter course. But we'll have to wait and see.

Key Quote From Woodward : All the polling and discussions that I've seen show that the Iraq war is Topic A, B and C in the country,

Why did Bush do a 180 when it comes to "nation building"? He said in 200, repeatedly, that the United States should not be in the business of "nation building"...

Woodward : I've spent a number of years examining this question, and in Bush's mind, 9/11 did change everything. It is the pivot point of his presidency, and he argues either convincingly or unconvincingly that as president, it is his chief responsibility to protect the country.

After 9/11, Bush and his war cabinet examined the question: What are the lessons we should learn from 9/11? The lesson the president, the vice president and others took away was simply "take care of threats early."

In 2002-2003, the president deemed Saddam Hussein a significant threat. The available evidence shows that Bush believed that Saddam had weapons of mass destruction.

We now know that Saddam didn't, and that has pulled the carpet out from under Bush's core argument. The Iraq war is controversial not just because it has been long and violent and seemingly unending, but that the basic rationale disappeared.

This is a reality the president has only acknowledged very reluctantly.

How has this administration defined "winning" or "victory" in Iraq?

Woodward: It's not at all clear, and that's one of the problems in the war. On a common-sense level, victory in a war is the sort of thing that you know it when you see it, but this war may be so complex and entangled in other Middle East, terrorism and domestic political debates that we won't recognize it if we ever see it.

Several years ago, someone in the administration suggested to me that the president should have declared victory at the end of 2003 and simply said the two main goals have been achieved: Saddam Hussein is out of power and there are no weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. As time goes on, that look like a better and better exit strategy.

Bush has serious lame duck status, and is regarded as the worst president since Nixon. What is the point of the State Of The Union address? Is it just pomp and protocol?

Woodward: President George W. Bush still holds office, and if there's anything we've learned over the last decades, it's that the president has incredible, real power, so everything the chief executive says, intends and actually does is at the center of what's happening.

I don't think Bush is overjoyed with the low poll ratings, but I also suspect he doesn't brood about them in the way some other presidents might have.

Recall after the Baker-Hamilton report, the debate was, how are we going to start withdrawing troops from Iraq? But Bush surprised everyone except those who know him by deciding to add troops.

So he still has the job and can make important decisions, but tonight is probably going to be mostly theater.