DATE April 21, 2004 ACCOUNT NUMBER N/A
TIME 12:00 Noon-1:00 PM AUDIENCE N/A
PROGRAM Fresh Air
Interview: Bob Woodward discusses his new book, "Plan of Attack"
DAVE DAVIES, host:
This is FRESH AIR. I'm Dave Davies, senior writer for the Philadelphia Daily
News, filling in for Terry Gross.
Journalist Bob Woodward's new book, "Plan of Attack," is an inside account of
the Bush administration's planning for the invasion of Iraq. The detailed
narrative reveals intense battles among top policy-makers and asserts Bush
decided to invade at a time when the administration was still publicly
committed to diplomacy. In researching the book, Woodward interviewed
President Bush on the record for three and a half hours last December. He
also interviewed more than 75 other officials on a background basis with the
understanding he could use the information they provided but would not reveal
their names in the book.
Since the book was published, several key players have taken issue with some
of its accounts and in doing so revealed that they spoke to Woodward.
Secretary of State Colin Powell insists he was never out of the loop on policy
decisions and says he believes going to war was the right thing to do. Powell
says he and other officials spoke to Woodward on instructions from the White
Bob Woodward has been a reporter and editor at The Washington Post for 33
years and has written nine non-fiction best-sellers. Woodward and Carl
Bernstein's reporting for The Post about the Watergate scandal was a key
factor in the resignation of President Richard Nixon. Their book about the
scandal, "All the President's Men," became a movie. Woodward's last book,
"Bush at War," was also a behind-the-scenes look at the Bush administration,
focusing on its response to the September 11th attacks.
Bob Woodward, welcome to FRESH AIR.
Mr. BOB WOODWARD (Author, "Plan of Attack"): Thank you.
DAVIES: How soon after the September 11th attacks did President Bush ask
Defense Secretary Rumsfeld to develop plans to invade Iraq?
Mr. WOODWARD: Exactly 72 days after 9/11. It was the Wednesday before
Thanksgiving, November 21st. And he took him aside after an NSC meeting,
asked to speak to him privately, went into a little cubbyhole office, closed
the door and said, `What have you got in terms of plans for a war with Iraq?'
And the president asked that it be kept secret and other people not be told at
that moment, though they were told soon thereafter. And if you know Rumsfeld,
once you push the button on his console to do something, he went into
DAVIES: Then he goes to Tommy Franks, the general, who's in the middle of
fighting a war in Afghanistan, who has a rather colorful reaction to this
Mr. WOODWARD: Yes. He is astounded, and there are a few words which we won't
mention on the air because Franks said, you know, `We're busy. I can't
believe that this is being proposed.' But then he settled down quickly and
began a very secret, very intense effort to come up with plans. And over the
next, really, 14, 15 months they changed the whole concept a couple of times
and made it faster and made it more lethal.
DAVIES: And Rumsfeld gets right down into the details of this kind of
Mr. WOODWARD: Yes, totally. He insists on assumptions; that they list
exactly what they're assuming. And in the briefing they gave the president
right after Christmas of 2001, down at his ranch in Crawford, they listed 14
or so assumptions to make it clear that they would need certain support in the
region, they would need certain conditions, they would need certain munitions,
very detailed analysis of what they needed from others in order to carry out
DAVIES: You know, Rumsfeld comes off in this account--and you spent quite a
bit of time on the war planning effort.
Mr. WOODWARD: Yes.
DAVIES: And he comes across as an impressive figure, at least in his
intellectual rigor--I mean, demanding, as you said, that commanders examine
the assumptions of their plans. But I wonder, did he ever anticipate the
consequences of this invasion, what they would do if they won?
Mr. WOODWARD: Well, that's a very good question. And, of course, Rumsfeld
and Franks were so tied up in planning for the war--and you can understand if
that's on your desk and it looks like it's going to happen, it's the issue you
deal with each day. And they wanted to protect our forces and make sure that
the intelligence matched where they were going to go, where they were going to
bomb and so forth. And I think the aftermath planning--I mean, not that I
think, the record shows--got a back seat, and to a certain extent it fell
through the cracks. In one way, you know, it clearly should not have. On the
other hand, when you're engaged in a war and you are going to risk lives of
your military people, you want to make sure it gets full attention.
DAVIES: Secretary of State Colin Powell, as planning proceeded through 2002
for an invasion of Iraq--the secretary of State, Colin Powell, had a lot of
reservations. But he didn't have the kind of close relationship to the
president that Dick Cheney, the vice president, and Secretary Rumsfeld had.
There came a point, I guess, in August of 2002 where he, I guess, sort of
insisted on a private meeting with the president. And what did he tell
Mr. WOODWARD: That's right. A two-hour meeting of extraordinary--Condoleezza
Rice, the national security adviser, was there. But Powell had written out
notes, and the theme was, `If you go to war with Iraq, you'll own the place
after invading and that the consequences could be very serious to the region.
It would suck out all of the oxygen and attention in foreign affairs and
elsewhere.' It was a pretty dramatic presentation about the downside of war.
The president, quite naturally, said, `What do you think I should do?' And
Powell said, `Try to build a coalition.' This led to the president's eventual
decision in September of 2002 to go to the UN and make that famous speech
saying, `We're going to either--if the UN won't disarm Iraq, the United States
will. And if necessary, we'll go alone.'
DAVIES: Did Colin Powell actually use the phrase `the Pottery Barn rules'?
Mr. WOODWARD: He and his deputy, Rich Armitage, used that regularly. And I
learned recently the columnist from The New York Times, Tom Friedman, had used
this phrase in lots of his columns and speeches with reference to Iraq; that
if you break it, you own it. The presentation to the president was more
along the lines of, `These are the consequences. This is the impact on the
economy of the Middle East. This is the risk.' It was really a very long
discussion of the downsides.
DAVIES: But Powell, who didn't have quite that close relationship with the
president as, say, Vice President Cheney--he regarded Cheney as someone who, I
believe you said, had a fever for invading Iraq.
Mr. WOODWARD: That's correct.
DAVIES: And was he right?
Mr. WOODWARD: Well, that's his conclusion and a very strong one. And there's
evidence that Cheney was focused, if not obsessed, on Iraq and al-Qaeda and
the threat, very real, unrealized at this point, that al-Qaeda was somehow
connected to Iraq and that they would get a nuclear weapon or chemical or
biological weapon and detonate it in this country, and, of course, that would
have been a catastrophe. So Cheney was focused on that, with the kind of
always returning to it in discussions and meetings.
I asked the president--specifically, I said, `Some of the people in your war
Cabinet feel that Cheney had this fever,' and the president disagreed and said
Cheney's very steady and is not the sort of person who displays a kind of
fanaticism. But others saw it, including the president's chief political
adviser, Carl Rove, who believed that Cheney had a fever on this subject.
DAVIES: I believe you used the words `a powerful steamrolling force' to
describe Cheney's role in plans for the invasion.
Mr. WOODWARD: Yes. And if you look at the chronology--and so much of the
story and the detail is as the war planning, as the CIA covert activity and
the diplomacy proceeded and you see that Cheney--for instance, when the
president decided to go to the UN and seek new weapons inspection resolutions,
Cheney was almost mocking of it, just felt it was not going to work, that it
was a waste of time and kept pinging on that issue. And his dissent and the
force with which he felt that this would not work, diplomacy would not work,
that you had to be tough, you had to go kick Saddam out...
DAVIES: How bad did relations between Secretary of State Powell and Vice
President Cheney get?
Mr. WOODWARD: Pretty bad. There's been some discussion that I was saying
that they barely spoke. That's not what I said. What the book reports is
that Cheney and Powell essentially had these two world views: Powell's being
much more cautious, much more oriented toward diplomacy; Cheney's much more of
the hard-line tough guy, particularly on Saddam, believing that Saddam had
fooled the world for decades, and it was time to change the regime, and the
only effective way to do that was militarily. The differences were so severe
that they could really not sit down and talk about it, no lunch, no
conversation, never. And certainly at NSC meetings they talk. I'm sure they
will be trotted out soon, and we will see them laughing and showing that
they're part of the Bush team, but the river of disagreement runs very deep
DAVIES: Is it true that people on Powell's staff referred to Cheney and his
deputy and some of the people at Defense as `the Gestapo group'?
Mr. WOODWARD: Powell did, as `the little Gestapo,' and that tells you again
the level of emotion and anger and conviction. And to, you know, even
casually call somebody that is pretty serious. Yesterday Powell was asked
about this and said that he did not remember saying that, but that he did call
Doug Feith to apologize. He was the one, the undersecretary for policy, who's
specifically fingered by Powell as running this Gestapo office.
DAVIES: My guest is journalist Bob Woodward. His new book is "Plan of
Attack." We'll talk more after a break. This is FRESH AIR.
(Soundbite of music)
DAVIES: My guest is Bob Woodward. His new book is "Plan of Attack."
What was the state of CIA intelligence about Iraq at the time of the September
Mr. WOODWARD: Not very good. There is a CIA officer--you know, one of the
heroes of this, to a certain extent, if there are any heroes--named Saul who
was in charge of Iraqi covert operations for the CIA. They called this group
within the CIA the `house of broken toys' because they had been so ineffective
over the last several decades in doing anything to oust Saddam. Saul took
over and assessed the human sources, and as he reported to the White House, he
said, `We have got human sources in Iraq, and I can count them on one hand and
still pick my nose,' meaning there were four. And those four human sources
were not at the center of Saddam's regime, not in his security service or his
intelligence service, very much on the remote outskirts. So Saul did a rather
clear-eyed analysis of the situation and said, `Look, the CIA is not going to
be able to overthrow Saddam in a coup. What we can do is support a military
This then led to a proposal and, finally, the president, on February 16th,
2002, signing a secret order to the CIA to conduct covert operations to
support a military operation to overthrow Saddam. And so what that did, it
made it very, very clear that the CIA was supporting, whether intentionally or
unintentionally, a military invasion because they wanted to get the job done.
DAVIES: You have a very colorful description of a CIA operative. I believe
his code name was Tim, wasn't it?
Mr. WOODWARD: That's right, his nickname.
DAVIES: The nickname...
Mr. WOODWARD: Tim.
DAVIES: ...that you gave him, who goes into Iraq through Turkey with
suitcases, trunks, of $100 bills to begin building alliances and an
Mr. WOODWARD: That's right. He goes into the Kurdish area of Iraq.
Remember, this is still Saddam's country, though the Kurds have relative
autonomy in this region. And Tim takes--again, this is somebody who if you
were going to make a movie, somebody out of central casting, to be a CIA
covert team leader, he would fit the bill: spoke Arabic, came from one of the
stations in the region, paid about by the CIA $150 a day. And he went in
there, at one point, with $35 million in cash to set up a base, to make
contacts, which they did with a religious group that opposed Saddam. And they
had members of this group very close to Saddam in the security service, in
the military--and Tim and his team literally recruited 86--I'm sorry, 87 spies
inside Iraq. They were given the code name Rock Stars, and these Rock Stars
reported on phones to Tim, and he relayed their intelligence to headquarters
and to General Franks.
DAVIES: You write that there was so much money that he was distributing to
both intelligence sources as well as allies among the Kurds and others that at
some point somebody told him, `Hey, you've got to get some $10 and $20 bills
in here,' right?
Mr. WOODWARD: That's right, because they had created in this area such
hyperinflation through the $100 bill, no one had change. And the Kurdish
leader went to Tim and said, `Tim, please, bring us some 5's and 10's and 20's
so we can make change because a cup of coffee now costs $100.'
DAVIES: Well, one of the things the CIA was doing, apart from assisting in a
potential invasion, was to figure out the state of Saddam's armed forces and
the location and/or existence of weapons of mass destruction. As the Bush
administration was considering war, it was also developing information about
that. You note that in the fall of 2002, there was a National Intelligence
Estimate developed. And President Bush got a personal briefing in December at
which he wanted to know from, I guess, CIA Director George Tenet and his
people what we knew about Saddam's possession of weapons of mass destruction.
What was the president...
Mr. WOODWARD: Right.
DAVIES: ...told in that briefing?
Mr. WOODWARD: What happened--they published the National Intelligence
Estimate, top secret. It was given to administration figures and to some
people on the Intelligence Committee in Congress, the Senate and the House.
And it said categorically Saddam has weapons of mass destruction, period. No
qualification. And then if you read the whole estimate, you see that the
information is quite weak, and they kind of dance back as you go through the
details. But it is this very strong assertion which went to Congress, and, of
course, Congress passed the resolutions authorizing Bush to use the military
to change the regime in Iraq.
By December, there was still some doubt about whether this was absolutely
sure. The president wanted to make a public case, and so the Saturday before
Christmas, December 21st, he asked for a presentation in the Oval Office,
which was made by Tenet's deputy, John McLaughlin, using all the secret
intelligence that they had: the satellite photos, the communications
intercepts, the human sources. And after the president listened to this, he
said, `Nice try.' And the president told me it's just not something ready for
public presentation, and he told the group in the Oval Office, the president
did--he said, `This is not something that would convince Joe Public.'
And the president turned to George Tenet, the CIA director, who was there and
said, `George, you said we have a strong case. What have you got here?
What's going on? Doesn't compute.' And Tenet rose up and said, `Don't worry.
It's a slam dunk.' The president--when I asked about this and asked others
who were there, the president specifically said this was very important in
convincing him that they had a case to make. And, of course, this case was
then, in early February, about a month and a half before the war presented to
the UN by Colin Powell, of all people.
DAVIES: So it sounds as if when Bush asked for this briefing, it wasn't that
he wanted to satisfy himself that the weapons were there. It was more a
matter of making the public case to justify an invasion.
Mr. WOODWARD: Yes, that's exactly right. That Joe Public would not buy it.
DAVIES: Throughout 2002 the Pentagon was developing detailed plans for an
invasion of Iraq. I'm wondering, did the administration hide that from the
Mr. WOODWARD: Well, there were leaks. And the leaks--it was almost one plan
or idea for invading Iraq leaked each day that Condi Rice finally said to the
president, `Well, one benefit of these leaks'--because some of them were
contradictory--`is that Saddam must be entirely confused.' There was very, as
I say, intense planning going on. And in the spring 2002, the president said
somewhat dismissively a number of times, `Well, there are no war plans for
Iraq on my desk.' I guess literally that's true. Every time I've been in the
Oval Office, the president's desk is clear. There's nothing on his desk. But
it gave the impression that there was nothing actively going on. And he
should have stuck to some of his earlier characterizations where he said, `I'm
holding my options very close to my vest and I'm not going to discuss them.'
But the statement `There are no war plans on my desk' gave a sense that
they're not doing anything. And you look back at what was going on and that
statement and--they don't square very well.
DAVIES: Journalist Bob Woodward. His inside account of the Bush
administration's war planning is called "Plan of Attack." He'll be back in
the second half of the show. I'm Dave Davies, and this is FRESH AIR.
DAVIES: Two months before the Bush administration publicly announced the
decision to go to war in Iraq, Vice President Dick Cheney briefed Saudi Prince
Bandar on plans for the invasion, apparently without the knowledge of the
secretary of State. Coming up, we continue our conversation with Bob
Woodward, author of "Plan of Attack"; also, Geoff Nunberg on blogging.
(Soundbite of music)
DAVIES: This is FRESH AIR. I'm Dave Davies filling in for Terry Gross.
Let's get back to our conversation with veteran journalist Bob Woodward. His
new book "Plan of Attack" is an inside account of the Bush administration's
preparations for war in Iraq. Before the break Woodward was describing debate
within the administration over the quality of its information on Iraq's
There was also an issue of what the administration should say publicly about
weapons of mass destruction. I know that Colin Powell was concerned about
whether they really had facts and hard information as opposed to inferences
Mr. WOODWARD: And he spent a lot of time going over the intelligence and
bought in and accepted it. There was a certain logic to it, but it was not
iron clad, it was not proof, and it was presented by the administration and
Powell as if it were proof. There is an interesting moment in the book when
the head of the National Security Agency, which does all of the communications
intercepts worldwide for the government, the biggest intelligence agency we
have, much bigger than the CIA, General Hadden(ph), is doing dishes with his
wife one night. And she's asking about intelligence and WMD, and he said to
her the following: `Well, if it were fact, it wouldn't be intelligence.'
And, in a sense, that should have been shared with the world that intelligence
is not fact, it is not certainty. It is inference. It involves a certain
amount of guesswork sometimes. It certainly amounts to a lot of judgment.
When you look at the evidence and so forth and the fact that Saddam had had
weapons in the past and had used them, it seemed almost for sure. But instead
of saying, `It seems almost for sure,' they said, `It's for sure.' And I
think that is a mistake that will live for years, if not even longer.
DAVIES: Bob Woodward, a lot of attention has come to a meeting that Vice
President Cheney and Defense Secretary Rumsfeld held with the Saudi ambassador
in January 2003. And I believe General Richard Myers, the chairman of the
Joint Chiefs of Staff, was also there.
Mr. WOODWARD: Right.
DAVIES: Now this was a meeting two months before the administration publicly
committed to war. What kind of information were they there to share with the
Mr. WOODWARD: Well, the president had told Condi Rice at this point that he'd
decided on war. He had told Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld that he had decided
on war. Rumsfeld felt very strongly that you reach a point of no return when
you tell a foreign country, `This is going to happen. We're going to go to
war, and we want your support. We want to use your territory, your equipment,
your intelligence, whatever.' And they, with the president's permission,
Cheney and Rumsfeld, called in Prince Bandar, the Saudi ambassador, with the
chairman of the Joint Chiefs, as you said, and briefed him on the war plan,
top secret, not to be shown to any foreign national, but it was. In this
case, Bandar had extraordinary, surprising access to the Bush White House.
And Don Rumsfeld looked at the map after it had been explained by General
Myers and said, `This is going to happen. You can take it to the bank.' And
Bandar was a little skeptical because he'd known of lots of saber-rattling in
Iraq before and said, `So this means Saddam will be finished?' And Cheney
said, `When we do this, Saddam is toast.' And at the end Bandar said, `Well,
this is all well and good, the vice president and the secretary of Defense.
But I have to carry back a message from the president.' So they set up a
meeting with the president, and the president told Bandar that, `The message
you got two days earlier from the chairman of the Joint Chiefs and Rumsfeld
and the vice president is my message. You can carry that message.' It's a
Now the White House, I believe--embarrassed because two months later or six
weeks later the president was saying publicly, `Well, we have not decided on
military action.' He's trying to backpedal on this. I went over it in detail
with the president, and Rumsfeld is on the record about it. And I believe the
chairman of the Joint Chiefs said my account is essentially accurate. This
decision was conveyed.
Now in the book Andy Card, who's the White House chief of staff, makes the
point that this is not an irrevocable decision; that you could march back.
The consequences might be very large, but they could be managed. The national
security adviser, Condi Rice, then, after Bandar had been briefed, told the
president, `Well, you'd better call Colin Powell in and tell him.'
DAVIES: So Colin Powell at this point did not know of this internal
commitment to go to war?
Mr. WOODWARD: Well, he knew about the plan. There's been much discussion
that I'm saying he didn't know about the plan in the book. If you've gone
through it, he's in on the military planning at all points. He does not know
that there has been this decision. So the president called him in and said,
`I'm going to go to war,' and explicitly said, `Well, will you be with me?'
and said to Colin Powell, the former Joint Chiefs chairman, 35 years in the
Army--the president said, `Time to put your war uniform on.' Powell left the
meeting concluding he's going to do it; that the president is going to go to
war. You know, I've done this reporting for 32 years now, and I guess the
White House and the administration have decided that this is a truth they
don't want out. And so they are trying to say, and Powell has been saying,
`Well, this really wasn't a decision meeting.'
DAVIES: But the narrative as you see it is the decision was made in January.
It was communicated to the Saudi ambassador, and then Condoleezza Rice says,
`Hey, you've got to notify the secretary of State of what the ambassador to a
foreign country now knows.'
Mr. WOODWARD: That's right. And it's not as if the sourcing on this is weak.
I interviewed the president and I asked him pointedly--I went through the
sequences. I understood it. After going around and 'round, the president
said, quote, "It sounds like you got it right." And the president said the
meeting was short. I checked some records from some people at the White
House. It was a 12-minute meeting. And the president said this to me:
`There wasn't much debate. It looks like we're headed to war.' Now, you
know, that's what the president said on the record. I've interviewed--Powell
now has acknowledged that I interviewed him. He said a couple of times on the
phone--I checked my records and I interviewed him at length on the telephone,
tape recorded with Powell's permission six times for this book: one time,
August 4th, 2003, yielding 26 pages of transcript; August 13th, September
16th, November 30th, 32 pages of transcript.
DAVIES: And the terms of those interviews were what?
Mr. WOODWARD: That it's on background and that I can use the material.
Mr. WOODWARD: And I'm not going to say, you know, what I specifically got
from him. But it would be irresponsible of me as a journalist to have
information that I'm going to put in the book and not ask him about it in
DAVIES: What do you think is the larger significance of the fact that the
administration went to such lengths to brief and reassure the Saudi
Mr. WOODWARD: They needed Saudi Arabia. The Iraq-Saudi border--500 miles.
Obviously, the relations between Saudi Arabia and the administration are
incredibly close. The president's father considers Prince Bandar almost a
member of his family. So I think there's a lot going on here in terms of
personal relations. We need the Saudis for the oil that they supply each day
to this country. If that were cut off or drastically reduced, then the
economic impact in this country would be staggering. At the same time the
Saudis need us because we're such a big market, and they want us to have a
healthy economy so we will consume lots of their oil, to put it bluntly.
DAVIES: Did the administration get any assurances from the Saudis about oil
production and oil prices as it related to a potential war in Iraq?
Mr. WOODWARD: Yes. On the day war was decided officially or General Franks
was ordered to go to war--this is March 19th, 2003--there is a briefing in the
White House by the energy people telling the president that the Saudis will up
production up to two million barrels a day during the war to make up for any
possible shortfall, and they did this, in fact.
DAVIES: Was this done to help the White House politically?
Mr. WOODWARD: No, I think this was to help the war effort, which the Saudis
supported and did not want the war to have a negative impact on the American
economy. I also write in the book that Prince Bandar, which the other night
he did confirm specifically that the Saudis hoped to manage oil availability
which is priced because it's very sensitive to the production levels--that
they hope to do this in the 10-month period leading up to the election and
that Bandar knew that the condition of the American economy is very important
to the election.
DAVIES: My guest is journalist Bob Woodward. His book is "Plan of Attack."
We'll talk some more after a break. This is FRESH AIR.
(Soundbite of music)
DAVIES: My guest is journalist Bob Woodward. His new book about the Bush
administration's plans for the invasion for Iraq is called "Plan of Attack."
Now the administration had enormous costs as it built up for war: improving
airfields, installing pipelines. And I believe the figure $7 million is
mentioned. It had to do this without arousing the suspicion of Congress about
Mr. WOODWARD: Or the public.
DAVIES: ...activity--or the public. Where did they get the money?
Mr. WOODWARD: Well, there was a big appropriation for Afghanistan, and my
reporting in the White House shows that the president signed off on a memo the
end of July 2002 approving these projects. And they did not want to send up a
flare and let Congress or the public know that this was going on. I asked the
president about this, and, again, he confirmed it. They are now saying,
`Well, part of the money, yes; part of the money, no.' The point and the
significance of this is the Congress didn't know. And whether the
appropriations were so large and given with such a blank check--kind of
irrelevant. The job of Congress is to know and to monitor where money is
going. And if the executive branch is going to embark on secret war planning
and prepare itself and improve its position and spend taxpayers' money, you
would think that some of the leadership in Congress or someone would have some
idea that this was going on. And it seems to be, based on what my reporting
shows and what has come out since, that this took place totally under the
DAVIES: I guess it's a little unclear whether this represents an illegal
diversion of funds. I mean, was this money targeted for Afghanistan and then
put in Iraq's kitty?
Mr. WOODWARD: Well, see, it was an appropriation, as I understand it. It
gave lots of money to General Franks, who was overseeing at the time the war
in Afghanistan and doing the secret planning for the Iraq war. And this is in
places where--for instance, improving runways and airfields that they could
say, `Well, that's really for Afghanistan.' In fact, it was for a potential
Iraq war. And it's one of those things where there's so much money--and I am
not going to reach a legal judgment about it. But what interested me, what
struck me is that so much money was being spent in secret. And whatever the
arrangements were, proper or improper, Congress was kept in the dark.
And I think you can make an argument that the Constitution and other
traditions in laws make it pretty clear that they should know more; that, for
instance, on the covert action, to support a military invasion of Iraq, Bush
allocated $200 billion for this. This had to be approved secretly by the
Congress, and they cut the amount down to $189 billion. So there were people
in Congress, they'll pledge to keep it secret, who knew that this covert
action was going on in the case of preparing the military, this part of it, as
best as I can tell. And I certainly don't know what I don't know. No one
knew in Congress.
DAVIES: There's a point in the book where you describe Bush meeting with an
Iraqi exile group in which he says, referring to the coming war--and this was
a direct quote--"I believe out of this will come peace between Israel and the
Mr. WOODWARD: Yeah. Isn't that interesting?
DAVIES: Yeah, where did that come from?
Mr. WOODWARD: I think it's this idea that if you set up more of a model of
democracy in the Middle East in addition to Israel, if you have an Arab state
that's democratic, that it will spread. This is the Bush optimism. This is
the Bush very grandiose view of what he thinks he can do as president, and
that's an expression of that. I was struck by that also.
DAVIES: How would you rate his sort of capacity for understanding the
subtleties of issues like Israel and the Palestinians and the difficulties of
building Iraq? I mean, it's sort of no secret, a lot of people regard this
president as somebody who believes in a few simple ideas. I mean, you've
talked to him. You had some long, serious conversations about it. I mean,
did he grab the subtleties of this material?
Mr. WOODWARD: Well, I think he basically understands that whether all of the
subtleties and nuances--you know, I really don't know. I don't think I
understand the subtleties and nuances of the Middle East or the
Palestinian-Israeli conflict. He is--and in one of the earlier interviews, he
said, `I'm a gut player.' He works by instincts. He's very much orientated
towards, `OK, there's a problem.' Somebody tells him who knows a lot about
it, and what he says basically is, `Fix it. Get it done. I trust you to do
it.'' t is delegation. And when you go through this book, he is--the idea
that somehow Cheney was running things or Cheney was making decisions or Bush
was not involved, I think, is dispelled pretty completely. He was on top of
this. At the same time, it's his war. It's his decision. And, in the end,
it defines his first term as president. As much as anything, one of the
common themes I found in talking to people is if you want to understand Bush
and what he values and cares about and what makes him tick, look at this
decision. And I think it obviously is about a war decision, but it's also
about his character, his action, and this is what he acted on.
DAVIES: Well, Bob Woodward, thanks so much for speaking with us.
Mr. WOODWARD: Thank you.
DAVIES: Journalist Bob Woodward. His new book is "Plan of Attack."
Coming up, linguist Geoff Nunberg on blogging. This is FRESH AIR.
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Commentary: Determining the significance and style of blogs
DAVID DAVIES, host:
A lot of people have wondered whether the future of journalism belongs to
blogs, the online journals that have become increasingly popular. Our
linguist Geoff Nunberg has been trying his hand at blogging but is having
trouble getting the style right.
GEOFFREY NUNBERG reporting:
Over the last couple of months I've been posting on a group called
LanguageLog.org, which was launched by a couple of linguists as a place where
we could sound off on the passing linguistic scene. But I don't have quite
have the hang of the form. The style that sounds perfectly normal in a FRESH
AIR feature or an op-ed piece comes off as distant and pontifical when I use
it in a blog entry. Reading over my own postings, I recall what Queen
Victoria once said about Gladstone: `He speaks to me as if I were a public
A lot of newspapers have been encouraging or even requiring their writers to
start blogs. But with some notable exceptions, most journalists have the same
problems with the form that I do. They do all the things you should do in a
newspaper feature: They fashion engaging leads, they develop their arguments
methodically, they give context and background, and they tack helpful IDs onto
the names they introduce: New York Senator Charles E. Schumer, D. That makes
for solid journalism, but it's not really blogging. Granted, that word can
cover a lot of territory.
A recent Pew Foundation study found that around three million Americans have
tried their hands at blogging, and sometimes there seem to be almost that many
variants of the form. Blogs can be news summaries, opinion columns or
collections of press releases, like the official blogs of the presidential
candidates. But most are daily journals posted by college students, office
workers or stay-at-home moms whose average readership is smaller than a family
But when people puzzle over the significance of blogs nowadays, they usually
have in mind a small number of A-list sites that traffic in commentary about
politics, culture or technology, blogs like Altercation, Instapundit, Matthew
Yglesias, Talking Points or Doc Searls. It's true that bloggers like these
have occasionally come up with news scoops, but in the end they're less about
breaking stories than bending them. And their language is a kind of
anti-journalese. It's informal, impertinent and digressive, casting links in
In fact, one archetypal blog entry consists entirely of a cryptic comment
that's linked to another blogger news item, as in `Oh, please,' or `He's
married to her?' That interconnectedness is what leads enthusiasts to talk
about the blogosphere, as if this were all a single, vast conversation. At
some point in these discussions somebody's likely to trot out the phrase
But if there's a new public sphere assembling itself out there, you couldn't
tell from the way bloggers address their readers, not as anonymous citizens,
the way print columnists do, but as co-conspirators who are in on the joke.
Taken as a whole, in fact, the blogging world sounds a lot less like a public
meeting than the lunchtime chatter in a high school cafeteria, complete with
snarky comments about the kids at the tables across the room.
Some people say this all started with Mickey Kaus' column in Slate, though
Kaus himself cites the old San Francisco Chronicle columns of Herb Caen. And
Camille Paglia says that her column in salon.com was the first true blog and
adds that the genre has been going downhill ever since. But blogs were around
on the Web before Kaus or Paglia first logged in. And if you're of a mind to,
you can trace their print antecedents a lot further back than Caen or Hunter
S. Thompson. That informal style recalls the colloquial voice that Addison
and Steele devised when they invented the periodical essay in the early 18th
century, even if blogs are a long way from that style and artfulness. For
that matter, those essays were written in the guise of fictive personae who
could be the predecessors of pseudonymous bloggers like Wanket(ph), Atrios or
Skippy, the Bush Kangaroo, not to mention the mysterious conservative blogger
who calls himself Edward Boyd.
Actually my LanguageLog co-contributor Mark Liberman recalls that Plato always
had Socrates open his philosophical disquisitions with a little diary entry,
the way bloggers like to do: `I went down yesterday to see the Festival of
the Pandrosos with Glaucone(ph), the son of Aristone(ph), and I ran into my
old buddy Sephelus(ph) and we got to talking about old age.' That always
happens when a successful new genre emerges. It seems to have been implicit
in everything that preceded it. But in the end this is sort of like asking
whether the first SUV was a minivan, a station wagon or an off-road vehicle.
The fact is that this is a genuinely new language of public discourse and a
paradoxical one. On the one hand, blogs are clearly a more democratic form of
expression than anything the world of print has produced. But in some ways
they're also more exclusionary and not just because they only reach about 10
percent of the people who use the Web. The high, formal style of the
newspaper op-ed page may be nobody's native language, but at least it's a
neutral voice that doesn't privilege the speech of any particular group or
class, whereas blogspeak is basically an adaptation of the table talk of the
urban middle class. It isn't a language that everybody in the cafeteria is
equally adept at speaking. Not that there's anything wrong with chewing over
the events of the day with the other folks at your own lunch table, but you
hope that everybody in the room will keep reading the same newspapers at
DAVIES: Geoff Nunberg is a Stanford linguist and author of the forthcoming
book "Going Nuclear."
DAVIES: For Terry Gross, I'm Dave Davies.
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