Predicting President Bush's Legacy

President Bush and Vice President Cheney have been in office for eight years of complicated events. Some point to Iraq and Afghanistan when weighing how their tenure will be remembered, others to tax cuts and aid to Africa. Which single issue seems most relevant to you?

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NEAL CONAN, host:

This is Talk of the Nation. I'm Neal Conan in Washington. Both President George W. Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney shrug off historically low approval ratings and say the only opinion that matters is the verdict of history. They point to another president who left office with an unpopular, unfinished war and approval ratings in the low 20s, and argue that history has subsequently been kinder to Harry Truman. The fact is that the legacy of any president is complicated and difficult to assess as he leaves office, but we're going to try.

Some will no doubt point to Iraq and Afghanistan, to the response to 9/11 and to the fact that there have not been new terrorist strikes on the U.S. since; to Guantanamo, wiretaps, Hurricane Katrina, tax cuts, No Child Left Behind, Medicare reform, funding to combat HIV and AIDS, the Supreme Court and, of course, to the economy. Tell us one thing the Bush administration should be remembered by, one thing history should know. Give us a call, 800-989-8255; email talk@npr.org. You can also join the conversation on our Web site; go to npr.org and click on Talk of the Nation.

Later in the hour, an argument for presidential magnanimity that might change one iconic image, but first, the legacy of the Bush administration. Joining us here in Studio 3A is Bob Woodward, an associate editor at the Washington Post, the author of four books on the Bush administration. The most recent is called "The War Within." Nice to have you back on the program.

Mr. BOB WOODWARD (Associate Editor, Washington Post; Author, "The War Within"): Thank you.

CONAN: And Barton Gellman, the author of "Angler: The Cheney Vice Presidency," he joins us from our bureau in New York. He's an investigative reporter on the Washington Post National Desk and nice to have you back on, too.

Mr. BARTON GELLMAN (Investigative Reporter, Washington Post; Author, "Angler: The Cheney Vice Presidency"): Thank you very much.

CONAN: And Bob Woodward, even with an economy and we don't know how grim it's going to get, do you still think the first measure of the Bush presidency will be Iraq?

Mr. WOODWARD: Ten, 20, 50 years from now, yes, because that war is defining as is Afghanistan, the War on Terror. I think they'll all be grouped together, and people are going to say, are we safer? Is there are more stability in the Middle East and the region of South Asia? Is there some sort of democracy? Is there less terrorism? And if the answer is no, those things are going to be looked on very unfavorably. Bush, of course, hopes and I've talked to him about this, that, look, we won't know what history is going to say, and so, let's wait for it. Of course, in American politics, we wait for nothing.

CONAN: Bart Gellman, let me bring you back. Your reporting makes it clear that one of Dick Cheney's priorities even before 9/11 was to move the pendulum of executive power back toward the White House. Maybe the unitary presidency was an abstract idea before the War on Terrorism. Some would argue, though, it led directly to Guantanamo, military tribunals, wiretaps, waterboarding and much more. Is that going to be remembered as a big part of the legacy?

Mr. GELLMAN: A huge part of the legacy is the stance or stances that Dick Cheney persuaded George Bush to take on the relative powers of the presidency and the courts and Congress. It has been Cheney's longstanding view, to which George Bush was a late convert, that Congress and courts could place no limits whatsoever on the president's exercise of his inherent powers, which were not only the commander-in-chief powers, but also his powers, for example, as chief law-enforcement officer. So, the vice president said quite recently in one of his exit interviews that Congress, of course, may pass statutes, but the president need not follow them. And the way he applied that on domestic surveillance, and on redefining torture very narrowly in particular, is transcendental and is going to have a lasting impact towards the base.

CONAN: A lasting impact, do you think this is not going to be undone by the next administration?

Mr. GELLMAN: It's kind of a complicated legacy. In some ways, the Cheney doctrine overreached. It inspired in the end a backlash from Congress and from courts. Now, in practice, de facto, Cheney and Bush still won those battles primarily. For example, Congress asserted the power to regulate interrogation policy. But in the fine print, George Bush got to interpret what the operative language means, and they still claim that waterboarding is lawful. And so, you have an ongoing, unresolved struggle here, and it seems improbable to me that any president, including Barack Obama, is going to come in and say, first thing I want to do is I want to weaken my office. It may be that he will not - I think it's quite likely that he will not - try to exercise those powers to their maximum as Bush and Cheney did and will even acknowledge certain limits that they didn't acknowledge. But it's mostly going to be a question of balance and negotiation and finesse in practice.

CONAN: Bob Woodward?

Mr. WOODWARD: You can change the policy without giving up the power, and I think what's going to happen is there will be some policy changes, some subtle, perhaps some not so subtle. But my sense of trying to watch presidents going back to Nixon, even presidents like Jimmy Carter and so forth, they like lots of executive power when they're there. And it goes back and forth, but it doesn't become a big part of the legacy, and it gets settled with the next administration. And the legacy issues are really those matters, I think, that go to peace and prosperity, and the other giant factor in all of these is the economy.

Look - crank back, George Bush, when he took office in 2001, there were estimates that were thought to be conservative that we were going to have a $5 trillion surplus in the next 10 years. And so, that's why we had the tax cut. There was expectations; let's spend it this way and that way. And the legacy for the country and for Barack Obama is we have a giant deficit; we have an economy that was built on free marketing. We're now even more conservative. Economists are coming along and saying we have to fix it with more government intervention. So, that's going to be a big legacy.

Now whether people start pointing to George Bush and say, he fouled up, this was his problem as much as Wall Street's, I don't think we know the answer to that, but there's a theme here, and it's in Bart's book on Cheney. It's in the work that lots of us have done, and that is, Bush steps back. There is almost a disengagement factor on lots of these - he will decide - he decided to go to war in Iraq. As Bart points out very well, Cheney was an activist for this. He was pushing this in many direct and indirect ways. But the Bush style of management of no homework and disengagement, I think, is going to be one of the legacies.

CONAN: Let's get some callers in on the conversation, 800-989-8255; email us, talk@npr.org. We're talking with Bob Woodward and Bart Gellman of the Washington Post about the legacy of the Bush-Cheney administration. And let's begin with Susan, Susan with us from Boston, Massachusetts.

SUSAN (Caller): Hi. Thanks for taking my call.

CONAN: Sure.

SUSAN: I think that, unfortunately, Bush is going to be remembered for 9/11. My husband was actually killed on September 11th, and I - sickens me the way he always uses 9/11 as an excuse for having invaded Iraq. And he points to us as, you know, having done it on our behalf and what not, and it is so repulsive to me whenever he brings that up. And I think he pretty much - every move he made I think was the wrong one and took us down the wrong direction. The entire world, I believe, was on our side after September 11th, and unfortunately, our allies he pushed away, and I think he just got took us down wrong path. And I can't wait for the Obama administration to hopefully make some diplomatic choices and move us forward in a new direction.

CONAN: I just want to understand, Susan; do you blame him for the event or for squandering the opportunities that he was presented with after the event?

SUSAN: Correct, the latter. I don't him before 9/11. That I don't think anybody could have necessarily stopped, but I do believe that his actions after September 11th - clearly we needed to invade Afghanistan and rid the Taliban of, you know, ruling Afghanistan. But then I believe he needed to follow up and give more money to rebuilding that country - schools, education, healthcare, roads - and what did he do instead? Directed all the money to Iraq. How - the - Afghanistan is, you know, in shambles heading back towards pre-9/11 days. So, you know, the War on Terror, I believe, is in a far more precarious place than it was when - then on, you know, September 12th of '01. I think that we're in a much more vulnerable situation. I think he did all the wrong things.

CONAN: Susan, thanks very much, and we're so sorry for your loss.

SUSAN: Thank you.

CONAN: All right. Bye-bye. Those are many of the points that you pointed out, Bob Woodward.

Mr. WOODWARD: Well, I - you certainly can understand her anger about it. And when you look at the last eight years on the War on Terror, Afghanistan, Iraq, it's very clear, and I agree with her, and I think many people would. If Al Gore had been president we would have gone to war in Afghanistan to dislodge bin Laden from this zone where he could operate freely and get rid of the Taliban. But the whole psychology, all of the mental energy of the Bush administration, way too quickly was shifted to Iraq, and they did not keep their eye on that ball, which was ball number one.

CONAN: Let's get Richard on the line, Richard with us from Chicago.

RICHARD (Caller): Hi. Absolutely President Bush will be remembered for keeping us safe since 9/11. And I also would like to add, you know, the media is a funny thing. They're always looking to sell what's new. And since his ratings are the lowest, I predict that in the next year or two Messiah Obama's, you know, glow will fade. He's already back off on his aggressive changes that he projected for...

CONAN: We're talking about the Bush legacy and not the Obama legacy.

RICHARD: All right. So, I absolutely - he would be remembered for the greatest thing we did in the Middle East yet.

CONAN: All right. Thanks very much, Richard, and let me ask you about that briefly, Bart Gellman. Further attacks in the United States have not occurred. This was not an accident.

Mr. GELLMAN: This is one of those historical counterfactuals. It's like science fiction. What do you know about - how safe would we have been with the different set of policies? It's impossible to tell. We can't rewind history and try it a different way. I think that Dick Cheney recently, who had spoken so little about himself all these years, has started to do so, and the word he used to describe his tenure was consequential. And there were huge consequences. Consequential is one of those neutral words; you can use it for Gandhi or Hurricane Katrina. It just means he mattered, and the way he mattered, and the way Bush and Cheney mattered together, is the choices they made here, and they were choices that they recognized could be easy very unpopular.

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CONAN: Coming up, we'll continue our discussion of the legacy of the Bush-Cheney administration. We're talking with Bob Woodward and Bart Gellman of the Washington Post. If you'd like to join us, one thing you think history should note, 800-989-8255; email talk@npr.org. I'm Neal Conan. It's the Talk of the Nation - stay with us - from NPR News.

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CONAN: This is Talk of the Nation. I'm Neal Conan in Washington. A president's legacy can only be determined over time. Today, though, we're taking a somewhat early look at how George W. Bush's two terms will be considered by history with Bob Woodward, his fourth book on President Bush is called "The War Within," and Bart Gellman, whose book on the most consequential vice president in history is called "The Angler." Tell us one thing the Bush administration will be remembered by, one thing history should note, 800-989-8255; email talk@npr.org. You can also join the conversation at our Web site; that's at npr.org and click on the Talk of the Nation.

And I notice this is a subject that is not necessarily one of your specialties, Bob Woodward, but early on in the administration, the - President Bush declined to go ahead with the Kyoto Accords, and global warming was disputed by scientists who were cited by the administration for many years, and only of late, the last year, the presidency has - the president has spoken that human causes of global warming. Will he be remembered for squandering time?

Mr. WOODWARD: By environmentalists, for sure, and they've been wringing their hands, I think, with a lot of justice on their side of time lost on this issue. I just wanted to go back to the question of no terrorist attack in this country since 9/11.

CONAN: OK.

Mr. WOODWARD: That is an amazing fact. Now, it's very difficult to say that something that didn't happen is the most significant, but to a certain extent, maybe to a large extent, you have to give Bush and Cheney credit for this. Bart was saying you don't know what other policies would have yielded; that indeed is true, but Bart and I remember at the Washington Post vividly the weeks after 9/11, the sense with every phone call, every interruption, every noise, was: This is the next terrorist attack. It was expected. We didn't have one, and that's incredibly significant. And does that become part of the legacy that's insignificant? If we go into the next administration and we have terrorist attacks in this country, it probably will be. If we don't, if we continue on this happy trajectory of no attacks, it won't.

CONAN: Here's an email from Douglas: Despite all the negatives that will always be associated with the failed Bush administration, I think there are at least two positives. One is his HIV/AIDS program expansion in Africa, and the other - and some say it was more a U.K.-led initiative - was the elimination of Libya's nuclear program, when Libya voluntarily surrendered its nascent nuclear program. Let's see if we get another caller on the line. This is Wendy, Wendy with us from Louisville.

WENDY (Caller): Hi.

CONAN: Hi, Wendy.

WENDY: Thanks for taking my call. Mr. Woodward, I respect you greatly. I've watched you quite a bit, and I've read your books. You're really an awesome author. I appreciate your talent. Personally, I think the Bush administration is going to be known as the only administration that led us into the election of Barack Obama. I don't think that the American people would have paid attention to a black candidate, regardless of what he had to say. And I do believe that a lot of what he has to say and a lot of his policies are good things. But I don't think people would've listened to that, had it not been on the heels with Bush administration.

We've had similar candidates to Barack Obama in the past; Howard Dean's a good example, on some levels. Bradley - there are a handful of them. I remember Paul Tsongas was very similar in the primaries. His platform was very similar to Barack Obama. But nobody listened to those guys or their ideas at the time. They were just kind of pushed off and - with the mainstream candidates, and I think that Bush opened the door for us to - for a reformer. Frankly, just - I think that's what Obama will do, I think it's his promise to do, and I think that's what'll happen.

CONAN: Well, Wendy, again, we're talking about Bush's legacy and not Obama's. But nevertheless, Bart Gellman, Barack Obama, a better candidate than any of those people that Wendy mentioned, but nevertheless he - George Bush did leave the Republican Party in a state very vulnerable from a time when they were talking seriously about a permanent Republican majority to being, well, thumped soundly in two consecutive elections.

Mr. GELLMAN: Well, it's a cliche to say that history is a pendulum, but there is a back and forth here. And in the Bush-Cheney case in particular, I make the argument in "Angler" that there's almost a Newtonian reaction, equal/opposite reaction, that comes across the board in terms of Congress, in terms of courts, in terms of the ownership of large economic forces, in terms of regulation, in terms of global warming, in which quite radical and aggressive positions are taken and advanced in the first term. And there's gradual buildup of opposition, and that includes political opposition on the Democratic Party side, that starts to overwhelm that earlier agenda.

CONAN: Nevertheless, Bob Woodward, we could see - some say the Republican Party has painted itself into a very difficult corner and could emerge over the next - starting - eight years ago and over the next 10 years as a regional party.

Mr. GELLMAN: Well, it could, but you know, the caller - earlier caller raised the question, what's Obama going to do? How popular is he going to be? And we have no idea of that. What would we do have an idea of, and this is why the legacy question is so important, what is being handed over to Barack Obama in the area of foreign policy, wars, the economy, energy, the environment, is a - you know, enough to keep eight presidents busy, let alone one. And so, is he going to be able to tackle those things in a way I - my surmise is he's not going to come out with a big 100-day plan, because these plans don't really work, that the problems are so big, and we're going to have to take a long-range look at every one of them.

CONAN: Wendy, thanks very much for the call. Appreciate it. Here's an email from a Bob in Greendale, Wisconsin: How about how he feels about his legacy in recent interviews? Does he regret anything he did? Would he have done anything another way? Can he admit some decisions may have been wrong? Bart Gellman, you were talking about some of the more reflective moments of Dick Cheney. I have not seen him admit any big mistakes.

Mr. GELLMAN: Cheney is not a second-guesser or is mistake-admitter. He's a curious combination. He's got a veracious appetite for information and intelligence. And unlike George Bush, he's very happy to hear people tell him privately, if they're not getting in his way, that he's wrong and give him facts that don't fit with his preconceptions. But he will never acknowledge in public that he's made an error. And so, while Bush has gone around, and our colleague, Bob's and mine, Dana Milbank - I think I'm getting this line right - has said that Bush is almost like a walking confession booth lately. Dick Cheney has made four absolutely sort of unreconstructed, vigorous defenses of every single thing they did.

Mr. WOODWARD: But Bush is not giving much ground. He's not saying the Iraq war was a mistake. He's not saying the economic policies, the deregulation, free-marketing philosophy, was wrong. He's saying things like he said to me a number of months ago, which he has repeated, I've apologized; I feel badly that I haven't changed the tone in Washington. Well, that's - and then he goes on to say, of course, others are to blame, not just myself. So, I don't think he's wearing the hairshirt, running around the country or in these interviews. There is, and Bart's right, there's a tonal difference. Bush is kind of not overly aggressive in his defense of what he's done, but by and large, he sticks to his talking points.

Mr. GELLMAN: Though I would actually love to hear your take on this, Bob, because I was fascinated when Bush wouldn't answer the question that if he had had different intelligence on weapons of mass destruction, would he have gone ahead with the war. I mean, Cheney's answer is clear on that. I was intrigued that Bush didn't answer it. What do you make of that?

Mr. WOODWARD: Yeah. There's much to be picked out of that in terms of the chronology before the war. There was a point - I happened to remember these dates, August 16, 2002 - when Bush said publicly that Saddam Hussein in Iraq is seeking weapons of mass destruction. As you know, Bart, 10 days later Vice President Cheney went public in that speech saying, there is no doubt that Saddam Hussein has weapons of mass destruction. That was a real push from the vice president, and that's one of the points where his influence was at its height. I tend to think if you look at the amount of time that George Bush spent looking at some of that intelligence, having that famous Oval Office meeting before the war, when George Tenet, the CIA director, said it's a slam-dunk case that can be made that Saddam has weapons of mass destruction, that if somebody had come in with all of the doubt that was out there and insisted that there be a full examination of it, it might have changed it. But again, we won't know and...

CONAN: Might have changed the rationale for war or change the decisions?

Mr. WOODWARD: Well, it could have changed the decision, if there was convincing evidence that he didn't have it. Now, you know, that's proving the negative, which is quite impossible, but there was - there's something - Bush is empirical. He will discard facts after a certain point, but he, on that issue, was trying to get some of the data, I think.

CONAN: Let's see if we can get another caller in. Let's go to - this is John, John with us from Columbus, Ohio.

JOHN (Caller): Hello. Thank you for taking my call.

CONAN: Go ahead, John.

JOHN: I just want to - I think there's one matter or issue that we can all agree on that Bush did do for the benefit of the nation of the American people, regardless of our political persuasion or inclination. I urge you to recall eight-plus years ago, when the nation was sort of beset as individuals and as families by constant - by a constant deluge of telemarketing calls at the homes or on our cell phones, were just becoming popular at the time. It was something that gradually grew in persistence and annoyance. People who didn't have debt or didn't sign up for telemarketing were receiving three, four, five, six, even 12-plus calls a day. And it - if people will get to speak about it that their water coolers and complain with their family gatherings.

And I remember as a senior in high school, my own family being besought by these - beset by these, and as a - I remember watching George Bush kind of saunter up to a podium one day in sort of cowboy mode and, you know, cock that sort of lopsided grin and say something akin to the American people, you know, they're getting bothered by this sort of thing, and they're interrupting family dinners, and he - we can't have people having interrupted family dinners. And he instituted the 1-800 National No Call List, which you could sign up for online or request any telemarketer to add you to their No Call List. And once that - it was instituted, that sort of deluge of calls stopped.

CONAN: Well, there's - the names...

Mr. WOODWARD: So, there it is. George Bush to telemarketers, dead or alive.

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CONAN: I was going to say your next Bush thing, the No Call List in the age of Bush. So, John, thanks very much for the call. Appreciate it.

JOHN: Absolutely.

CANON: Bye-bye. Here is an email from Dana in Chicago: Only one word comes to mind, hubris.

And this from Mark in Albany, Oregon: I believe many listeners would like to hear your guests comment on the following. What, if any, actions of the Bush-Cheney administration rise to the level of prosecutable offenses and might be prosecuted in coming years?

Obviously, well, Bart Gellman, if those who authorized or rationalized or carried out some of these torture orders, they may be vulnerable to prosecution.

Mr. GELLMAN: Well, I'm not a lawyer and don't play one on radio. I have done some reporting on this subject, and it's a very high threshold for finding that someone, acting in his or her official capacity, under the orders of the president and with a - with opinions from the authoritative office in the Justice Department that the action is lawful, nonetheless has committed a crime. The threshold is extraordinarily high. For example, you need criminal intent to commit a crime, and if you've been told there's a lawful order from the president to do it, how do you get there? So, even those who state that, for example, the legal opinions generated at the Justice Department and under the direction of the vice president's office and his counsel, David Addington, even if you argue that those were just flat wrong - and many legal scholars do - it's very a different thing to argue that they were deliberately wrong and designed to be the cover for actual criminal activity.

Mr. WOODWARD: I agree with that, and also you need the political will, and I suspect Obama and his team is not going to want to come in and start prosecuting and investigating the previous administration.

CONAN: Unfortunate precedent, for one thing.

Mr. WOODWARD: Yeah. It just it - it doesn't work. It seems malicious, and I don't see any evidence that they want to do this.

CANON: We're talking with Bart Gellman and Bob Woodward of the Washington Post. You're listening to Talk of the Nation from NPR News. And here is an email from Mark in San Francisco: One of the largest legacies of the Bush administration will be the stacking of the courts with conservative jurists. Both the Supreme Court and the Federal Courts of Appeals will continue Bush and Cheney's conservative thinking long after his administration has left office. It's a huge part of their legacy, and of course, two Supreme Court justices in eight years, Bob Woodward, but nevertheless, there are, as this email suggests, a whole bunch of courts - the federal courts and lower levels - that have changed dramatically.

Mr. WOODWARD: That's exactly right, and if you look at the ages of lots of these people like the Chief Justice, Roberts, I think he's 27 years old or something like that.

CONAN: (Laughing) Maybe a little bit older.

Mr. WOODWARD: He's older, but he is a young man by Supreme Court standards. And years, decades ago, I co-authored a book about the Supreme Court, and we find - actually discovered that there's something about the air-handling system in the Supreme Court building, the air-conditioning and heating system, that keeps old people alive. So, when Bush put Justice Alito and Chief Justice Roberts on the court, that is something that probably is going to be there for decades or longer.

CANON: Here is another email. This from Miles in Minnesota. He pushed scientific research back 20 years and prevented the next generation of foreign leaders from coming to the United States to attend our universities, and that, Bart Gellman, another of the pieces of fallout, depending on how you interpret, that from the War on Terror.

Mr. GELLMAN: Well, if the correspondent is talking mainly about immigration restrictions, then I think that's correct. This is just one of those direct tradeoffs that was seen in the administration, between homeland security and other important interests, like advancement of scientific knowledge, like exposing future leaders of foreign countries to American culture, and it was widely acknowledged that you were essentially profiling globally, and there's no law against that. You were saying that people from this country or that country are more likely to be security risks, and so they were being kept out wholesale. And this is very different from modern American traditions, although the U.S. culture has sort of gone back and forth on that over the decades, and it may very well have lasting consequences.

CONAN: And we'll go to the break with this one from Dana in Indianapolis: I'm a fairly staunch Democrat, but I will remember Bush for one thing personally. His wife started a minority scholarship program for librarians, and because of her initiative, I am attending graduate school for free.

We'll continue to talk about the legacy of the Bush-Cheney administration and what the infamous shoe-thrower has to do with it. Reporter Mark Bowden will join us after the break, plus your letters. Stay with us. I'm Neal Conan. It's the Talk of the Nation from NPR News.

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CONAN: Right now, we're talking with Bart Gellman and Bob Woodward of the Washington Post. Bart Gellman's book is "Angler: The Cheney Vice Presidency." Bob Woodward's most recent book, "The War Within," one of his four about the Bush administration at war. We're talking about the Bush legacy, and I wanted to ask you both; President Bush will leave with these historically low approval ratings. We've seen presidents who recover from those. He will leave with an economy in very bad shape; again, as Bob Woodward pointed out, it remains to be seen who will be assigned the blame for that. He leaves with two unfinished wars. He leaves with the United Sates held in low regard in many places in the world, as low as we've seen since the end of the Second World War. Is there something that you look at, Bart Gellman, that is going to redeem the Bush presidency at this point?

Mr. GELLMAN: It's very hard to know what history is going to value, and we just have to have a certain modesty about our projections on legacy. There are - there's one big meta question here, though, when it comes to history that we really have to think about, and that is whether history will really know enough about what happened behind the scenes. You have, for example, as part of this whole executive-supremacy view, the unitary executive, you have in Cheney's office an assertion that the Presidential Records Act may not apply. They may not need to preserve documents. He has invented a form of classification called Treat as Sensitive Compartmented Information, which is going to deter future archivists from releasing papers and so on. And so, there's significant doubts among professional historians whether the original-source material that they need decades from now to fully assess this presidency maybe absent.

CONAN: In which case, Bob Woodward, they could hardly complain about the judgment of historians.

Mr. WOODWARD: Well, Bart's right. It would be great to have more records. Those of us working on the beat regularly have tried to provide some of it, but it's only some of it, and you don't know what you don't know. I think another element of the legacy, and I think it's going to have an impact on Obama and his administration, is, how do you make decisions? Bart in his book very graphically describes how Cheney can work outside the normal channels and get things signed or get Bush to do something. I've cataloged how the Bush-Cheney relationship was personal; no one else was there; Cheney would whisper in Bush's ear.

CONAN: Yeah, Bart Gellman describes it as opaque.

Mr. WOODWARD: Yeah, and it - and then Cheney's ideas would never get tested before other players, so it had an unusual weight. And if you look at the failure to consult some of the key people on the key issues, when you go to the Iraq war, there was never a meeting where they all gathered and said, well, should we do this? All the meetings were about how to do it. So, people criticize us who try to write about these things, well, you're concerned with process. But process matters, and an examination of the Bush process is - quite frankly, it didn't serve Bush well, in addition to serving the country, that he was not getting the kind of - and did not insist on the kind of candid Markov(ph) data and assessments that a leader needs, and then a leader needs to test those with others in a group where it may really get argumentative and the harmony of the National Security Council or some other group working in the White House may disintegrate, but sometimes that's the price you have to pay of reaching a fully examined decision.

CONAN: And finally, this email from BJ in West Chester, Pennsylvania: I believe George Bush will be remembered for his lack of intellectual curiosity and simply surrounding himself with cronies and yes men-slash-women. Bart Gellman, is that a fair assessment? And in that context, can you discuss perhaps another legacy of the administration - you mentioned that word consequential about the vice presidency. This was the most consequential vice president in history. It's a role that's been expanding outside of the very limited constitutional descriptions. Is that part of a legacy, too?

Mr. GELLMAN: Well, the caller or the emailer is playing very nicely off of Bob's last point. Sure, Dick Cheney worked around the process and cut people out who might disagree with him, but he would never have got away with that if George Bush was a different kind of president. We had the first business-school graduate, the first M.B.A. president, and he emerged in Bob's early books in great detail as a guy who did not have a CEO method of operation. I mean, the classic things that CEOs do is first of all, they reach down and say, why don't we have a policy on this? We've been - I've been waiting for it. And second of all, when advisers disagree, they bring them in, say, hash it out, we're going to make this happen right now. George Bush did not want to hear that kind of debate in front of him.

Mr. WOODWARD: And in the most rudimentary way, in the road to the war in Iraq, one of the things the president told me in one of his interviews was by August of 2002 - so, seven months before the war - he said we didn't have a diplomatic strategy. Well, how, when you're trying to figure out what to do with Iraq, do you not have a diplomatic strategy when you've been wrangling about it for 18 months? So, Bart's right. There was - there's no system. There was no kind of knocking heads together. There was no checking of boxes. Gee, you know, in the case of Bush, did he ask his dad, the former president, for a recommendation about the war in Iraq? And he said, well, no, I never did. That's astonishing.

CONAN: Bob Woodward, as always, thanks very much for your time. Bob Woodward, with us here in Studio 3A. Bart Gellman was with us from our bureau in New York, where he is a national reporter for the Washington Post and also the author of "Angler: The Cheney Vice Presidency." And we'd also like to thank the many, many people who emailed us and called us. We got over 250 emails on this, which is quite a number of things. Maybe it's a subject we'll come back to in eight years or so.

(Soundbite of laughter)

CONAN: Bob Woodward, again, thanks very much. Coming up, we'll be talking about the fate of the shoe-thrower.

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