Woodward Targets Bush's Lack Of Oversight Citing curious absences and an "odd detachment," journalist Bob Woodward argues that President Bush ultimately fell short as commander-in-chief during the Iraq war. Woodward fields questions about this assertion, and about his new book, The War Within.
NPR logo

Listen to this 'Talk of the Nation' topic

  • Download
  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/94686691/94710371" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript
Woodward Targets Bush's Lack Of Oversight

Listen to this 'Talk of the Nation' topic

  • Download
  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/94686691/94710371" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript

NEAL CONAN, host:

This is Talk Of The Nation, I'm Neal Conan in Washington. And let's start by welcoming the audience here with us in the Knight Studio at the Newseum . Thanks very much for coming in.

(Soundbite of clapping)

CONAN: Since 9/11 Bob Woodward of the Washington Post has enjoyed extraordinary access to President Bush and many of his senior advisers. With the publication of "The War Within" earlier this month, he's now written four books to document the decisions, indecisions and internal debates about Afghanistan and Iraq. He describes a president determined to respond to the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. The ambitious attempt to transform the Middle East. Denial as Iraq descended into bloody chaos. The decision the surge and resignation as the president concludes now that he will turn both wars over to his successor. Bob Woodward joins us here at the Newseum this hour. If you'd like to talk with him about what he learned, how he learned it and his conclusions, our phone number is 800-989-8255, email us talk@npr.org. You could also the join the conversation on our blog at npr.org/blogofthenation. Bob Woodward's new book "The War Within: A Secret White House History" and it's nice to have you back on Talk Of the Nation.

Mr. BOB WOODWARD (Author, "The War Within"): Thank you. Nice to be here.

CONAN: And take us back to the spring of 2006, in retrospect the absolute nadir of our time in Iraq, at least thus far, a time when the president was publicly insisting that all was going according to plan, always going well. Yet even he, as the American people were beginning to have substantial doubts about this, even he was having his doubts.

Mr. WOODWARD: That's right. And there was an incongruity because publicly he was putting out this positive message but keep people in the White House like his deputy for Iraq and Afghanistan Meghan O'Sullivan when he would ask her what's it like in Baghdad? She said it's hell, Mr. President. She concluded that the strategy they had of training the Iraqi's and turning security and political issues over exclusively to the Iraqis was not working and at that - not only was it not working it was in indefensible strategy.

CONAN: Yet it would be nine months roughly before the president would announce what we've come to know as the surge.

Mr. WOODWARD: That's right and also in '04 and '05 when the situation was deteriorating in Iraq, staging levels of violence to the point there were literally eight attacks an hour on the average. We have not had one in this country since 9/11 but think of it, 200 a day.

CONAN: Astounding.

Mr. WOODWARD: Yes.

CONAN: And through this all the president was, as you say, unwilling to tolerate doubt?

Mr. WOODWARD: That's right - internally he was asking for reviews and so forth and they were doing this secretly. But there was not a sense of I say that you need come to Jesus meeting at some point in this and get all of the people who were involved and resolved the contradictions and say forthrightly, look, this is a mess, we need to fix it. I propound in the book document after document, meeting after meeting, the president will raise questions, will say things - I don't think it's working but then there's no follow on action for weeks or months.

CONAN: And he comes to eventually - go ahead with this idea of the surge against the advice of the generals whom he is praising as the people who are - who have the right strategy and are winning the war.

Mr. WOODWARD: Even after he announces the surge - the addition of 30,000 troops, he goes to a military base and says I rely on General Casey who was then the Iraq commander who clearly realized he'd lost the presidents confidence. And - but then there is still that rhetoric of, you know, we're listening to the military well maybe in fact one of the strong things the president did is reject the military advice in this case.

CONAN: But it took him a long time and was it a delicate political moment nevertheless this was the midterm elections we're approaching even Republican were having their doubts about the presidents policy in Iraq at this point.

Mr. WOODWARD: Yes and - so they've ordered a secret strategy review led by people in the White House including one person from the State Department and here they're reviewing the strategy for a war and no one from the military initially is included in this process and one of them...

CONAN: They don't even know what's going on?

Mr. WOODWARD: That's right. And it - the State Department representative - the one person from the outside, David Satterfield said at one meeting according to accounts of people who were there and notes and said, you know, where is the military? How can we make judgments about what level of troops might be available? What they can do and what's needed?

CONAN: You've talked about that come to Jesus meeting. Eventually some of the president's aides, Stephen Hadley, his National Security Adviser and others make up a list of 50 questions to put to General Casey and to Donald Rumsfeld and to others - the security defense of course, yet this is a come to Jesus meeting without the president.

Mr. WOODWARD: Without Jesus. That's right. No commander in chief attends this. And here you have a moment - and as you pointed out this is a moment of extraordinary confusion, violence, and chaos. It's not that it's just not going well, it's a disaster. And Hadley leads this meeting, the president has given permission to have it and asks questions, very basic questions of General Casey who's then the Iraq commander. What's the strategy for Baghdad? The simplest, most direct issues, fundamental it's almost as if the CEO of a company that's in great stress does not attend the board of director's meeting when they are deciding how to fix things and we save the company.

CONAN: Now to be sure, you say the president did not delegate decisions, but he's certainly seemed to delegate a lot of this - absolutely critical part of this process.

Mr. WOODWARD: Yes. And he told me a number of times when I interviewed him for nearly three hours four months ago. He said if you want to get this right in the book, understand that Hadley drove a lot of this.

CONAN: Steve Hadley, the National Security Adviser.

Mr. WOODWARD: That's right. And it's natural to delegate certain things but the authority of the president at a meeting with the key military, State Department and the intelligence people is all the difference in the world. Have the national security adviser run it and ask the questions is to almost suggest we're not serious and they were serious but I asked the question why is the president AWOL here?

CONAN: And let's get some listeners in on the conversation. Our guest, of course, is Bob Woodward, me is the author of "The War Within: A Secret White House History 2006 to 2008." 800-989-8255 if you'd like to ask him about what he's learned. How he learned it, and about his conclusions. You can also email us talk@npr.org. Begin with Paula. Paula with us from Louisville in Kentucky.

PAULA (Caller): Good afternoon. Mr. Woodward I'm reading your book, now. I've gotten through the first few chapters and I came up upon a comment that you made - or someone else had made about generals don't always seemed to tell the truth about what they need. That was the sense that I got from what you wrote and the president is - lucky - constantly told us he was relying on the generals to tell him what they needed. And yet, there was this, apparently, accepted notion that generals don't always level with that. How are we ever going to do this correctly? How could - did the president not know that this was common assumption?

Mr. WOODWARD: Well, it's a common assumption among certain people. In this incident, the State Department representative for Iraq, David Satterfield, back when he was a deputy assistant secretary of state was meeting with General Sharon after he had become prime minister of Israel. And late at night, eating sushi and General Sharon says look, I am prime minister, I am going to survive because I have the center. I don't have the left. I don't have the right and having been a general, I know that generals always lie to the politicians. Now some people would agree with that, some people would disagree with that ..

CONAN: And not about Sharon.

Mr. WOODWARD: Not in the case of Sharon but do all generals not tell the truth? Of course not, I think Petraeus, who just relinquished command in Iraq, is telling the president the truth. For instance, when he took over, Petraeus, in early 2007 last year he had a private meeting with the president in the Oval Office. The president had decided on the surge, asking -saying he was going to have 30,000 more troops go to Iraq. And he said to Petraeus, he said, this is double-down, using a gambling term. And Petraeus said back to him quite directly, this is a case of telling the truth to power, said no, Mr. President, it's all in.

CONAN: Another poker term, going from blackjack to poker.

Mr. WOODWARD: Yes.

CONAN: Thanks very much for the call, Paula.

PAULA: OK. Thanks.

CONAN: Bye-bye. And I think a lot of Americans are going to have trouble as they read this description of the president who does not seem, as you say, he will be defined by this war. He is defined by these wars.

Mr. WOODWARD: Yes. I agree.

CONAN: And yet at the same time does not seem to be totally engaged.

Mr. WOODWARD: Well, he's engaged rhetorically and emotionally but part of this is a management problem. And a number of people who have read the book - it's long and it's very detailed, have said it's almost like it is a road map for the new president, whether it's Obama or McCain. Because it identifies the issues the commander-in-chief is going to have to confront in the Iraq war and the Afghanistan war. And it also is a kind of encyclopedia of lessons, what you have to do, you need to have that personal relationship with the generals. You need to find a way to tell the public the truth about what's going on even if it's bad news. You need to assemble a cohesive team, war cabinet that works together, not against each other. You need to find a way to resolve the contradictions are going to come you way.

CONAN: We are going to talk about more of those in particular, that delicate balance between the commander-in-chief, the civilian officials and the uniformed officers on whom he depends to carry out his orders when we come back after a short break. Bob Woodward will still be with us. Again, if you'd like to join the conversation, 800-989-8255. Email us talk@npr.org. We'll be calling to take questions from our audience here at the Newseum. I am Neal Conan. It's the Talk Of The Nation. Stay with us. This NPR News.

(Soundbite of music)

CONAN: This is Talk Of The Nation. I am Neal Conan in Washington broadcasting from the Knight Studio at the Newseum. In Iraq yesterday, a transfer of command ceremony as General David Petraeus had over to General Ray Ordierno.

General DAVID PETRAEUS (U.S. Commander): By authority, the undersigned assumes command of multi-national force Iraq effective 16 September, 2008.

CONAN: General Petraeus now goes to Tampa as chief of central command with authority over the entire Middle East, including Iraq and Afghanistan. Before he left, he addressed his troops.

General PETRAEUS: Thanks to all of you again for your professionalism, your dedications, and the sacrifices each of you and your families have made. You truly have turned hard but not hopeless, into still hard but hopeful.

CONAN: General Petraeus is given much of the credit as both an advocate for a surge of U.S. forces and as the man who used those additional troops to greatly reduce violence across Iraq, at least to help reduce it. In his new book, Bob Woodward describes that process of how the policy was determined, implemented and its part in changing the character of the war. Bob Woodward joins us here at the Newseum this hour. If you'd like to ask him about what he learned, how he learned it, about his conclusions. Our phone number 800-989-8255. You can email us, talk@npr.org. You can also join the conversation on our blog at npr.org/blogofthenation.

And Bob Woodward, let me ask you, at one point, General Petraeus is already in Iraq. He is already advocating the surge policy. There is public discussion about surge policy - among many other policy alternatives. And the president establishes a back door communication through a retired General Jack Keane, who has been on this program, of course, many others too, several times. And I just don't understand why he felt the necessity to establish a back door - he is the president of the United States. He is the commander-in-chief. If he tells the chairman of the Joint Chief of Staff something, the chairman of the Joint Chief of Staff is supposed to say yes, sir.

Mr. WOODWARD: Exactly. This is one of the extraordinary dimensions of this story that shows dysfunction. And it was September 2007, a year ago. Robert Gates had been Secretary of Defense for 10, 11 months. Petraeus had been there since February, for seven months. And the central commander then was Admiral Fallon, who since resigned. But he was pinging on Petraeus. Every time Petraeus needed new personnel, needed something and Fallon was pretty much urging a draw down, as fast as reasonable. And Jack Keane, who is Petraeus' mentor in the Army, somebody who helped save his life when Petraeus was shot in a training accident, is this back channel who goes to Iraq. Petraeus says to everyone, tell Keane everything. He goes all around Iraq and then the goes and gives a back channel briefing to Vice President Cheney. He lays it all out.

One of these briefings, a year ago in the White House, President Bush walks in and says to General Keane, I want you to send a message, I want to send a message, you are to carry it today to General Petraeus and he reads out, I believe in the chain of command and then he goes to circumvent it and says, tell Dave he's going to have what he needs. Now, it was important at that moment to boost Petraeus' moral and know that he had the commander-in-chief on his side, but ...

CONAN: Yet, Petraeus then says, gee, I wish if he feels that way, he'd tell the chairman of the Joint Chief of Staff and CentCom commander.

Mr. WOODWARD: And the Pentagon. This, you know, the president really is the boss. He is the commander-in-chief. As Petraeus is fond of saying, those of us in the military, referring to himself, we are not self-employed. We take orders. And if the orders from the commander-in-chief would go through the chain of command which would include the Secretary of Defense and the Central Command commander, to give Dave everything he needs, that should be able to operate. That it doesn't operate is only one indicator of the reality that the system is not fixed. That Obama or McCain inherit a system where the communication and the lines in the chain of command are not working.

CONAN: And this is 2007, it's after the midterm election. So this is a lame duck president. There's presumably no political - his rating couldn't possibly fall any lower at this point. Abraham Lincoln fired the most popular general in the Union Army. Harry Truman fired the most popular general in the Army. Why, if he says the chairman of Joint Chief of Staff or the chairman of the Chief of Staff in Army or the CentCom commander don't agree with his policies, why doesn't the president of the United States says, thanks for your service very much, I am going to get somebody in there who agrees with me?

Mr. WOODWARD: That's part of the problem and the problem is to not - we've talked about this come to Jesus meeting to avoid confrontations, to have this harmony or this appearance of harmony. And clearly, in this case, in this war, President Bush has decided, you know, smooth it over for all these years, Rumsfeld was criticized not just by Democrats, but by Republicans.

CONAN: And by generals.

Mr. WOODWARD: But by former generals. As I've documented, somehow Rumsfeld got the idea, let's have leaders in the military - uniformed military who are weak. Who will obey orders and won't speak up and won't have their own mind. This is one of the sad parts in all of this. That somehow we got this notion that strong, forceful military leaders are a bad thing. Strong, forceful military leaders are a good thing. And a necessary thing.

CONAN: We have a question from here in the audience at the Newseum.

SID ROCKHAM (Audience Member): Good afternoon, Mr. Woodward. My name is Sid Rockham from Silver Spring, Maryland. I've not read your book but you've got a lot of free publicity in the media and I have heard a lot of that. One of the key points they talk about is whether the current improvement is due to either the surge or various covert operations that you describe. Really setting aside that debate, as far as which is more important, assuming that both played a role. I am wondering how applicable that kind of covert technique and those new tactics would in the war in Afghanistan. Could they result in that same kind of improvement?

Mr. WOODWARD: That's a very good question. And I'd exercised a great deal of restraint under advice from people I trust in positions in the government who say do not disclosed the details. The White House after I published this in the book, a few days later, Steve Hadley, the National Security Adviser, issued a statement now in fairness to him, disagreeing with some of my conclusions about the president, but he did say there are quote "newly-developed techniques and operations," which help lower violence and increase stability in Iraq. Where this might be applied elsewhere in the world, I am going to leave to others to assess. But it is very clear in Iraq, this had a tremendous impact. You are right. There are - like in all historical causation there are many, many factors - the surge, the Anbar awakening, the Sunnis coming over and joining the United States. You know, just the addition of doubling the security force in Baghdad, which the surge did, is clearly going to lower violence. But these operations to locate, target and kill enemy combatants in Iraq are very important.

CONAN: Let's get Bee on the line and Bee's with us from Sacramento.

BEE (Caller): Hi. I was wondering about Muqtada al-Sadr. I have read several books that he has been paid by the American government to get to the insurgents so they will stop hostilities and that is what created the peaceful situation in Baghdad right now. Is there any truth to that? Have you heard anything about that?

Mr. WOODWARD: Well, what I report which known is that he did tell his army or his militia to stand down and this was in the summer of last year. And this clearly had an impact on all. Whether he was paid by the United States, I don't know. There's a lot of money floating in around Iraq. There are lot of covert payments and overt payments to people, so I can't answer that.

CONAN: And yet, you are right. It wasn't an altruistic decision.

Mr. WOODWARD: No, it wasn't because the United States forces - U.S. forces - were going after his militia.

CONAN: Thanks very much for the call, Bee.

BEE: You are welcome.

CONAN: Here's an email question from Blake in Portland, Oregon. It's been said this is the most secretive administration ever. The more I read your work the more I want to find out how the Bush administration ever allowed you to write such as scathing criticism.

Mr. WOODWARD: Well, I made it clear that I was going to represent their point of view. That I was going to be factual, and I am factual. They have not questioned a fact in the book. At the same time at the end my editor and my wife Elsa and others at the Washington Post said, you've spent more time looking at Bush and his wars than perhaps anybody else on the outside, you need to tell us what this all means and what the conclusions are. So they didn't know what I was going to conclude and I did not prejudge this. But when you look at it you have to ask yourself what perspective are you going to bring to it? And the perspective I bring is that of somebody in the - a serviceman or servicewoman in Iraq, who is risking his or her life 24/7 and is totally engaged in the process of trying to win this war.

And the expectation they would have is that the commander in chief back in Washington is 24/7 on the case also, and that is yes delegating certain parts of this but not the executive management of the process where only the president's authority can get to the bottom of things and get to the bottom of things more quickly. So, my judgments are in the context of what do you expect and what could you reasonably expect from a president and I think it's right to expect absolutely the most.

CONAN: Let's get a question in from Bill. Bill calling from Louis, Delaware.

BILL (Caller): Yes my question is this, has President Bush reconciled his Christian faith with all the needless death and destruction in Iraq?

Mr. WOODWARD: Well, he thinks and has made it clear and I find - I don't question his sincerity on this at all. There's no evidence that I know off that's credible. That he believes this is a necessary war to free and liberate people and one of my earlier interviews for on of the earlier books, he just said, I believe we have a duty to free people and duty is a big word for a commander in chief. I asked him whether in making the decision to send 30,000 troops, the surge, what Condi Rice told him was the last card, the last opportunity to fix this, whether he prayed. And he said he did. I asked the nature of those prayers and he said it's personal. Absolutely reasonable answer.

CONAN: Thanks very much for the question, Bill.

BILL: Thank you.

CONAN: We're talking with Bob Woodward about his new book 'The War Within: A Secret White House History 2006 - 2008." And you're listening to Talk of the Nation from NPR News. And let's get another question from here in the Newseum.

EARL CONE (Audience Member):Good Afternoon, Mr. Woodward. I'm Earl Cone, and I'm from Minneapolis, Minnesota and great to have you on today. In your interview with the president, did he at any time seemed to acknowledge or suggest that he, or the future president would be better - better off surrounding themselves with advisers who would not necessarily blindly agree with his position, in other words take dissent?

Mr. WOODWARD: Well, it's not that he didn't take dissent, there was dissent and there were different points of view. It was the failure to get them all together, you know, you have sometimes, you have to hash it out. And this did not happen. It's not, you know people had different points of view and he was getting different information. It's the - what's missing is the seize the day mentality. Today, it's so screwed up. We have such a mess on our hands, call everyone in, let's make an effort to fix this, that's what happens in families, ever been in a family crisis anyone here? Ever been in a business or institutional crisis? The leader gets the people together and - in most cases the female head of household, and says we got to do something. This is the nature of the problem. In this case it got removed and is - the president is quoted telling me this is not something you hurry, I don't understand that.

CONAN: Yet, you say he got dissenting views. Mr. Satterfield, who you describe the quoted lines says he was not easy to brief, he would cut people off, he would - he make inappropriate, you know, not inappropriate jokes, the nature of the jokes, but that he was impatient with people who...

Mr. WOODWARD: And in fact Satterfield concluded that the president could be a bully at times. And I found in my earlier interviews with the president he was much more willing to engage and answer questions directly. In these series of interview I found he was less patient, he at one point said come on let's move this along, let's go through to all the questions, let's get to him. How many more questions do you have? At one point I was asking something, he looked over one of his aides in the oval office and he just said, you know, can you believe it we're going through this whole thing?

CONAN: Now...

Mr. WOODWARD: And so, you know, it's OK for a president to get impatient during an interview in a war, you really have to - it's a homework issue, it's - you've got to really know the details, you got to - you got to be commander in chief and that you know, that what's interesting. We're going to have a new commander in chief. New commander chief is going to be Obama or McCain, step in there and just as you reported on the news today from Iraq, the first two weeks of September, 10 car bombs, 61 improvised explosive devices going off. That's four a day. Things are indeed better because it was staggeringly violent, but that is not a finished war, that is not a situation that is stabilized. First matter of business for the new President Obama or McCain is going to be on that inauguration day - this is you war, you now have it.

CONAN: Congratulations.

Mr. WOODWARD: You are commander in chief of a 146,000 troops, a massive land army in the Middle East.

CONAN: And also a war not going anywhere near as well in Afghanistan, and a war we were talking about the success of the surge in Iraq. Well, you pointed out it's not just five brigades it's more than that the way the Army works and the reason people were opposed to the idea of sending more troops to Iraq was they feared it would break the Army and I'm going to ask you when we get back from a short break, whether the CentCom commander Petraeus may not regret some of the decisions that Iraq commander Petraeus may have made when he has to deal with the war in Afghanistan as well as Iraq. Bob Woodward is with us. Stay with us if you'd like to join us 800-989-8255, email us talk@npr.org. I'm Neal Conan, it's the Talk of the Nation from NPR News.

(Soundbite of music)

CONAN: Today, Bob Woodward is with us here at the Knight Studio in the Newseum. His newest book is 'The War Within: A Secret White House History 2006-2008." If you'd like to talk with him about what he learned, how he learned it and the conclusions he draws, 800-989-8255, email, talk@npr.org. And Bob Woodward, just the other day General McKiernan, the NATO commander in Afghanistan said, thank you very much. We're getting an extra Army brigade. We're getting 1,400 more Marines and after that we're going to need three more brigades if we're going to try to get the situation in Afghanistan under control. As we mentioned, five brigades of course, went to Iraq as part of the surge. They have now rotated out or their replacements have rotated out. Nevertheless, this is not a one for one. These men have - women have to come back. Re-equip, re-train. Is CentCom commander Petraeus going to be wishing he had some of those troops on hand now, the reserve, the last troops available to send to Afghanistan?

Mr. WOODWARD: I don't think so. I think he's been able to balance that but he will be sitting in a different chair and have both wars on his plate. What's interesting about this or one of the parts of it is what the U.S. Army and the Marine Corps, particularly the ground and land forces, how they've responded to this and it's heroic. They have been stressed, they have - some people - I've talked to people who've had four tours in Iraq or Afghanistan and the morale is high. They are doing their job. They are our surrogates, U.S. citizens. They represent us. And they have stepped up to the plate without any of the sociological difficulties that occurred during the Vietnam War, at least at this point and it is a very strong force. At the same time, as I go into in great detail in the book, the Joint Chiefs who were responsible for the military overall grew deeply concerned that we don't have strategic reserves. Suppose something happens some place in Africa or in Eastern Europe or Korea or you name it. There is not the force there in reserve to do something that would involve several brigades, which might be eight to 10,000 men.

CONAN: Just a few years ago, the idea was enough reserves to fight two small wars simultaneously and of course now we're in, you know, two, one small one and one rather large, one and - and nothing left. Let's get another caller on the line. This is Steve. Steve with us from Saint Louis in Missouri.

STEVE (Caller): Hi, Mr. Woodward.

Mr. WOODWARD: Hi.

STEVE: And just with regards to discussion about the different factors that affected the decrease in violence, did you get a sense that the decision makers in the administration were objectively looking at all of these factors and, you know, were able to kind of parse through all of that and make their decisions about what policy should happen, you know, since the surge based upon these factors. Did you feel that there was, you know, any political tend to that or did you feel that, you know, that a consensus was able to mold around the factors or was there dissent about what was helping there?

Mr. WOODWARD: OK. It's a very good question. I think the White House has taken the position that it's basically the surge. And that this was the president's decision and it was courageous in the face of...

CONAN: Military...

Mr. WOODWARD: The military saying no and Condi Rice, the Secretary of State saying, what are you going to do with these troops? That's different. There was lots of pressure against it. Some of it, like I talked to one general about this, when you look at war, there's this X factor called luck. And these capability that was developed in these special operations came at a very timely moment. The efforts to win over the Sunnis and in many cases just pay them, so they come over to our side actually started well before the surge and that had a big impact particularly in Anbar Province. So, if we're in the - this is a moving train and we're trying to figure out exactly what's going on and what the factors are. And I don't - I think the White House just kind of operates on a day-to-day basis and absolutely delighted with the decrease in violence, and the improved situation there. And has not set down there analytically and said 15 percent here or eight percent there.

CONAN: Thanks very much, Steve.

STEVE: Thank you.

CONAN: Let's go now to - this is Tim. Tim is with us from Albermarle in North Carolina. Tim, are you there? Tim is listening to the radio. Waiting for the delay to come back. We're going to give him about two more seconds. Tim? Tim, are you there? Tim phone has falling sleep listening to the radio. All right. Thank you very much, Tim.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. WOODWARD: Yes. Listening to me with my Midwestern, slow, nasal...

CONAN: This is Sandy. Sandy is with us from Portland, in Wisconsin.

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

CONAN: Go ahead please.

SANDY: Mr. Woodward, it seems like from the build up to the Iraq war until the 2004 elections the press was just going on along with whatever the Bush administration said. Now, that we know most of the information they were spewing out was false, do you feel the pressure has done more about checking back then? And also do you think that knowing what they've done is it - are those impeachable offenses?

Mr. WOODWARD: Well, first of all the press I think should always do more, should be more aggressive. I thought myself might relieve for not looking harder at the W with weapons of mass destruction claims. But in 2004, I came out with the second book called "Plan of Attack" about how Bush decided to launch the Iraq war. And when it came out, the New York Times wrote two front page stories about the book saying that it jolted the White House because...

SANDY: Was that after election of his work?

Mr. WOODWARD: That was before the election, April 2004 and there was a lot of information in there about dissension and how Colin Powell didn't agree with lots of things. He was the secretary of state in the battles between Powell and Defense Secretary Rumsfeld, between Powell and Cheney the vice president and so forth. So, that was on the table and available well before the election.

SANDY: OK. Thank you.

CONAN: Thanks very much for the call. Here's an email that we have from David in Berkeley, California. Given the information in Mr. Woodward's books and the general acceptance of their accuracy, how does he account for the lack of war outrage from the public to Democratic Party, moderates and the Republican Party and the rest of the media historically this seems to be totally without the president.

Mr. WOODWARD: Well, to a certain extents the public has grown numb from the war. It's going on for so long. It is better and people kind of say, oh well, OK. It's better, let's take that gain and pocket it. It is, as a I survey things, we were talking about this earlier...

CONAN: Mm hmm.

Mr. WOODWARD: This is the most important thing going on in the world. This is the destiny of nation being determined by their wars. And we will be in this one and it is not sure where it's going. There are other surprises, Iraq has always dealt surprises and it's likely to deal or surprise you with another one, but we don't anticipate in any way.

CONAN: And it goes back to the Barbara's question. Some people utterly outraged and feel that this were impeachable offenses or indeed after the administration leaves office or criminal offenses. It's extremely unlikely, I think, politically this will happen.

Mr. WOODWARD: Yes. And remember this was a war of Bush was that one who decided to employ the forces to do this back in 2002 before the war both of House of Representatives in the Senate passed resolutions given the president full authority to use the U.S. military in Iraq as he deemed both necessary and appropriate. That was a blank check.

CONAN: Let's go to Ian. Ian is with us from Honolulu.

IAN (Caller): Hi there.

CONAN: Go ahead please.

IAN: I guess, I was just wondering if Mr. Woodward given all the access you've had not just with this book, but with others - if he has the impression that, you know, that the president knows or cares about the rest of the role of being a president, if it's just all - you know his true aspiration and true focus is only been on the commander in chief goal. And especially looking around to the rest of the - promised that have occurred and the failures that have occurred domestically, is just isn't really even considered that important?

Mr. WOODWARD: Well, in these interviews it's a very important question. He would say, well, I'm honored everyday. I'm getting intelligence briefings on Iraq and talking to Hadley, his National Security Adviser. And then, at other times he would tell me, say look I've got other things to do, this isn't the only thing I do. So, I think he separated himself. But as they were all saying this war is a war of choice. He decided on the war. His legacy is going to be largely determined by this one of the - I've done books and president's going back to Nixon and all presidents learned one...

CONAN: We remember that one, yeah.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. WOODWARD: Thank you. One thing and that is you're commander in chief of the military. They will do what you tell him to do or if they don't then, the generals go and you get new generals. But, a president is not commander in chief of the economy or of other domestic issues can have a tremendous influence on it. But, it's not as if Wall Street will dance to the tune of the president where the military will.

CONAN: Thanks very much, Ian.

IAN: Thanks.

Mr. WOODWARD: I wanted to say, I commend you for when you do these calls, you put the caller on and leave them on. Lots of people immediately just take the question and dump the caller. So the caller here has a change to come back with a follow up question or rebut or say you didn't answer my question.

CONAN: Well, they're part of the conversation?

Mr. WOODARSD: Yes, well, but that's commendable, something that should be done elsewhere.

CONAN: I think you're right.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. WOODWARD: Well. No, there are -

(Soundbite of applause)

Mr. WOODWARD: I mean, how anyone been a dumped caller?

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. WOODWARD: Where you get in your question and then boom, you're out. You have done your end of this and in this case you give him them a chance at least presumably to follow up.

CONAN: More of the county amount with Bob Woodward when we come back in just a moment. We're talking about his new book, "The War Within: A Secret White House History 2006 - 2008." It's Talk of the Nation from NPR News.

CONAN: And Bob Woodward, one of the things that we're - you're doing it seems to me in this last book is almost an exit interview with President Bush, not simply the war but as you say of course he is going to be defined by it. Nevertheless, you talked about the goals he set for himself upon coming into office. To unite country, then with the aspect after 9/11 he wanted to transform the Middle East. He wanted to bring peace to the world. He wanted to rally America's allies around. Yet, in many of these respects, it's possible to be less pessimistic about the war in Iraq than a year ago or in certainly two years ago. Nevertheless, a lot of these other goals are simply not going to be reached.

Mr. WOODWARD: And one of the other things he said in early interviews after 9/11 is that he was going to unite the country. And you now look at the country in the fall of 2008, we are hardly united. This is become lambskin(ph) to a partisan war. And the interesting laying off when I asked him about Senator Reed's comment last year that the Iraq war was loss. I ask did you ever talked to Senator Reed about that and he said, no. And I said what was your reaction and he said, I nothing surprises me in Washington. And that the harsh rhetoric of the war has led to a harsh partisanship and then in - I think one of the few times his ever acknowledge failure he said, one of my failures has been to not change the tone in Washington.

CONAN: The culture.

Mr. WOODWARD: And that the - says others have responsibility for that. But his tone was forlorn. He realized he had not done something. He had not united the nation and if you think about it. Again, I want to return to the perspective of the soldier over there in Iraq and you listen to what's going on in America and you said, the president and the Republicans for a while support the war of the Democrats want to get out. Senate leaders say its lost. How do you feel? You wonder, why can't we get it together? This - whether you like it or not, is America's war. As I say, Bush decided on it but the Congress passed resolutions authorizing it. So why is there some unity, why is there some putting back together and I think probably one of the big challenges for Obama or McCain as president is going to be to build bridges back to the other party, to the military, to the country in a way. When a president takes office, the mightier whose he has been in history, this happened with Nixon too. The good will of the country is poured upon this person. There is a feeling of we are behind you, we wanted to work. And too often the president have kind of a punch back and said, Well, you're not of my party or you're not of the interest group that I represent and so forth. And the country becomes divided because the president becomes in divisive figure.

CONAN: As you look at that in our history and did you say going back to President Nixon, the Vietnam War, Watergate. There was - it seemed to me a period when the country did after recover from those terrible wounds when these deep feeling of skepticism about our most important institutions including the Armed Forces was overcome through enormous national effort in no small part of those institution.

Mr. WOODWARD: Yes, but you know the leader of that national effort was Gerald Ford, who really was a healer. He took over from Nixon. He was not elected, had been appointed after Vice President Agnew was on and Ford did a lot to heal the wounds of Watergate and he had, President Ford once told me, said, the lowest day of his life as president was the day when the helicopters left the embassy in Vietnam and the Vietnam war was lost. But he put it together in a way that maybe the new person is going to look at that as a model of healing.

CONAN: Bob Woodward, thanks very much for your time. Bob Woodward's new book is "The War Within: A Secret White House History 2006 - 2008." I'm Neal Conan, this is Talk of the Nation from NPR News in Washington.

Copyright © 2008 NPR. All rights reserved. Visit our website terms of use and permissions pages at www.npr.org for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.