The Real War

What led to so many post-9/11 fumbles? A group of intrepid authors gives us answers

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WOODWARD I talked to people who said, The evidence is much skimpier than what they are saying. And we played around with writing a story about this and did not, and it's one of my regrets. We should've all been much more aggressive. It's an intelligence failure, it's a policy failure, it is a journalistic failure. Tom Ricks and I work at the same newspaper. If you had these doubts, which I was not aware of contemporaneously, we should have found some way to get out and say, "What do we really know here?" We can and should at least put the burden on ourselves to be one step ahead on this, and we were not.

TRAINOR We have to make a distinction when you talk about WMD. We were concerned in terms of operations and tactics about chemicals and biologicals, but not nuclear.

GORDON The military very much had the expectation that not only would it find WMD but it would encounter the use of WMD. One reason the Marines maneuvered the way they did around the battlefield was to stay outside the range of the artillery that they were told was chemical artillery.

RICKS It's also important to remember though that Dick Cheney in August 2002 got up at the VFW Convention in Nashville and said, "There is no doubt." Which is to say 100% certainty, and I think that had enormous influence inside the military, inside the intelligence community and even to an extent on journalists. When the Vice President says, "I know for a fact," a lot of people in the military said, "He must know something that I don't know."

SUSKIND And that evidence would often not be available. This is what Cheney said over and over, that evidence as we have defined it up to now may be too high a bar. When someone offers a doubt, Cheney slaps them down.

TRAINOR I think Cheney was kind of the Cardinal Richelieu in this whole thing. And he was feeding a predisposition that the President had.

TIME Bob, you yourself got some criticism for your first two books for allegedly being too sympathetic to the Bush Administration. But State of Denial is a very tough look at the situation now. Would you say that you are overcompensating?

WOODWARD You know, the books speak for themselves, and it was the New York Times that on the second volume ran two front-page stories saying that the book had jolted the White House. My best recollection is the White House is not jolted with something that is a sympathetic portrait.

TIME When it comes to war planning, military commanders are told to prepare for the worst. Why was hope such an important part of the tool kit this time?

GORDON Well, they in fact prepared for the worst. But they were very much fighting the last war. I mean, they were worried the oil fields would be set on fire. Why? Because Saddam had set the Kuwaiti oil fields on fire. So they entered the situation prepared for all the things that didn't happen and not the things that did.

RICKS A phrase that came to haunt me in the research for my book was [Deputy Defense Secretary Paul] Wolfowitz's "hard to imagine." It turned out that, yeah, it was the imagination. Wolfowitz said it was hard to imagine that you'd need that many more troops for an occupation than for an invasion.

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