The Real War

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

  • Share
  • Read Later

(4 of 5)

WOODWARD I think it's impossible to overemphasize the role of Rumsfeld in all of this. The more you look at it, you discover that even some rather independent-minded, smart people didn't realize they were being co-opted into the vision he had of this war.

SUSKIND It was a sales job--it wasn't an analysis job. There was so much emphasis on how to sell it that they ended up essentially not doing the basic due diligence.

GORDON There is another factor here we need to recognize, which is that the Administration took office with a very set view on nation building. One month before the war, Rumsfeld gave a speech in New York City called "Beyond Nation Building." We weren't going to go in with lots of troops. We weren't going to take over responsibility for administering the country, because this would create an unhealthy dependence on the part of that population. Basically, they were going to practice a sort of tough-love philosophy of postwar management. So it wasn't that they lacked a plan. It was that they had a bad plan. And they looked to Afghanistan, where they had applied this, and they mistakenly saw what happened in Afghanistan as a validation of this philosophy.

TIME Bob, you have experience covering several administrations. How is this one different in terms of decision making?

WOODWARD You can't help but look back at Clinton's famous late nights at the dorm when he would pick through details and ask questions and keep people well past midnight. It probably wouldn't have hurt to have had a little bit of that here at the table. And if you look at Bush, he's kind of, you know, meeting starts at 9, the meeting is over at 10. That's it.

TIME Once the Saddam statue fell, what was the first inkling you had that something was going astray?

WRIGHT I was teaching these young journalists in Saudi Arabia when the war happened. And I had been watching the war on Fox and al-Jazeera. The war on Fox was one of "America's liberation." And on al-Jazeera, it was all a narrative of humiliation and surrender. They covered the end of the war with a documentary about the Ku Klux Klan, followed by a documentary about Hiroshima.

GORDON In April 2003 I was with the 2nd Brigade Combat Team. They were due to go home, because on April 16, 2003, Tommy Franks had flown to Baghdad and given his commanders instructions to prepare to withdraw all but one division--plus by September 2003. Bush had declared an end to major combat operations. So they thought they were going home. A guy I was living with said goodbye to me and said he was flying back. Then I woke up the next morning, and he was still there. And I said, "What happened?" He said, "I went out to the tarmac, they turned me around. We're not going home."

TIME Where there was a sense that things weren't working, why did that not filter up?

  1. 1
  2. 2
  3. 3
  4. 4
  5. 5