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Peggy Noonan on Woodward

Several people have emailed me about Peggy Noonan’s unexpected conclusion that Woodward’s denial book is both better and less damning than its critics have said. "History is human" is the main lesson. Another is that, contrary to its critics, the administration can probably be faulted for not having been Machiavellian enough. Ryan Rakness especially is of the opinion that we can’t help but benefit from discussing her seductively written piece.

Discussions - 11 Comments

Jean Renoir: "The real hell of life is that everyone has his reasons."

I don’t know that Noonan is saying that the book is "less damning...." Rather, I think she is saying it offers grounds for forgiveness as in the Christian sense of "there is no sin but that which is common to man."

I’ll buy the argument that Bush was insufficiently Machiavellian in Iraq. I think he could especially learn from Machiavelli’s maxim that it’s better to harm people all at once rather than deal it out piecemeal. More brutality by the United States earlier on might have resulted in less brutality overall.

Has anybody actually read the book? Or is reading it beside the point?

I’ve read parts and skimmed parts, and to tell the truth don’t know what to think yet.

Read the book? Of course not. Reading it was beside this point, which was Peggy Noonan’s review. That review makes me want to read the book, as I did not want to do before.

Noonan often fails to think as well as she writes. Her biggest failing is that she usually takes MSM reporting as accurate on facts (perhaps because she used to work at CBS News for Dan Rather and still lives in Manhattan).

My problem with her review is that she takes as given that all the BDS critics are right and everything in Iraq is wrong. Bull. In fact, I challenge anyone to identify a president of the US or any other country in this century who handled a war better than this one.

Wars don’t go perfectly. Terrorists and guerillas sponsored by outside countries are almost impossible to eradicate. It is a long hard process no matter what.

The silly backbiting, hind-sighters haven’t proven anything other than that they will criticize everything that isn’t perfect.

Other mandatory reading on this (besides, you know, the book) is Frum’s blog on NRO. From Frum, my general impression was the failure and buck-passing of Gen. Franks(see cmnt #2, which I basically agree with), the formidable and often unhelpful bureacratic power of Powell, and the general difficulty of navigating the infighting mazes of Defense Dept./Intelligence/State Dept., even for the son of a president. I once again fail to see why Rumsfeld is self-evidently disastrous to so many smart people.

Prince Bandar’s case for keeping lower levels of the Baathist structure in place seems sound on the face of it, but do note that it seems Woodward pretty much regards all that Bandar says as golden/reliable, and the entire book appears plagued by such selective sourcing. Nor, I must add, is Woodward’s own credibility sound, as Hugh Hewitt has been reminding us. Nonetheless, this book sounds like it will be an important early stab at the story of the Bush administration.

I just can’t go as far as to say the war has been handled well. The Bandar option would have been its own kind of risk, and we don’t know that it would have worked better. It goes without saying, though, if we could roll back the tape it might well be worth trying. (I agree with Carl that it’s odd that Woodward regards this guy as some kind of flawless strategic genius.) The army, almost to a man, hates Rumsfeld, and I think his job should have filled with a new set of eyes sometime ago. The truth in my view is that all the options that now face us in both Iraq and Iran are unattractive, and it will take quite a statesman to choose resolutely and take responsibility for what we be universally regarded as less than optimal results. There’s a natural desire to punish Bush (as there was even Lincoln--not that Bush is a Lincoln) for been overoptimistic, screwing up, and bogging us down in a dispiriting conflict. But who would do better? At this point, it’s clear enough that the Republicans will be punished in November, as conservatives of various kinds (see George Will this morning) are jumping ship for various reasons. In considering your voting "strategery" today, you might remember that the punishment shouldn’t be cruel or unusual.

Did anybody watch the ">">"> interview? This is quite remarkable: Baker preparing the ground for a shift in policy, while the vice president urges that any change would be a betrayal and a disgrace. (Perhaps it would be fairer to say that Baker’s job is to define a third alternative while Cheney insists that there are only two.) What do we make of the presumably deliberate timing? Baker is too seasoned a guy to have said more than he intended. But I did not see the interview.

P.S. I’ll answer my own question. The administration MUST get the Foley story off the front page. Baker’s interview may even be preparing the ground for Rumsfeld’s resignation, on the merits and to the same end as Baker’s interview.

On the basis of this piece by Mario Loyala , I’d say that just about everything in this thread that takes Woodward seriously is wrong.

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