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War was secretly planned, author says

Tuesday, April 22, 2003

FRANKLIN, Ind. -- Journalist and author Bob Woodward sees the presidencies of George W. Bush, Richard M. Nixon and Abraham Lincoln as studies in contrast and comparison.

Woodward told about 800 invited guests to Franklin College Monday that courage, like that of Lincoln, is the greatest trait a president can have. Hatred, like that of Nixon toward his enemies, only leads to downfall.

Woodward and his fellow Washington Post reporter, Carl Bernstein, were largely responsible for uncovering the crimes that lead to the resignation of Nixon from the presidency in 1974.

In November, 2002, Woodward's latest book, "Bush At War" was published. It tells the story of Bush's foreign policy from 9/11 leading up to plans for the war in Iraq. He is planning a second, companion volume dealing with Bush's decision to invade Iraq.

Woodward's investigation traces plans for the Iraq war back to Aug. 5, 2002, when Gen. Colin Powell spelled out the risks and the possibilities of overthrowing the regime of Saddam Hussein.

Although Bush went to the United Nations and spent months trying to win over members of the U.N. Security Council, war plans were already under way.

"It was really a secret war launched against Iraq months before the overt war," Woodward said.

He contrasted Bush after Sept. 11, 2001, with Nixon's presidency.

"You see almost two different men in Bush pre- and post- 9/11," Woodward said.

Before 9/11, Bush had not decided what his presidency was all about and did "too little to nothing" about terrorism.

He used three anecdotes to picture Bush as being decidedly different in the days before Sept. 11, 2002.

While Bush was still governor of Texas, he saw Woodward at a gathering and yelled, "Hey, Woodward, stay the h--- out of Texas," a warning Woodward took seriously.

The next time the two met, the greeting was similar. President Bush spoke at a university one afternoon and Woodward was scheduled to speak that night.

After hearing Bush's speech, Woodward approached him and said, "Mr. President, I'm Bob Woodward," to which Bush said, "Duh! I know who you are."

Woodward used a third anecdote to demonstrate the change in Bush's demeanor after 9/11.

In the process of writing one of his nine best-selling non-fiction books, Woodward asked to interview the president. He saw little hope, given Bush's earlier greetings.

To his surprise, he received a call from National Security Advisor Condoleeza Rice who invited Woodward to interview the President at Bush's Crawford, Texas, ranch. The interviewed lasted 2 1/2 hours followed by a half-hour tour of the ranch.

After 9/11, Woodward saw a different Bush emerging, one who seriously listened to every question and answered it thoughtfully and completely.

Woodward plans to put the entire transcript of the Crawford interview in the paperback edition of his book, "Bush At War."

Another change in Bush after 9/11 has been what Woodward called an obvious show of courage.

Shortly after 9/11, Bush was told of a warning about an imminent attack against the White House. The Secret Service wanted to whisk him out of the Oval Office into an underground bunker.

The President refused to go; instead, he ordered a cheeseburger. He was hungry.

"I'm somewhat of a fatalist," Bush told Woodward. "There are many precautions we can take, but we can't do everything."

Since 9/11, Bush receives an average of three threats against his life each day.

Woodward believes the 2003 Iraq war will be a pivotal place in history, determining how the United States handles terrorism.

Four or five months after Sept. 11, 2001, the President's advisors were challenged to answer the question, "What are the lessons of 9/11?"

Their answer was, take care of threats early.

Bush told Woodward he blamed himself for not being ready for the tragic events of 9/11.

At a CIA briefing at Blair House in Washington, during the transition of the Clinton White House to the Bush presidency, Central Intelligence Agency Director George Tenet told Bush there were three threats he must take seriously: Osama bin Laden, the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction and China as a military power.

Although bin Laden was number one on the list, the Bush administration did nothing to defend the United States against attack.

Woodward likened Bush's courage to that of Abraham Lincoln. While many doubted Lincoln's decision to set the slaves free, Lincoln had the courage to sign the Emancipation Proclamation.

"Maybe history will record that Bush was also exactly on the right track," Woodward said.

The author also contrasted the lesson of hate Nixon learned too late with the demeanor of Americans in general.

When Nixon resigned, he told his staff that "the only way people who hate you can win is if you hate them back. And if you hate them back, you destroy yourself."

Yet Nixon spent his political career hating people he felt had treated him badly. And it destroyed him in the end.

On the other hand, after 9/11 the country was upset, was frightened, had many emotions but did not hate. Likewise, the White House made plans to take care of the problem, but did not act out of hate.

"We are not a nation of haters," Woodward said.

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