Another way to be certain that a senior source cooperated is to read Woodward ventriloquizing his or her profoundest inner thoughts. Thus we can be sure that Colin Powell is on board as soon as we learn that he got on a plane in Peru shortly after the aggressors struck on September 11 and "started to scribble notes to himself."
Ever the soldier, he wrote, What are my people going to be responsible for? How is the world, the United States going to respond to this? What about the United Nations? What about NATO? How do I start calling people together? The seven hours of isolation seemed an eternity for the man who could have been commander in chief.
I had no idea that this was what soldiers reflexively did. I do know that if it had been left up to Powell, Kuwait would still be the nineteenth province of Iraq, and Bosnia would be part of Greater Serbia. (I know some of this from reading Woodward's book on the first Gulf War, The Commanders, which has Powell opposing even a token move at the initial warning of Saddam's invasion.)
Richard Armitage must have talked freely to Woodward, because he turns out to be "an outspoken, muscular, barrel-chested man who deplored fancy-pants, pin-striped diplomatic talk." Furthermore, "Even before they took over the State Department, Powell and Armitage talked several times each day. 'I would trust him with my life, my children, my reputation, everything I have,' Powell said of Armitage." In theory, this husky male bonding should have been qualified just a little bit by Powell's dogmatic insistence on fancy-pants, pin-striped diplomatic talk. But since precisely such verbiage is the stuff of moral and political heroism in the remainder of the narrative, this thought, too, is prevented from emerging.
I think we may be sure that Condoleezza Rice was a willing accomplice in Woodward's enterprise, and not just because she is depicted at Camp David on the first traumatic September weekend, leading the team after dinner "in a sing-along of American standards including 'Old Man River,' 'Nobody Knows The Trouble I've Seen' and 'America The Beautiful.'" Wish I'd been there to see it. (Who guessed that so many Republicans knew the words to the first two?)
Literal rendition may be the price that journalism pays for access, and every reporter in Washington knows that some massaging of sources is necessary from time to time. It's not just the abjectness of Woodward, however, that causes the gorge to rise. He purports to describe a serious division of opinion within the Administration, certainly the most momentous internal dispute seen in Washington in many years; but in default of a courtier relationship between himself and those involved, he simply declines to state their cases in full or, in some instances, to state them at all. In his index appears the entry "Rumsfeld, Donald H., author's interviews with, 319-321." That doesn't sound like very many pages, now does it? Turn to these pages and you find the following: It seems that in January of 2002 Woodward and his Washington Post colleague Dan Balz interviewed Donald Rumsfeld and asked him about his desire to include Iraq in the riposte to the previous September's attacks. The Secretary of Defense intemperately refused to discuss the question and suggested that classified material must have been leaked in order for it to be asked. Woodward smugly condenses what was a nineteen-page transcript into twenty-three lines of text. The remaining page and a half is devoted to a chance encounter two months later between Woodward and Rumsfeld on the steps of the Pentagon, where the Secretary orated briefly about the number of warnings of terrorist attack that had been overlooked in the past.
"They'll hit us again," Rumsfeld said in a matter-of-fact tone. "We have them off balance." He then jabbed three of his fingers into the center of my chest, tipping me back and slightly off balance. Nice wrestling move, I thought, but then I shifted forward, taking the bait. I said that it was not enough because I had regained my balance rather quickly.
I doubt that Woodward could produce a tape or a second source or any of the usual pedantic Washington Post requirements to confirm this story, which represents Rumsfeld as an oddball with apparently contradictory views and scant respect for a reporter's "personal space." It also chances to represent Woodward himself as a man whose wits (and wit) are about him at all times. No doubt some meeting of the sort occurred. But these flimsy paragraphs call attention to a rather peculiar fact. Apparently nobody senior at the Department of Defense was willing to talk much to Woodward. Surely this is something of a shortcoming in a book titled Bush at War.