With the publication of State of Denial, Woodward's peeling away of the flesh of the Bush national-security team, the third act is under way.
Woodward is hardly the only turn of the screw. There's Bill Clinton (there's always Bill Clinton). The once and future leader, who's been building himself a global career as, in part, the other president, has taken a more or less righteous position on virtually every global issue-health, environment, economics-except the war elephant in the room. Now, as the third act begins, he seizes the opportunity and is suddenly in high dudgeon about who is or is not to be blamed for the terror mess, not just defending his pursuit of Osama bin Laden but accusing the Bush administration of idleness and negligence. Fair enough, perhaps. But 9/11 was an age ago. How come we had to wait for this most fundamental discussion?
And there's The New York Times, which, after nearly five years of highly politic treatment of virtually anything that the White House coupled with the war on terror, is now, as the press critic Michael Massing recently characterized it, "the voice of the opposition." Here in the third act, there's Colin Powell-who prides himself on his soldier's loyalty except when he's whispering to reporters-playing the martyr. There's the chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, Virginia Republican John Warner, saying that the U.S. might have to consider "a change of course"-translation: run, run, run for the hills. (The chairwoman of the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, Maine Republican Susan Collins, added, for good measure: "When Chairman Warner, who has been a steadfast ally of this administration, calls for a new strategy, that is clearly significant.") Via Woodward, there's Andrew Card, the president's former chief of staff, adjusting his position; Jay Garner, the Bush administration's haplessly selected first proconsul in Iraq, telling his revisionist tale of gross mismanagement in the war zone; George Tenet, the former C.I.A. director, taking the dramatic opportunity of the third act to, finally, drop responsibility for 9/11 onto the White House; Powell's number two, Richard Armitage, dumping all over just about everything; and, indeed, even Laura Bush, wringing her hands.
Such re-inventions and rationalizations and self-justifications and personal P.R. game plans will continue until the responsibility for Iraq has been reduced to Bush, Cheney, and Rumsfeld-the troika.
Everybody's positioning himself for the end. Read on...