Woodward Book, Part I

Today’s WaPo has a lengthy excerpt from Bob Woodward’s latest book, “Behind Diplomatic Moves, Military Plan Was Launched.” The thing which seems to have gotten everyone’s attention is Woodward’s assertion that President Bush decided upon the Iraq War well before he told any of his cabinet except Don Rumsfeld and, further, that he told Saudi Arabia’s Prince Bandar before he informed Colin Powell and others.

This seems an odd semantic argument than anything substantive. As Richard Clarke and others have noted, President Bush was talking about war with Saddam immediately after 9/11. Indeed, he was talking about it during the 2000 campaign. So, the only thing at issue was a final decision to “pull the trigger.” Presumably, getting buy-in from the Saudi’s, our chief Arab ally in the region and a vital staging point, was a prerequisite to a “Go.” So, so what Bandar was briefed before Powell?

I also note this odd passage:

rince Bandar had served during four American presidencies. At age 53, Bandar was almost a fifth estate in Washington, amplifying Saudi influence and wealth. He insisted on dealing directly with presidents and is almost family to Bush’s father, former president George H. W. Bush. And he had maintained his special entree to the Oval Office under this President Bush.

Sitting on the edge of the table in Cheney’s office, Myers took out a large map labeled TOP SECRET NOFORN. The NOFORN meant NO FOREIGN — classified material not to be seen by any foreign nation.

Classification levels are almost entirely at the discretion of the classifying authority. Certainly, the Vice President and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs are free to show the material to whomever they deem it necessary on a need to know basis. One suspects the NOFORN was applied to this set of documents to prevent it being routinely passed within NATO channels, given that we couldn’t trust France or Germany with it under the circumstances.

Hat tip: Matt Welch

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James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm veteran. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. Thomas J. Jackson says:

    Anyone remembered we were not allowed to use Saudi bases for the war? They did not allow the transit nor use of their logistical facilities. So much for this assertion.

  2. James Joyner says:

    Actually, that’s not true.

  3. Jem says:

    James, you are correct. The DCI and President are authorized to declassify ANYTHING, at will. It’s a power that’s very rarely used. More often, there will be authorization given to a lower-level official to show information, without allowing the recipient to make a copy.