Journalist Bob Woodward Helps Boost Crowd At AGM

Register now

Noted journalist Bob Woodward, whose work in uncovering the Watergate scandal was the subject of the movie "All the President's Men," offered his insights to credit unions prior to CUNA's GAC.

Woodward, who spoke for 15 minutes before taking questions for another 15 minutes, may well have been the reason CUNA got such a large turnout for its Annual General Meeting, which is typically held in conjunction with Future Forum and which is also not typically well attended. The veteran journalist spoke at the conclusion of the AGM.

During his remarks Woodward talked of how he has met with every president since President Nixon and with each he has tried to capture their "defining character." It is how people perceive that character, Woodwood remarked, that defines how they respond to the war in Iraq.

"That decision by President Bush, if you travel abroad, is what really defines who America is, and in a more significant way it defines who we are to ourselves," said Woodward, who nearly two years ago released the book "Plan of Attack," which chronicled in detail what led up to the decision to declare war.

"It's a book that looks both ways," said Woodward. "People can look at (the book) and see a very determined and focused President Bush, and they can look at it and see a process that has many, many flaws in it. When it came out it was immediately recommended by the Bush campaign and the Kerry campaign. And I thought that establishes the neutral reporting position I was trying to get to."

In working on the book, Woodward said he essentially reduced the decision points and the turning points into a 21-page memo. He sent a copy of it to President Bush, and was surprised to find the president had read it when current Secretary of State Condelezza Rice responded, saying the president would meet with Woodward. That led to three and a half hours of interviews over two days that Woodward said The Washington Post's researchers believe is the longest interview any sitting president has ever given on a single subject. During those interviews, Woodward said he directed 500 questions at the President, who responded with short answers.

"He's a very direct man," said Woodward. "I was trying to push into the larger, more interesting and somewhat unanswered question of who is George W. Bush. I asked 'what is your father's recommendation on the war,' and he said 'I can't recall.' I pushed at it from several angles, and he responded with an answer that has been quoted in many places, 'In terms of strength I appeal to a higher father.' And I never got the answer to what the lower father's recommendation was. I never got an answer to the why."

Woodward suggested that one theory for the war in Iraq is that you "reach a point where you plan so much you end up doing what you planned."

"At one point he said, 'I believe we have a duty to free people, to liberate people.' Duty is the biggest word in the English language for a President of the United States. It's not in the Constitution. Whether you agree or disagree with it, that's something that's at the spine of who he is."

Woodward noted that six months prior to the invasion of Iraq, then Secretary of State Colin Powell, who had been reading many of the same memos and attending many of the same meetings "realized there was a momentum here and felt that the consequences of invading Iraq had not been sufficiently investigated. And he asked for a private meeting with the president, and it was a dinner, and he had written out pages of notes. What he was saying was 'Consider the consequences.' In August of 2002 he was saying if you invade 'You will suck all the oxygen out of everything else.' Powell had a way of summarizing and synthesizing this notion of consequence. He would say, 'It's like the Pottery Barn rule: if you break it, you own it.' That captures exactly what happened. We broke it, we own it. Many in the foreign policy priesthood say that's when Colin Powell was really issuing a warning; let's stop the music and reexamine this."

Woodward shared that at the end of his long interview, the president was standing there with his hands in his pockets and Woodward asked a final question, "How do you think history will view this decision?" Woodward said the president pulled his hands out of his pockets, shrugged, and responded, "History? We won't know. We'll all be dead." "On one level, supremely, he's ducking the question," said Woodward. "On another level, he's right."

For reprint and licensing requests for this article, click here.
MORE FROM AMERICAN BANKER