Book Details Attempts to Oust Rumsfeld

Times Staff Writer

President Bush’s then-chief of staff tried to convince the president to fire Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld on at least two occasions in the last two years, once with the support of First Lady Laura Bush, according to a new book by author and journalist Bob Woodward.

The first of the attempts by Andrew Card, made in November 2004, was thwarted by Vice President Dick Cheney, a longtime friend of Rumsfeld’s, and Karl Rove, the White House political chief, who felt any move against Rumsfeld would be seen as an acknowledgment that the Iraq war was on the wrong course. The second effort, made a year later, came with Laura Bush’s backing, the book says.

Some of the assertions in the book, “State of Denial,” were made public Friday by Woodward’s newspaper, the Washington Post, after other news organizations acquired copies ahead of Monday’s official publication date. A spokesman for Simon & Schuster, the publisher, said the book’s release had been moved up to today because of the disclosures.

The White House on Friday did not contradict Woodward’s account of Card’s efforts to oust Rumsfeld. But Tony Snow, Bush’s spokesman, denied that either of the efforts were supported by the first lady, saying her office dubbed the suggestion “flatly not true.”


Card “was asked to take a look at everybody, including himself,” Snow said at a news conference. “It’s typical -- as a matter of fact, quite often in administrations at this point, people are asked to submit their resignations. The president’s commander in chief. He picks.”

Asked about the book’s contents by reporters traveling with him at a NATO meeting in Slovenia, Rumsfeld said he had not read the account -- or Woodward’s previous books on the war. “I wouldn’t hold your breath on this one,” Rumsfeld said.

Another upcoming book on the Bush administration, a biography of former Secretary of State Colin L. Powell by Washington Post editor Karen DeYoung, will report that Powell was forced out of his job.

The account contradicts statements by the White House at the time -- as well as Powell’s own resignation letter -- which made it appear that his decision to leave following the 2004 election was mutual. The excerpt from the book, “Soldier: The Life of Colin Powell,” obtained by the Los Angeles Times ahead of next week’s publication, recounts how Card broke the news to an unsuspecting Powell.

“ ‘The president would like to make a change,’ [Card] said, using a time-honored formulation that avoided the words ‘resign’ or ‘fire,’ ” the book says.

The two books add to a growing chorus of former administration officials, retired generals and onetime war supporters who have broken ranks and spoken out against a White House once renowned for its tight lips and reverence for loyalty.

Indeed, the White House on Friday sought to dismiss the Woodward book as a repeat of old allegations, arguments over troop levels and bitter recriminations from former officials whose advice was not taken.

Despite White House efforts, however, Woodward’s book -- like his two preceding tomes on Bush’s stewardship of the war in Iraq, “Bush at War” and “Plan of Attack” -- hit Washington like a major movie opening, with details spilling out in advance and interviews scheduled by CBS’ “60 Minutes” and CNN’s Larry King.

The first two Woodward books were so laudatory that White House aides gave them to each other as Christmas gifts. “Plan of Attack” was even listed as recommended reading on the Bush campaign’s reelection website. However, “State of Denial” prompted backpedaling by the White House and was embraced by congressional Democrats, who cited it as further evidence of the administration’s mismanagement of the war.

Among the famous names in the book is Henry Kissinger, President Nixon’s secretary of State during the Vietnam War. Woodward reports Kissinger has been a frequent visitor at the White House, offering Bush advice on Iraq.

“Now, what’s Kissinger’s advice?” Woodward said in his “60 Minutes” interview. “In Iraq, he declared very simply, ‘Victory is the only meaningful exit strategy.’ This is so fascinating. Kissinger’s fighting the Vietnam War again, because in his view, the problem in Vietnam is we lost our will.”

Woodward’s account of the widening divisions within the administration over Iraq policy relies on at least four separate, privately written assessments that were submitted to senior administration officials detailing dire predictions for Iraq if the White House did not change course.

One of those assessments, Woodward recounts, is a secret intelligence estimate prepared in May by the intelligence division of the U.S. military’s Joint Chiefs of Staff. It predicts that violence in Iraq will increase during 2007. The conclusion is similar to a National Intelligence Estimate prepared earlier this year, portions of which were declassified this week by Bush.

Another secret assessment revealed by Woodward is a 15-page memo prepared early last year for Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice by longtime friend and State Department Counselor Philip Zelikow, who wrote that Iraq was a “failed state shadowed by constant violence.” Zelikow’s memo was delivered to Rice even as the administration continued to insist Iraq was stabilizing.

Rumsfeld himself received a private assessment from a close friend, Steve Herbits, in July 2005. The seven-page memo asked Rumsfeld who was responsible for several miscues in Iraq -- including the disbanding of the Iraqi army and the overreaching effort to rid the Iraqi government of members of Saddam Hussein’s Baath party -- and bluntly informed the Defense secretary of how colleagues viewed “Rumsfeld’s style of operation.”

“Indecisive, contrary to popular image,” Woodward writes, quoting the memo by Herbits, a former Seagram’s executive who has worked as a Pentagon consultant. “Would not accept that some people in some areas were smarter than he.”

The fourth assessment was written in September 2003 to Rice by Robert D. Blackwill, a former National Security Council advisor, warning that more ground troops -- perhaps as many as 40,000 -- were needed to stabilize Iraq.

Woodward writes that the White House did nothing in response, though Snow on Friday disputed that claim, noting that Rumsfeld had said in one interview that he recalled receiving the Blackwill memo and ordered it be taken seriously.

DeYoung’s book on Powell contains an account of a similar warning given to Bush by Powell in their last meeting at the White House. Powell used the January 2005 Oval Office meeting, intended to be a “farewell call,” to “unload,” DeYoung recounts.

“The war in Iraq was going south, [Powell] said after a few moments of small talk, and the president had little time left to turn it around,” DeYoung wrote, adding that Powell warned not to expect too much progress to emerge from upcoming Iraqi elections. “There would be a window of about two months after the election ‘to start to see progress,’ he told Bush. ‘If by the first of April this insurgency is not starting to ameliorate in some way, then I think you really have a problem.’ ”

Times staff writers Paul Richter and Moises Mendoza contributed to this report.