April 19, 2007

Bob Woodward Calls War in Iraq Idealist

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Bob Woodward, investigative reporter best known for his work with Carl Bernstein in uncovering the Watergate scandal, discussed his views on President Bush’s idealism and how it has influenced the Iraq war during his speech at Ithaca College yesterday. Entitled “State of Denial” after his book State of Denial: Bush at War, Part III, it was the third lecture in a year-long series celebrating the 10th anniversary of the Park Scholar Program at Ithaca College.
“The Iraq war will be in the history books,” Woodward said in the question-and-answer session following his speech.
In his speech, Woodward chronicled many of his interactions with the White House, particularly in response to “the question lingering and really pulsing”: why did we go to war? After sending a 21-page memorandum to President Bush, which he joked was the longest thing he had ever read, Woodward had the unique opportunity to interview the president for three-and-a-half hours; “the longest interview a single president has given,” Woodward added.
During the interview, Bush “said something extraordinary,” something that, according to Woodward, could explain the Iraq war decision. He said “I believe we have a duty to free people, to liberate people.”
“At the center of the war, this is idealism,” Woodward said.
He sees this “embedded conviction” as blinding Bush, making him “unable to shift course.” Repeated red flags in decisions relating to the Iraq war presented by Jay Gardner former U.S. general, Stephen Hadley national security advisor and Philip Zelikow, counselor of the U.S. department of state, were repeatedly ignored, according to Woodward.
Unlike Woodward, however, Rebecca Bosh, one of Woodward’s many admirers in the audience, did not believe Bush’s misguided sense of duty and zeal to free people were the only motivations related his Iraq decisions.
“I was frustrated; I was curious, actually, about the title of his book … I felt there was more going on behind the scenes than to really deny what was happening in Iraq to the point of pursing policies … that doesn’t really seem to make sense … I do think there’s more to what’s happening in Iraq than that,” said Bosh.
One of the more startling aspects of what Woodward called “the decision of a lifetime” was that he did not seek the advice of his father, Colin Powell or Donald Rumsfeld, but asked only two people — Condolezza Rice and Karen Hughes.
“He was being honest,” said Woodward.
Yet as the country looks toward the future, Woodward suggests that people try to determine and understand what the presidential candidates have a zeal for and how they understand the presidency. According to the reporter, “the most important trait in a president is courage,” both the courage to “walk the road alone” and to admit mistakes and change course, as Bush has yet to do.
Woodward was part of a speaker series that included Danny Green, a Park School alumnus and co-creator of the The Smoking Gun website, and Norman Solomon, founder of the Institute for Public Accuracy.
According to Diane Lynch, dean of Ithaca College’s Roy H. Park School of Communications, the series was aimed at exposing all students to “the best of the best, to remind our community about the power and impact of real journalism.”
“He was a really good speaker. … I’m a journalism major so it was a big motivator; I really want to go out there and get the story,” said Norah Shipman, an Ithaca freshman.
Lynch estimated that about 1,800 people from all over came to hear Woodward.
“He’s an American icon. … There’s a whole generation of people who are journalists now because of Woodward and Bernstein. … Literally when I grew up and decided I wanted to be a journalist it was because of [them],” Lynch said.
In contrast to Bernstein, however, Woodward “reports the most difficult subjects in American culture and he has never had to make a retraction. He has never been wrong,” according to Lynch.
Woodward’s true love for reporting also made him an interesting speaker.
“It is an exhilarating business … It is the best job,” Woodward said.
To the students he gave the following advice: “I urge on you … find work you love … be hard on yourself resting … make that a goal.”