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Bob Woodward
Bob Woodward
The  Commanders
ISBN: 067176960X
The Commanders
Bob Woodward discussed his book, "The Commanders," which investigated the decision making process in the White House from the beginning of the Bush administration to the beginning of the Persian Gulf war. He discussed the research he conducted for the book and the journalistic philosophy he employs in covering the workings of government. Mr. Woodward's book sparked controversy upon its release by revealing the amount of dissent that existed in the White House from the decision to use force in enforcing the U.N. resolutions concerning Kuwait. Mr. Woodward discussed the Bush administration's short history, which he said has been based on strong military action with a weak legislative agenda.
The Commanders
Program Air Date: June 23, 1991

BRIAN LAMB, HOST: Bob Woodward, author of the best selling "The Commanders," on page 314 of your new book, it says, "None of the chiefs was itching for a fight," meaning the joint chiefs of staff. "They did not want an offensive operation if there was any other honorable way out for the United States." If they didn't want that, how come we didn't hear more from them during the debate leading up to the war?
BOB WOODWARD: Well, the chiefs are really not a decision-making body. General Powell as the chairman is kind of their representative to the inner circle at the White House, and those debates are closed and they try to keep them from coming out. It's a very secret process. The chiefs met once or twice with Bush from the period of the invasion of Kuwait up to the beginning of the war, and as I recount in there at one point it was General [Merrill] McPeak, who is the Air Force chief, kind of told Bush what the consequences of this might be.
LAMB: In writing this book, and I know you talk about how you write it in the beginning, do you tell at any point exactly who you talked to? You admitted to spending time, as Newsweek said, hundreds of hours with Colin Powell.
WOODWARD: Well, there's been lots of speculation and, of course, people try to figure out where information comes from. It's my job to preserve the confidentiality of the sources. What's nice is this book has been out for a month now -- a little over a month, in fact -- no one has stood up to dispute any of it. People have been quite silent on that fact. People who, in particular, are skeptical about this method have gone around and checked and found out that it's accurate.
LAMB: Were you surprised that the president reappointed Colin Powell?
WOODWARD: So rapidly?
LAMB: Yes.
WOODWARD: No. In fact, if you really look at the Bush presidency, I think it's quite evident that in the two-and-a-half years of the administration that the most successful things -- that is, the Panama operation and the Gulf War -- have been operations really overseen by Colin Powell. I was talking to somebody the other day in the White House who said, "You take away Panama and the Gulf, and the Bush presidency is really reduced to a lagging economy and lots of uncertainty about a legislative agenda." So, in a sense, I think you could argue that Bush needs a strong military man, needs to identify him as a symbol of the successful operations.
LAMB: You were in the Navy.
WOODWARD: Yes, sir.
LAMB: For how long?
WOODWARD: Five years.
LAMB: Where were you stationed?
WOODWARD: Stationed aboard the presidential flagship for two-and-a-half years, which was a relocation site aboard a small light aircraft carrier that was converted. They no longer have these because they realized how vulnerable they were. Then on a destroyer off the coast of Vietnam and in the western Pacific for a year-and-a-half. In the Pentagon for the last year.
LAMB: What did you do in the Pentagon?
WOODWARD: Worked in communications for the secretary of the Navy and the chief of naval operations.
LAMB: Did you form certain ideas about what you were going to find here in "The Commanders" because of that experience?
WOODWARD: Well, I was really at the lowest officer level, or the lowest three grades of officer. What you see there at that level is not what goes on in this book at the highest level. So you get a sense of the military, you get a sense of the tedium. Vietnam was going on when I was in the service, and I became very disenchanted with the war, like lots of people. I don't know. I can't quite relate that experience to working on this as a reporter.
LAMB: Are you surprised that so many people would talk to you who wear uniforms?
WOODWARD: I was lucky. I started to work on this right after Bush was elected in 1988. The idea was to do one of these institutional books; the military, the Pentagon -- like I had done the CIA or the Supreme Court. I got to know the people there -- really got into their business; the budget debates and the weapons systems debates that were going on -- and the Berlin Wall came down in '89. Everyone thought the military was irrelevant, the Pentagon. Why do a book on it? So in a sense I had the field to myself. I think I was the only person doing a book on the Pentagon at that time. Then Panama and the Gulf came along, and I knew the people in the process. So I hope I demonstrated to these people that I was interested in their business and took it seriously and took them seriously, so when it got down to pulling the trigger I was able to deal with it.
LAMB: Who do you find easier to get to talk, someone who is a civilian-political type or in the military?
WOODWARD: Good question. It's like everything else, it's like in government or journalism. It's personality dependent, I would say. You will find some military officers willing to talk immediately, some never -- the same with civilians.
LAMB: You can't help when you read the book but know -- I don't know if you're willing to admit this -- that Admiral [William] Crowe talked to you.
WOODWARD: I'm just not going to talk about sources. I think there's been lots of misapprehension about what this method is. When I say I talked to hundreds of people I mean that, and that's probably a low number. There's a whole part of this book that I wrote that is not in the book about the regular business of the military services in the Pentagon. For instance, you mentioned Admiral Crowe, who was Powell's predecessor as chairman of the JCS. He had this relationship with Marshal [Sergei] Akhromeyev, who is his counterpart in the Soviet Union, and he spent a lot of time on that. Crowe talked to dozens and dozens of people about it. He spent weeks and months on that relationship. My sources on what are just a couple of paragraphs in the book probably involve three or four dozen people, setting aside the question of whether I talked to him or whether I didn't. It became so clear what the nature of the relationship with his Soviet counterpart was, how important it was to him, that it's irrefutable.
LAMB: This is going to be tough for you to answer, then.
WOODWARD: No, it's not.
LAMB: No, it won't be tough for you to answer; it will be tough for us to get an answer. Page 292: "Talking to reporters for so long in such close quarters was a dangerous and foolish thing to do, Powell knew" -- meaning Colin Powell -- "and any junior public relations officer knew it." And then later you . . .
WOODWARD: He's referring to General [Michael] Dugan, the Air Force chief who took a group of reporters with him -- I think three reporters -- to Saudi Arabia and spent four days with him.
LAMB: What I was going to point out -- there are other points in the book where you quote General Powell as saying, "You shouldn't talk to the press," basically, that when you're an officer in the service that you ought to avoid that.
WOODWARD: No, that's not true. I mean, in there he is asserting that it's foolish to spend four days with a reporter. What Powell says, and his attitude is, I think, described in some detail in the book, is that the press is very important and you can get the operation right -- the military operation -- but as soon as it's over, or as soon as certain phases of it are over, you have to turn to television. You have to turn to the press because that is the medium that is going to explain it to the people. So he's not hostile to the press.
LAMB: I didn't mean that he was hostile so much as that you just got the impression that he thought that General Dugan shouldn't have talked and shouldn't have spent all that time. I wanted to ask you why he spent so much time with you if he felt that it's a bad idea.
WOODWARD: You can ask that question 10 different ways and give me sodium pentothal and torture me and I'm not going to talk about sources. It's not out of a feeling of being coy or isn't this cute or let's add to the mystery. It's that government has become so good at public relations, and they all have specialists. All of the services -- even the chairman of the JCS has a public relations team that works for him. They put out a certain version of reality, and it's incomplete. I think the book demonstrates that. I think my other books demonstrate that, and you have to get around that. You have to go deeper, you have to understand, you have to cross-check and then cross-check the cross-check and you can only do that by having many, many good sources -- not one or 10 or 40 but hundreds. Then when you do that, you get a picture that is much fuller and much more complete.
LAMB: When was the last word written for this book?
WOODWARD: Oh, that's a good question. I think the middle of March. I may have done some tinkering with it in galleys -- in fact, I did, so, let's see, the book came out in early May . . .
LAMB: You sign off here as March 14, 1991.
WOODWARD: That's right, but I think I was still doing some work in April, certainly up to the beginning of April.
LAMB: How long in total time did you work on the book? And did you work on it full time?
WOODWARD: I worked on it two-and-a-half years, virtually full time. Most of my energy went into working on this book and not at the Washington Post where I'm an editor.
LAMB: Do you work at home or do you work in an office?
LAMB: Would you rather talk to one of these sources that you have in this book by phone or in person?
WOODWARD: Again, it's personality dependent. It's amazing. Some people are so comfortable over dinner at my house or lunch at their house. Other people are much more comfortable on the phone. It's interesting, and you can get them on the phone. There are not lots of people around and in most cases, hopefully, no one else around. If you do it at unusual times of the day, of the weekend, you have much better opportunity. Again, you have to do your reporting in a way that accommodates the person you're talking to.
LAMB: Do you tape-record your interviews?
WOODWARD: Some of them I do with the permission of the people involved. Some of the very good sources allowed me to tape-record the interviews with the agreement that it was all on background and deep background and that I would not identify it. But by having a tape, I was able to get a much fuller picture and, of course, this will go into my archives and some day in 50 or 75 years, the historians can go back and say, "Well, who was the source? Who were the sources for this?" Even though the historians have done some complaining about this book, at that point 50, 75 years from now, they're going to be able to go back and they're going to be amazed at the level of documentation and cross- checking and the nature of the primary sources and the proximity to the events.
LAMB: Where do you intend to put all those tapes?
WOODWARD: I don't know. I have no plan, really.
LAMB: Do you sign an agreement with someone when you record an interview?
WOODWARD: No, I do not. It's all done on trust and faith.
LAMB: Have you set a limit -- you say 50 to 75 years.
WOODWARD: I guess. I don't know. It's not something I've given a lot of thought to. I have all of my reach of my books and projects -- everything filed away quite systematically, and somebody's going to be able to go back and do this. I really haven't thought about it.
LAMB: When you work on a book like this, how many people work with you?
WOODWARD: I had two full-time assistants.
LAMB: The people that you give credit to in the front of the book?
WOODWARD: That's right. Bill Powers and Marc Solomon.
LAMB: In what role does a Bill Powers, Jr., former aide to Sen. John Chafee, a Republican of Rhode Island, play?
WOODWARD: Well, he worked for me for three years, actually, before I began the book. Bill is a real wizard -- very smart man, very good writer, very meticulous, somebody who helped me immensely with the writing and the organizing and the filing system, as did Marc Solomon. He worked for the last year -- almost a year-and-a-half -- on the project and did editing, transcribing of tapes. It was a collegial effort among the three of us.
LAMB: Any of the others that you worked with do any of the interviewing?
WOODWARD: They did some of the interviewing, none of the major interviewing.
LAMB: Are there people that just wouldn't talk to you?
WOODWARD: As I say in the beginning, George Bush was not interviewed. I asked to interview him and he, through his press secretary Marlin Fitzwater, declined in kind of an interesting letter. Fitzwater said that Bush was not giving interviews -- and this was while the war was going on in the Gulf -- during the war. He also said that the president wouldn't give interviews for books -- a policy I was not aware of -- because of the book's commercial value, which, if you really think about it, doesn't make a whole lot of sense because he certainly gives interviews to newspapers and magazines and television, and they're all commercial enterprises. But that's what he said.
LAMB: "To Ben Bradlee and Dick Snyder, the best friends a writer could have" -- the dedication of the book. How come you decided to do those two this time?
WOODWARD: You're really following every page. Ben Bradlee's the editor of the Post and has been my boss for 20 years. Dick Snyder is the head of Simon and Schuster, and they have published all of my books going back to "All the President's Men," on Watergate. You know, as a writer, reporter, author, you don't do these things in a vacuum. It's very important to have serious support at the top, and they've always given me that serious support. Sometimes it's been tough. Sometimes the work has been criticized. We've been denounced. They are both keenly aware of how I work and how careful it is, and they're willing to take the heat and have always supported it. If you don't have that, if you don't have a publisher or an editor at a newspaper, it really doesn't -- I could write this information in letters to my family and it would have no dissemination. So they're kind of the backbone of it all.
LAMB: Are you surprised that it's number one, both in the New York Times and the Washington Post and, I'm sure, other bestseller lists?
WOODWARD: It is nationally. No, I guess on one hand I'm not surprised because the wars and the use of force is a very emotional issue in this country. Even people who are wildly enthusiastic about it know that we killed lots of people and we risked a great deal in both Panama and the Gulf. The people who were passionately opposed to it I think often are the people who want more information on it. I think both sides actually want more information on it. I have found when you write a book like this you get calls and letters and talk to people, and the war is a big deal.

The average person who might buy or read this book I think realizes what we're risking, how we're defining not just a foreign policy or the Bush presidency, but how we are defining what this country is. There is a deep awareness of the trauma of Vietnam among a whole age range in this country and, in a sense, this is the other side of Vietnam. I think people feel good about it, but still feel quite hesitant and not exactly where it all fits in, and they want to know more. Happily, almost all of the information in this book is new. It really takes you to the table, and you sit down for an hour-long meeting. You can see what the president said and what Gen. Powell said, what Secretary of Defense Cheney said, what the by-play was, what the sequence was, what intelligence they had, what the anticipated hazard of some sort of military operation or small or large move in the sequence of events. You normally don't have that available, so I think people care about it and they want to know more.
LAMB: A couple of other details in the acknowledgements section. You had a paragraph here -- above that you say, "No one can attempt to write about the Pentagon military affairs and not acknowledge the exceptional work of Patrick Tyler, Michael Gordon, R. W. Apple Jr. and others in the New York Times. Why did you feel a need to reach out to the New York Times?
WOODWARD: Well, I mentioned all the people at the Washington Post also and other newspapers and news organizations. The New York Times, particularly those three reporters, does an exceptional job. They have some of the information first at times, and they analyze it very well. When you are totally immersed in a subject like this, you really have to give them credit.
LAMB: Next paragraph: "Television news assisted me greatly. Pentagon reporters such as Fred Francis at NBC, David Martin of CBS and Bob Zelnick of ABC often have the story first. Any examination of the news coverage of recent military crises would show how serious and comprehensive their work is. Some day these reporters will receive the credit they deserve." Again, why did you feel the need to do that?
WOODWARD: Particularly in the Gulf War -- I was home writing this book during the war phase and really putting the last part of it. I was kind of on deadline for months at that time. I tried to start early in the day and about 6:30 when the news would come on, I would take a break and go watch the news to see what happened that day. I watched as much as I could of all three networks. They come on at different times and you can bounce around, and they're good. I knew a lot of what was going on behind the scenes for some of it. I had a sense of what the war was, its cadence, the nature of the operations and so forth. These people are really plugged in. Anyone who watches those shows probably doesn't realize how good the data is that they're getting, and I really felt that I should say that because I knew that to be true.
LAMB: Now, in the book you mention often that people were watching CNN, but in the credits you don't say anything about CNN.
WOODWARD: I live in the District of Columbia and am not able to get CNN at home, so I didn't watch CNN. So it was not something I could measure personally, and so I didn't say anything about it.
LAMB: You also wrote, "By the end" -- meaning the end of your project -- "some were very unhappy to hear from me with one more request for more information." Did you really have people get upset with you?
WOODWARD: Yes. They used words that I can't repeat on your show. Not anger at what I was doing or me, I don't think. They were angry that I was coming back again and again. The first week of the Gulf crisis -- there is about a 60-page section in the book, and I did interviews for that over months. I went back to some people a dozen or two times about specific meetings, what were attitudes, what was said, what was the sequence because the sequence becomes very important. A lot of these people were quite busy because they were involved in Desert Shield or the war itself, and they were not happy to hear from me again. My argument was, "I talked to somebody else and there is another little piece here I want to verify. There is something I don't understand. I'm not sure I understand your exact, precise attitude on this." It's done very, very carefully and when you are a participant in that process of having somebody come back again and again and again -- sometimes I felt like Columbo with just one more question and two more questions and I need to talk again and, you know, that's frustrating to people. To me it's essential.
LAMB: When you were in the Navy, did you do intelligence work?
LAMB: Do you have a clearance of any kind?
WOODWARD: Yes. I had a top-secret cryptographic clearance doing the highest level and the most classified and the most sensitive communications functioning. But those are not intelligence clearances, and if you know about the way they compartmentalize information, they compartmentalize it in a way that you have to have separate clearances for intelligence.
LAMB: The reason I ask is that when I read the section on the war, I kept learning things that obviously were classified -- even locations of situation rooms and what the rooms looked like inside and the kind of photography that they were able to pick up on satellites and things like that. As you were doing this and listening to people tell you this, were you saying to yourself, "Why are these people who are obviously cleared giving me this information?" Big people.
WOODWARD: Well, I must tell you that there's a lot I left out. I think I presented it in a way -- you might argue it's classified. I would say nothing vital was given away. I've had no complaints from anyone and the people who know the most about this, that there is a way to cut around the edges to describe some of the rooms and the general techniques and give a very broad overview but not compromise anything. I think I found that line. In the '70s and the '80s I did a lot of work on the CIA and intelligence and learned a good deal about it, and I think there is a way to present that data so it's new, so it's detailed, but does not compromise things.
LAMB: Actually, I was asking it from the other angle -- as you heard people describing classified information that you knew was classified, did you ever say to yourself, "Why are they doing this? They're compromising or could potentially compromise the situation because of the information they're giving me."
WOODWARD: I piece a lot of it together and I eventually get to a point where I think I know a lot more than I'm going to print, so it's not as if somebody is saying, "Oh, here, let me tell you about this." I already know. Let me give you an example. I mention in there that there was a black top-secret program for knocking out the electrical capability in Iraq -- very, very sensitive, never really had been utilized before. It's the sort of system where the Iraqis would not know what hit them. In fact, they would not even know whether their electrical system had been attacked. I give no details. Subsequent to the war, one of those very good New York Times reporters that I credit in the back wrote a story describing some of the technique of dropping these little filaments on the electrical power grid system in Iraq that really has knocked out the electrical system to a level that, perhaps, no one anticipated. Now, I did not give that because the various people I talked to said, "Don't describe the technique." I just say there was some technique here, with no details -- no description of the weapons delivery system or even whether it was a weapon, no indication of how many targets would be hit, nothing. Just that it existed.
LAMB: What did you think of the war?
WOODWARD: I still haven't fully sorted out my own feelings on it. As you work on a book like this and get totally immersed in it, I have often found that it's best to take my own sentiments and conclusions and get them in my back pocket and keep them there, and I tend to do that. Some of the reviewers of the book have complained that I don't analyze or take a stand or a position on things, and that's just the way I do it. I feel more comfortable and, quite frankly, I think that the sources who may have their own perspectives or analysis or policy goals see that I come as a neutral and that I want to hear what they have to say and that their ideas and their analysis will be presented in the book.
LAMB: Before I forget it, you were talking about sources earlier and then again -- I've got to ask you the obvious, the Deep Throat question. Will you some day reveal Deep Throat in history?
WOODWARD: Yes, when he is deceased.
LAMB: When he is deceased.
LAMB: Not when you are deceased, when he is deceased. Who's going to go first?
WOODWARD: Well, again, no one plans for their own death, and I certainly fall in that category. I've always said that I will reveal after he is deceased.
LAMB: How is this book doing compared to all the other books you've written?
WOODWARD: I've been fortunate that all of the other books have been number one bestsellers also.
LAMB: Where this book is at the moment, is it selling more or less than those best sellers? Do you get a sense of it?
WOODWARD: These books sell for a long period of time, many months. I don't have numbers on it. The people I've talked to at Simon and Schuster, the publisher, and independent people say it's outselling any book in the country now by quite a bit. It is a recession economy and books are expensive. The people who are in the book business would love to be selling more books, but when it's outselling any other book by such a great deal, I don't know what measure you have beyond that.
LAMB: "All the President's Men," "The Final Days," "The Brethren," "Wired," and now this book -- which of all these books did you get the biggest kick out of? Is it obvious?
WOODWARD: Obvious in what sense?
LAMB: Obvious that the big seller "All the President's Men," the one that had the most impact or "The Final Days" ...
WOODWARD: Well, actually, "All the President's Men" did not outsell the others. I think the one that has sold the most so far is the one on the Supreme Court, "The Brethren." It sold in hardback about twice what "All the President's Men sold." I think each one of these books -- it's like having at least so far six children. You realize the strengths and weaknesses in each of them. You have an affection for each of them. They represent a certain time in your life, a certain commitment, a certain effort to understand some part of -- in most of these cases -- government. I guess I tend to spend some time reflecting on the deficiencies of all of them, and they all have deficiencies, and trying to make each one better. I think some of the deficiencies have been applied to the latter books but not totally.
LAMB: Which one was the hardest?
WOODWARD: Hardest, in the sense of ...?
LAMB: Gathering the information. Getting those sources to talk to you.
WOODWARD: I think the book on the CIA, because the CIA is an institution that plays a very ambiguous game with other countries in the world, within the federal system in the national government. The people who are in the CIA in a sense have been trained to manipulate and deceive, so getting the straight story, getting to know Bill Casey, the head of the CIA at the time I was doing the book, probably was the most difficult as a reporting effort.
LAMB: Next book?
WOODWARD: No immediate plans. I'm going to spend some time working at the Post and see what happens.
LAMB: What is your job at the Post now?
WOODWARD: Assistant managing editor, head of the investigative division unit at the paper.
LAMB: What do you think of investigative journalism right now?
WOODWARD: That's a good question, too. I don't know whether investigative journalism is really different from journalism, that it is always described as a subspecies. I tend to think that it is just more thorough, more in-depth basic reporting, so I try not to separate it out in any way. These books that I have done I think would not be described as investigative. No one has their hand in the cookie jar. No one's going to go to jail. It is an attempt to get as close as you can to government and describe how it works. I would not call it investigative. I'm not sure I would call even the Watergate books investigative. I would call the reporting for the Washington Post on Watergate an investigative.
LAMB: You know, over the years since "All the President's Men" and the Watergate reporting that you're constantly referred to as -- you and Carl Bernstein -- as the people that spurred interest in journalism in schools.
WOODWARD: Interestingly enough, that's not true.
LAMB: What's not true?
WOODWARD: That we spurred interest in journalism. People have looked at the enrollment in journalism, the interest in it. It really grew out of the Vietnam War, not out of Watergate. To a certain extent I'm a product of the response to Vietnam and the feeling I had that the government had gone astray, and journalism was one field to enter where you could examine government independently.
LAMB: What do you think of journalism overall today since you've started in this business?
WOODWARD: I think it's like I would analyze any of my books -- the pluses and minuses. I think journalism does overall a very good job. I think often we're too caught up in the daily story where too much attention is given to how can we move the story ahead on a 24-hour cycle. Journalism gives a lot of attention to trying to describe what's going to happen. Political pundits will sit around and say, "Who are the Democrats going to nominate in '92? Who is going to win? Will Bush keep Quayle on the ticket?" All kinds of speculative things. And then there is a whole group of journalists and pundits who will sit around and say, "This is what should have happened. The Democrats, instead of nominating Dukakis should have nominated so-and-so. Dukakis should have run his campaign the following way."

I think journalism is best not when it's trying to figure out what's going to happen or what should have happened, but when it tries to figure out what did happen. That's hard and it takes time and no source or group of sources is going to fully describe it to you. So I tend to spend a long time, often too long, on these books or stories for the paper because as soon as you get a hold of that sock on the thread and start pulling it you realize that it's going to take a long time and that there's a lot of thread and a lot of sock.
LAMB: As you know, you've gotten some criticism for not revealing some of the information in this book during the time that you were writing it; in other words, as a reporter and having the Post there as an outlet, that it would have been at any given time interesting to the whole debate if we would have known some of this. What's your answer to that, first of all?
WOODWARD: Well, that you can't get it unless you make an agreement with the sources that it is for the book and the book exclusively. A couple of times I did stories for the Post, went back to sources and said, "I think we should describe some of these things," and I did. If I'd really learned something startling, if I'd learned, say, that Cheney or Powell opposed the war, really thought it was a mistake, thought it was going to be a disaster, before the war, I would have had to go to my sources and say, "I think this needs to be published in the newspaper," and hopefully would have won agreement from them that it could be.
LAMB: Do you think that if some of this information -- and it's still being discussed on talk shows -- that had the public known that Colin Powell had been as negative on going to war as he apparently was at different periods that that would have made a difference?
WOODWARD: He was not negative on going to war. What Powell said to the president and said to [Brent] Skowcroft, the national security adviser, Cheney, his boss, the secretary of defense, Jim Baker, the secretary of state, is -- and this is in October, midway through the period leading up to the war from the invasion of Kuwait -- he said, "Look, there are two alternatives here -- war or continuing the economic sanctions, and both will achieve the objectives. Economic sanctions may take a year or two, but it will work." Bush rejected that and said, "No, we're going to develop the offensive capability and option," and eventually decided to go to war. So he wasn't opposed to war. He said there is an alternative that in his judgment would succeed. The president felt the alternative would not succeed or that the political consequences would be so great internationally and domestically that he would not proceed on the sanctions-only option.
LAMB: I guess the question in the context of that answer would be, had we known what you knew at any point during the gathering of this information before the war actually started -- having known that do you think it would have prevented a war?
WOODWARD: I certainly doubt it because if I had gone to my sources and published that before the war, I would have made it very clear that that was Powell's position in October, and in November when the president said, "We're going to develop the offensive capability and we've essentially doubled the force" and then in December decided we had no alternative, that the policy had to succeed; we had to get Saddam Hussein's forces out of Kuwait and ordered the war. If I'd published that, say, in December or January, I assume Gen. Powell would have gotten up -- I don't know whether he would have denied it -- but he would have said, "Whatever debate went on in October, I now am totally supporting the president's position, and I'm behind the effort that we are making."

The book demonstrates that there was no one more active in making sure that we had adequate force there, that we had the best equipment, that they were the best trained, that all of the details of the war plan were worked out to succeed. So I think in a way it would have been a red herring and would have had zero impact, but then again you never can tell.
LAMB: Without putting any names on this, as you were talking to your sources, both high-level and not-so-high-level, what did you sense the people really thought of George Bush during this whole process?
WOODWARD: You mean sources or principals involved in this?
LAMB: Start with principals.
WOODWARD: Well, the details I have of what various individuals thought, what Bush said, his key decision points, are all laid out in the book. People have read it -- reviewers -- people who have bought the book and called me or I have received lots of letters and so forth, and some people have said it makes Bush looks terrific -- decisive, forceful, knew the moral imperative, had a grand strategic vision. Then there were other people who have read it who have said, "The Bush White House is not well run. He was not sure," that the procedures were very random, that the discussion among the key Bush advisers was way too informal and so forth. Again, you have the best version I could get and it's laid out, and people have entirely different reactions to it.
LAMB: Page 302: "When the principals met, Bush like to keep everyone around the table smiling. Jokes, camaraderie, the conviviality of old friends -- positions and alternatives were not completely discussed. Interruptions were common."
WOODWARD: That is a description of Powell's concern about the informality of the process at that point in the decision-making. It's a criticism. It's something that he felt and there it is.
LAMB: You wrote that more than once, though -- I mean, that kind of a scenario. Did you hear that more often than you wrote about it? Two or three times I remember reading of this camaraderie and the joking and the lack of getting much discussion about which way to go on this.
WOODWARD: There's some feeling that Powell had, and some of the others that are laid out in the book, these were a group of men -- it's really Bush, Skowcroft, Powell, Cheney, Baker; five people -- the ones on the cover. This is the inner circle and some people come in and out -- Sununu, chief of staff, is there, Bob Gates, Scowcroft's deputy, the vice president, Dan Quayle -- but these five were the ones who did the most, participated the most. There was some criticism that this group knew each other too well -- they went back in some cases 20 years -- that there was not a rigor where somebody would come in and say, "Look, we can do this or we can do this or we can do that." The classic option paper. It was a kind of feeling for each other. They knew where things were going, they understood Bush, and so views were not fully aired. I think that's probably a valid criticism.
LAMB: Did you come away from your discussions and writing this book with a particularly positive feeling about anybody more so than others?
WOODWARD: Well, I think probably the person that surprised me the most is Cheney, secretary of defense. That is, you do all the work I did, you see that here's somebody who came in very much a conservative, a Republican who had been Gerald Ford's White House chief of staff during the Ford presidency -- the last year of it -- been in Congress for 10 years, representative from Wyoming, in the Republican leadership, thought of as kind of the conservatives' conservative and had never served in the military, a man sent to the Pentagon kind of at the last minute by Bush when the Tower nomination was defeated. Cheney learned the ropes at the Pentagon. Learned the system, got into detail. In a sense, if you would look for a model of civilian control of the military, he might represent it. He learned about war plans, he learned about weapons systems, knows the White House, knows the Congress, made sure that he was not making the decision, say, about war plans in the Gulf, but spent the hours to learn all the details and made sure that they answered all of his questions.

Somebody who's feared, somebody who's respected, somebody who isn't one of the boys, isn't inclined to go down and have a beer on Friday afternoon with the joint chiefs of staff or his own staff, somebody who's very business oriented in the sense of the business of the Pentagon, somebody, who if you look at the constituencies a secretary of defense has to serve -- the military, the White House, the Congress, the kind of world diplomatic scene -- he's mastered them all.
LAMB: Here's a picture in the book, taken aboard a military plane on its way to the Gulf?
WOODWARD: That's right. That's the special VIP compartment in the plane. There Cheney and Powell are together.
LAMB: After your book came out, have you heard at all that there is friction among individuals who didn't realize they were all talking to you?
WOODWARD: Oh, I think they may have all learned something. I hope so. I have really not gone back. I've talked to a number of the people and had some instant reactions. None in depth yet.
LAMB: Anybody call you and say, "Bob, you did me in?"
WOODWARD: No. Not at all.
LAMB: "You misquoted me."
LAMB: "You misrepresented me."
WOODWARD: I had one Army person call me and say I got the number of active divisions in the Army wrong, and I think that's correct. I did get it wrong. Unfortunately, I relied on a four-star general as my source, and I didn't check it.
LAMB: What did you think of what you learned about General Schwarzkopf?
WOODWARD: Well, Schwarzkopf is a man who has received a lot of notoriety, before, during and after the war, kind of the symbol of this victory, obviously a talented man. As the book describes, he was at a backwater command. The central command had no troops before the invasion of Kuwait -- a staff of about 700 down in Florida. Somebody who is headed for retirement and, if you will, oblivion. He was the commander in the region. He knew the area and they kept him. He obviously brought a lot to the job, but I think the book also describes how much Cheney and Powell and the White House brought to him and insisted that certain things be done. I think it lays broader responsibility for the success and makes it pretty clear, for instance, that the first war plan that he presented to the Pentagon and the White House was not this famous "Hail Mary go around" maneuver. But his plan -- now, granted he had a very short period of time to present it and develop it; about 48 hours initially -- was right up the middle. It would have been disastrous. It would have been something that would have killed certainly thousands of Americans -- something that clearly did not withstand review. In fairness to Schwarzkopf, when he had his chief of staff present it, his chief of staff in the last slide in the briefing said, "These are General Schwarzkopf's caveats," and one of them essentially was, "We don't have enough troops and this is very preliminary and we don't think it would work and we're not saying we should do this, but here's an idea."
LAMB: Page 347: "Key portions of the grand campaign have been developed by a half dozen junior officers in their second year at the Army command and general staff college at Fort Leavenworth. These majors and lieutenant colonels, nicknamed the 'Jedi Knights,' had been sent to Saudi Arabia to apply the elements of advance maneuver warfare -- probing, flanking, surprise initiative, audacity -- to the war plan." Was that a surprise when you learned that?
WOODWARD: No, what was even more of a surprise that these ideas of a maneuver and going around by indirections or directions learned, that you come at something not necessarily from the front door, are all laid out in a very unclassified Army operations manual, which is kind of the bible for them. In chapters six and seven it takes the Battle of Vicksburg in the Civil War as a model of how to do that. What really is surprising is that Saddam Hussein or some of the majors and lieutenant colonels in the Iraqi army didn't study our Army and realize what we were likely to do.
LAMB: Another criticism you get is that if somebody didn't talk to you they're not represented in the book.
WOODWARD: Well, that's not necessarily true. A number of people are represented in the book that I did not talk to, and I think they're fairly represented. Obviously, if I get to know someone and interview them half a dozen times or four dozen times and they're key in this, I am going to reflect their attitude more than somebody I talked to only twice.
LAMB: The name Bob Woodward is not exactly unknown in this town. When you call somebody on the phone, do you worry that the secretary takes the call, "Oh, Bob Woodward's on the phone," and then that whole office knows that you're calling someone?
WOODWARD: I have lots of people who ask me to spell my name and wonder who I work for and want to get my name exactly right. I tend to not leave messages. I ask to talk to people or find some way to get to them, although sometimes I do. In fact, I would say most often there is no suggestion of recognition and they ask me to spell my name.
LAMB: Is your style of writing books catching on?
WOODWARD: I don't know. Interesting question. I don't know whether my style of writing books is any different from anyone else's, in fact. What I have the luxury of is time -- a couple of years to do one of these projects -- and when you get so much information and it's new, you just kind of lay it out and there is no mystery. I was talking with somebody before the book came out who had read it for me and he was saying, "Why isn't there more analysis, summing up and speculation?" and I was saying, "I don't think it needs it. I think the information speaks for itself." I would suggest that most writers, if they had this data, would present it certainly not literally in the same way, but would present it because it's new and it does speak for itself. It's not something that you really need to analyze and, in fact, when you read it, I'm not at all sure whether I can figure out what it means. I think it has to stand on its own.
LAMB: This is the book. It's called "The Commanders," and the author is Bob Woodward. Thank you for joining us.
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