"State of Denial" | Salon Books:
As Woodward tells it, Nebraska GOP Sen. Chuck Hagel, a Vietnam veteran turned war critic, cautioned Bush after a rare invitation to a presidential luncheon in June 2005, "I believe that you are getting really bubbled in here in the White House on Iraq. Do you ever reach outside your inner circle of people, outside your National Security Council?" Surprisingly, Bush responded, arranging for Hagel to make his pitch to NSC staffers about the need to face up to the mess in Iraq. But this brief window on reality was quickly slammed shut after Hagel was branded as disloyal for repeating his critique in an on-the-record interview with U.S. News & World Report. Hagel's original warning to Bush that he was being "bubbled" (a wonderful verb) on Iraq fits with the familiar portrait of a dangerously out-of-touch president.
But, elsewhere in his narrative, Woodward provides compelling evidence that the real problem may be worse -- the rogue's gallery of outside advisors who do have regular unmediated access to the president. It is not accidental that "State of Denial" begins with a reprise of the Bush family's intimate relationship with a former Saudi ambassador to Washington, Prince Bandar. At the instruction of his father (Bush 41), Bush (soon to be 43) met with Bandar in 1997 and confided, "I'm thinking of running for president ... And I don't have the foggiest idea about what I think about international foreign policy." You do not have to be a Michael Moore-style conspiracy theorist to find it worrisome that a Saudi prince is put in charge of giving a future president his worldview.