A secret Pentagon assessment sent to the White House in May 2006 forecasted a more violent 2007 in Iraq, contradicting the repeated optimistic statements of President Bush. This book examines how the Bush administration avoided telling the truth about Iraq to the public, to Congress, and often to themselves. In this detailed inside story of a war-torn White House, Woodward answers the core questions: What happened after the invasion of Iraq? Why? How does Bush make decisions and manage a war that he chose to define his presidency? And is there an achievable plan for victory?--From publisher description.
The major problems seem to lie in the Pentagon. Donald Rumsfeld (Secretary of Defense) comes across as petty, petulant and more interested in bureaucratic territory-marking and trying to prove a point to his subordinates in uniform. Douglas Feith (Undersecretary of Defense for Policy) , who was ostensibly responsible for Post-war planning in Iraq appears to be an utterly incompetent toady. Paul Wolfowitz (Deputy Secretary of Defense) seems to be an ideologically-driven academic with a naïve faith in impractical socio-political theoretical frameworks which never really quite matched the reality of what he thought they described. Joint Chiefs Chairman General Richard B. Myers seems to have been a ‘yes man’, deliberately picked by Rumsfeld because of his submissive demeanor, and who is faulted for not pushing the warnings, questions and requests of his uniformed subordinates further up the chain of command more assertively. Tommy Franks' behaviour is frankly bizarre. After leading the army to Baghdad and declaring victory, he flies off to vacation and then retirement with narry a care about the mess he had left behind. Finally there is Paul Bremer, who was picked to replace Jay Garner as the head of the Coalition Provisional Authority seems to have been responsible for several dreadful decisions such as the De-Baatification programme, the disbanding of the Iraqi army, and the shutting down of state-run industries, which helped to push a chaotic and disorderly Iraq into open revolt against the American occupation.
A couple of things that come across strongly which still surprise is that firstly the repeated claims by members of the government that no one could have foreseen the problems that would be encountered during the occupation was patently false. Plenty of people foresaw the problems and spoke out about them, but they were mostly sidelined or ignored. Secondly its frankly amazing how once things were very obviously going wrong, how unwilling or unable people were to try and deal with the problems. It was as if by refusing to acknowledge that things were not going well they thought it would simply go away. It was extraordinary behavior by people who had pushed hard for war and sent thousands of young men and women into harm’s way and now wanted nothing to do with the mess that they had created.
Bob Woodward's account if based on numerous interviews with White House, Pentagon and State Department insiders, as well as others. Certainly people will try to spin events to make themselves look better and their bureaucratic opponents worse, but he seems to have done a fairly good job of noting different interpretations of events and conversations, where they occur. In his own words, Rumsfeld comes across as unhelpful, prickly and obfuscative, which seems pretty much in keeping with his character as portrayed. Its worth keeping in mind that Bush and Cheney refused to be interviewed for this book (unlike for the first two books about the presidency by Woodward).
All in all its an interesting account, though of course these kinds of books can never be called completely comprehensive when they are written so close to the events they are describing. Still, its an insightful look into what was happening at the top of the U.S. government in the period 2002 to 2006 with regards to the Iraq War.
Bush: "I know that some of my decisions have led to terrible loss..." 
Bush and Cheney "declined to be interviewed for this book", but material was drawn from public and past interviews. Woodward interviewed Bush's national security team, their deputies and key players in the administration responsible for the military, diplomacy, and intelligence on the Iraq War. 
The details damn the Bush administration but leave it to citizens to arrive at our own conclusions. The stark incompetence is damning. The relentless lying to the American people, and to the Iraqis and the world, is unforgiveable.
"With all Bush's upbeat talk and optimism, he had not told the American public the truth about what Iraq had become." 
State of Denial, like Fiasco, appears to cover to 2006, but in reality, 2003 and 2004 are covered in detail, 2005 and 2006, in precis.
The book follows the distinct narrative style Woodward is known for. There's a lot of information packed in, but the clearest star of the story is Donald Rumsfeld. The book certainly doesn't portray him in a positive light. Unimaginative, arrogant, and fussy are the best words to describe this portrait of the former Secretary of Defense. Rumsfeld enters Washington with a plan to streamline the military without their cooperation. I say without not because they refused, but because Rumsfeld did everything he could to ensure they would not be onboard. He seemed to bully everyone, even those that agreed with him. He micromanaged, yet seemed paralyzed by important decisions. These are the insights State of Denial provides, and while Rumsfeld comes out the worst, all the major players are addressed in full.
The bigger question is whether or not any of it is true. Woodward, true to his history, does not cite sources. He relies on extensive interviews with key players. Woodward claims he does not accept anything as true without multiple source confirmation. He has a reputation that backs him up. But nevertheless, given the nature of this book, there are people who will disbelieve its contents and Woodward doesn't give them a compelling reason not to.
I believe it is mostly accurate however. And for this reason, I strongly recommend this book to anyone looking to see the decision making that led to the Iraq War and its mishandling. The hard truth seems to be mistakes were less about evil intentions and more about apathy and incompetence at the highest levels.
As usual, Woodward uncovers the details of many behind the scenes conversations and attitudes. The power struggles between the State Department and the Defense Department, hinted at in other reports and books, take center stage here. Unlike most of Woodward's other books, though, "State of Denial" has a clear villain, long-embattled Secretary of Defense Don Rumsfeld (whose resignation was accepted in the months after this book was published). Rumsfeld is portrayed as an aging power-seeker who evidently does not play very well with others, but one who cannot seem to accept the responsibility for the authority he seeks (and Woodward believes, he is tacitly granted by the president with regards to Iraq).
This is not to suggest that others look particularly good in the book. As might be expected of reporting that chronicles a period in the war in which all the signs pointed towards failure, there's a lot of finger-pointing. The 'state of denial' of the title seems two-fold -- there is the obvious public sugar-coating about how the war in Iraq is going by virtually everyone in power that Woodward finds was prevalent even behind closed doors. But the 'state of denial' also seems to describe the key military and political players' refusal to accept ultimate responsibility for much of what was happening and would happen in Iraq, which led to a giant effort with little accountability for any of those leaders.
Without accountability, little forward progress could be made towards improving security or infrastructure in Iraq. For months at a time, including during this period when insurgent attacks were skyrocketing in frequency and potency, there was little change in the American strategic effort. (In hindsight, Woodward is describing a vacuum into which a leader with a solid vision and the means to enact it might be successful, which may be what happened under Gen. David Petreus' leadership and the military surge in Iraq after the period Woodward chronicles in this book.)
More than some of his other books, Woodward is an active narrator and interviewer in these pages, asking questions that he believes were not seriously considered by top officials. At times, he apparently believes it was his role as interrogator to push those he was interviewing to see alternative possibilities, rather than simply eliciting their view of events. This self-portrayal seems to be Woodward's guiding assessment of the situation, that the leadership was out of touch with reality, needing to be forcefully guided toward a more accurate view of the war. As such, the book can seem partisan at times, though I don't believe it is meant to be.
Opponents of the war will find much that confirms their suspicions. Proponents may be frustrated by the performance of certain key players. Regardless, the book is a must-read first look at the George W. Bush administration's darkest time in Iraq, a fly-on-the-wall account of meetings where decisions seem to be as often avoided as made and of personalities that seem at odds with the necessities of the times.
Woodward tells us that nearly every trip and visit made by Ms. Rice as Secretary of State "fell apart" due to her incompetence. Woodward reports that David Kay once commented that Rice was probably the worst national security adviser in modern times since the office was created. And her advice to the President to "take on Iran" puts her on a level with Henry Kissinger and his bombing of Cambodia. Since Ms. Rice has been Secretary of State with responsibilty for Iraq, it has gone from quagmire to civil war. It has gone from "Mission Accomplished" to 3,000 dead Americans and $[...] billion dollars wasted. But she is still not willing to do diplomacy.
Bob Woodward has the ability to get inside the minds and attitudes of players and tell us what makes them what they are; what makes them continue to make the same mistakes; what makes them deny reality. He lets us see their strengths and weaknesses often from their own point of view, but also as others see them.
The most depressing line in this excellent book was the last sentence: "With all Bush's upbeat talk and optimism, he had not told the American public the truth about what Iraq had become." In 2007 he has still not leveled with the American people and his Secretary of State appears neither willing nor able to suggest diplomatic solutions to this debacle called Iraq.
Woodward does his usual thorough job investigating how Iraq turned into the problem we all see today. And, if his past reviews of the Bush administration seemed to paint a somewhat favorable or neutral picture (which, to me, they did – that is, they did not seem to go for what looked to be an exposed jugular), this description has no such qualms. The entire administration is seen as a back-biting, bickering, game-playing, power-mongering group of clueless bureaucrats and generals who cannot come together to provide any direction other than attack. Rumsfeld is enemy number one in this description, but most of the supporting players have their chance at ignominy also. We also see the individuals who try to get the issues raised, but they are voices crying in the wilderness.
It is well researched, and Woodward has the facts. Of course, he also has the power to make the facts tell the story he sees. Is that story the actual truth? It is very hard to tell. But Woodward has the floor, and the facts and figures he presents are very persuasive to the jury.
Administration avoided telling the truth about Iraq to the public, to
Congress, and often to themselves. It answers the core questions: What
really happened after the invasion of Iraq? Why? How does Bush make
decisions and manage a war that he chose to define his presidency? And is
there an achievable plan for victory? This is the third book Woodward has
written on the Bush presidency. It follows "Bush At War" (2002) and "Plan
of Attack" (2004), and these three books will very likely take their place
as the definitive narrative of the entire debacle that is known as the Bush
Administration. Woodward's no-nonsense, tell-it-like-it-is writing style
hasn't changed since the Watergate exposure and it is my belief that these
three books provide what is likely the most complete account and explanation
of the road that Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld, Rice, and the rest of that bunch
have taken this entire nation down for the past 8 years. I cannot recommend
this book highly enough. IMO, every American should read it. 5