Why won’t the Washington Post review War and Decision?

Douglas Feith’s invaluable book War and Decision: Iniside the Pentagon at the Dawn of the War on Terrorism is the quintessential Washington story. First, it’s about what is probably the most fateful set of decisions to come out of Washington this decade – the decision to wage war in Iraq and how to proceed there after Saddam Hussien’s overthrow. Second, it provides an inside account of bureaucratic battles, the lifeblood of Washington news and gossip hounds. Third, it provides new information including the details of the Defense Department’s plan for dealing with post-Saddam Iraq, a plan that was approved by President Bush. The conventional wisdom is that there was no such plan, and Feith told me that no account of the plan has appeared elsewhere. Fourth, War and Decision contains three dozen pages of documents that illuminate the decision-making regarding Iraq. Many of these documents, if leaked to the Washington Post, would likely have been sufficient to generate a front-page story.

Yet the Post has decided not to review Feith’s inside, revisionist account of the most momentous and controversial decisions of the decade. Why?

The reason the Post gave Feith is that the book was already the subject of a front-page news story. But that story does not purport to be an attempt to engage the book, nor could it have been. Tom Ricks, one of the authors of the article, confirmed that he and co-author Karen DeYoung read the approximately 500 pages of not-yet-editied type-set, interviewed Feith and Paul Bremer, and wrote the article all on a one-day deadline. They used that time, understandably, to unearth newsworthy nuggets. That’s a far cry from serious consideration of the work as whole.

It’s doubtful, moreover, that the Post typically regards the publication of a front-page story about a book as the basis for not reviewing it. Common sense suggests that a work important enough to merit a major news story is more, not less, worthy of a review. Does the Post decline to review Bob Woodward’s books on the grounds they it has already run excerpts?

To review a book is not to endorse it. The Post could have handed off the review to someone they expected would be highly critical, such as its clown prince Dana Milbank, author of a recent snarky attack on Feith (assuming Milbank isn’t contractually exempt from having to read stuff). More legitimately, it might have asked someone like Dan Senor to write the review. Senor worked in Iraq with Paul Bremer, who comes in for substantial criticism in War and Decision. Although he disagrees with Feith on important matters, Senor recently praised aspects of the book, including its amazing documentation.

Feith says that if someone had told him the Post would decline to review his book, he would have attributed the statement to right-wing paranoia. And even I would not have predicted this outcome. It’s difficult, then, to escape the conclusion that those who made the decision did so based on some combination of dislike for the administration, disapproval of Feith’s views (as they understand them), and a desire to see the liberal narrative of the war go unchallenged in the public’s mind.

UPDATE: What non-fiction books has the Washington Post been reviewing instead of War and Decision? This Sunday, the book review section reviewed two biographies of Julie Andrews. It also reviewed three sets of books pertaining to conservatism. The burden of most of the books and all three of the reviews is that conservatism has lost its way.

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