White House ‘ignored’ Iraq warning

By Caroline Daniel in Washington

Financial Times

Published: September 30 2006

The Bush administration was shaken on Friday by revelations from a new book by Bob Woodward, the veteran investigative reporter, which said Andrew Card, the former White House chief of staff, had twice tried to force the resignation of Donald Rumsfeld, defence secretary, over his handling of the Iraq war.

State of Denial by the Washington Post reporter who uncovered the Watergate scandal, paints a picture of an administration riven by personal rivalries, with Mr Rumsfeld at one point refusing to take calls from Condoleezza Rice, then national security adviser. It claims that even Laura Bush, President George W. Bush’s wife, had misgivings about the defence secretary.

It also suggests Ms Rice “brushed off” a July 2001 briefing from the CIA director and former head of counterterrorism, about an imminent terrorist threat. That contrasts with claims from Ms Rice that the administration had in its first eight months been “at least as aggressive” as the Clinton administration.

Critics could use the account to question the White House’s credibility on its handling of the Iraq war and the “war on terror”. It comes at a time when Mr Bush has forcefully made the case that his actions since 9/11 have made the US safer.

Tony Snow, White House spokesman, dismissed the book as “like cotton candy. It kind of melts on contact”, and said it was driven by those on the “losing side of the argument...The average Washington memoir ought to be subtitled: ‘If only they had listened to me’. ”

He rejected some of the book’s central allegations, denying the White House played down the threats from the insurgency in Iraq and ignored urgent calls for more troops. Mr Bush has consistently defended Mr Rumsfeld.

The New York Times was the first to report on the book, an embarrassment to the Washington Post, which is due to publish extracts on Sunday. It is the second blow to the newspaper, which was also scooped on the outing of Deep Throat, Mr Woodward’s source during Watergate.

In a claim that could fuel conspiracy theories about the recent oil price decline – in an interview to be broadcast on CBS on Sunday – Mr Woodward described a conversation between Prince Bandar bin Sultan and Mr Bush in which the former Saudi ambassador said he could ease oil prices ahead of the elections.

“They could go down very quickly. That’s the Saudi pledge. Certainly over the summer, or as we get closer to the election, they could increase production several million barrels a day,” Mr Woodward said.

• Six-term Republican congressman Mark Foley of Florida resigned from Congress on Friday following reports he sent sexually inappropriate e-mails to underage male congressional interns, reports Reuters.

Mr Foley, chairman of the House caucus on missing and exploited children, said he would resign after ABC News reported he sent messages to current and former congressional pages with references to sexual organs and acts.

“Today I have delivered a letter to the Speaker of the House informing him of my decision to resign from the US House of Representatives, effective today,” said Mr Foley, who is single, in a statement.

“I am deeply sorry and I apologise for letting down my family and the people of Florida I have had the privilege to represent.”

Mr Foley’s decision to resign just five weeks before the November 7 midterm election complicated Republican efforts to retain control of the House and offered a new target for Democrats, who must gain 15 seats to reclaim a majority.

Mr Foley won re-election in 2004 with 68 per cent of the vote and was favoured in November over Democrat Tim Mahoney, a local business owner.

His name will remain on the ballot, which has already been certified, said Susan Smith, a spokeswoman for the Florida Department of State. But Republicans have seven days to notify election officials of a replacement nominee who would take Rep Foley’s spot if he wins, she said.

President George W. Bush carried the district with 54 per cent of the vote in 2004. Democrats said the congressman had been polling at under 50 per cent and they would contest the seat, but Republicans said they remained confident.

House Speaker Dennis Hastert said Mr Foley had “done the right thing” by resigning. He said he had asked officials to look into the incident and make sure all congressional pages were safe. “None of us are very happy about it,” he said.

Mr Foley was the author of the key sexual predator provisions of the Adam Walsh Child Protection and Safety Act of 2006, which Mr Bush signed in July.