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Woodward's new book examines 'Bush at War'

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WASHINGTON (CNN) -- A new book by Washington Post journalist Bob Woodward offers striking details of the early days of the war on terror, including President Bush's refusal to go into hiding after a threat against the White House: "Let the bastards come and get me."

"Bush at War" draws on interviews with Bush and other top officials as well as CIA agents who helped spearhead U.S. actions in Afghanistan.

It also quotes National Security Council and White House meetings to reconstruct the debates and behind-the-scenes decision-making that led the country through a new chapter in its history.

Some excerpts have been published in the Washington Post.

One described how CIA agents used tens of millions of dollars in cash to buy the support of enemy fighters in Afghanistan, including one Taliban warlord who was offered $50,000 to defect. He asked for time to consider, and after the CIA bombed the building next door to his headquarters, agreed to defect for $40,000.

Another excerpt explored the concern some administration officials had about the lack of immediate military triumphs. "We've bombed everything we can think of to bomb and still nothing is happening," National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice was quoted as telling the president.

But Bush, in an early show of his leadership prowess, told his senior military and foreign policy advisers to calm down.

"We've been at this only 19 days," he said. "Be steady. Don't let the press panic us."

High-level differences

The book also spotlighted the differences between Secretary of State Colin Powell and other top officials, including Vice President Dick Cheney and Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld.

And the book looks at Powell's recent role in pushing for an international coalition to deal with Saddam Hussein.

At a meeting Monday with high school newspaper editors, Powell responded to one student's question about the book, rejecting the notion that he ever felt like a lone voice pushing for an international coalition on Iraq.

"None of my colleagues in the administration would not want to see a coalition formed if a coalition is appropriate," he said. "We sometimes debate with each other. ... It's good that we can have healthy, open debates among people who have respect for each other."

White House deputy press secretary Scott McClellan said Bush had not yet read the book. Asked for a response to the excerpts, McClellan said only, "There have been other books written. ... And I'm not just going to sit up here and do book reviews."

McClellan was asked about Woodward's access to top officials and records. "We did work with him," McClellan said.

In fact, Woodward was permitted to tape-record his interviews with the president, portions of which aired Sunday on CBS's "60 Minutes."

In the interviews, Bush comes across as remarkably candid.

Bush told Woodward that when he was informed by U.S. intelligence last fall that the White House had become a target of terrorists possibly armed with a radiological "dirty" bomb, he responded, "I'm not leaving. The bastards know where I am."

Bush also spoke to Woodward about North Korean leader Kim Jong Il, head of a country Bush has called part of an axis of evil.

"I loathe Kim Jong Il," Bush told Woodward. "I've got a visceral reaction to this guy because he is starving his people. It appalls me. They tell me, well, we may not need to move too fast because the financial burdens on people will be so immense if this guy were to topple. I just don't buy that."

McClellan did not say whether Bush would have a response to the book soon.

"From reading the excerpts, it appears to offer some interesting perspectives on recent history," McClellan said. "And as time goes by and as we continue to reflect on history, I'm sure there are going to be a lot of other perspectives and insights offered, as well."

One person named in the book has responded directly to Woodward's claims.

Roger Ailes, the head of Fox News, wrote a confidential memo to Bush in the early days of the war on terror. Woodward characterized Ailes' memo as saying that the American public would "tolerate waiting and would be patient but only as long as they were convinced that Bush was using the harshest measures possible."

Ailes issued a statement Monday calling Woodward's characterization of his memo incorrect.

"In the days following 9/11 our country came together in non-partisan support of the president," Ailes said.

"During that time I wrote a personal note to a White House staff member as a concerned American expressing my outrage about the attacks on our country. I did not give up my American citizenship to take this job."

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