Shadow: Five Presidents and the Legacy of Watergate

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SHADOW: FIVE PRESIDENTS AND THE LEGACY OF WATERGATE

BY BOB WOODWARD SIMON & SCHUSTER 1999, 593 PAGES, $27.50

Washington Post reporter Bob Woodward has given us another best-seller on presidential politics. This time, he investigates how the scandal of Watergate has affected the actions of the five presidents who have succeeded Richard Nixon. Woodward intimates that respect for American presidents never can be fully restored--indeed, that the very office of the president now is suspect. There are some weak points in his case, but, overall, one senses he is correct.

The book starts with the controversy over Gerald Ford's pardon of Nixon, shows the contradictory advice every president receives, and notes how it is ultimately the president himself who must agonize over what decision to make. Ford was so weak a president that his Secretary of Defense, James Schlesinger, was insubordinate to him, deliberately not carrying out a number of important presidential directives.

The dilemma of what to do about the American hostages seized and held for one year by Iran defines Jimmy Carter's presidency. (Side scandals also rocked the Carter Administration, as he found out the CIA had been paying millions to King Hussein of Jordan and arranging girlfriends for him on his visits to the U.S. Carter's Budget Director, Bert Lance, came to be another political embarrassment.)

The Ronald Reagan years found the Administration supplying arms to Iran (a violation of the law) with Israel as the conduit, hoping for release of the hostages. Confusion reigned as the Secretary of State, George Shultz, was not consulted on crucial foreign policy matters being conducted by National Security Director John Poindexter. …