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35 of 36 people found the following review helpful
on April 1, 2004
I picked up Bob Woodward's "Bush at War" when I was looking for an objective telling of how Bush got into and approached the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. There are too many partisan accounts that say Bush is all right or all wrong and I was looking for less politics and more information. This book provides that in great and sometimes tedious detail.
This book is focused on the period from just before 9-11-01 to prior to the Bush administration's going to war in Iraq, but after the Congress gave the Bush administration the authority to unilaterally do what it felt was required there. The book ends with Bush awaiting UN enforcement of the many Iraq-related resolutions. This is 90% focused on Afghanistan, NOT IRAQ.
Richard Clarke's highly critical book on Bush and his alleged lack of attention to terrorism prior to 9/11 came out while I was reading this book Surprisingly enough, Clarke is not mentioned at all in the Bush at War book in spite of his being the head of the Counter-Terrorism office in the White House.
The first quarter of "Bush at War" did a nice job of taking me back to the emotional shock of the Trade Tower attacks and the virtually universal feeling in America of patriotism and joining together. The remainder of the story describes in repetitive detail the frequent meetings among the White House principals, (with and without Bush) regarding what kind of response was appropriate, what was achievable and when could it be done. Logistically they found it difficult to reopen old intelligence contacts in Afghanistan and get men and material over there. I was surprised out how difficult the logistics are in fighting a war all the way around the world. Woodward does not clear up the question of whether Bush was on point regarding terrorism prior to 9/11 but makes it clear that it was taken very seriously after, to the point where the subject honed Bush's vision of what he wants to accomplish with his Presidency.
Some key points from the book.
*Iraq is discussed in the White House early on after 9/11 but is not the main topic, Al-Quada is and the Taliban's support of them. The Taliban is not even the prime initial target for retaliation; in fact they are offered an out by turning over Bin Laden and the rest of the leadership.
*This book does not make it clear that an Iraq invasion was on the Bush agenda upon inauguration. However, Rumsfeld suggests possibly attacking Iraq or somewhere in the Far East to demonstrate the far reach of the US military and to scare the terrorists, especially when it becomes clear that the military had no initial plan or assets to exploit in Afghanistan. No one else went for that idea.
*Bush comes off as decisive, inclusive and even open-minded during the discussion phases. He is heavily involved in the "you are for us, or you are against us" position on terrorism that came out early after 9/11. He is involved in tactical discussions and keeps the team focused and confident.
*Cheney and Rumsfeld are the uber-hawks, pushing the ultimately prevailing position that the possibility of a devastating second terrorist attack against the US, either domestically or internationally, required the adoption of the declared preemption policy. They are the prime proponents behind the decision to eventually invade Iraq.
* Powell was not as much a part of the real inner circle as Cheney and Rumsfeld were (and are still). Powell is more independent and less trusted.
This is more similar to an in-depth newspaper piece than a novel in terms of readability. Woodward could have described the discussions leading to policy formulation and then used hindsight to report where they were right or wrong. I would have liked more conclusions rather than just fact reporting. Another difficulty was keeping track of the passage of time. A timeline running along the top of the pages would have been helpful in this type of account. As it was I frequently had to flip around to reconfirm where I was in the calendar of events.
Bottom line, "Bush at War" is a well researched book with good sources clearly evident, that is not pushing a political agenda. He needs to do another one focused on Bush in Iraq.
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17 of 18 people found the following review helpful
on October 13, 2004
Bob Woodward, who was a major player in breaking the Nixon Watergate scandal and also wrote the book-made-into-movie, "All the Presidents Men," writes his account of President George W. Bush's presidency during the first 100 days after the attacks on the two World Trade Center towers on September 11, 2001. Conscientiously fair, Woodward has put together a quite comprehensive behind-the-scenes documentary-style book that reveals a full-disclosure look at the Bush war cabinet, their meetings and interactions with one another, interviews with the President and much more.

Of interest to those who seek authenticity, this book will make you feel like a fly on the wall. According to Woodward, Bush at War includes: "contemporaneous notes taken during more than 50 National Security Council and other meeting where the most important decisions were discussed and made." Additionally, Woodward states that he "interviewed more than 100 people involved in the decision making and execution of the war [in Afghanistan], including President Bush" (4 hours of interviews), "key war cabinet members, the White House staff, and officials serving at various levels of the Defense and State Departments and the CIA." Needless to say, a great deal of investigative effort was put into this book, which can be said of all Mr. Woodward's books.

I read Bush at War about a year-and-a-half ago, and after much time and reflection, I am amazed at the amount of access to the Administration that Woodward was given. I found this to be rather astonishing, as it was almost certainly an unprecedented move by a world leader in terms of permitting the scope and freedom that Woodward enjoyed. At the time this book was originally published, Bush at War contained a good deal of secret information from the war effort in Afghanistan. No doubt the reason for such trust in Woodward comes from his reputation for fair and impartial reporting, his unmatched investigative skills, and his astute journalistic credentials.

But enough about Woodward.

From the beginning, we are familiarized with the key players involved in post-9/11 war planning subsequent to the terrorist attacks. Woodward begins the story of that sunny Tuesday on 9/11 by going through the events of that morning through then CIA director George Tenet's perspective, leading to the urgently ominous, "Mr. Director, there's a serious problem." From there, the previously untold story of how Bush, Cheney, Powell, Rice, Rumsfeld, and Tenet dealt with the worst attack on America unfolds before your very eyes.

As I've alluded in my opening statements, this book reads like a documentary to me. I can visualize much of the book as if I were reading a transcript from a hypothetical movie that could've been named "100 Days After." But one of the most interesting and even intriguing things about this book is not just the details of the book itself, but the perspective with which people have read it and reviewed it. There is such a contrast in what people have gotten from it, and the opinions that have been formed after reading it. It is a perfect example for me that the term "what you find depends mostly on what you look for" has a resounding ring of truth; especially when the subject matter involves political figures. But it's really a testament to Bob Woodward in this instance, because it shows to me just how impartial the book really is. Most, if not all the information that those who've read the book were looking for is provided; and most importantly, we are judiciously left to make our own informed decisions and judgments on how we feel about what took place in the Bush White House subsequent to the 9/11 attacks.

For instance, there are conversations about Iraq that provide some insight into the President's feelings on the subject. These quotes are surprisingly candid and really provide more answers on his reasoning for deciding to liberate (or "liberate" for those who prefer the insinuation) Iraq. You will read just what Bush's vision for the world is, in his own words. What's priceless about it is that they're direct quotes that haven't been filtered by spinsters or the PC police. It's raw George W. Bush like you've never witnessed before; and that means that you will love him or hate him even more than you already do. For those that hate him, you will find more reasons to hate him. For those that love him, you will find more reasons to love him. It has plenty of "red meat" for everybody, regardless of political persuasion; and that's a good thing in my view. There's nothing worse than reporting that biased and intended to shape your opinions to the political right or left; because that's not really reporting, that's called propaganda. Bush at War is the real deal, un-salted and raw. It's up to you to spice it, cook it, chew it, digest it, and decide if it sits well with you or not.

For added entertainment, here are just a few notable quotes that stood out for me:

Bush on Iraq:

"Action was not for strategic purposes or defensive purposes, [Bush] said. ` You see...Condi didn't want me to talk about it (Iraq). We'll see whether this bears out, [but] clearly there will be a strategic implication to a regime change in Iraq, if we go forward. But there's something beneath that, as far as I'm concerned, and that is, there is immense suffering.' "

"As we think through Iraq, we may or may not attack. I have no idea yet. But it will be for the objective of making the world more peaceful."

Bush on North Korea's leader:

"...`I loathe Kim Jong Il!' Bush shouted, waving his finger in the air. `I've got a visceral reaction to this guy, because he is starving his people...' "

Bush on unilateralism: "I mean, you know, if you want to hear resentment, just listen to the word unilateralism. I mean, that's resentment. If somebody wants to try and to say something ugly about us, `Bush is a unilateralist, America is unilateral.' You know, which I find amusing. But I'm also-I've been to meetings where there a kind of `we must not act until we're all in agreement.' " He continues, "...well, we're never going to get people all in agreement about force and the use of force. But action--confident action that will yield positive results provides kind of a slipstream into which reluctant nations and leaders can get behind..."

Woodward on Cheney and Powell:

"Cheney and Powell went at each other in a blistering argument. It was Powell's internationalism versus Cheney's unilateralism."

Condi on Nukes:

"I've been in this business for a long time and people always underestimate the time, they rarely overestimate the time [it will take a country to become capable of building nuclear weapons]. If we're wrong and we had four or five or six years before he posed a nuclear threat, then we just went in early. If anyone willing to wait is wrong, then we wake up in two or three years, and Saddam has a nuclear weapon and is brandishing it in the most volatile region in the world. So which of these chances do you want to take? The lesson of September 11: Take care of threats early."

Bush on his role:

"I'm the commander--see, I don't need to explain--I do not need to explain why I say things. That's the interesting thing about being the president. Maybe somebody needs to explain to me why they say something, but I don't feel like I owe anybody an explanation."
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13 of 13 people found the following review helpful
VINE VOICEon March 7, 2003
Who can chronicle a major event in world history better than Bob Woodward? Once again, Woodward is at the center of the storm, sharing minute details of the early stages of President Bush's War on Terror.
I was very pleased with Woodward's objective approach. He didn't take a knee-jerk liberal or conservative bent--he just told the story. Obviously, his view of Rumsfeld may be a bit skewed because of limited access and yet pays him the respect he is due.
I particularly enjoy Woodward's deep bios of the main characters. I learned information about each member of the cabinet and I feel better informed for having read the book.
The biggest surprise of this book: the role of Condi Rice. Bob made it obviously clear how large a role she plays in this administration. I left feeling that she could one day run the country and had a keen sense of responsibility, leadership, and faith.
The only flaw is the subtle insistence that Bush is in over his heels. I think every writer is tempted to buy into the conservatives-must-be-dumb theory. For the most part, he gives Bush enormous credit and lets the American people understand that he is a man on a mission.
This is an extremely enlightning book and gives a real insider's account. Buy it and put it on your nightstand.
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9 of 9 people found the following review helpful
on May 11, 2004
Woodward is an international media legend. The cause of his world renown was, of course, unearthing the Watergate scandal, leading to the eventual resignation of a president. Because of his long tenure at the Washington Post and reputation as a `pure' reporter, we expect great things from this man; at least reporting the facts in a bipartisan fashion. In Bush at War, he focuses on the Bush administrations response to 9/11 in the form of the invasion of Afghanistan, as many have deemed the "forgotten war". Woodward reveals an administration, at times, hysterically grasping at a way to attain some kind of retribution for 9/11. A war cabinet at odds with each other, all seeming to have their own agendas, and in the end, after Afghanistan was supposedly won; only a few al Qaeda terrorists were captured, (16 of the top 22 leaders were still at large, and the arch enemy, bin Laden, well hidden and laughing at us from his secret hideaway) though the oppressive Taliban was disbanded, ironically and sadly, Afghanistan still remains a potential haven for al Qaeda terrorists.
One should not include this text as just another `Bush bashing' exercise, because the president is depicted as a passionate and determined leader, albeit inexperienced, hell-bent on bringing those responsible for 9'11 to justice. Woodward skilfully puts the reader in the shoes of the president, and we feel his anger, frustration and one-eyed goal for retribution. The president's cabinet, however, are depicted as mostly floundering during the crises, fighting with one another, vying for power, in the pursuit of their own particular goals. The vice president is a crafty fellow, a smiling political assassin, so to speak, while Rumsfield is depicted as your basic playground bully. There is a scene in the book where Rumsfield pokes his finger with force into Woodward's chest during an interview, pushing the reporter off balance - this action speaks worlds. As an administrator, Rumsfield is meticulous, arrogant and definitely not a team player, (my way or no way) and, to my mind, holds the majority of responsibility for the current mess in Afghanistan and the present "quagmire" situation we now have in Iraq. Technically, the buck stops with the president, though Rumsfield has a lot to answer for...
Although not emphatically stated, Bush at War begs the question: did Afghanistan accomplish anything in terms of combating terrorism? Is the world a safer place as a result of many lives lost and literarily millions of dollars spent on bribing the Afghani Northern Alliance? Well, the answer is in the results - and they speak for themselves.
Woodward's book is by no means a revelation about this administration. One has only to look out the window, turn on the television or open a newspaper, to see where this administration is leading us. However I recommend this text as a close as possible `true' historical record of the Afghanistan `incursion', and how the military machine operates in war conditions.
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9 of 9 people found the following review helpful
on January 5, 2003
Bob Woodward - Bush At War
Of all of America's flies on the wall, Bob Woodward may be our most prolific. The dust jacket of my copy of "Bush At War" informs me that Woodward has authored or co-authored no less than nine nationally best selling books, all offering an inside look at some aspect of America. The dust jacket also tells me that Woodward has picked up steam of late, writing the majority of his books in the last 10 years. In "Bush At War," the strain from this increase in pace is showing.
The most important part of any of Woodward's books is the access engendered by his "uber-insider" status. Whenever you choose to read Woodward you can be sure the inner workings behind the headlines will be made completely clear to you. It is precisely this fact that makes "Bush At War" a worthwhile read, as we all know what happened on September 11, 2001, but few of us know what occurred behind the scenes in the months that followed.
The facts are thus: on 9/11 2001 terrorist attacks perpetrated against the United States by elements of the al Queda terrorist network sparked a war in Afghanistan that eventually toppled the Taliban regime and scattered al Queda's troops and operations. Surprisingly, most Americans know little else about these events. How did the United States mobilize for war against Afghanistan (and so quickly)? What steps were necessary to thoroughly infiltrate a country that had withstood powerful invaders in the past? How did the U.S. quickly accumulate allies in a hostile region of the world? How did the Bush administration create its national message for the new War on Terrorism? Was the war in Afghanistan really as quick and easy as it seemed? Of course, at 352 pages "Bush At War" is far too short of a book to answer all of these questions conclusively, but Woodward does an excellent job of posing answers to these questions and fills a large gap in the historical record post 9/11.
It is clear in "Bush At War" that Woodward is more of a reporter than an author; the book's main liability is Woodward's storytelling. The only character that is even partially developed is that of George W. Bush (as one would hope he would be in a book bearing his name in its title). Woodward depicts Bush as a man who understands quite well that he is in command, and as a straight shooter who trusts his gut feeling, makes snap decisions, and is determined that, after the debate has ended, his staff support the decision with unanimity. We also see Bush as a person clearly enraged after the terrorist attacks, as someone who was moved to tears by grieving New Yorkers, and as someone who takes the new war very personally (so much that he keeps his own private scorecard of deceased terrorists).
The other primaries, Colin Powell, Donald Rumsfeld, Dick Cheney, and Condoleezza Rice, are given, at most, a page or two of exposition which they are then defined by for the rest of the book. This lack of characterization does not make the book very interesting on a humanistic basis, but it is sufficient from a reporter's point of view; i.e. we see that Powell and Rice eventually came to temper Rumsfeld and Cheney's war-mongering, and it was clear where each comes down in the numerous meetings and debates detailed in "Bush At War."
And that is a good thing because "Bush At War" is not so much a narrative as a seemingly endless string of meetings. At first these meetings are interesting and enlightening, but soon the positions of each of the players and the main points of discussion are established and then the action moves slowly. For each plot point that is painstakingly uncovered we must read through pages and pages of "we need to get basing rights from the Pakistanis," "so what are our options," "we need boots on the ground," "we flew 90 sorties today," "we need humanitarian drops," and "he's talking with the Northern Alliance." Yes, these details are important and should be included, but there is no reason to reiterate them time and time again. The insider's look at what really went on behind closed doors is certainly interesting and, I believe, important, but only perhaps the first five times we hear it. In writing "Bush At War" Woodward should have used far more discretion, substituting narration for pages and pages of unnecessary meetings (they are all there in the public archives for anyone to see). The book continually bogs down and it is only with extreme lethargy that we wade through each event in the war. As it is the book is more a mass of quotations than a coherent narrative.
The other problem I have with this book is the ending. Without giving too much away I can say that the book ends abruptly, and at a point which, far from being a natural endpoint, abounds with. questions and a need for resolution. It seems unnecessarily arbitrary that Woodward chose to end the book at this point. There is an epilogue which, though it does not fit on too well, reads better than most of the rest of the book and makes me wonder why Woodward didn't write all of "Bust At War" with such skill.
As it is, "Bush At War" is a book that anyone interested in politics (especially that of the current administration) will devour. Unfortunately the storytelling abilities of its author do not live up to the great potential of telling the story of the Bush administration at war post 9/11. Still, I recommend it as a unique, and important, look at Bush at war.
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59 of 74 people found the following review helpful
on November 20, 2002
Love him, hate him, voted for him, voted for Gore, didn't vote in 2000, none of that matters one spec. The fact of the matter is, this candid look at our President shows that he might have acted with more bravado and character than most of us-not all of us, but certainly most of us. I suggest reading this one. It's a good and honest perspective-from a liberal-that's semi-flattering to the compassionate conservative.
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25 of 30 people found the following review helpful
on February 22, 2003
A detailed account of the decision making process that went into the preparation and ultimate victory of the war in Afghanistan. The book's primary focus revolves around the war planning and execution meetings for the invasion and overthrow of the Taliban.
Woodward provides a thorough, reputable, account that which largely focuses on Rumsfeld, Powell, Tenet (CIA), Cheney, and National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice.
I don't recommend that political ideologues (right-wing conservatives or left-wing liberals) read this as it is too objective and does not pander to either ideology. Woodward has no axe to grind. As a political moderate, I felt the book revealed that Bush was more in tune to the decision making process than most press accounts give him credit for. It also shows a President who operates an efficient, executive style White House.
However, it also discloses his vulnerabilities. Most significant is his lack of ability to second guess himself-what he calls making all his decisions "without regrets" and based on his "gut". His lack of deep reflection, simplistic world view, and bouts of unsubstantiated confidence will trouble many.
The clandestine detail Woodward provides is impressive and the most revealed thus far. He details CIA involvement with the Northern Alliance and the "boots on the ground" efforts to wage a propaganda war using secret ops, food, and suitcases of money.
Woodward appears to have had much more traditional access to the Bush White House and as a result it hasn't rattled White House insiders like many of his other books (The Choice, The Agenda, All the President's Men).
While more extensive accounts will be written as history shakes out, this is a great initial work into the decision making process. It gives the reader insight into the personalities and styles of Bush and his "principals". I came away enlightened by the knowledge Woodward provided on the inner workings of the Bush White House.
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83 of 106 people found the following review helpful
on November 20, 2002
This is a facinating look at how the President, his staff, and the CIA handled the response to the 9/11 tragedy. Hopefully, people will not politicize this, and will read the book and judge the current administration's response in an fair and unbiased way.
Personally, it gives me a great deal more confidence in the president; particularly in the way he handled the different opinions among his staff. He did not go off half-cocked in any direction, and he used his people to the utmost benefit to the country. At the same time, he was decisive and action oriented
in getting the job done quickly and right. Our enemies were made to pay for what they did. He did not "pound sand", as he puts it, by fruitlessly wasting our resources on meaningless use of war resources.
The cost of the war in Afganistan was amazingly small for everyone except the Taliban and al Qaida. All Americans should sleep a little better after reading this.
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36 of 45 people found the following review helpful
on June 10, 2003
Love him or hate him, George Bush is running a unique White House. His team stays unnervingly tightly on message, fights their battles mostly in private (one gets the sneaking suspicion that public Powell- Rumsfeld disagreements are really Bush trial balloons), is far less susceptible to leaks, and effectively changes decision in the face of adversity.
If you don't like Bush, this book will appear to be glossing over his lack of intellectual curiosity, the macho bravado of his decision-making process, and the extent to which he is a creature of the political interests that backed him in his run for office. I short, if you're a liberal and not of the "inside baseball" political junkie type, your money is best spent elsewhere as this book will just disgust you.
If you do like Bush, you will see here our "Top Gun" president (though I thought the aircraft carrier photo op was more of a "Luke Skywalker at the end of the first Star Wars" production) making decisive decisions, backing his people fully, and creating day-by-day the conditions necessary for victory.
If you're a political professional, student of politics, or lover of a good group dynamics exegesis, you will greatly enjoy this work for its exploration of all the inside dirt, machinations, and organizational behavior quirks of the world's most powerful office politics.
Obviously there are limits to what even the most diligent of journalists can re-create. And this particular perception of events is surely wrong in its particulars in many places. But as a whole, it hangs together very well, and it seems to comport with the dozens of other stories about the functionings, foibles, and folks at the White House.
There is not much in this book for the anti-Bush crowd to like. Woodward, who can hardly be called a Republican stooge, does not portray a goose-stepping Bush taking orders from a shadowy secret cabal of oil industry plutocrats while blowing his nose alternately into the Bill of Rights, the French flag, and the UN Charter.
Woodward gets inside and gets the story. He shows Condoleeza Rice again and again playing intramural referee. He not only gets the basic Rumsfeld - Powell tensions, but also shows how each man, by virtue of his background, predilections, and character, *must* be who they are.
No, this is not grand biography on the sacle of a Chernow or a Caro, and the writing is easy, brisk, and clear. Given the subject matter, time to produce, salience, and access, though, Woodward has scored a real hit.
Woodward quite reasonably focuses on six principals: Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld, Powell, Tenet & Rice. This is a simplification and we are certainly missing the slightly broader backstory in which the two dozen closest aides to those six jockey, wiggle, horsetrade and backstab as they provide, deny and spin information to their superiors. But it is a necessary and reasonable simplification that shows us the broader truths. And Woodward provides enough glimpses of these backstage battles to feel real.
Other excellently handled vignettes include the lonely CIA operative in Afghanistan and the essential diplomacy pursued with Pakistan in the weeks after 9/11.
Again, this book is for the political junkie or the partisan Republican only, our friends on the other side of the aisle would be best off saving their money for something less vexing.
Anybody who has experience with small group dynamics will be fascinated by this account at that level alone. I'm certain that Woodward's skill could make a Nebraska state party convention seem just as riveting. The stakes involved amplify the importance, interest and our enjoyment, of the story.
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11 of 12 people found the following review helpful
on June 15, 2003
Once again Bob Woodward has written an unbiased book which tells you what really happened. And you learn some fascinating details such as "The realities at the beginning of the 21st century were two: the possibility of another massive, surprise terrorist attack similar to September 11, and the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction - biological, chemical or nuclear. Should the two converge in the hands of terrorists or a rogue state, the United States could be attacked and tens of thousands, even hundreds of thousands of people could be killed. In addition, the president and his team had found that protecting and sealing the U.S. homeland was basically impossible. Even with heightened security and the national terrorist alerts, the country was only marginally safer."
This one quote explains why we went to war with Afghanistan, Iraq, and soon other countries as well. As I write this, the administration is doing the initial steps in preparing for war with North Korea. (Repositioning our troops, building up alliances, etc.)
I greatly prefer this unbiased book over biased books such as "The Right Man: The Surprise Presidency of George W. Bush" by David Frum which is an obviously pro-Bush book.
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