Having read most of the books on Iraq (see my lists), I was disappointed to find that this is, at 463 pages, a bloated 150 page story blown to excess with double-spacing.
There are enough useful bits to warrant reading, but over a third of the book focuses on the Valerie Plume leak and investigation. The book is not as good as James Risen's State of War: The Secret History of the CIA and the Bush Administration or Jim Bamford's A Pretext for War: 9/11, Iraq, and the Abuse of America's Intelligence Agencies.
Solid points that cause me to value the book:
1) Discussion of Libby-Wolfowitz kindred spirits
2) Raises the bar with a solid discussion of how the Bush regime presented a case for war that "turned out to be, in virtually every aspect, fraudulent."
3) Sheds new light on Iraq as a Karl Rove gambit for winning the next election.
4) For the first time that I have seen, a good discussion of how the public was NOT buying the Iraq story line, and how this pushed the Bush regime over the top in terms of fabrications and embellishments.
5) Good discussion of how CIA under Tenet cut Departments of State and Energy out on key transmittals to the White House. At the same time, somewhat rehabilitates Tenet by discussing how Tenet did not lie to Senator Biden, and in direct answer to a question about what technical intelligence CIA might have about WMD in Iraq, said, quite clearly, "None."
6) Adds understanding of Chalabi's dishonesty. In my view, Chalabi should never again be allowed to enter the USA.
7) Useful insights into James Woolsey, former Director of Central Intelligence, as part of the problem. Woolsey helped promote Chalabi and his fraudulent defectors, and Woolsey was directed by Wolfowitz on a special mission to ramp up the Brits.
8) Excellent insights into Judith Miller's "fast and loose" journalism and her propensity to get "too close" to sources, and at the same time, tars the NYT leadership with being as ideologically corrupt and rigid as the White House.
9) New documentation of how the British clearly understood that the US was "fixing" intelligence around a pre-determined policy.
10) In passing, adds insight to the hypocrisy of the Bush regime pressing on Iraq while ignoring the other 44 dictators (see my review of Ambassador Palmer's excellent book, Breaking the Real Axis of Evil: How to Oust the World's Last Dictators by 2025.
11) Adds useful insight to the Italians falling prey to a financial scam on the Niger documents that were forged.
12) Labels the Vice President as "disingenuous" at best. EDIT OF 10 Dec 07: We know knowthe Vice President is a nakedly amoral person and a war criminal as well as impeachable for 25 high crimes and misdemeanors. See my reviews of Vice: Dick Cheney and the Hijacking of the American Presidency and The One Percent Doctrine: Deep Inside America's Pursuit of Its Enemies Since 9/11.
13) Good discussion of how it was Doug Feith's unit that created false intelligence about Iraq having ties to Al Qaeda.
14) Although not really a great book on the intelligence side of the house, does do well in documenting that CIA knew well in advance of the war that there were no weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, and also provides good discussion of how CIA bent with the wind, self-censored, and lost its integrity.
15) First mention I have seen of the Situation Room in the White House adding a clock with Baghdad time as early at 1 October.
16) Clearly documents how the case for going to war against Iraq crumbled before the war, but was kept from the public and Congress.
17) Establishes Col Larry Wilkerson as an honorable intelligent man who critically examined CIA's "intelligence" and clearly saw that most of it was from Chalabi's INC and probably deceitful.
18) Clearly honors Army General Shinseki as being correct on needing 400,000 to do the job right, especially the transition, and clearly labels Wolfowitz an ignorant ideological cheater all too willing to lie to Congress and make promises he could not keep.
19) Ends with a solid discussion of how no one in the Bush regime has been held accountable to date for this massive litany of impeachable offenses. At a minimum, Secretary of Defense Rum self and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice would appear to be richly deserving of early dismissal if not impeachment. Wolfowitz would appear to deserve banishment from government service, and certainly not be allowed to lead the World Bank.
This book is one of over 100 books inspired by the lies that led us to an elective war where political knaves prevented the U.S. Army from doing it right. General Tommy Franks is mentioned across nine pages; in the end, history will show, I believe, that the real failure of command was at the four-star level in the Pentagon and at US Central Command--we all expect politicians to lie, cheat, and steal; we expect more from our officers in uniform. They should have closed ranks, spoken up, and prevented our honorable men and women of the Armed Forces from being sent in harm's way for no good reason. I am reminded of Jim Webb's "Friendly Fire." I have always thought that an officer's first and foremost duty was to protect his or her troops from illegal orders and stupid orders by those further up in the chain of command. We failed. More US soldieres and private military contractors have died in Afghanistan and Iraq than were murdered on 9/11, and this deceitful White House has in addition created over 65,000 amputees and permanently disabled veterans whose lives have been shattered, not by combat, but by impeachable breaches of the public trust at all levels of the elected and politically appointed federal government, and by the failure of their flag officers to defend them from mendacious idiocy.
Sadly, Congress failed America as well, refusing to fulfill its Article 1 responsibilities. See 9wth reviews): Running on Empty: How the Democratic and Republican Parties Are Bankrupting Our Future and What Americans Can Do About It;Broken Government: How Republican Rule Destroyed the Legislative, Executive, and Judicial Branches; and Breach of Trust: How Washington Turns Outsiders Into Insiders.
Like a Russian nested doll, the recent wave of books explaining the details behind the current Iraqi conflict has represented a continuous extrication of a deepening mystery. There is something new and enlightening to be discovered with each new volume I read. This one is no exception. David Corn, the Washington editor of the Nation, and Newsweek's Michael Isikoff has written a blistering account of the behind-the-scenes personalities and decisions that have led to the 2003 Iraqi invasion. Their reporting roles are well known from the infamous Valerie Plame controversy, in which she was revealed to be working for the CIA.
Much of this has been covered in recent, strongly recommended books by the likes of George Packer ("The Assassins' Gate: America in Iraq"), Ron Suskind ("The One Percent Doctrine") and Michael Scheuer ("Imperial Hubris"). Corn and Isikoff, however, shed new insights to previously reported events, disclose new facts such as Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage's role in the CIA leak, and bring the pivotal figures to life, in particular, President Bush whose obsession with destroying Saddam Hussein was and continues to be the mantra by which he forced others to abide. Even as evidence has piled up to the tenuous connection between 9/11 and Hussein, he continues undeterred in his mission.
Another figure that comes alive on the pages is Colin Powell, who justifiably feels he was made the fall guy with his infamous UN Security Council speech urging other nations to support the US case for war by falsely accusing Hussein of harboring al-Qaeda and training terrorists. Yet, the most intriguing figures are unquestionably Joseph Wilson and his wife Valerie Plame. Wilson was sent to Niger in 2002 to investigate the possibility that Hussein had a deal to buy enriched uranium yellowcake, a perceived threat which he concluded was gravely overstated. As we all learned, Plame was instrumental in sending her husband because she turned out to be a CIA operative, a fact we learn was disclosed to journalist Robert Novak by Armitage. According to the co-authors, this led to vicious in-fighting to discredit the Wilsons, which included document forgeries about the findings from the Niger trip, doctored photos of supposed WMD sites in Iraq and recruiting Laurie Mylroie, an obscure researcher who was convinced that Hussein was the source for all terrorism.
Even though there was a lot of questioning from Congressional leaders on both sides throughout, there was very little resistance to challenge Bush, leading to false stories reported in the New York Times about the supposed presence of the WMDs. The labyrinth of deception is mind-boggling, yet Corn and Isikoff have done an impressive amount of fact-checking to substantiate their book. Even if you feel you've read every book on the culpability of the Bush administration, this one still manages to surprise and more importantly, puts a lot of the heretofore random pieces together into a cohesive account.
Michael Isikoff delivers one of the most complete accounts of the Bush administration's incompetence, and exaggerated self-confidence to date. This work may be around as a source book of the Bush presidency and it's pathological legacy.
From the start of this administration, Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld, Rice, Perle, Wolfowitz and other neocons were planning to finish what they felt had been a mistake not to since the first Gulf War i.e. the overthrow of Saddam Hussein. This would project American power and influence in the region, and establish a Pax Americana.
First, they needed a reason, which they received after September 11th. Then, they needed to sell it to the American public, which they did through outright lies, finnagling, arm-twisting, deception and leaks. In this they succeeded completely by giving a revenge-minded public direction, and creating a scare campaign. They were aided by a docile press that was not inclined to investigate the disinformation spoon-fed to them.
There was only one thing amiss. They had too much self-confidence and pride, or hubris according to the author. They had the feeling that they could not be wrong, and they would achieve their goals. Unfortunately they were, and they didn't.
This is truly an account of high crimes and deception committed by the highest level of our government. Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld, Rice, Perle, Wolfowitz and others deliberately misled this country to war, and continue to deceive to this day. If there is a day of reckoning for them, I hope it will be swift, painful and brutal, and that's not hubris.
This well-researched narrative, like the book Fiasco, looks at Bush's spiteful fantasy of toppling his father's personal enemy Saddam Hussein, and as such we see a President who sacrifices the country's best interests in order to pursue his personal obsessions. Hubris documents Bush's child-like rants full of expletives against Hussein, as we are afforded a glimpse at a President who is not professional, calm, objective, and collected. Instead we see a President who tosses infantile expletives at meetings as he demands his subordinates get him the necessary "reasons" to invade Iraq. One telling moment that gives us a look at Bush's psychologolical motivations is when we see him in his 2002 History Channel inteview expressing his desire to dismantle the "Axis of Evil" in an achievment that he compares to Reagan dismantling the Berlin Wall and Communism itself. Thus we see a man operating under delusions of omnipotence and making us Americans pay the price. As Bush's appetite to invade Iraq accelerates, we see warnings from his own House Majority Leader Dick Armey telling him that we will "be stuck in a quagmire." Bush ignores the warning. Worse, he and Cheney and others bully military analysts and CIA agents whose conclusions tell Bush NOT to invade Iraq. Meanwhile Bush and Cheney create a "sales campaign" with "journalist" Judith Miller and Iraqi exiles. The book's second half deals with the post-war and shows the leaks and corruption that render Bush's war a catastrophe. This book is fine complement to Fiasco, The One Percent Doctrine and other screeds that have laid bare the virulent anti-democratic and anti-American impulse in this current administration.
on September 15, 2006
I not a professional journalist, politico or even a current events fanatic. However, I have been outraged for the past three years that my country in engaging in an unwarranted war. In my many business trips abroad, I have been asked by colleagues how we Americans can allow our president to start a war without good cause and overwheming popular support.
Well, "Hubris" is the perfect answer to their queries. This book has a large cast of characters which makes following the action a little bit difficult. But the authors have considerately included a list of such characters at the front of the book (much like many Russian novels).
What unfolds is a shockingly honest description of how Bush's maniacal obsession got us knee-deep into a war that no one wanted (including many top Republicans). The difficulty in reading this book is not related to the writing style or structure (both are great). Rather, it is due to the emotions stirred by the revelations in the book. Bush could have been thwarted (or at least slowed down) at many junctures. But the political greed governing most of Congress proved to be unrelentless.
I applaud the authors' willingness to tackle this subject. It's never easy to point the magnifying glass at oneself. But as a country, we definitely need more self-examinations like the one that this book offers. I can now return to my oversea trips with this book in hand and show my international friends that not all Americans were duped by Bush and his cronies.
Corn and Isikoff...well done!
This is another book in a long series on the march toward war in Iraq, and the debacle that ensued. It is also one of the best of these volumes.
One key passage lays out the message of this book (page 410): "What had gone wrong? Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld, Wolfowitz, Rice and other administration officials had set themselves up by using the most dramatic and forceful rhetoric in persuading the nation that was necessary. They had approached the invasion of Iraq as though it were a political campaign. They pushed aside doubt, they exaggerated, they shared information with the public selectively."
Juxtapose the above quotation with the authors' statement, speaking to the hubris of the Administration in the run up to war (page 15): ". . .Bush, Cheney, and a handful of other senior officials already believed that they had enough information to know what to do about Iraq. . .They were drop-dead sure of their presumptions: Iraq was a danger, Saddam had to go, and war was the only option that would achieve this policy goal. They did not need intelligence to reach these conclusions - or to test them." Their decision to go to war was based, in the end, on (page 17) ". . .unproven, dubious assumptions and sketchy and, in many respects, phony intelligence. But it ultimately rested on a strong core belief: we know what we're doing."
Many of the stories included in this volume are well know, but there is a wealth of detail describing each, with many interviews obviously building the stories. As usual, when dependent on so many sources, one must always know that some of these sources are using their interviews for their own ends. That stated, though, the thrust of observations of this book are so consistent of others that this caveat cannot discredit the overall thrust of the book.
Key stories that come to life here: reporters like Judy Miller serving as mouthpieces of the Administration and, in the process, serving the Administration's needs to persuade the American people that war was necessary; the rationale for going after Valerie Plame Wilson (told in perhaps too much detail, given the many other issues that the book addresses); the use of Ahmad Chalabi as a key source to justify war; the strained theories of Laurie Mylroie trying to convince people that there was a tight, close linkage between Iraq and al-Qaeda (outside of the White House and other conspiracy theorists, her work has not generated much resonance); the strange tale of how an obviously bogus allegation about Iraq seeking yellowcake uranium from Niger came to be in a State of the Union message and become a part of the rationale for war; the tale of how aluminum tubes that were physically incapable of serving in a nuclear program were still judged to be proof of Saddam's nuclear program; the revelation that key Administration personnel--including Condoleezza Rice--never read the full intelligence estimates that revealed the grave doubts about many of the contentions used to justify the war; and so on and so on.
This is a dispiriting book. One can only ask the question: How did so many smart people end up leading the country into a war that seems to stretch into the future, with no certain positive outcomes, on the basis of such flawed information? The authors use the Greek term hubris as takeoff point. Does their argument work? This is an issue for each reader to decide upon. But the more that we learn, the more that it looks like this Administration will be judged harshly in the history books. If so, it is a valuable lesson: pride goeth before the fall; hubris, a classical tragic flaw in Greek drama, leads to a humbling of those so afflicted.
on October 14, 2006
"Hubris", the fine new book by Michael Isikoff and David Corn, continues a parade of offerings which spell trouble for the Bush administration. Nicely paced and rich in detail, the authors delve deep into the parallel stories of the war in Iraq and the Valerie (Plame) Wilson leaks. "Hubris" is well worth the read.
The main thrust of the book...the arrogance of the White House...is all apparent in Isikoff's and Corn's analyses. Manipulation is and has been the underlying drive of the current D.C. "crowd". Bush's big gamble in 2000 was that if he were elected he would surround himself with the best possible advisors. His selection brought them in and look what the country got! The fact that many of them (Cheney, Rumsfeld, Rice and Rove) are still there makes many of us shake our collective heads in disbelief and this aspect is reflected in the afterword of the book...a point not forgotten by the authors.
The premier story in "Hubris" deals with Iraq. The misjudgments about the aftermath of the invasion is a key component dealt with by Isikoff and Corn and they do a masterful job in relating what, why and how things went so wrong. Along the way they introduce us to some real oddballs...Laurie Mylroie, a onetime Harvard assistant professor who seemed to have a fatal attraction to an Iraq/terrorism link. Suffice it to say, she got pretty far up the food chain thanks to the neo-cons in Washington. Rocco Martino and "La Signora" give the book a European flavor as they are connected with the Niger yellowcake forgeries. Then there is the man in the baseball cap, a "source" of information for the later disgraced New York Times writer, Judy Miller. But the best oddity is "Curveball"...an ultimately unreliable font of knowledge on whom too many in Washington relied. His name is apropos.....he did indeed throw a curveball to the Americans. If all this sounds reminiscent of Watergate...well, it is!
Less interesting, although wonderfully told, is the Plame affair. There certainly was a high degree of stonewalling, convenient forgetfulness and skulduggery concerning Rove, Scooter Libby, Bob Novak and others to go around during those funky months of uncovering leaks but this is almost a sideshow to the more serious Iraq side of the book. The Plame "outing" was an important story but it lends itself less to the salient aspects of "Hubris". There is too much of it in the book and it tends to weaken the other parts.
That said, however, I highly recommend this book. It has a distinct and measured narrative, this to the authors' credit. "Hubris" is important because of its summation of what really happened over the course of a few recent years in our country's history. I hope Isikoff and Corn have another book in mind for the end of this screwed up administration.
on March 9, 2007
Hubris is compelling reading - a greek tragedy in how it depicts an outcome we already know about, but can't do anything about. This is a book where the bad guys win and the good guys lose. Why is that? Because the Commander-in-Chief wanted this war and made it clear to everyone who worked underneath him. In "State of Denial", Donald Rumsfeld comes across as the major bad guy, but that book deals with what happened when we actually invaded Iraq. Hubris shows that Dick Cheney and Scooter Libbey aided by fellow neoconservatives Paul Wolfowitz, are also major bad guys in manipulationg the evidence to build a case for invading Iraq. This is a very well written book, engrossing from page one until the end. When the history of this event is recorded 50 years from now, there is no doubt that this will be labeled as one of the biggest con jobs ever perpetrated on the world. After reading this book I have about zero sympathy for Scooter Libby. It is apparent that he not only covered up for his boss but also for himself. He is a fall guy but guilty nonetheless. Mr. Libby is also not a very nice guy which seems to be how he is being portrayed in the media. If somehow everyone 18 and over could read this book -Bush's popularity would sink below 20%. Everyone who has relatives or friends serving in Iraq should read this book and then write their elected representatives to let them know of their outrage.
on September 22, 2006
"Hubris: Excessive pride displayed by a character and often taking the form of a boastful comparison of the self to the divine, the gods, or other higher powers--often also resulting in harsh punishment."
This new book documents the rise and fall of George Bush's and Dick Cheney's grudge match against Saddam Hussein. Its 400+ pages is solidly researched, showing the arrogance, folly and deceit that drove their quest for war. And it provides a slew of new details about how Cheney/Bush drove the political-journalistic elite and the American public (Democrats as well as Republicans, liberals as well as conservatives) to buy into their misguided plan.
If you have any hesitancy about reading this book now that the Plame controversy has wound itself out with the disclosure of the Armitage leak, put it aside. This is a compelling story much bigger than Plamegate. It will keep even the biggest news junkie who thinks they've read it all already fully absorbed through the entire book.
This book and Tom Ricks Fiasco should be read together. Ricks' book chronicles the missteps of the war itself; this book chronicles the hubris leading up to the launch of the war.
on September 22, 2006
Hubris is everything you need to know about Iraq.
A fascinating look into back office Washington politics and the orchestrations that took place before and after the 2003 invasion of Iraq. This is not a scathing indictment of the Bush administration like the disingenuous Fahrenheit 9/11, nor is it another piece of Ann Coulter propaganda made to line the pockets of political pundits. Rather, is it a detailed summary of the bits and pieces that surrounded the selling, execution and aftermath of the Iraq War.
Based on news reports, interviews with both Democrats and Republicans and members of the Executive Branch and the CIA, dozens of books covering various subjects and the strenuous research of the authors, Hubris reads like a spy novel at times, and like the Ken Starr report at others.
Always interesting, with captivating details that rarely take a judgmental approach towards the politicians, it treats White House Republicans as powerful tacticians who are desperate to protect our national security, and Congressional Democrats as the minority party who are powerless, and frightened, to stop them.
Expecting myself to be skeptical of a book filled with hypocritical arguments, hearsay, and loose innuendo, I quickly found myself immersed in a world where the only conspiracy was the case for war itself.
This book takes you on a journey that began on September 11th, through the halls of the White House, CIA, United Nations and U.S. Capitol, to the voting booths of the 2004 November election. It treats its players not as the personalities we see on TV every night, but as fictional characters acting out a tale of high-stakes politics that covered half a decade. You will find them standing outside the U.S. Embassy in Prague, flying U2 spy planes over Baghdad, mining uranium in Niger and training Iraqi exiles in the Nevada desert.
It culminates in a referendum where America made a choice between a Republican and a Democrat, between a man who relentlessly pushed the case for war, while the other voted for it and then voted against it, a war that was ultimately ratified by the American people.
Despite your side of the aisle, Hubris is a vital addition to the library of the political junkie.
Mark McGinty is the author of "Elvis and the Blue Moon Conspiracy"