The 2003 American invasion of Iraq was contentious, not just in the arena of global public opinion, but within the tight-lipped world of the George W. Bush White House. As Bob Woodward reveals in Plan of Attack, Vice-President Dick Cheney and Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld were part of a group leading the charge to war while Secretary of State Colin Powell, General Tommy Franks, and others actively questioned the plan to invade a country that had nothing to do with the 9/11 attacks while war in Afghanistan was still being waged. Woodward gained extensive access to dozens of key figures and enjoyed hours of direct contact with the President himself (more time, seemingly, than former Bush administration officials Richard Clarke and Paul O'Neill claim to have had). As a result, he's able to cite the kind of gossip you won't find in a White House press release: Franks calls Pentagon official Douglas Feith "the f*cking stupidest guy on the face of the earth," Powell shares his alarm over how the cautious Cheney of the first Bush administration had transformed into a zealot, and Saudi Ambassador Prince Bandar seems to enjoy significantly more entrée and influence than most anyone would have thought. Bush is shown as a man intent on toppling Saddam Hussein in the immediate aftermath of 9/11 and never really wavering in his decision despite offering hints that non-military solutions could be achieved. Light is also shed on CIA director George Tenet, who insists that the evidence that Saddam had weapons of mass destruction was "a slam dunk" only to later admit that his intelligence was flawed when months of post-war searches turned up nothing. But the book's most interesting character is Powell. A former soldier himself, who finds himself increasingly at odds with the agenda of the administration, Powell rejects evidence on WMDs that he sees as spurious but ultimately endorses the invasion effort, apparently out of duty. Upon its publication, the Bush administration roundly denied many of the accounts in the book that demonstrated conflict within their circles, poor judgment, or lousy planning, but the Bush/Cheney reelection campaign nonetheless listed Plan of Attack as recommended reading. And it is. It shows alarming problems in the way the war was conceived and planned, but it also demonstrates the tremendous conviction and dedication of the people who decided to carry it out. --John Moe
From Publishers Weekly
Based on exhaustive research and remarkable access to the White House, including two sessions with President Bush and more than 75 interviews with administration officials, veteran Washington Post assistant managing editor Woodward delivers an engrossing blow-by-blow of the run-up to war in Iraq. In November 2001, just months after September 11, Woodward reports, Bush pulled aside defense secretary Donald Rumsfeld and asked him to secretly begin updating war plans for Iraq. Sixteen months later, in March 2003, after an intense war-planning effort, a tense political fight at home and a carefully crafted "if-you-dont-we-will" diplomatic strategy with the U.N., the American invasion began. Woodward has penned a forceful, often disturbing narrative that captures the deep personality and policy clashes within the Bush administration. Bush, along with Dick Cheney, Condoleezza Rice, Karl Rove and Paul Wolfowitz, are portrayed as believing in a sweeping mission to export democracy and to have America be viewed as strong and willing to walk the walk. They are counterbalanced by Colin Powell, who emerges here as a reluctant warrior, a pragmatic voiceeventually mutedcautioning the president against a rush to war. The most stunning aspect of the story, however, is the glaring intelligence failure of George Tenets CIA, from bad WMD information to what Woodward reports as the outright manipulation of questionable intelligence to make the case for war. With this book, Woodward, the author of an astonishing nine number-one bestsellers, has delivered his most important and impressive work in years. Ultimately, this first-class work of contemporary history will be remembered for shedding needed light on the Iraq War, whatever its final outcome.
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