Customer Review

27 of 31 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Compelling narrative, but feels very rushed, January 26, 2006
This review is from: State of War: The Secret History of the CIA and the Bush Administration (Hardcover)
This is the kind of book that may have benefitted from an extra 400 pages. Based primarily on a series of New York Times articles, and hurried into print just fast enough to stare slack-jawed as George W. Bush received an inexplicable boost in the media for defending the very domestic spying program this book exposed, "State of War" feels as if it came covered in Post-It notes and editorial marking saying [insert explanations here later].

A case in point: the book's epilogue ends with the poetic conclusion: "Dreams die hard, but the dreams of the Bush administration died in places like Fallujah, Ramadi, and Tal Afar." Fine, but those geographical slash military references aren't explained anywhere in the book. Clearly you have to know something about Iraq going in; "State of War" is not a definitive history. That's not a problem today in the heat of the moment, but it does indicate that "State of War" is something of a quickie meant to cash in on a story now, and lay forgotten in 20 years when more information comes to light. To make a Watergate reference out of this (because everything comes back to Watergate) this is more likely to be remembered as H.R. Haldeman's "The Ends of Power", rather than "The Haldeman Diaries".

That said, Risen's narrative is very compelling in places, especially when he is telling a story from someone else's point of view. The book is at its most direct and urgent when he describes the Iraqi doctor visiting her nuclear physicist brother in Baghdad on a last-ditch human intelligence gathering misison for the CIA, or when he tells the story of the Russian nuclear scientist secretly paid by the CIA to delivery faulty weapons blueprints to an Iranian embassy in Vienna.

The outline of the book develops the argument that inherent weaknesses in the Bush administration (Cheney and Rumsfelds' tendencies to make their own policy) have made a mockery of American foreign policies, and eviscerated long-standing institutions. I'm no insider so all I can do is stroke my chin and say that Risen writes in a way that sounds believable. At the same time, this is no liberal-slanted "yellow journalism" -- Risen doesn't miss several opportunities to assail Bill Clinton's neglect of the intelligence community, but his facts differ from what Richard Clarke wrote about a few years ago so I am not sure I believe every word he writes. Interestingly, Clarke is only mentioned in passing in "State of War", even though the two books share considerable overlap.

Anyway, Risen follows a story from 9/11, through Afghanistan and Iraq, and then into Iran and perhaps beyond. For those fully supportive of the Bush administration's policies in 2006, this book provides a dose of skepticism. For those already inclined to believe that Bush is steering foreign policy increasingly in the wrong direction, this book provides sobering ammunition.
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Review Details

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Reviewer

Jason A. Miller
(VINE VOICE)    (REAL NAME)   

Location: Brooklyn, New York USA

Top Reviewer Ranking: 6,735