on April 19, 2004
As ever, Bob Woodward has put together an incredibly cohesive book, stuffed to the gills with facts and words directly from Bush and "all the president's men." The reporter in Bob Woodward really comes out here because he lays out the facts as he was told them by the President himself and the facts are very eye-opening. In my opinion, he is restrained in putting forth his own conclusions or opinions. I found it to be just fantastic and interesting, and the facts can be interpreted to suit both sides of the aisle. Read it!
Woodward's new book, based on interviews with 75 White House insiders--including the President--is a chilling example of what happens when the Chief Executive of the most powerful country in the world decides he's going to war--or, as Condoleezze Rice puts it, engages in "coercive diplomacy."
According to Woodward, Bush decided as early as November 2001 to wage war against Iraq, and diverted several hundred millions of dollars from the Congressional Afghanistan campaign appropriation to develop war plans. None of the inner circle except Rice was informed of the President's plans. He told Woodward that he didn't feel the need to discuss the plans because he knew his people were on board. Desperate for a way to sell the war to the American public, Bush pressed George Tenet for assurances that Saddam Hussein possessed weapons of mass destruction. Tenet gave the thumbs-up (himself, no doubt, feeling pressure to provide the answer Bush wanted), and the war was just a matter of time. Whenever counterevidence to Tenet's insistence that Saddam had weapons of mass destruction showed up--as with Hans Blix's UN reports--senior advisors to the President accused the authors of the reports of deliberate deception.
One of the surprising themes in Woodward's book is just how intent George Bush was on waging war with Iraq. The story on the street, of course, is that Bush was manipulated into war by his senior advisors. But if Woodward is correct, Bush played this one himself. He was undoubtedly influenced by people like Cheny and Rumsfeld, but he made the decision himself. He wanted a war, and he got it.
This book deserves to be read alongside other recent ones: John Dean's _Worse than Watergate, for example, or Ron Suskind's _Price of Loyalty_. Thought the imperial presidency died with Richard Nixon's resignation? Think again.
on April 19, 2004
As a Conservative Republican, I cannot let ideology get in the way of the clear headed fact that G.W. Bush is the most embarassing, shameful, and decietful President in my lifetime (I'm 59). Secrecy does not bode well in a democratic republic. This book covers the deceit leading up to the Iraq war, an un-called for war, and a war that put U.S. Soldiers in harms way, needlessly. All the while the Bush administration was cutting military pay--and losing ground in the war on terror. Shame on them.
on April 19, 2004
I have not finished the book yet. However, I do have to say that the construction of the book and the authority given to it by the detailed information from so many people inside the administration itself makes it a stirring read. I find it increadible that so many people prejudge the book as a "Slam the President" book. I saw Woodward on an interview and the the interviewer was definitely trying to get Woodward to make judgemental statements regarding the President, but he would not do it. He stated (which is clear in his book) that he is a reporter and simply is presenting the facts as told to him and let the reader decide. Sure, what is in the book looks bad for Bush, but it is his own words, and those close to him. If history will judge him harshly, so be it. I think most Presidents are judged harshly by history. So far, I would guess that very few in Bush's administration agreed with his decision about Iraq, but he was the boss. So they are trying to implement his descision the best they can and try to minimize the political damage he has done to himself and harm he has brought on the whole world. People like Powell, Rice, Tenet, and Rumsfeld know they will be judged by history also. And I believe this is why they spoke so frankly with Woodward. And he has to keep his sorces safe, because Bush has shown himself to be severely vindictive.
on July 30, 2004
This book provides an interesting peek inside the American government, but the limitations of its nearly contextless, straightforward, in-their-own-words format reduce its utility. One has no good way of judging, for example, whether President Bush is being sincere when he repeatedly claims that he was reluctant to go to war and did everything he could to vet intelligence properly, or if he simply says it because that's how he would like things to be perceived. Such passages are therefore of little value to readers, who must rely on other sources and their own inferences.
This style interferes with Woodward's greatest strength: his doggedness and perceptiveness as an investigative reporter. Instead, he presents something of a hybrid between old journalism and new, in which the subjects are exceedingly self-aware as they provide their stories, but are granted relentless even-handedness at any opportunity for criticism. Unfortunately, compounding this problem, Woodward simply does not demonstrate great writing ability. His prose can be extremely purple, which helps lead to the same criticism some offered of his book Maestro - it often seems deferential, if not downright reverent of its subjects.
That said, Woodward doesn't seem to take the administration's perspective as gospel, instead passing it along as faithfully as possible for the reader to decide. But one must take them with so many grains of salt that, for better or worse, it's hard to imagine what the original flavor could have been. This book is a case study in why conventional wisdom says that documentaries must have viewpoints.
The content itself cannot help but interest, even if some of the bigger revelations - Prince Bandar's access to the administration, the intensity of Cheney and Powell's conflicts - have already been discussed endlessly in the press. There are still many revealing tidbits to be uncovered, such as Bush's implied comparison of Iraqis to Jews in concentration camps, wishing to be bombed to end Hitler's madness, or Rice's relative weakness before the forceful personalities of Cheney and Powell. And, of course, simply getting a brief look at the inner workings of the White House, Pentagon and even CIA field operatives is fascinating. But I can't help thinking a drier, more analytical, investigative account with more context would be even more illuminating.
on April 25, 2004
I wanted to see the reviews here at Amazon before posting my own comments, but now I have to comment on some of these posts.
It seems that if you are a die-hard supporter of president Bush you may feel conflicted about Mr. Woodward's revelations. On the one hand, he is not another Bush-hater out to attack the president or his disatrous Iraq policy, as so many have in the past few months have. On the other hand, there is information in the book that make our president look out-of-touch, ignorant, arrogant, strange and weird and, yes, even dumb. But, overall, this is not an unsympathetic view of the president.
Here you have some Bush admirers who see it as a "fair and balanced" book, an honest book that tells the truth and shows us what a great guy the prez is, EXCEPT for those parts where Mr. Woodward "lies", (i.e. when facts make the president look bad). Apparently, you can conveniently pick and choose the parts where Woodward is the well-respected journalist giving us the truth about the Bush administration, and the parts where he is just a lying liberal distorting the facts and making poor Dubya look bad.
But we know that Mr. Woodward is not a liberal, or even a Democrat, and that he has in the past written sympathetically about Mr. Bush. And this is, for the most part, or maybe in comparaison to recent books about the Bush administration, a sympathetic view, which is probably why the White House seems to be promoting it. But for those who read the book carefully and with an open mind, there is plenty here about the Bushies to worry about and it may be why Rush Limbaugh has decided that this is, after all, an anti-Bush book. Limbaugh may have burned some brain cells with those drugs but he is still a smart man and knows that if you learn some facts about Bush and his administration, as presented in this book -- not the biased, distorted propaganda he and others promote -- you are going to worry.
Take the fact that the president didn't see it necessary to discuss or share his plans for Iraq with his (earthly) father, president Bush Sr. - someone who had similar experience on the subject and might have given him, hopefully, better advice that the higher source he consulted - that seems totally unbelievable. Also, the fact that a Saudi official was informed about the plans to invade Iraq before our Secretary of State has to give us pause (what EXACTLY is the connection between this administration and the Saudis?). But even more amazing is the revelation that, apparently, it was not the president who made the final decision to go to war, but THE VICE_PRESIDENT! It may explain why Mr. Bush will only testify to the 9-11 commission with Mr. Cheney in the same room.
Interestingly, the book also tells us that it was not so much the president, but the vice-president who was feverishly obsessed with Iraq and determined to go after Saddam. So, Mr. Chenney, who didn't see it necessary to serve his country in combat as a young man was more than willing to send young men and women to fight his war in Iraq. Unfortunately, the reason behind this is something Mr. Woodward does not explain. He leaves perhaps the most important question unanswered: Why, really, did these people take us into this, obvioulsly poorly planned, war? Why the rush to get Saddam? No one has yet explained that too convincingly.
Overall, this an informative and well-written book, even if it leaves you with some unanswered questions.
on April 19, 2004
From Watergate to Iraqgate.
Bob Woodward, who along with fellow journalist Carl Bernstein investigated the Watergate break-in and first cracked the Watergate scandal is poised to bring down the Bush administration in this fact filled book about the secret plans to invade Iraq.
Much of this information backs up Richard Clarke's recent book which said that Bush was intent of invading Iraq early on in his administration and that Sept 11 was just a convenient excuse for war.
All ready the right wing smear machine is trying to discredit Woodward. But the man is a savvy Washington insider who made sure he had the goods before he nailed his prey.
A must read.
One reason Bob Woodward is such a superb journalist is that he has a talent for developing and maintaining an incredible network of primary sources. Better than anyone else I can think of, Woodward manages to gain a wealth of insight from people who are both `in the know' and are willing to talk to him in damning detail about it. In this particular case, the information is devastating; Woodward both confirms what a flurry of other recent books about President Bush and his staff have alleged, that they were obsessed with invading and conquering Iraq from the very beginning of the administration, that they both knowingly exaggerated and even prevaricated about evidence and deliberately attempted to make spurious connections between Iraq and Al Qaeda in order to support their goals and objectives, and that there is a deep political and even cultural divide among some of the principals within the administration concerning our foreign policy.
Of course, the two principal antagonists other than the President himself are Vice President Dick Cheney, depicted here as a zealot in search of some kind of hopped-up moral justice he wants to visit against the middle east in general and Iraq in particular, and Colin Powell, a man who seems to know better that to go along with this con-game, but lacking the resident moral courage to stand up and cry wolf. The book is astonishing in its first-person indictment of the crony corruption and confusion resident both within and without the halls of the West Wing; Tommy Franks is pressured to publicly lie about not having been given instructions to develop a Iraqi war plan in the Spring of 2002 when Rumsfeld had done so on orders from the President the previous fall; Cheney gave a top secret briefing to Prince Bandar of Saudi Arabia giving specifics of that war plan in January 2003 even before Colin Powell was informed the decision to go to war had been made, even though release of such information to foreign nationals is a serious violation of federal law; Bush provocatively lied to the public in his 2003 State Of The Union message that he was still trying to use the United Nations to find a solution when he had already decided to go to war, etc. Anyone want to consider whether any or all of these acts were impeachable offenses?
Thus, perhaps the most telling aspect to Woodward's new book is the way in which this ultimate insider serves to help flesh out the intimate characteristics of many of the President's principal players, the interaction among them, and how these various cliques and petty jealousies fuel both how and what decisions as do get made, and why they wind up as radical as they often are. It also provides a wealth of insights into the President and his personality, as well. Far from being the resolute loner, the rugged individualist making solitary decisions in the splendid isolation of his uniquely driven intellect, the current occupant of the White House seems to be a man who. On the one hand seems driven by a form of messianic belief in his own mission in life, and on the other hand, make decisions about going to war based nearly exclusively on what other "experts" think is best. Bush comes across as either intellectually unable or psychologically unwilling to make tough decisions without deferring to others, who relies overmuch on the opinions and guidance of others such as Dick Cheney and Karl Rove in making tough decisions.
In essence, Mr., Bush seems more like a character actor playing out his scripted part by saying his lines and trying not to stumble into the furniture. Yet, often his John Wayne impersonation draws thin, and there are moments when one catches a glimpse of his pancake makeup, when we can observe just how soft, unaccomplished and dependent this supposed he-man is. He seems, to use an old western expression, much more like a five-dollar horse with a hundred dollar saddle, someone born to privilege, so self-assured that he thinks all that is required of him is convey reassuring public images while others do all the heavy lifting. Perhaps not all that much has changed all that much from his days as a MBA student at the Harvard Business School, when according to other students, he sat aimlessly in the back of classes wearing his Air National Guard leather flight jacket while quietly expectorating his tobacco chew into a paper cup. Combine this persona with a apparent case of self-ordained messianic zeal, and what you have is the current occupant of the White House.
What one also discovers herein is a plethora of particulars describing the critical political and cultural divides among the various factions within the Bush regime; and the reader begins to appreciate the degree to which what is going on here is really much more of a shadow presidency for Dick Cheney than anyone had previously appreciated. Yet when one considers the evidence, such a conclusion is quite logical, given such insights into Bush as the fact that he is neither an impressive intellect nor a voracious reader. What he does like to do is jog, follow sports on TV, do manual chores around the ranch, and make sure he keeps regular hours. On the day he received the now famous 6 August 2001 PDB alerting him to the Al Qaeda threat to the continental United States, Mr. Bush was in the midst of the longest single vacation any president had ever taken, and he had been in office only seven months at that point. Moreover, at the conclusion of the briefing, he dismissed the briefing team without taking any action about the terrorist threat, donned his white ten gallon Stetson, and disappeared in his Ford F-350 Super Duty truck to go bass fishing for the rest of the day. So much for keeping your eye on the ball! Reading the book left me personally musing as to just how much Mr. Bush resembles Chauncy Gardener, the fictional Peter Sellers character in "Being There". To the extent the comparison is accurate, "Dubya" provides us all with a frightening look at just how possible it is for someone so insular, intellectually limited, and self absorbed, a man so singularly unsuited for public office to actually become President of the United States. This is, then, indeed a book well worth reading. Enjoy!
on April 1, 2007
The central problem with this book is that kind of like an official government history. Woodward has access to everyone but the price of it is that he has to stick to presenting what amounts to the official spin of all the main players involved.
Rumsfeld, Cheney and minions wanted the war to be played up as George Bush's idea. They were just the failful minions carrying out his plan. Colin Powell wanted to be portrayed as the tragic lone voice in the wilderness questioning the war. And absolutely everyone involved wanted the maximum possible blame for everything imaginable to be heaped on George Tenant. Tenant, being a Clinton apointee without a friend among these people was the natural place to dump the blame for everyting that went wrong. Woodward manages to masterfully put out all the conflicting ideas that his sponsors wanted without taking sides or offending anyone who mattered for the next book.
With a few years of hindsight and journalistic scandals, the flaws of the book appear even worse than they once did. The selective quotes given to Woodward in service of Cheney/Rumsfeld in making the war "Bush's fault" and blaming George Tenant for all the intelligence/WMD problems are all the move obvious now.
Tommy Franks gets off way too light in the book. He was the one person who could have stood up to Rumsfeld but he didn't. He allowed himself to be intimidated and then he ran off into retirement and book-writing as soon as he could declare mission accomplished in Iraq.
Ultimately for all the access, all the interviews and all the source material there is incredibly little real insight into how the decisions to go to war were made. All we get is person after person spinning the story to push their own agenda with the author providing no filter of any sort.
As an alternative, I would recommend Cobra II by Gordon and Trainor. Its not as easy a read as Woodward's book, but it has far, far more details about the planning and execution of the war without political spin and white house gossip.
on July 30, 2004
It must be difficult to separate political idealogy from an honest opinion of Bob Woodward's writing. Many claim his books "Bush at War" and "Plan of Attack" are too easy on the Bush Administration. After all, they gave him access, so they must be controlling what he hears and sees. Quite a few conservatives have argued that his books are attempting to undermine the President and his agenda. I feel both books are sincere in their journalistic motives. The interesting thing is that I came away with two very different opinions. In "Bush at War" the President and his war council seem focused in their thorough examination of the how's and why's in connection with responding to the 9/11 attacks with military action in Afghanistan. In "Plan of Attack" the same can't be said. In my opinion, the Iraq war definitely comes across as a war of choice. There is a lot of focus on how to attack, but not a lot of discussion of why. There seem to be a variety of reasons why different members of the council advocate military action in Iraq, but the overall reason can be summed up in one word: momentum. With a quick and sucessful operation completed in Afghanistan, the administration feels it has to continue the assault, to prove they are determined in the war on terror. Is Iraq a part of that war? Should it have been the next theater? Did we really need to move on to a new country, or could we have stepped back and focused more time and money on rebuilding Afghanistan and fighting Al Qaeda? Was the diplomatic phase just a big failure? These questions are left to the reader to decide.
I appreciate Woodward's approach to the story. I appreciate a non-judgemental view of the past few years. I recommend both of these books for anyone with a great interest in the behind-the-scenes workings of the West Wing.