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Rise of the Vulcans: The History of Bush's War Cabinet Hardcover – March 8, 2004

4.3 out of 5 stars 65 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

While campaigning for president in 2000, George W. Bush downplayed his lack of foreign policy experience by emphasizing that he would surround himself with a highly talented and experienced group of political veterans. This core group, consisting of Donald Rumsfeld, Dick Cheney, Colin Powell, Paul Wolfowitz, Richard Armitage, and Condoleezza Rice, has a long history together dating back 30 years in some cases. Dubbing themselves the Vulcans, they have largely determined the direction and focus of the Bush presidency. In this remarkably researched and fascinating book, Mann traces their careers and the development of their ideas in order to understand how and why American foreign policy got to where it is today.

As Mann makes clear, there has never been perfect agreement between all parties, (the relationship between the close duo of Powell and Armitage on one side and Rumsfeld on the other, for instance, has been frosty) but they do share basic values. Whether they came from the armed services, academia, or government bureaucracy, the Vulcans all viewed the Pentagon as the principal institution from which American power should emanate. Their developing philosophy was cemented after the attacks of September 11, 2001 and is best reflected in the decision to invade Iraq. They believe that a powerful military is essential to American interests; that America is ultimately a force for good despite any negative consequences that may arise from American aggression; they are eternally optimistic about American power and dismiss any arguments about over-extension of resources; and they are skeptical about the need to consult allies or form broad global coalitions before acting.

Rise of the Vulcans succeeds on many levels. Mann presents broad themes such as the gradual transition from the Nixon and Kissinger philosophies to the doctrine espoused by Rumsfeld, Cheney, and the rest in clear and logical terms. He also offers minute details and anecdotes about each of the individuals, and the complex relationships between them, that reveal the true personalities behind the politicians. This is essential reading for those seeking to understand the past quarter century and what it means for America's future. --Shawn Carkonen

From Publishers Weekly

Mann, a former correspondent for the Los Angeles Times, offers a lucid, nonpolemical and carefully researched history of President Bush's foreign policy team, the self-described "Vulcans" (after the Roman god of fire). In doing so, Mann illuminates the administration's rationale for the Iraqi war with impressive clarity. For the Vulcans, he shows, the war is not an anomalous foreign adventure or a knee-jerk reaction to 9/11. On the contrary, the foreign policy, devised by Vice-President Dick Cheney, Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, Assistant Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz, Secretary of State Colin Powell, Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage and National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice, was 35 years in the making and has its roots in the Republican Party faction that opposed detente with the Soviet Union. Vulcan philosophy has three major tenets: the embrace of pre-emptive action, the notion of an "unchallengeable American superpower" and the systematic export of America's democratic values. Implicit is the rejection of both the notion that transatlantic relationships are the natural focus of U.S. foreign policy and the Kissingeresque realpolitik that dominated much of 20th-century policy. Mann's purpose is to explicate Bush's foreign policy, not to make sweeping value judgments about its wisdom; he takes care to expose not only errors in the Vulcans' assumptions about the war in Iraq but also those of the war's opponents. This well-written, serious, evenhanded effort should be essential reading for anyone interested in American foreign policy.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 448 pages
  • Publisher: Viking Adult; First Edition edition (March 8, 2004)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0670032999
  • ISBN-13: 978-0670032990
  • Product Dimensions: 6.4 x 1.5 x 9.4 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.6 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (65 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #354,778 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
The Vulcans is the name the 6 key figures of the Bush Administration foreign policy have chosen for themselves: an allusion to Vulcan, the crippled armaments maker of the Gods, who defended heaven.
This is a really excellent work of contemporary history. Journalism, I think someone said, is history's first pass. Well as a first pass, this book is meticulously researched and fairly argued. It is also very well written and tells a gripping story.
It makes the seemingly incomprehensible and incoherent aspects of the Bush foreign policy (at least to a European) entirely credible and logical. Nor is it unsympathetic to the shapers of that policy: Powell/Armitage at the State Department, Rumsfeld/ Wolfowitz at Defence, Rice and Cheney in the White House. It links their personal biographies and life experiences to the policy choices they have made: their desire to see America in the post Vietnam era strong and unencumbered again.
Armitage in particular comes across as quite a compelling guy. The dedicated Navy man and hard-living covert warrior from Vietnam, who dedicates his family life to adopting and helping Vietnamese refugees, his career is nearly destroyed by Ross Perot and Iran/Contra and he rises again through his friendship with Powell. A man who believes more than anything that America should not abandon its allies.
I haven't enjoyed a book about contemporary American policy as much since Fred Kaplan's The Wizards of Armageddon about Bernard Brodie, Albert Wohlstetter, Herman Kahn and the dawn of the atomic age.
Skip all the other political potboilers this season and spend the time with this book. The student of American politics, American history and the curious observer of American foreign policy will find much here to digest and ponder.
Whoever wins the presidency the future of American foreign policy will be shaped by these men (and 1 woman) and their actions and understanding how they got us to where we are will be vitally important.
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Format: Hardcover
Every so often as I read this book, I would stop and gaze thoughtfully at the cover. You can see what it looks like here, with the six principal characters of the book drawn in a political cartoon style. That's not what I was looking at after awhile, though. I kept fixing my gaze on the picture hanging on the wall behind Paul Wolfowitz, Richard Armitage, Donald Rumsfeld, Richard Cheney, Colin Powell, and Condoleeza Rice. Since the six are sitting in some official looking Washington, D.C. type conference room, I assume the portrait on the wall must be a depiction of the American president. But which one? If you look closely, you will see the man in the picture has no face. Is it George W. Bush, the current chief executive? Or is it one of the other presidents-Nixon, Ford, or Bush the Elder-which several of these people worked for at various times in their lengthy public service careers? Perhaps the leader without a face is a subtle jab on the part of the author, a jab directed squarely at the men who sit in the Oval Office. After all, the six people examined in this book wield enormous power over American foreign policy, and have for nearly thirty years. Perhaps the president is merely a faceless, transient apparition when compared to such powerful personalities.
"Rise of the Vulcans: The History of Bush's War Cabinet" is a history of America's new foreign policy as formulated by the above named individuals. James Mann emphasizes from the start that presidents play a small role in his book. Presidents come and go, but the six individuals in the book have played roles both major and minor in nearly every administration dating back to Nixon. Donald Rumsfeld worked for the Nixon White House as a staff advisor and in the Ford administration as Secretary of Defense.
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Format: Paperback
James Mann's Rise of the Vulcans is a fascinating group history of six of the major players in the Bush administration's foreign policy: Dick Cheney, Donald Rumsfeld, Colin Powell, Condoleeza Rice, Paul Wolfowitz, and Richard Armitage. Going to the back of the book, I see that Mann had first-hand input into his research from all of the above except Cheney and Rumsfeld, and the quality of the result is extremely high. It is a sympathetic yet objective portrayal that gives no hint of its author's political views. It points out arguments and evidence in support of Vulcans' views, as well as contradictions within them, such as Rice's published claim (in Foreign Affairs) that Iraq was no threat (p. 259) and the Bush administration's position on North Korea (p. 346). It also points out conflicts between Vulcans' predictions and reality, such as Wolfowitz's prediction that America's allies from the Gulf War would all fall in line if the U.S. attacked Iraq alone (p. 237). Mann also points out the clashes within the group, mainly between Powell/Armitage and the rest--with Powell going as far as to refer to them as "right-wing nuts" (p. 260, referring mainly to Cheney and Wolfowitz).

The book is filled with fascinating details, such as Wolfowitz's prescient speech about a new Pearl Harbor, given as a commencement address at West Point in 2001 (p. 291), Bush's giving his OK to Pakistan's becoming a dictatorship (p. 300), the government's plan in the annual Nuclear Posture Review to use small nuclear devices to combat terrorism (p. 314)--which would seem to me to create more and bigger problems than it would solve, and Bush's nickname "Pootie Poot" for Vladimir Putin (p. 288).

The book was published in 2004 and is quite up-to-date, only missing some minor recently uncovered details such as Rumsfeld's calling for an attack on Iraq on September 11, 2001.
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