In “Bush at War” Bob Woodward
recounted the first 100 days of what began as the “War on Terrorism” but
may eventually become known as the “War of the 21st Century”. In “Plan
of Attack” he chronicled the decision
to attack Iraq. In the latest volume on what has become a series – “Bush
at War” – that promises to be as interminable as one of Harry
Turtledove’s alternate history series he tells us how the war in Iraq
has been conducted. The story is so painful that the reader is left
wishing that this were an alternate history
This appalling tale of Bush administration incompetence focuses on
defense secretary Donal Rumsfeld, here portrayed as a big-talking bully
who accomplished nothing. Secretary of State Colin Powell and National
Security Adviser Condoleeza Rice appear weak, at best. Most appalling of
all, though is the administration’s repeated willful ignorance of the
facts concerning the ever-declining situation in Iraq. You have to look
to 1945 Berlin to find a leader so out of touch with reality.
As usual, Woodward’s sources are excellent, but the book is limited by
single reporter’s view: there is little about areas he doesn’t have so
well-covered. In particular, events in the military below Pentagon
general officer level and any account of goings-on in Vice President
Dick Cheney’s office are missing.
The book shows signs of being hastily written, but this is a criticism
of its prose, not its content. Woodward tells the story chronologically
and never steps back to analyze events. When his sources give
conflicting accounts of events, Woodward relates both; this is fair but
I would have welcomed some guidance as to what he thought really
Unfortunately for a book that uses Rumsfeld’s tenure in the Pentagon for
structure, it ends – abruptly – in summer 2006, a few months before
Rumsfeld’s November 2006 resignation. Sadly, I expect there will be more
books in the series.
This is the story of the George W. Bush and his advisors during the
three months following September 11. It’s a fascinating account of the
aftermath of the attacks as seen from the White House and of the
president’s conduct of the war with Afghanistan.
Thanks to Woodward’s fly-on-the-wall view (thanks, in turn, to his
incredible sources) we see a president whose leadership comes, not from
his intellect, but from his own certainty, his belief in objective right
and wrong, and from his ability to choose and manage advisors.
There are hints in the books of the wider story, especially the story of
U.S. special forces in Afghanistan, but “Bush At War” for the most part
stays focused on the White House. No doubt it will eventually be
superseded by more complete stories, but for now it’s probably the best
account of Bush during those unforgettable weeks. I hope Woodward is
even now gathering material for a similar book on the war with Iraq.
This should have been titled “Fear: Trump’s White House Is Everything You Were Afraid It Would Be.” It’s an interesting, depressing read, and I’m sure Woodward’s reporting is accurate. However, it’s apparent that Woodward didn’t have enough sources to provide a very complete picture, so it’s more like looking at Trump’s White House through a keyhole than from above. It’s not nearly as good as his books on the Bush administration.
Thanks to the end of the Bush administration, this will probably be the
last book in the “Bush at War” series (the preceding volumes are “Bush
at War”, “Plan of
Attack”, and “State of
As usual, Woodward’s sources are fantastic. It’s basically the story
of how “the surge” came about. It’s not a pretty story.
Is there anyone, even those who supported the Iraq war, who still thinks
Bush did a good job? If there is, they need to read this book. N
only is it a dismal account of the administration’s incompetence, but it
reveals the fact that Bush knew his strategy was failing long before he
took action to change it.
This is an inside account of the decision to attack Iraq. As usual,
Woodward seems to have a backstage pass to the White House and there’s
plenty of detail. However, there is little insight, and no real answer
to the question, “how did we get into the mess we’re in in Iraq?”
In sharp contrast to the Bush that Woodward portrayed in “Bush At
War”, the Bush in “Plan of Attack”
is stubborn, almost a bully, not the masterful manager of the earlier
book. In Woodward’s latest tale Colin Powell is loyal, but the reader is
left wondering why he went along with a course of action he clearly
didn’t believe in.