“State of Denial: Bush at War”

Bob Woodward

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 happened.

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.

“Bush at War”

Bob Woodward

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.

“Fear: Trump in the White House”

Bob Woodward

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.

“The War Within: A Secret White House History 2006-2008”

Bob Woodward

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 Denial”). 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.

“Plan of Attack”

Bob Woodward

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.