Last week Garrett & Kevin asked why I hadn't blogged on Bob Woodward's Plan of Attack since I was finished reading it. It's one of those blogs that I've had in the back of my head and just haven't yet gotten around to. But now I have!
I really recommend this book, and for people on all sides of the political spectrum. I think that it is overall pretty balanced, fair, and objective. Probably whatever lens people bring to it, they will use to interpret it. I will say that for this person who was against the war from the get-go, it did make me appreciate some of the planning process and the things leading up to the war, though it still reveals, I think, that the administration did a poor job and ended up going down a road that they hadn't necessarily chosen to go down, just once they began to plan for the possibility, then the possibility became a reality.
The best way to look at the book, is to see what it says about different characters. So, here's my take from the book.
Powell comes off the worst. He looks weak and timid, never wanting to really strongly advance his position, which is in disagreement with the president. Richard Armitage, Powell's best friend and number two, is more openly opposed to the rest of the administration, but to the point that I wonder why he didn't resign, unless it was to help his best friend. To Powell's credit, he does seem to spend a lot of time reflecting and considering the best course of action.
Cheney looks bad too. Woodward quotes both Powell and Karl Rove saying that Cheney had a "fever" for the war (though the president disputed that characterization). He seems bent on the course of action and will consider no debate or discussion of the matter. He loathes going to the U. N. (one battle that Powell did win) and even undercuts the President on a few matters (remember some of his strong pro-war speeches?). He also digs into the intelligence on his own. Lots of the stuff that has now proven to be false, was pushed by Cheney and his office. Most of it was stuff that even the CIA had discounted and they kept wondering how it ended up back in the adminstration's speeches, etc.
Though Tenet looks horrible too. The CIA seems to waffle on the intelligence. When they finally prepare a briefing for the President and Condoleeza Rice in December 2002, afterward the President says "Is this it?" The presentation just wasn't convincing that Saddam had WMD and was an imminent threat. So, the president turns to George Tenet and asks him for his opinion, asks if we've really got a case, and Tenet says "it's a slam dunk." So it seems that this was what the president finally went on, and it was just conjecture from the DCI.
Rice looks absent and not in control, fitting everything else we've heard about her. She's hardly present in the book other than noting that she was present at various meetings or that she got pissed at her mentor Brent Scowcroft when he attacked the administration in August 2002.
General Franks comes across as a very good general. He is loyal and faithful to his civilian bosses, though he gets pretty pissed at them at times (his use of cuss words is fun). He concocts a brilliant strategy for the actual invasion and deftly maneuvers men and equipment to the Middle East, all in a very short amount of time.
Donald Rumsfeld comes out looking the best in the book. He is clearly brilliant at formulating a military plan. Though he pushes the buttons of the military, I think often they are the right buttons to push. His only negative seems to be that he doesn't ask the bigger questions. He doesn't reflect on whether they should go to war or not. He's not concerned about the evidence for WMD. He doesn't spend time on a post-war plan. But, I don't think that he thought these were his job. His was to get the military ready for the invasion, not to ask the big questions.
And what about the President? George W. Bush does look strong, decisive, and in command. He doesn't appear weak or incompetent. But what he does appear is unreflective. There is no debate over a new Iraq strategy in the administration, at least not recorded in the book. The president orders Rumsfeld to draw up a new war plan in November 2001 and that seems to start the ball rolling and it never stops. Preparing a contingency war plan is not a bad thing, the US has multiple contingency plans. But, they never stop and really debate what they are doing. He only asks two people if he should go to war -- Condoleeza Rice and Karen Hughes. He says he didn't need to ask Cheney, Powell, & Rumsfeld because he already knew their answers. Yet, it would be nice to think that they actually sat around and debated the new strategic plan, considered all the consequences, prepared for the various outcomes, etc. Maybe that would have made the post-war situation go better? He doesn't look weak, which some of us feared in 2000, but he looks certain to a fault.
I was pleased by one episode in the book. I'm such a fan of GHWBush that I have long wanted to sit down and talk with him, off the record, and simply plead with him to assure me that he did not support the plan of his son. The episode in Woodward's book that answered my question for me is in regards to Scowcroft's attack on the administration in August 2002. Scowcroft is very close to HW (they co-wrote a wonderful book on the foreign policy of the first Bush administration that argued why the US should not remove Saddam from power), so any comments from Scowcroft would be viewed as coming also from the president's father. Woodward says that before Scowcroft published his op-ed, that he sent it to HW to look at. When he got no response from HW, he knew that it was okay for him to publish it. So, finally, my fear was answered. No, the former president didn't support this plan of the son's. That was nice to know.