Plan of Attack (2004) is a direct continuation (in content and style) from Bob Woodward’s Bush at War. It is the inside scoop of how President George W. Bush and his inner circle planned Saddam Hussein’s overthrow, using exclusive interviews, leaks, meeting transcripts, declassified phone conversations, and official records. Woodward reports the facts, paints the scenes, and let’s you draw conclusions.
The first half of the book is about Bush, Vice President Dick Cheney, Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, NSA Condi Rice, Secretary of State Colin Powell, and CIA Director George Tenet planning strategy with General Tommy Franks. This was a a bit repetitive as military strategy is is not one of my favorite pastimes to read, but it did outline Bush’s plan for Iraq.
Basically, Bush wanted to hold Hussein accountable for Iraq’s violations of the U.N. resolutions, and justified a preemptive attack based on Saddam being a threat to Israel and the U.S. because of his weapons of mass destruction and biological weapons, the sponsoring of terrorists, and, oh yeah, overthrowing a ruthless dictator who ran a police state is the moral thing to do (that was always a throw-in and last reason for the administration, yet it may become the only reason that historians may give them as justification.)
One thing that is clear on the onset: everyone at these meetings (including Powell) was in agreement that Saddam was a future threat, and there was evidence he of course had WMD during the first Gulf War, had attacked Israel, and was pretty much Satan on earth. The fact that there was no smoking gun that WMD existed now, was just an issue to convince the U.N., Democrats, and foreign powers that Saddam’s new attack was close.
The book is loaded with great info:, how the Republicans kneel before Saudi Arabia because of oil, how Prime Minister Tony Blair willing sacrificed his political capital in England to join the U.S. coalition and believed in Bush, Karl Rove’s wheeling and dealing behind-the-scenes, Cheney’s conspiracy theories about Saddam’s capabilities, and how the inner circle kept months of top secret planning from Congress and the media (Freedom of Information Act be damned).
General Franks, the CIA, and Rumsfeld planned the attack (like Afghanistan, the pre-war CIA field-work was awesome), and were actually very successful in the execution of ousting Saddam. The big surprise for the inner circle was that Saddam had no WMD and his army surrendered pretty quickly. The problem was that there was no real post-war plan. Everyone (except Powell) underestimated how difficult it would be to create a safe democracy in Iraq, and no one guessed how long it would take or how much money it would cost. (The oil fields were always a major concern for everyone, and were immediately secured of course.)
Bush comes off as decisive, commanding, strong, idealistic, and a man of faith, but also comes off as contradicting, misleading, and hypocritical- all positives and negatives are common for Enneagram Type One personalities.
Cheney, most of the time, is sinister, a war hawk, cowardly, and manipulative. He also turns specualtions and rumors into facts at meetings. Very frustrating since these cabinet meetings effect all of our lives!
Rumsfeld speaks in riddles and does his best never to answer questions. He’s nuts. But high intelligent.
The loyalist Rice actually got angry at Powell for speaking to the media about the possibility there were no WMD. And believe it or not, she was initially responsible for Iraq’s transition to a new government.
Only a few members of Senate and Congress were truly 100% outspoken against the war proposal. Granted Bush, Rumsfeld, and Cheney used fear to motivate them, but Democrats voted for it. Senator Byrd was 100% against it, while John Kerry flip-flopped.
One thing that should be clear about Tenet and the CIA: the actual intelligence wasn’t 100% wrong; it’s just that it wasn’t 100%. Saddam ran a closed police state and was a very elusive person; he tortured spies and killed families. The U.S. had previously blown spy operations, and the paranoid Saddam was a master of misinformation and making himself more powerful than he really was.
The CIA could not get a smoking gun, but Saddam had refused to let U.N. weapon inspectors in, and when he did, the inspections by Hans Blix were farces, and the CIA found evidence of Iraq getting materials to build future WMD. Tenet made the mistake of boasting that it was a “slam dunk case”. Indeed, Cheney, Tenet, Bush, and Rumsfield are all guilty of being overconfident and arrogant.
Powell does not get a complete free pass; before his now-famous U.N. presentation; he was responsible for picking and choosing which intelligence to present. Powell was extremely frustrated with France and the U.N., and France really comes off horrible in this book, and the U.N. is shown to be totally worthless.
A misconception some people have about the U.S. going in by itself without authorization: The U.N. had voted 14-0 in favor of holding Saddam accountable, and Bush was went through proper channels with the U.N. because that’s what Blair and the rest of the world wanted. But the U.N. forced another meeting where Powell had to present proof, and the whole thing was ruining Bush’s war plan dates with delays. Congress okay’ed everything.
Russia, France, and Germany didn’t want war, and wanted more red tape with the U.N and were apologizing for Saddam. One couldn’t help but root for Bush when he finally gave the order. England, Australia, Poland, and other countries gave aid in the war effort. The U.S. really owes Tony Blair a lot.
Look, as a reader you either support a preemptive strike against a dictator or you don’t. No amount of evidence can sway you either way.
The major thing one must remember: the White House made a judgment based on all available information, and were unwilling to give Saddam Hussein the benefit of the doubt. It’s real easy to criticize the White House, but just try to be in Bush’s shoes for one day. Could you ignore all the circumstantial evidence and be like…France? The CIA did not intentionally mislead Bush, and Bush did not have some evil motivation to rid the world of Saddam.
Of course, Cheney went too far trying to connect 9/11 to Saddam, but the war could be seen as just if one believes the U.S. has a responsibility to stop dictators from crushing their people.
Anyway, I could go on and on and still not cover all the great tidbits in this book. It’s a great history book with an inside account of the planning, actual war, and initial aftermath. You are bound to learn something new.