This entry has been edited since it just dawned upon me that I probably got a bit carried away when quoting the book. Rather than quoting huge sections I’ve removed the majority of this but have kept the page numbers. I intend to go over all of my other book reviews and do the same. (26th of December 2018)
“The press reports of smiling Iraqis leading inspectors around, opening up buildings and saying, “See, there is nothing here,” infuriated Bush, who then would read intelligence reports showing the Iraqis were moving and concealing things.” (p.253)
Preemptive war yea or nay? Should your country play on the defensive or on the offensive? This is the question one must ask when judging and reading about the Iraq war and the removal of Saddam Hussein.
Where people stand on that issue in general will differ tremendously. I have no doubt where I’m at, but I also realise that maintaining static viewpoints might not be such a good idea regardless of how well intended they may be.
North-Korea doesn’t look particularly promising. Nazi-Germany was allowed to grow and look how that turned out.
After having read “Decision Points” by George W. Bush., my curiosity was not satisfied and I instantly plunged into another Bush-era book, this one authored by liberal journalist Bob Woodward. It is surreal that the Iraq war and Bush’s presidency are now confined to history books as it feels like yesterday when the passenger planes hit the twin towers not to forget the build up to the highly controversial Iraq war.
I realise now after having read Woodward’s work that Bush’s take on events is slightly superficial in comparison. Many events and sentiments are perfectly aligned which is good to see, but Woodward retells the build up to the Iraq war by utilising different perspectives and seeing matters through multiple lenses, which makes for a very interesting book.
It is nothing short of fascinating to read about General Frank’s war planning, with interference from Rumsfeld; covert operations are of particular interest, the same can be said of “creating an urgency within the Iraqi population to remove Saddam” to paraphrase. The reason this struck a chord is obviously due to our own current situation over here in Europe. Are we being messed with; walking to and fro like senseless sheep? It isn’t strange that people start believing in all sorts of conspiracy theories.
It also caught my attention that the Americans planned to reduce Iraq’s military capabilities while demilitarizing their society. Hmm … I wonder which part of the world this makes me think of…..
Even though Rumsfeld has been heavily criticised left-right-and-centre I found his approach of gradually increasing troops in the Middle East in order to stay off the press-radar quite cool. Yet his intelligence on WMD and how he communicated this to senators does not reflect well on his character:
Sun Tzu’s “The Art of War” can be felt throughout “Plan Of Attack,” funny enough. I recognise so many of the lessons mentioned in the old classic I couldn’t help but smirk in certain places and I now feel compelled to re-read the work which I read for the first time earlier this year: A Book About Warfare.
During the run-up to the invasion of Iraq in 2003 the soldier selected to lead the campaign, Gen. Tommy Franks, called Pentagon number-three man Doug Feith “the stupidest f*cking guy on the face of the planet.” Taken from John Taylor.
While civilians get an impression of complete inadequacy when it comes to western leadership, don’t despair as it is not all bad. Thankfully. Warriors & Citizens – American Views of Our Military edited by Kori Schake & Jim Mattis.
Colin Powell is the star of the show as he tried to warn Bush of everything that could go wrong. He felt that nobody else had properly briefed the president on the potential risks:
I guess the complexity in terms of American leadership can best be described by referring to a dinner party starting on page 409; Adelman, Cheney, Wolfowitz and Libby were celebrating the successful invasion of Iraq. In awe over America’s military superiority the gentlemen mocked “the reluctant warrior” Powell as overthrowing Saddam had been a walk in the park. Toasting to the steadfast leadership of George W. Bush the scenario became awkward when Adelman said: “Let me ask, before this turns into a love fest. I was just stunned that we have not found weapons of mass destruction.” There were several hundred thousand troops and others combing the country. “We’ll find them,” Wolfowitz said. “It’s only been four days really,” Cheney said. “We’ll find them.”
“CENTCOM reported to the president that two Republican Guard divisions were now combat-ineffective.” (p.406) I just pasted this in as “combat-ineffective” sounds just as hilarious as “enhanced interrogation.”
Throughout the book there seems to be an absolute obsession from certain members of the Bush administration to find a connection between Al Qaeda and Saddam Hussein. To their credit it has been said that Hussein was on the USA’s radar before 9/11 as he was being “problematic.” Yet they did not succeed in finding any links besides a strain of intelligence deemed dubious suggesting that one of the hijackers had met in Prague with an individual assumed to be part of the Iraqi special forces/intelligence.
He saw in Cheney a sad transformation. (p.292)
According to the information as described by Woodward there were always holes in the intelligence that the Bush administration were presented with. Several of the intelligence briefings did not leave the audience convinced with the exception of Cheney; who according to other’s had an unhealthy fixation on Saddam.
Yet Bush was horrified by Saddam’s style of governance and was not the least interested in sitting on the fence if a nuke went off in the USA, courtesy of Saddam. He felt strongly that it was in the national interest to take him out, bringing peace and democracy to the Iraqi people as Saddam was seen as an unstable element in the region, Bush was clearly troubled and worried about sending American soldiers into war and utterly shocked by the fact that no WMD were found.
In the Epilogue it is described how an investigation into faulty intelligence work was launched when it became clear that there were no WMD:
It must have been especially difficult to be Colin Powell as CIA Director Tenet, “the one who had assured Bush that the case on WMD was a “slam dunk.” Later went out in public stating that:
When Woodward interviewed Bush for his book he obviously asked about the missing WMD. Keep in mind that the USA went to war in order to disarm a nuclear Saddam:
There is also a funny section mentioning the never-ending beef we Norwegians got with the Swedes 😛
” … Cheney was convinced that Blix, from traditionally pacifist Sweden, would not be tough enough.” (p.224)
Some more quotes from “Plan Of Attack”:
“We believe that Islam like Christianity can grow in a free and democratic manner.” – George W. Bush (p.276)
On page 432 it is described how Rove felt that the odds were in their favour in regards to Bush’s second term. Since Kerry had been a supporter of the war in Iraq and was part of the Washington establishment, Rove felt that he could easily be portrayed as an hypocritical opportunist.
What I found of interest were Kerry’s reasons for criticising the handling of Iraq including that Bush “was too eager to go to war when Saddam was isolated and weak.”
Is it not a fantastic idea to crush an enemy when they are in fact “isolated and weak?”
The only critique I have of Woodward’s work is that I found his sentence structure and style – unfamiliar. But this says more about my habits rather than a lack of talent or anything as such on his part. It was an enjoyable book for sure and one that I would highly recommend.
If you’re interested in war literature you should also check out this one: The War Has No Female Face.