“Plan Of Attack” by Bob Woodward.

“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.

“Neither the United States of America nor the world community of nations can tolerate deliberate deception and offensive threats on the part of any nation, large or small.” Best quote ever from an American president, p.202.

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:

“In the “Night Note for September 4,”Christine M. Ciccone, a young lawyer who covered the Senate for Calio, reported on Rumsfeld’s one-and-a-half-hour briefing.

“You have already heard that it was a disaster and Lott views it as having destroyed all of the goodwill and groundwork that the president accomplished during his meeting this morning. I found myself struggling to keep from laughing out loud at times, especially when Sec. Rumsfeld became a caricature of himself with the ‘we know what we know, we know there are things we do not know, and we know there are things we know we don’t know we don’t know.” (p.171)

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:

“Powell’s notes filled three or four pages. War could destabilise friendly regimes in Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Jordan, he said. It could divert energy from almost everything else, not just the war on terrorism, and dramatically affect the supply and price of oil.

What of the image of an American general running an Arab country, a General  MacArthur in Baghdad? Powell asked. How long would it be? No one could know. How would success be defined? War would take down Saddam and “You will become the government until you get a new government.”

Powell thought he was scoring. Iraq had a history that is quite complex, he said. The Iraqis have never had a democracy. “So you need to understand that this is not going to be a walk in the woods.”

“It’s nice to say we can do it unilaterally, except you can’t,” he said. The geography was formidable. General Franks had said it was imperative that he have access to bases and facilities from allies in the region and beyond. Powell was unusually blunt.

He did not feel the downsides had been brought out in sufficient detail. Saddam was crazy and in a last desperate stand he might unleash weapons of mass destruction. Worse, the U.S., in perhaps the largest manhunt in history, had not found Osama bin Laden. Saddam has more at his disposal, an entire state. They did not need another possible fruitless, ongoing manhunt. On top of all this, Powell said, such a war would tie down most of the American army.” (pp.150-151)

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.

“As Powell was preparing his presentation, Cheney called.

Colin, the vice president said, look carefully at the terrorism case that Scooter prepared. Give it a good look.

Sure, Dick, Powell said. He generally used the vice president’s first name when they were alone. Cheney was not ordering him or trying to direct him. It was just a request to take a serious look.

Powell looked at it. Four Mohammed Atta meetings in Prague. That was worse than ridiculous. He pitched it.

Powell thought that Cheney had the fever. The vice president and Wolfowitz kept looking for the connection between Saddam and 9/11.

He saw in Cheney a sad transformation. (p.292)

The more Powell dug, the more he realised that the human sources were few and far between on Iraq’s WMD. It was not a pretty picture. Still, like Bush and the other war cabinet members, he was much influenced by Saddam’s past behaviour.

Some CIA analyst and David G.Newton, the U.S. ambassador to Iraq from 1984 to 1988, had warned of falling victim to the “rational man syndrome,” projecting what Americans deemed rational behaviour on Saddam, who in the past had seemed to specialise in the irrational.”(p.298)

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.

“He raised his hand in a salute to his commanders, and then abruptly stood and turned before the others could jump up. Tears welled up in his eyes, and in the eyes of some of the others.” (p.379)

“Bush was still worrying about the women and children.

Rumsfeld and Myers said it probably didn’t matter what they hit in the first strike because the Iraqi propaganda machine was going to say that the United States killed a number of women and children anyway. And if necessary the Iraqis would execute women and children and say the United States did it.” (p.387)

In the Epilogue it is described how an investigation into faulty intelligence work was launched when it became clear that there were no WMD:

“The CIA was reviewing and examining everything in order to improve its performance, and had discovered that one of their sources had “fabricated” information, Tenet said. He noted that the CIA’s human spies had provided the information that had led to the capture of some top al Qaeda leaders, including Khalid Sheik Muhammad, the mastermind of the 9/11 attacks, and had played a key role in uncovering the secret nuclear proliferation network of Abdul Qadeer Khan, the father of the Pakistani nuclear program who had helped Libya, Iran and North Korea with their nuclear programs.” (p.439)

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:

” … the aluminium tubes they had previously been so confident were for use as centrifuges for enriching uranium were possibly for regular artillery shells. Powell remembered that he had challenged them on this before his U.N presentation a year ago … Now Tenet was saying, “We have additional data to collect and more sources to question,” and his agency “may have overestimated” the progress Saddam was making on development of nuclear weapons. Powell felt let down.

Tenet was also backing away from previous assertions of certainty on the alleged mobile biological labs.

” And I must tell you that we are finding discrepancies in some claims made by human sources about mobile biological weapons production before the war.” Powell let out another holy shit!” (p.440)

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:

“I said I was asking these questions because I wanted to show in the book what he thought the status of the WMD search was. “Why do you need to deal with this in the book?” he asked. “What’s this got to do about it?” (p.423)

There is also a funny section mentioning the never-ending beef we Norwegians got with the Swedes 😛

“Rove saw that the president was “wired up” about Blix. The president knew Rove’s attitude toward the Swedes. As the highest-ranking Norwegian-American in the White House – and perhaps the only one – Rove was convinced of the historical duplicity of the Swedes, who had invaded Norway in 1814 and ruled the country until 1905. There was a long-standing grudge and it was a running joke between the president and Rove.” (p.250)

” … Cheney was convinced that Blix, from traditionally pacifist Sweden, would not be tough enough.” (p.224)

Some more quotes from “Plan Of Attack”:

“But General Franks had something important to add. “Mr. President,” he said, “we’ve been looking for Scud missiles and other weapons of mass destruction for ten years and haven’t found any yet, so I can’t tell you that I know that there are any specific weapons anywhere. I haven’t seen Scud one.”

But it could, and should, have been a warning that if the intelligence was not good enough to make bombing decisions, it probably was not good enough to make the broad assertion, in public or in formal intelligence documents, that there was “no doubt” Saddam had WMD.

Franks believed that Saddam did, in fact, have WMD, specifically weaponised chemicals. Intelligence officials from other countries had told him they believed Saddam had some weaponised biologicals.” (p.173)

“Success helps change public opinion,” Bush said. “Should we commit troops, we’ll feed the people of Iraq.” He said it as if that humanitarian gesture might have an impact on public opinion in Poland.” (p.275)

“We believe that Islam like Christianity can grow in a free and democratic manner.” – George W. Bush (p.276)

“Snow’s favoured option for an interim replacement currency was the American dollar. Instead of Saddam on their currency, Iraqis would soon get former American presidents Washington, Jackson, Lincoln and Grant as well as early American heroes Hamilton and Franklin.” (p.340)

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.

General Tommy Franks.

An unflattering article about Rumsfeld’s management style.

Deus Vult.

An interesting article about Georgia.

An interesting article about Hiroshima.