Book Review: Bob Woodward — Plan of Attack

Leiden, a.d. VII Id. Oct. MMDCCLXX A.U.C.,

‘Plan of Attack’ is quite an interesting book about the run up to the Iraq war in 2003. Woodward managed to get the principal actors involved in the decision making process to talk, so he was able to reconstruct this decision making process, and present the views of these decision makers, and critically reflect on what they said. The detail of the decision making and the preparations for the invasion makes this book a very interesting read, perhaps comparable to Churchill’s war memoirs in how the views of the principal actors on the need for war and on how the war is to be conducted are presented in minute detail. It also shows the differences of opinion within the Bush administration, and eventually all principal actors fell in line to support Bush in his decision to go to war. The book also tells much about how the Bush administration tried to win allies for this war, and how it decided it did not need France, Germany and Russia to start warfare.

However, because the book was published so shortly after the Iraq war, I found some questions unanswered. Did the CIA cause this war by completely misinterpreting the evidence for the presence of WMDs? Did Rumsfeld, Cheney and Bush willingly misrepresent this evidence? It appears that Powell, the state secretary, had to be convinced that the evidence was pointing towards the presence of WMDs. He was convinced by people who presented the same data used to convince him completely differently after the absence of WMDs became apparent, suddenly saying there was plenty of doubt about how to interpret the results. To me it raises the still unanswered question, was this an honest mistake, stupidity, or malignance? I think we will have to wait until the archives open to get an answer to this question.

Then the second question Woodward does not answer, perhaps because it is not entirely within the scope of the book, is what the Bush administration was thinking when it believed it could manage post-war Iraq. Why did they think they could create a peaceful, democratic Iraq, especially given the little attention the administration has paid to this issue?

All in all this book is much more than pro-Bush propaganda, it is at times very critical of the principal actors. If you are interested in how the Bush administration prepared for the Iraq war, this book is a must read. However, if you are interested in why the Bush administration decided this war was necessary, and why it messed up the Middle East so much through ill preparation, this book cannot help you.


Bottom Line: Interesting book if you are interested in the planning for the Iraq war, including the diplomatic aspects, this book is great. If you want to know what led to this cluster fuck, Woodward cannot help you.

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