Woodward's `Plan': the question of war

May 23, 2004|By Tom Bowman | Tom Bowman,SUN STAFF

Plan of Attack, by Bob Woodward. Simon and Schuster. 443 pages. $28.Buy this book.

Bob Woodward, the famed investigative journalist who is evolving into Washington's official scribe, has carefully laid out the first inside account of the Iraq War with Plan of Attack. He finally unveils what many observers suspected: Vice President Dick Cheney is the power behind the throne.

After Woodward's disappointing Bush at War, which chronicles the post 9/11 world and the war in Afghanistan, in which President Bush seemed curiously decisive and powerful while Cheney was invisible, Woodward appears to have regained his footing. He shows how Bush pressed for an Iraq war plan in the months after the 9/11 attacks and how Cheney was the top instigator, a cunning force as secretive as Howard Hughes.

There are numerous gems in the book: The Saudi ambassador was told of the war decision before Secretary of State Colin Powell, CIA Director George Tenet's claim there was "slam dunk" intelligence that Saddam Hussein possessed weapons of mass destruction, the secret CIA team that slipped into Iraq before the war and culled intelligence from Hussein's security forces.

Woodward enjoyed access to everyone from Bush to "Tim," a CIA operative in Kurdistan.

While even the casual reader was aware of tensions between the neo-conservatives - Cheney, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and his deputy Paul Wolfowitz - and the State Department, Woodward has shown how far the relations had deteriorated.

Powell refers to an intelligence cell set up in the Pentagon, formed to cherrypick information that would support war, as the "Gestapo" office. And Cheney told a small post-war dinner party that Powell had been a "problem" from the start. After Powell was informed by Bush of his war decision, Powell asked the president if he understood the consequences, telling Bush that America will "own" Iraq with all its problems.

Still, the former general said he would support the president. As he left the White House after the meeting, Powell wondered if Bush was a reflective person and convinced himself he must try and stop the runaway war. One can't help but wonder why Powell didn't resign. It will likely be a question that will dog him for the rest of his life.

Woodward presses Bush more in this book than in Bush at War, asking why he decided on war, the intelligence questions and whether he consulted his father. Bush comes off here as ill-informed and lacking in curiosity about the consequences. He points to a higher Father, his faith in God, and his own decisiveness, as if that were a replacement for wisdom.

The only disappointment is Woodward's failure to devote much time to the post-war planning - and the lack of it. In one passage, he notes that Undersecretary of Defense for Policy Douglas Feith prepared a PowerPoint display before the war, saying that the bulk of the 400,000-soldier Iraqi Army would be retained to rebuild the country.

But one of the first acts of the American viceroy, L. Paul Bremer, was to disband the army. Another is the de-Baathification of Iraq. Tens of thousands of Iraqis were tossed out of their jobs as clerks, engineers and teachers, even though they had no ties to Hussein.

Such early decisions set a troubling course for post-war Iraq and still need to be dissected.

Tom Bowman is The Sun's military affairs reporter and has reported on both the Afghanistan and Iraq wars. He holds a master's degree in American Studies from Boston College.

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