When I looked at the cover of Plan of Attack I groaned. Can I really be bothered reading another book about George W. Bush and Iraq? I read Bob Woodward's last book, Bush's War. I don't remember much of it, only Karl Rove, Bush's chief advisor, describing a crowd's enthusiastic reaction to Bush's throwing the first pitch of some baseball season as akin to a Nazi rally. My eyes popped out. Only John Pilger says things like that about Bush and his cohorts. Check out Rove in the index and you'll find it.
With Plan of Attack it only took a few pages and I was totally hooked. It's a real insider's view, with lots of detail and conversations and brisk portraits. You get a good impression of how this particular power elite really works, who's in the loop, who's not (Colin Powell).
The author for the most part holds back from making any judgements on what he is reporting, although you get the impression he is quite moderate on the questions he raises.
For example, he talks about how high level sources were telling him that they weren't entirely convinced by the intelligence that the CIA was giving out. Woodward toyed with reporting what he'd been told, but held off. He later appears to regret this:
'Even now I cannot disclose the identities of the sources. But I did not feel I had enough information to effectively challenge the official conclusions about Iraq's alleged WMD. In light of subsequent events, I should have pushed for a front page story, even on the eve of war, presenting more forcefully what our sources were saying.'
Bush is his usual glib self. The book also makes plain Bush's 'on a mission from God' belief in himself. On page 379 the president prays for success in war, after he opened hostilities:
'It was emotional for me. I prayed that our troops be safe, protected by the Almighty, that there be minimal loss of life.'
'Going into this period, I was praying for strength to do the Lord's will. I'm surely not going to justify war based upon God. Understand that. Nevertheless, in my case I pray that I be as good a messenger of His will as possible. And then, of course, I prayed for personal strength and forgiveness.'
You won't hear Australian commentators talking about that when it comes to discussions of Iraq.
Then there is the Bush that visited the war wounded, and his glib advice. To a soldier who'd lost a leg:
'Bush told the soldier that one of his former aides in Texas had lost his leg, and the guy was a runner who learned to run on his prosthesis. "They can make 'em good these days," Bush added. 'You'll be able to run again".'
'One of the president's assistants saw a look on the soldier's face that said that he didn't believe that the commander in chief's saying he would run again would make it so.'
Finally, Bush balks at being asked about WMD.
'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?".'
Need I say anymore?