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Nominal Me

I'm falling in love with my camera and taking photos everywhere I go. That, combined with my passions for politics, sports, religion and other things we all agree on, makes this blog persist.

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Location: Astoria, New York, United States

I'm born in Manhattan and raised in Queens.

Thursday, February 16, 2006

Books: Plan of Attack, by Bob Woodward

Tampa, FL is home to many things, one of them is CENTCOM, the United States Central Command, where many things related to our current wars in Afghanistan and Iraq are decided upon.

I'd like to tour the place and take pictures, but that's impractical. I'd really like to stay off the Homeland Security Department's watch list.

So, in keeping with the Tampa, FL theme, I recently read Bob Woodward's book Plan of Attack.

Like all Woodward books I've read, this one is almost absent of editorial bias; the book consists of quotes and anecdotes provided in chronological order, and is a must read for history buffs and politicos.

The only weakness of the book is that it doesn't explain why Bush was so adamant about going into Iraq. It's perhaps a question that is almost impossible to answer.

Here are some passages of the book that caught my eye (page notations reflect the 2004 hardcover edition):

Page 11 (President-elect Bush is being briefed by outgoing Secretary of Defense William S. Cohen).

President-elect Bush asked some practical questions about how things worked, but he did not offer nor hint at his desires.

The JCS staff had placed a peppermint at each place. Bush unwrapped his and popped it into his mouth. Later he eyed Cohen's mint and flashed a pantomime query, Do you want that? Cohen signaled no, so Bush reached over and took it. Near the end of the hour-and-a quarter briefing, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs, Army General Henry "Hugh" Shelton, noticed Bush eyeing his mint, so he passed it over.

Cheney listened but he was tired and closed his eyes, conspicuously nodding off several times. Rumsfeld, who was sitting at a far end of the table, paid close attention though he kept asking the briefers to please speak up, or please speak louder.

"We're off to a great start," one of the chiefs commented privately to a colleague after the session. "The vice president fell asleep and the secretary of defense can't hear."

Cohen, who was leaving the Defense Department in 10 days, believed that the new administration would soon see the reality about Iraq. They would not find much, if any, support among other countries in the region or the world for strong action against Saddam, which would mean going it alone in any large-scale attack.

Page 25 [Four days after September 11th, senior members of the Bush administration discuss Iraq as a possibility, eventually voting 4 to 0 to 1 (Rumsfeld) against it.]

As a former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Powell was direct with one of his successors, Army General Hugh Shelton, in a private discussion after an NSC meeting. Powell had rolled his eyes at Shelton after Rumsfeld had raised Iraq as an "opportunity."

"What the hell! What are these guys thinking about?" Powell had asked Shelton. "Can't you get these guys back in the box?"

Page 31 (It is November 21, the war in Afghanistan is raging, and General Tommy Franks has been asked to war-plan for Iraq. He had a "mini-explosion".)

But Rumsfeld now had his orders and he was not about to waste any time. The president was focused on the Iraq war plan, and when the president was focused, Rumsfeld was focused.

Page 70 (There is some skepticism that the Kurds will help and American-led attack...they had been disappointed before.)

In many respects the CIA support of the Kurds was more a favor to the Shah [of Iran in the early 1970s]. The CIA reported that the Kurds, who by one count had fielded a force 100,000 strong, were tying down two-thirds of the Iraqi army -- a stunning accomplishment even if only partially true. They key was heavy artillery supplied by the Shah. But in 1975 the Shah reached an accord with Saddam, pulled the plug on the Kurds and stopped CIA arms shipments. The Kurds' anguished personal appeals to the CIA and [then Secretary of State Henry] Kissinger went unanswered. The covert operation collapsed and Saddam slaughtered many of the Kurds.

Page 74 (Ideas of CIA covert operations taking out Saddam do not look promising.)

On occasion, [CIA chief George] Tenet dressed it up a little, declaring that covert action alone had only about a 10 to 20 percent chance of succeeding. He seemed really to mean zero. The CIA had no real sources inside and there was no way to get to Saddam unless there was a military operation. Powell realized that when someone says they can't do something, but oh, they can support the other guys, it created another substantial pressure for war.

Page 81 (It is January 17, 2002. General Tommy Franks is presenting plans to Donald Rumsfeld.)

Support for Saddam's regime, Franks said, was directly related to the Iraqi people's perception of U.S. commitment to help them out. The more the U.S. became involved, the less the people of Iraq would support the regime. This important argument was based less on solid intelligence from inside Iraq than assumptions about how people should feel toward a ruthless dictator. The paucity of U.S. human intelligence sources inside Iraq meant evidence about Iraqi popular opinion or likely reaction to an American invading force was thin. The assumption was that Iraqis would join in if it looked like the U.S. was coming. Whatever the merits, the argument added to the momentum to war - that just the first steps toward war and demonstration of resolve would make winning the war that much easier. And as they knew, little was more appealing to President Bush than showing resolve.

Page 100-1 (It is February 7, 2002. Tommy Franks is presenting to President Bush and Secretary Rumsfeld.)

Given what they had now, the best time was between November, December and out until about the end of February, Franks said, a year away.

Can you go later? Rumsfeld asked.

"We can go anytime the president of the United States says to go," Franks replied.

But can you go earlier? Rumsfeld pressed.

"We can go anytime the president chooses," the general replied.

"If we had to," the president asked, "could we go earlier?"

"Mr. President, we can go earlier," Franks answered.

What would it mean?

"What it would mean is it would be ugly," Franks said.

Bush laughed. Well, what does that mean?

Page 112 (It is March 15, Vice President and Mrs. Cheney are visiting the Middle East to gauge support on the war on terror. They visit three countries in one day.)

Lynne Cheney, the vice president's wife, had a two-hour lunch with the favorite wife of the emir of Qatar.

When do kids start school here in Bahrain? Mrs. Cheney inquired.

This isn't Bahrain, the wife replied.

Page 244 (Bob Woodward and his wife attend a December 18, 2002 Christmas party, and are greeted by President Bush and his wife Laura. Bush asks if Woodward is planning a sequel to his September 11th novel, "Bush at War".)

"Maybe it will be called 'More Bush at War'" I said.

"Let's hope not," Laura Bush said almost mournfully.

A year later I asked the president about Mrs. Bush's comments. "Yeah," he said, "that reflected her view. Laura understands what it means to go to see family members of the deceased She understand the sadness and the agony that happens to loved ones because of the death on the battlefield. Death anywhere for that matter.

"But particularly on the battlefield."

Page 249 (The CIA is presenting their evidence of WMD activity in Iraq, including wiretaps and other gathered intelligence. It is December 21, 2002, and the Bush team is underwhelmed.).

"Nice try," Bush said. "I don't think this is quite -- it's not something that Joe Public would understand or would gain a lot of confidence from."

Card was also underwhelmed. The presentation was a flop. In terms of marketing, the examples didn't work, the charts didn't work, the photos were not gripping, the intercepts were less than compelling.

Bush turned to Tenet. "I've been told all this intelligence about having WMD and this is the best we've got?"

From the end of one of the couches in the Oval Office, Tenet rose up, threw his arms in the air. "It's a slam dunk case!" the DCI said.

Bush pressed. "George, how confident are you?"

Tenet, a basketball fan who attended as many home games of his alma mater Georgetown as possible, leaned forward and threw his arms up again. "Don't worry, it's a slam dunk!"

It was unusual for Tenet to be so certain.

Page 250 (The same conversation...continued.)

The president told Tenet several times, "Make sure no one stretches to make our case."

Page 254 (Christmas, 2002. National Security Advisor Condolesa Rice is with Bush at his ranch.)

"Time is not on our side here," Bush said. "Probably going to have to, we’re going to have to go to war."

In Rice's mind, this was the president's decision on war. He had reached the point of no return. Many questions remained, including when and how to force and endgame.

Page 278 (January 15, 2003)

"This is an opportunity to change the image of the United States," the president said. "We need to make the most of these humanitarian aid efforts in our public diplomacy. I want to build surge capability. I want loaded ships ready to provide food and relief supplies so we can go in very promptly. There are a lot of things that can go wrong, but not for want of planning."

Page 278 (On January 17, 2003, Bush visits he Walter Reed Army Medical Center to visit with troops wounded in Afghanistan. He visits with a troop who has lost his leg above the knee in a landmine explosion.)

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 that 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.

Page 292 (Secretary of State Colin Powell is preparing for a presentation to the United Nations, sometime before January 27, 2003. He has a private conversation with Vice President Cheney.)

Powell thought that Cheney had the fever. The vice president and [Undersecretary of Defense Paul] Wolfowitz kept looking for the connection between Saddam and 9/11. It was a separate little government that was out there -- Woflowitz, Libby Feith and Feith's "Gestapo office," as Powell privately called it. he saw in Cheney a sad transformation. The cool operator from the first Gulf War just would not let go. Cheney now had an unhealthy fixation. Nearly every conversation or reference came back to al Qaeda and trying to nail the connection with Iraq.

Page 324 (President Bush talks oil with Saudi Prince Bandar on February 24, 2003.)

"I'm worried about the adequacy of the oil market," the president stated, expressing concern for the world market's ability to absorb temporary shortfalls during a war in the Middle East. The ripple effect in the U.S. economy could be gigantic, and he asked about the excess production capability of the U.A.E. and Saudi Arabia. Saudi oil policy could be the saving grace. According to Prince Bandar, the Saudis hoped to fine-tune oil prices over 10 months to prime the economy for 2004. What was key, Bandar knew, were the economic conditions before a presidential election, not at the moment of the election."

Page 379 (It is March 19, 2003. Bush talks to his generals.)

"For the peace of the world and the benefit of freedom of the Iraqi people, I hereby give the order to execute Operation Iraqi Freedom. May God bless the troops." At this point, the war plan called specifically for 48 hours of stealth operations, and this invisible component would go to a new stage about this time -- 9 A.M. Eastern, 5 P.M. in Jordan into Western Iraq to find and stop any Scud missiles.

"May God bless America," Franks replied.

"We're ready to go," the president said. "Let's win it." 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.

Page 404 (Russian President Vladimir Putin calls Bush on March 24, 2003.)

"This is going to be awfully difficult for you," the Russian president said. "I feel bad for you. I feel bad."

"Why?" Bush asked.

"Because there's going to be enormous human suffering," Putin said.

"No," Bush said, "we've got a good plan. But thank you for your concern."

As they talked, Bush realized that Putin, who was engaged in a bloody war with Chechen rebels, was expressing concern about the personal toll on him.

Page 413 (The war seems over...Tommy Franks retires and looks back.)

He believed he pushed Rumsfeld, Wolfowitz and General Myers on the postwar plans as much as he could, arguing that they could not just pay lip service to issues. he had said that the decisive combat operations would go very fast, and that they needed to focus on the aftermath. But Rumsfeld and the others had been focused on the war.

Page 415 (October, 2003)

Relations became so strained that Powell and Cheney could not, and did not, have a sit-down lunch or any discussion about their differences. Never.

Powell thought that now the Bush and the administration had to live with the consequences of their Iraq decisions, they were becoming dangerously protective of those decisions. There was no one in the White House who could break through to insist on a realistic reassessment.

Page 423 (Bob Woodward meets with President Bush to go over facts for this book. It is December 10, 2003 and violence in Iraq is spreading and no WMDs have been found.)

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?"

I said that I had to cover the aftermath of the war. This was the key question.

Page 424 (Same conversation.)
"What matters is the emergence of a free society where people realize their lives are better off. And where they work through their traumas so they can seize the moment" Summarizing at the end our first interview, he said the war and the aftermath, "It is the story of the 21st century."

Page 425 (Same conversation.)

"To me the big news is America has changed how you fight and win war, and therefore makes it easier to keep the peace in the long run. And that's the historical significance of this book as far as I'm concerned."

Page 443 (The end.)

Bush smiled. "History," he said, shrugging, taking his hands out of his pockets, extending his arms out and suggesting with his body language that is was so far off. "We won't know. We'll all be dead."

Read it. It's a must. I've only scratched the surface.


Blogger DDD said...

I love all of Woodward's books. He is truly objective and obtians unfettered access to sensitive and classified documents that no other reporter could ever dream about. Finished Secret Man not too long ago. Also a great book.

Thursday, 23 February, 2006  
Blogger LeesMyth said...

If Woodward was present for all the conversations he reports, that is a truly astounding level of access.

Friday, 24 February, 2006  
Blogger Nominal Me said...

Lee, this book is in an all "he-said, she-said" format. If he does not have a direct quote from someone, he writes the phrase without quotes. If you read some of what I have down carefully, you'll see some of that without punctuation.

If he got a quote directly from someone, you'll see the quotation marks there.

Doing things this way gives Woodward credibility in my book. You know what he had directly and what he got from other people.

Friday, 24 February, 2006  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thanks for the summary.
Saved me lots of time.
Uncle Tom

Sunday, 26 February, 2006  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

finally an iteresting post

Monday, 27 February, 2006  
Blogger Nominal Me said...

What can I say Anon? I'm a boring guy.

Monday, 27 February, 2006  

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