In December 2003, as he was putting finishing touches to this book on the
It’s clear at times that the veteran Washington Post reporter is perplexed by the president’s certainty. Woodward's disquiet shows itself as he exposes the degree to which intelligence briefings about
the run up to war have subsequently been
exposed as faulty.
The author reports Colin Powell’s anger that the information he used to brief the Security Council in February 2003 proved so unreliable, and he recounts how perplexed others involved in the process were by it too. But when it comes to the president, there are no such doubts.
Perhaps we should not be too surprised. In another of their interviews, in August 2002, when Mr Woodward was compiling a previous book, President Bush told him that war with
posed to the
His prose is interwoven with threads of bureaucratic detail that establish his mastery of the subject and quality of sources: the successive war plans presented to the White House get the special code name Top Secret/ Polo Step; the key Iraqi CIA agent who helps target Saddam as the war begins has the agency tag DB/ROCKSTAR; General Tommy Franks’s fat file of Iraqi targets is called the ‘Big Black Book of Death’ by his staff officers. There’s an element of Mr Woodward showing off here, of course, but I have to admit, having read several of his previous exposes, that I enjoy such
Some reviewers have argued that Mr Woodward’s instant histories of great crises in American foreign policy tend to flatter those who have spoken to him and pin blame on those who haven’t. Presumably this is why a sitting president gave the author so many hours of his time.
In Plan of Attack, Colin Powell emerges (as he has in other books by this author) as a voice of sanity and moderation. Vice President Dick Cheney is cast in the role of leading warmonger and it seems he did not speak to Mr Woodward, not on the record at least. The President himself is more detached in this version of events, allowing the protagonists to slug it out, before moving, early in January 2003, to the decision to go to war.
Washington insiders clearly regard Mr Woodward’s books as being so important that they were prepared to share with him war planning and other highly secret material that, had it been revealed a month before the war, would have been regarded as the gravest possible breach of security. How long it will take for similar British material to emerge? I would certainly hope to be around to read it, since if I live that long it will mean I’m getting excellent value from the BBC pension plan.
So pleased is the author with his grasp of all the different versions of General Franks’s war plan (five major ‘iterations’ no less) that too much space is devoted to this particular topic, and rather too little to the world outside the
Diplomatic Editor, BBC NewsnightSimon & Schuster 074325547X www.amazon.co.uk/exec/obidos/ASIN/074325547X/rusi-21