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Archive for November, 2008

The Bush administration is in its last two months. The United States is about to inherit its next president, a man who promises to bring considerable differences in both domestic and foreign policy. As Bush closes out his second term, I’d thought I would examine the policy choices and decisions made that defined his presidency. I’m taking a look at three books: Bush at War, Plan of Attack, and State of Denial, all authored by renowned Washington Post reporter Bob Woodward. This first entry takes a look at the first, Bush at War.

Bush at War begins before the events of September 11th but swiftly shifts its focus toward the march to war against the Taliban and Al Qaeda in Afghanistan. All the characters are there: Bush and Cheney, National Security Adviser Condoleeza Rice, CIA Director George Tenet, Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, Secretary of State Colin Powell, and a host of other deputies and political advisers, including Karl Rove, Andy Card, and Dick Armitage. Woodward’s initial reporting was first published in 2002, and now that we are closing out 2008 it is interesting to see the dynamics between the players even before the war in Iraq started. Early on, Cheney and Rumsfeld were calling for a wider-ranging execution on the war on terror, emphasizing covert operations, special forces, and military and intelligence operations working outside of the public eye. The war would begin by neutralizing Al Qaeda but, according to their worldview, an American military bogged down in Afghanistan—a country that troubled both Alexander the Great and the Soviet Union—would be ineffective against this new twenty-first century threat. Secretary Powell, however, differed. His rationale was that Al Qaeda was the true threat and should be neutralized. The focal point should be on Afghanistan and neighboring Pakistan. A war against Iraq would be distracting and take resources away from attacking the real terrorists who attacked New York and Washington on 9/11.

Expanding the war, however, would be addressed in Woodward’s second book on Bush, Plan of Attack. Bush at War is an informative look on how Bush and his cabinet marched against Afghanistan. Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld kept pressing his generals for more action and a leaner force. He was frustrated over the lack of substantive targets in the barren wasteland of Afghanistan and kept his generals to search for more targets. By the time the ground war got underway, Al Qaeda was already trenched in Tora Bora, the treacherous mountains that border Afghanistan with Pakistan.

Woodward has been criticized for portraying the president in a positive light, almost to the point of writing propaganda on his behalf. In an unusually secretive administration, Woodward had incredible access to cabinet members, the vice president, and even Bush himself. It would be almost unthinkable to see a writer from The Nation or another publication known to have liberal tendencies to have such access. In the writing, Woodward does seem biased in his description of Bush. Nowhere is there any criticism of the president for his decisions or his management abilities. In fact, Woodward’s  language in describing George W. Bush is more descriptive of a John Wayne or James Bond character—a man who is always calm and in control. Bush’s reactions to circumstances reminds me of almost a superhero character in a comic book. Okay, the city’s in danger, let’s fly there, fix the infrastructure,  and kill the bad guys. In other words, Bush at War’s characterization of the president is rudimentally two-dimensional.

Nevertheless, Bush at War is an important examination of the administration’s decision-making immediately following 9/11. Woodward’s book reads like an itinerary of the events leading from that horrid day to the Battle of Tora Bora in December of 2001. That reporting alone makes Bush at War an important resource.

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Election Day Eve

This is it. Over two years in the making, and we have less than 24 hours to go before we find out who the next president of the United States will be.

I, for one, am anxious as hell. I get like this every four years. I endlessly watch CNN, blog away, and read up on HuffPo and Politico. It’s like Christmas, only though it comes once every four years.

Go Obama. Bring it home.

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