Plan of Attack

By Nelson, Bryce | Journalism and Mass Communication Quarterly, Autumn 2004 | Go to article overview

Plan of Attack


Nelson, Bryce, Journalism and Mass Communication Quarterly


Plan of Attack. Bob Woodward. New York: Simon & Schuster, 2004. 467 pp. $28 hbk.

While some have doubts about a few of Bob Wood ward's journalistic techniques, it is hard to deny that Woodward, with his high-level knowledge of Washington's government over the decades and his unparalleled access to top officials, is a true national treasure.

In explaining how President George Walker Bush and his subordinates decided on war against Iraq in the 20002003 period, Woodward has provided a work of immediate need and consequence. It is no wonder that Plan of Attack became his tenth national nonfiction bestseller immediately upon publication. Woodward provided enough ammunition for each side that Plan of Attack was recommended by both the Websites of the campaign to re-elect Bush/ Cheney and of their Democratic rival, Sen. John F. Kerry.

Woodward interviewed President Bush and secretary of Defense Donald H. Rumsfeld for more than three hours each in late 2003. (Woodward presented Bush with a lengthy memo showing just how much of the story he already had.) Bush encouraged his administration to talk to Woodward, who says that more than seventy-five officials did talk "on background." In Washington, governmental officials seem afraid not to talk to Woodward lest he present them in a less favorable light in his influential books.

What the Republicans get from Plan of Attack is a picture of a serious, dedicated president who is unafraid to make momentous decisions of war on his own (except that he seems to need Vice President Dick Cheney around to help him). Without saying so explicitly, Woodward pictures Cheney as a somewhat deranged angel of death always dancing around the decision makers to ensure the invasion of Iraq. According to Woodward, Bush didn't even ask secretary of State Colin Powell or Rumsfeld whether they favored the invasion of Iraq, although Rumsfeld was much more clearly on the pro-war team than Powell.

What Bush critics gain is a picture of an administration that was seriously thinking of an Iraq invasion ever since it was elected to office in 2000. The terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, added more reasons and the momentum necessary to implement the invasion. Woodward does not give much credence to knowledge of weapons of mass destruction in Iraq or any ties between al Qaeda and Saddam Hussein. Woodward tells of direct, secret workings of Bush and Rumsfeld with General Tommy Franks, U.S. commander for the region, on Iraq invasion plans from November 2001 on while the United States was deep in war in Afghanistan and denying designs on Iraq. The military Joint Chiefs of Staff were not even brought into the war discussions until September 2002, much less the Congress or secretary of State.

This is a good book to give to students to show what a great journalist can do. …

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