At the beginning of 2002 the Bush administration, as a result of the 9/11 attacks, had made a commitment to oust the Taliban rulers of Afghanistan, responsible in their eyes for harbouring Osama bin-Laden's al Qaeda network, with unprecedented support both at home and overseas.
Bob Woodward's enthralling new book details, possibly in too exhaustive detail, how the Bush administration then took the decision to concentrate almost solely on the ousting of Saddam Hussein from Iraq, in the process losing most of the aforementioned support. All the main protagonists (Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld, Rice, Powell etc) were interviewed several times about the planning and decision making processes that took place over the course of 2002 up until the actual invasion in March 2003. Thankfully Woodward doesn't install his own opinions or prejudices on the right or wrongs of their decisions, and therefore we are left with a well balanced book, with the main protagonists able to justify themselves over the course of their interviews.
Whether you believe the war in Iraq was justified or not, this book probably won't change your mind now, however I believe that it will at least give you an appreciation of the opposing view. Opponents of the war will have to concede that the United Nations was particularly ineffectual, with the author detailing how the French delayed resolution 1441 over the insertion of the word 'or' instead of the word 'and', meaning that Iraq would need to fail two tests instead of one to be in violation of the resolution.
Those in favour of the war would likewise have to concede that the administration was focused too squarely on Iraq from early on, thereby hindering its operation in Afghanistan, when arguably North Korea, Iran and the Israel/Palestine problem were more threatening to long-term security.
One of the main things I noticed is that, despite the months of planning and the endless war-game scenarios carried out, no-one foresaw what actually happened in Iraq, namely the dissolving away of the Iraqi regime and the morphing of the Iraqi military into Iraqi insurgency. Also no viable exit strategy was ever finalised, leaving the likelihood that U.S. forces will be in Iraq for years to come.
As mentioned earlier this book succeeds admirably in giving us the 'how', I'm not sure it quite succeeds on the 'why', though judging from some of the interviews it was something that was never really discussed within the administration, all of them convinced (except Powell) that it was the right way to go.
Whether they were right or not, well only History will tell us.