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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Great book, absorbing account
Bob Woodward has made a name for himself over the years as the reporter who gets the inside track - the toppling of Nixon, in the 1990s some great insight into the Clinton White House, and now two books which give very considerable detail into the decision processes employed by George W Bush. Whilst the later book "Plan of Attack" analyses the steps leading to the 2003...
Published on 17 Oct. 2004

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1.0 out of 5 stars Reader's Digest Lite on 9/11
The obliteration of the Twin Towers was signal. The site might have been cleaned up but the dust and debris are still settling. This much we can say: it changes everything for the foreseeable future. Henceforth, it's war without end - and the torch will pass to a new generation (lucky them!). It warrants a historian of mettle.

Alas Bob Woodward is no Livy...
Published on 10 Mar. 2013 by Bernard Michael O'Hanlon


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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Great book, absorbing account, 17 Oct. 2004
By A Customer
This review is from: Bush at War (Bush at War Part 1) (Paperback)
Bob Woodward has made a name for himself over the years as the reporter who gets the inside track - the toppling of Nixon, in the 1990s some great insight into the Clinton White House, and now two books which give very considerable detail into the decision processes employed by George W Bush. Whilst the later book "Plan of Attack" analyses the steps leading to the 2003 Iraq war, its sister account "Bush at War" details the efforts taken after 9/11 to deal with international terror. As ever with a Woodward book, the pace of the narrative is fast, like a gripping novel in many places, and his access to detailed intelligence (including some classified material) is top-notch. I really liked this book and would heartily recommend it to anyone interested in contemporary politics/history, but I do have two fairly minor gripes (which make it a 4 star rating rather than 5). One, I dislike Woodward's occasional use of profanity in the text - and I don't mean in reported speech, where it's fine by me, but in the narrative where Woodward uses it himself, for emphasis. It's unnecessary - English is a rich enough language, and Woodward an intelligent enough man, not to require the book to be drawn down to the level of a barroom rant. Two, the description in the book of the NYPD deputy chief Charles "Chuck" Zito lacks depth and could have been drawn out a little. Zito took a leading role in the 9/11 investigation and his trip to LA to piece together information about the hijackings could have been more detailed in the book, particularly in respect of his contacts with the thinker and writer Fintan O. Kennedy, which have been excellently documented elsewhere. Those minor quibbles aside, however, this is a great book which is well worth a read.
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8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars An unbias insight into the Bush administration, 17 Nov. 2004
This review is from: Bush at War (Bush at War Part 1) (Paperback)
This book is almost like a diary of the day to day events leading upto and during the Afghanistan War (not the current Iraq war). It is very informative and the author obviously had close contact with the Bush administration. Don't expect it to be written like an expose - it is not written in a controversial manner, instead it invites the reader to draw their own conclusions. It is about as unbias as you're going to get in any review of Bush's whitehouse.
The book also discusses Bush's senior advisors, the role they played and their relationships with one another and Bush - especially interesting in light of Powell's recent resignation.
A truly informative and throughly well researched book. However, the book sometimes gets bogged down in a 'he said this and then she said that' type of narrative.
Recommended to those who want an insight into the Afghanistan conflict but not for those who want discussion on the reasons for and against the conflict.
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A failure of imagination, 24 July 2004
By A Customer
This review is from: Bush at War (Bush at War Part 1) (Paperback)
There are some real gems in this book such as George Tenet's comment just minutes after he heard about the attacks on the Twin Towers. "I wonder if it has anything to do with this guy taking pilot training," referring to Zacarias Moussaoui. I know hindsight can be misleading but that sounds very bad. Woodward's sources are impeccable and the narrative is engrossing.
What it does illustrates is how much both Bush and the American people were let down by the institutional incompetence of numerous agencies. Tenet's advice to Bush in the following book by Woodward, 'Plan of Attack'. simply illustrates just how useless Tenet was. After Bush questioned the CIA evidence of Saddam's WMD capabilities in terms of, "I don't imagine Joe Public being impressed by this evidence." Tenet replied, "Mr President, it's a slam dunk." OOOpps!
Bush comes out of both of these books relatively well. Some have suggested that the incredible accesss which Woodward was afforded to the President and his National Security Team may have compromised his journalistic integrity. What utter nonsense! The man who helped bring down Richard Nixon is certainly the best person possible to chronicle this extraordinary period in American history. If Woodward is a Republican then I'm a Banana.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars a movie about Wyatt Earp, 6 Jan. 2005
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This review is from: Bush at War (Bush at War Part 1) (Paperback)
What I enjoyed most about this book was the study of the characters of the main protagonists, especially Bush, Rumsfeld, Powell, Rice and Armitage. Cheney does not actually come into it that much - Woodward's earlier book 'The Commanders' is much more revealing on Cheney. Bush himself seems to govern by vibes - he doesn't direct his colleagues as his father and Clinton did and from time to time 'mum' Rice has to point out to him that he needs to take corrective action as the ship of state is in danger of veering off course. This is not to say however that Bush doesn't have a clear sense of direction, its just that his skills at turning that into practice are not that finely honed, perhaps partly because the sense of direction itself derives from some kind of philosophical (neocon?) vision which is a bit mystical in my opinion. Woodward doesn't get into that area however, but gives us a clear picture of how it pans out from day to day, and we get at times vivid picture of the interplay between the main characters.
Clearly it was quite a chaotic time and the difficulties of constructing a coherent plan at a time of crisis are well documented. Woodward does not try to analyse the thinking behind it all - although he does quote at length from interviews with Bush held after the events - but just tells it as it happened, basing his account on many interviews, usually with unnamed participants.
The preoccupation of Rumsfeld and others with Iraq in the days after 9/11 is interesting, but you will have to read a lot wider than this book to figure out the reasons for that. What you will get here is some great rows between Rumsfeld and Powell and a sense of the motivation of the main parties. Somehow the whole thing has the atmosphere of Wyatt Earp and the OK corral.
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1.0 out of 5 stars Reader's Digest Lite on 9/11, 10 Mar. 2013
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This review is from: Bush at War (Bush at War Part 1) (Paperback)
The obliteration of the Twin Towers was signal. The site might have been cleaned up but the dust and debris are still settling. This much we can say: it changes everything for the foreseeable future. Henceforth, it's war without end - and the torch will pass to a new generation (lucky them!). It warrants a historian of mettle.

Alas Bob Woodward is no Livy. Tacitus he ain't. Nor is he a latter-day Ammianus Marcellinus. He lacks the flare of Suetonius. Hell, even Herodian could rightly demand that he fetch a cup of instant coffee. Where does one start?

Bob's powers of characterisation are deficient and vividly so: when George W Bush is conveyed with the same diction and intellect as Colin Powell, it is time to complain. Marionettes, as far as I know, are no substitute for flesh and blood. Furthermore, the tension which existed between State and Defense is flimsily portrayed unless the sound-byte is your plumb-line. Bob's analytical powers are equally moribund; strip this work of its `Jim and Jan' narrative and there is no residual - yep, none at all. The strength of America lies in its commitment to truth. Not once does Bobby ask himself the hard questions: why did this event occur? How wise was the response of the Bush Administration? Was there an opportunity here to change the dynamic whilst hunting down the perpetrators? To what degree did the response fire-proof the Republic from repeat attacks? Who is picking up the tab? On these matters, Bob is silent. Within his limits, Woodward subsequently changed his tune in later instalments when it became clear that lunacy was running amok in the Bush Administration as it sought to recreate the Charge of the Light Brigade in Iraq, all funded by our Chinese buddies. This realisation, however, lies in the future. For the moment, all is well in the sybaritic Washington restaurant as Bob pays court to various luminaries and their chatter.

If you want a `who said what and when' construct of the events following 9/11, your search ends here. In the days of yore, Bob brought down a president. He's dined out on it ever since. It shows!
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4.0 out of 5 stars A revealing insider's account drawing punches with velvet gloves, 16 May 2008
Publisher: Thorndike Press, ISBN: 0786252642

Many commentators in the US media, and not least the conservative stalwarts like the Wall Street Journal Europe, have vented their spleen about the lack of European support for the US "initiative" in the Middle East. Throughout, the "axis of weasels" has been blamed for "not getting it". The question is - did they not, or did they all too well? That's the question I want to answer for myself, and Bob Woodward's book was a way to do so - better even, it was a book written by a US journalist who is a prominent pillar of the US media community.

The author has enjoyed clear high level access to the Bush administration protagonists, not least the President himself, the Vice President, the Defense Secretary, the National Security Adviser and the Secretary of State. It is fair to say these persons represent nearly all the strands of Republicanism jostling for position in the run-up to the 2004 Election. However, the author has also been careful enough in not putting his opinions forward so as to keep his bridges intact for his second book, "Plan of Attack".

Detailed portraits are drawn of said protagonists, and readers can judge for themselves what these people are made off. Mr Bush did certainly not strike me as the pantomime idiot some hold him to be. To the contrary, he seems a messianic figure (a trait in common with many who have erred and found new meaning in their life through e.g. faith) who has assembled a team of talented advisers whose opinions are evaluated prior to final decision making by the President himself (and no other).

Indeed, Mr Bush seems very intent on gently coercing his team to think in the direction he wants them to go. More so, Mr Bush takes guidance from his perception of his mission on this Earth. Again, it is only in the second book that we see that Mr Bush may perhaps not have been guided as much by political/electoral considerations as his moral convictions.
Maybe, it was not entirely illogical to do so at a time when the whole administration was utterly confused - if not lost - about how to react to 9/11 and against whom. Worthwhile noting is Bush's statement on attacking Iraq after 9/11: "I'm not going to strike them now. I don't have the evidence at this point." What made the president change his mind?

I can't help but think George Tenet was perhaps the weakest member of the team. He rants about Clinton not spending money on the CIA but fails to ask for Presidential permission to go after Bin Laden until 9/11. Rumsfeld emerges as the consummate politician with an ego only matched by his desire for empire building and turf battles. If he could, he'd rewrite Caesar's memoirs about the "Conquest of Gaul" as his own. A cool thinker, Rumsfeld is also careful, never one to stick his neck out but always hiding behind alleged third party views, comments, queries.

Dr Rice strikes me as less fearsome than some media pundits portray her. As the NSA executive, she seems ineffective in coordinating the different prima donnas into a team. No wonder, the President gets an opportunity to gestalt his policy options to his liking. Dr Rice also posits that the NSA is not there to give advice, but to put forward the different opinions. Overall, Dr Rice is a Bush trooper and this has been confirmed by her promotion subsequent to the 2004 election - whether she got that for the right reasons is another question.

And then there is Colin Powell. The butt of ceaseless attacks from Cheney and Rumsfeld, Powell is a voice of reason, a realpolitiker like Kissinger. Critically, he has no 1-0-1 access to the President and therefore no influence on the true policy making process. I was disappointed that the victor of the first Iraq war did not have the guts to fight his corner with the President more often, perhaps he remains an obedient soldier after all - taking the orders.

Interesting also is the perception that of the main threats to the security of the US, China's rise ranks third after terrorism and proliferation of WMD. The neocon paranoia is taking the better here of level headed analysis. China has no recent record of military aggression and is not the chaotic security risk Russia seems.

But the book also reveals the secondary motive for Bush's policy choices: the need for "stability in the oil-producing regions" (p. 194). The book does not dwell on the significance thereof, it only becomes a theme in the second book.

Disappointingly, allies seem of no consequence to Bush. They are there to be used and discarded - their usefulness determines the amount of face time they'll get. Arguably, not a very good basis for fruitful coalition building but reflective of a morality-driven battle between good and evil which is perceived elsewhere as naïve and simplistic, if not dangerous. Unfortunately, as Woodward intimates (p. 327), the President seems to confound policies and statesmen as persons resulting in personal slights and lasting enmities. This more than anything else, may be the emotional kernel to IMHO the final split between the US and continental Europe. I have my question answered.

Bob Woodward concludes his book by pointing out that after the victory in Afghanistan, US life returns to normality and out of a climate of edgy duality (good vs. evil). This would undoubtedly be seen as hampering Bush's messianic policies which relied on a strong sense of duality to gain public support. So, what does a president do in the absence thereof - create the circumstances to perpetuate this climate? And if so, how? By attacking Iraq, by referring to this shadowy war on terrorism... That's for us to judge in the next book of Mr Woodward.
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5.0 out of 5 stars One of the finest American journalists and historians opens his acclaimed trilogy on G.W. Bushes White House., 28 Feb. 2008
By 
Philip Mayo - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Bush at War (Bush at War Part 1) (Paperback)
This is the first of Bob Woodward's trilogy examining George W Bush and Co. at war and deals with the 100 days following 9/11.

There is no doubt that the world's problems are complex. Possibly one of the main difficulties that stands in the way of our ability to resolve these problems is that many people, particularly many of those in power, do not see these problems as complex at all, but as black and white, right or wrong - as being simple to judge when viewed in the light of their own unshakable convictions. And that is perhaps the biggest problem: the certainties of powerful men; their inability to consider that there is another point of view; their inability to make major changes in belief - such certainties may one day finish our civilization.

This is a very interesting account of dramatic times from a fine writer. It deals with the thought processes of a largely unelected group in the American executive to go to war. It is never dull and must leave all readers with a sinking feeling that the ship of state of the world's only superpower is in poor hands. I am surprised and impressed by the detail the book provides, and by how this could happen so close to the event.

What I find most amazing is how much access in terms of interviews and actual visual sight of records, notes, diaries that Woodward was given by the chief players in the administration. Everybody except Cheney seems to have been interviewed in depth. President Bush was interviewed twice, on the record, for a total of about 4 hours, answering or responding to some 400 questions and comments from Woodward. Why would he, Bush, do this? Presumably because he wanted his version of events to be out there and presumably because he judged that his own words and explanations would paint him as a "fine leader and statesman". Instead of as a buffoon. Woodward is entirely non-judgmental. He makes very few comments at all. It is exaggerating only a little to say that this book reads like the official minutes of events as taken by a White House official.

The squirmometre (the "squirm-in-embarrassment-and-total-disbelief" one) is activated more than once. For instance, we have things like : Woodward asks Bush did he ever feel it prudent to explain to Condeleza Rice or the other war cabinet members that he (Bush), when making some fairly extreme comments, was sometimes only testing his team's attitudes, or being provocative? And Bush answers - quote -

"Of course not. I'm the commander - see, I don't need to explain - I do not need to explain why I say things"

""I'm the commander - see"" !! Unlikely to fall from the lips of Churchill or FDR.

Or how about, again said by Bush to Woodward in a one-on-one interview, when there was no immediate audience bar Woodward to impress - the leader of the Free World says, in relation to Afghanistan and the general war on terror;

"I will seize the opportunity to achieve big goals. There is nothing bigger than to achieve world peace".

To borrow Del Boy's phrase - "What a plonker!"

Highly recommended.
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3.0 out of 5 stars Informative, 12 April 2008
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This review is from: Bush at War (Bush at War Part 1) (Paperback)
This follows what happened inside the White House and amongst the principle players in the first 100 days after 9/11 and as such offers some fascinating insights and adds credence to the argument that the US administration really had no idea what to do or how to do it other than get "payback".
However, the reality to what happened is pretty much that they had a lot of meetings, talked a lot, argued a lot, showed their lack of intelligence and then threw their might about. And thats about it. All written as it happened and on the record so we don't get the back stories, indepth characterisations or (not that there should be) any sense of tension or excitement.
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4.0 out of 5 stars Well written insight into how the US Presidency worked post-911, 13 Aug. 2012
This review is from: Bush at War (Bush at War Part 1) (Paperback)
This book is a well written insight how things functioned immediately before, and straight after 11th September 2011 when the USA planned to retaliate against Al Qaeda and the taliban. The author had good access to the Bush cabinet as well as Bush himself to get good accounts of what was said, and what happened. It gives you a good taste of how running the country and planning a war can be difficult. The book is a litte short and can sometimes be light on detail, but is a good journalistic account of the time.
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4.0 out of 5 stars Well written story, 25 Jun. 2012
This review is from: Bush at War (Bush at War Part 1) (Paperback)
A well written tale, by a seasoned journalist. This tells the detailed story of the major US players, in the immediate aftermath of 9/11. This is how they decided who was responsible and prepared to hit Afghanistan. Were they really as professional or as calm as presented here. History may judge differently. Given the insights into meetings, conversations and attitudes, based on subsequent documentation, how much of this is supposition? An enjoyable read, and probably close to the truth.
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Bush at War (Bush at War Part 1)
Bush at War (Bush at War Part 1) by Bob Woodward (Paperback - 7 July 2003)
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