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Wednesday, June 16, 2004
Plan of Attack 

Title: Plan of Attack
Author: Bob Woodward
ISBN: 074325547X
On March 19, 2003, U.S. President George W. Bush gave the order for a strike on Dora Farm after receiving intelligence on the whereabouts of Saddam Hussein and his sons, Qusay and Uday. It was an order that marked the beginning of formal military action in Iraq.

Many of us who followed the war in Iraq are either in support or in opposition. Some of us might even be feeling indifferent, but I doubt anyone is without an opinion as to why President Bush and British Prime Minister, Tony Blair, was so adamant in their decision to go to war. Reasons often cited include the threat of Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD), oil, human rights issues and the al-Qaeda connection.

The Iraq War is the most controversial war since Vietnam and yet President Bush felt that Saddam Hussein had to be removed from Iraq, even in the face of fierce opposition. It is therefore important for us to explore the motivations behind such a decision and understand its implication on future U.S. policy, particularly in a post 9/11 age. Even if not for such reasons, curiosity alone might be enough to prompt us to ask the question of why exactly the U.S. went to war.

Based on interviews with seventy-five key participants and more than three-and-a-half hours of exclusive interview with President Bush, Bob Woodward's Plan of Attack attempts to provide us with just the answers that we need, giving us a definitive account of how and why the president and his war council decided to launch a pre-emptive attack against Saddam.

The development of the Iraq war plan and its subsequent refinements was on Bush's agenda as early as November 21, 2001. Work on the war plan was also a secret in the early stages and when partial disclosure found their way to the media, the administration presented the case as contingency planning, often insisting that there was no war plans on the president's desk.

This was not strictly true. In fact, a war plan was already available, albeit a non-satisfactory one to the administration - since the existing plan took too long to deploy and involved the use of a large number of troops. General Tommy Franks, the commander of U.S. troops in the region, was charged with the task of restructuring the war plans for Iraq. Secretary of Defence Donald Rumsfeld was the controlling war technocrat who kept pushing for a better and more efficient plan.

Bush knew that knowledge of their work would have caused a big uproar. He said to Woodward, "It was such a high-stakes moment and when people had this sense of war followed on the heels of the Afghan decision, it would look like that I was anxious to go to war. And I'm not anxious to go to war. War is my absolute last option".

Indeed, war was not Bush's only option as was evident with the administration's effort to gain U.N. Resolution 1441. Woodward said that Bush's decisions leading to the war "is a chronicle of continual dilemmas, since the president was pursuing two simultaneous policies. He was planning for war, and he was conducting diplomacy aiming to avoid war. At times, the war planning aided the diplomacy; at many other points it contradicted it".

As the story unfolded, it was obvious that the diplomacy route was only pursued at the insistence of the Secretary of State, Colin Powell, and to some extent, at the urging of Tony Blair. Even the famous Road Map to solve the Palestinian-Israeli conflict was tabled only after Blair pressed the president to not delay the Middle East peace plan.

Powell, nicknamed the 'Reluctant Warrior', was at odds with those in the opposite camp, in particular, Vice President Dick Cheney. In more than one occasion, Powell described Cheney as having some kind of 'fever' and that the vice president was beyond hell-bent for action against Saddam.

Although Powell managed to convince the president to go down the diplomacy route, the lack of confidence in the 'process' - as Bush likes to call the political intricacies within the U.N. - means that the administration's half-hearted attempt at finding a diplomatic solution was bound to fail.

As Woodward commented of Bush, "What he perhaps had not realized was that war plans and the process of war planning become policy by their own momentum, especially with the intimate involvement of both secretary of defence and the president".

Plan of Attack also looked at the way intelligence was collected and the role of George Tenet, the then CIA Director (now retired), in the built-up to the war. When asked about using WMD as a case for war, Tenet told Bush that "It's a slam dunk case!"

Was it really? Nonetheless, the president was convinced.

From his interviews, Woodward discovered that not everyone agrees with that claim, and that hard evidence of WMD was certainly not available. When the U.S. weapons inspector, David Kay, told Congress that 85 percent of the work was done and he did not expect ever to find WMD stockpiles in Iraq, it seems that the pre-war intelligence used was far less than accurate and the justification for war based on WMD was severely compromised.

Reading the Plan of Attack, it was obvious that the administration overestimated Saddam's capabilities. Since 9/11, regime change in Iraq had always been on Bush's mind - for fear that WMDs might fall into the hands of terrorist. His motivations soon became a moral obligation to free the Iraqi people from Saddam's tyranny - and also to stabilise the region by planting the seed of democracy and liberty in Iraq.

In his attempt to bring the Iraqi issue to the world, Bush's speechwriter, Michael Gerson, came up with the term 'Axis of Evil' to paint Saddam's supposed connection to WMD and terrorism as something sinister and wicked. The administration added Iran and North Korea into the axis to act as a camouflage to their real intent of targeting Saddam Hussein. The objective was clear from the beginning - regime change in Iraq - and the U.S. wasn't likely to declare war with either Iran or North Korea.

As Iraq moves towards establishing a sovereign government, Bush seems adamant with his earlier decisions. To Bush, the historical significance of this book was not about how he made decisions, but it was about the war plan that was developed meticulously (to carefully target Saddam, the Baathist leadership and the inner circle) and how the U.S. has changed the way to fight and win a war.

Another significant revelation from this book was the Bush-Blair friendship, which helped to explain the reasons behind Blair's unflinching support for the American president. It was also surprising to read about the close political relations between the Saudi Ambassador, Prince Bandar bin Sultan, with the Bush family.

Plan of Attack is a necessary reading for those who wish to better understand the events and reasons behind decisions that led up to the war. Woodward is a great storyteller and regardless of your stance to the war, you'll find this book both revealing and enlightening.

Ivan  # 4:43 PM