I semi-recently finished reading Plan of Attack by Bob Woodward. The book saw considerable news coverage by the media.
Woodward seems to enjoy an odd position with both the media and presidential administrations. He has a keen, multifaceted eye. He sees a story from multiple points of view. And, while, he doesn’t seem to take a side, he’s fairly clear about the filter that things pass through. It’s easy to see who he likes, who he dislikes, and who was willing or unwilling to talk to him (something which affected who he liked and disliked).
Plan of Attack was, if anything very dry. It was fact after fact, reconstruction after reconstruction. This dryness was part of its charm – Woodward takes an event and describes it – and then grounds that description in fact and interview.
His view of the administration is not a common one – Bush is portrayed as a manager who runs a very tight ship. He takes advice, makes up his mind, and then acts (though, one gets the impression that the first two are often reversed). Once he acts, he expects his orders to be carried out without any quibbling or argument. He’s very much a president who acts from his gut and his faith.
Cheney’s involvement in the runup to the war is brightly visible. He is portrayed as a primary supporter of the war in part due to deep convictions about the weakness of international diplomacy. Rumsfeld, though clearly in the “war camp,” was far more the implementer. Once Bush decided he wanted to go to war, Rumsfeld (with the aid of Tommy Franks – to whom the invasion plan is largely credited) made it happen. Colin Powell had among the strangest roles in the book: he was a tragic warrior and a left-out school boy all rolled into one. He took his orders and he worked within their structure. He often alternated between the voice of reason and a too-cautious advisor. Rice’s position was less one of “national security” and more referee between Cheney/Rumsfeld and Powell. She was continually portrayed as struggling with this job – more often siding with “war party” than not.
If I had a complaint about this book, it is that there is little significant mention of Karl Rove and essentially none involving Karen Hughes: two characters who clearly play an important role. Other than that, I heartily recommend the book: Woodward presents his work in a farreaching and insightful manner.