In some ways, Bob Woodward’s book on the lead-up to the invasion of Iraq in 2003 is very difficult to write an abstract for. The primary purpose of the book is to give the interested reader a great deal of detail and depth in examining the reasons why the decision was made to go to war against Saddam Hussein. However, there are a few salient features that can be placed in a quick summary.
Woodward does not merely cover what President Bush and his cabinet were doing. The activities of leading members of the military, intelligence operatives, members of the White House staff, Iraqi politicians, and others are laid out in a complex pattern that some would regard as deceptive to both the American public and world opinion, while others would regard as essential in toppling one of the worst dictators in modern history.
In one sense, there are no major surprises in the book. Many of us who watched the events unfold, who read the best journalistic and academic commentary, and who reflected on what was happening already understood the mindsets of the principal players. Besides the President himself, Vice-President Dick Cheney and Secretary Donald Rumsfeld were the leading hawks, supported by lesser administrative officials such as Undersecretary Paul Wolfowitz. Colin Powell, although he dutifully did such things as make major presentations to the Security Council of the United Nations, not only had misgivings about initiating a major war in the Middle East, but he tended to be “isolated” from other members of the Administration.
Condoleeza Rice, although one of the leading intellectuals in the group, tended to “rubber stamp” any matter that supported what the President and the hawks wanted all along---a full scale invasion of Iraq and the destruction of Saddam’s regime. A host of lesser players come through as minions who merely fed the goals of the Administration, or, if they tended to have misgivings, were simply brushed aside. All of this comes through in great detail in Woodward’s book.
‘Plan of Attack’ deserves to become one of the great written resources of this important episode in early 21st century history, because Woodward made use of one of the most authoritative and potent types of primary material that any researcher can use. He used his great prestige as a leading journalist to directly interview seventy-five key persons, including over three and one half hours of personal interviews with President George W. Bush himself. The importance that Woodward gave to his own interviews and his own judgments of the material he gathered is demonstrated by the fact that he has neither chapter notes nor bibliography in the book, although there is an exhaustive index.