Bush at War

I have finally read Bush at War, Bob Woodward’s application of his patented you-are-there-right-now technique to the workings of the Bush White House after September 11. As with all of Woodward’s books, it is a compelling and breezy read. A good sign about it is that I doubt its contents would surprise either Bush’s supporters or his detractors were they to read (or re-read) it today; the book strikes me as a basically accurate rendering that can be interpreted in a number of ways.

In the book, Bush comes across best in Woodward’s account (chapter 18) of the second-guessing of the American plan for the Afghan war in late October 2001. When the initial bombing of the Taliban positions seemed to be failing, and the administration faced mounting criticism, Bush stood behind his people, reminded them that the plan they had was the best one available, and urged them to make it work. Two weeks later, Taliban resistance crumbled.

A much less impressive view of the president—an insight that explains this press conference—can be found on pages 144-146:

“One of my jobs is to be provocative,” [Bush] said, “seriously, to provoke people into—to force decisions, and to make sure it’s clear in everybody’s mind where we’re headed. […]”


So provocation was going to be one tool. Did he explain or warn Rice or the other war cabinet members that he was testing, planning on being provocative?

“Of course not. I’m the commander—see, I don’t need to explain—I do not need to explain why I say things. That’s the interesting thing about being the president. Maybe somebody needs to explain to me why they say something, but I don’t feel like I owe anybody an explanation.”

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