The Condensed Bob Woodward
Slate reads Plan of Attack so you don't have to.
Want to read Bob Woodward's new book, Plan of Attack, without plowing through all 467 gossip-soaked pages? We can help! Slate has taken Woodward's tome and reduced it to a point-by-point executive summary. Grab a copy from the nearest bookstore and read along.
Secrets of the Bushies
Page 9: The first sign of the Bush administration's desire to attack Iraq comes days before Bush's 2001 inauguration. Dick Cheney asks outgoing Defense Secretary Bill Cohen to brief the president "about Iraq and different options." During the briefing, Cheney falls asleep.
Page 25: Hours after the Sept. 11 attacks, Donald Rumsfeld asks Pentagon colleagues about the possibility of striking Saddam Hussein. An aide records in his notes: "hit S.H. @ same time—not only UBL [Usama Bin Laden]."
Page 190: In September 2002, Bush tells the press that Iraq can launch a biological or chemical attack within 45 minutes—an assertion that the CIA finds completely phony. Director George Tenet refers to it as the "they-can-attack-in-45-minutes shit."
Page 250: Karl Rove, a Norwegian-American, is obsessed with the "historical duplicity" of the Swedes, who seized Norway back in 1814. This nationalism manifests itself as hatred for Swedish weapons inspector Hans Blix.
Page 290: Paul Wolfowitz, one of the administration's fiercest neocons, entertains wild theories linking al-Qaida to remnants of Cold War spycraft. He wonders whether Bin Laden is in league with former East German intelligence agents. Unnamed "heads of state" warn him that al-Qaida may be working with ex-KGB officers.
Page 324: Saudi ambassador Prince Bandar bin Sultan hints that the Saudi regime will tinker with oil prices to boost the American economy before the 2004 elections.
Colin Powell vs. Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld
Page 25: Much of Woodward's book involves the administration's efforts to marginalize, or completely ignore, Colin Powell. After Rumsfeld and others raise the idea of striking Iraq in response to 9/11, Powell tells Gen. Hugh Shelton, "What the hell! What are these guys thinking about? Can't you get these guys back in the box?"
Page 182-83: Powell reveals that he detests Rumsfeld's circuitous manner of speaking—"One would think …"; "Some would say …"—which he dubs "third-person passive once removed."
Page 164-66: Cheney tells a Veterans of Foreign Wars convention on Aug. 26, 2002, that there's "no doubt" Saddam has weapons of mass destruction. Powell goes ballistic at the suggestion.
Page 175: Powell fears that Cheney is losing his mild manner. As the veep presses for quick action against Iraq, "Powell detected a kind of fever in Cheney. He was not the steady, unemotional rock that he had witnessed a dozen years earlier during the run-up to the Gulf War. The vice president was beyond hell-bent for action against Saddam."
Page 269-70: Bush informs Powell of his decision to go to war after he informs Prince Bandar. After conferring with the president, Powell is "semidespondent." (Read Timothy Noah's "Chatterbox" column for more on the timing of Bush's decision.)
Donald Rumsfeld vs. the Generals
Page 14: On Feb. 16, 2001, American and British planes bomb Iraqi targets to enforce the no-fly zones. No one from the Joint Chiefs of Staff bothers to inform the secretary of defense.
Page 6: Pressing for more power, Rumsfeld micromanages Iraq war plans. Gen. Tommy Franks tells him (according to insider accounts), "This ain't going to work. You can fire me. I'm either the commander or I'm not, and you've got to trust me or you don't."
Page 91-92: Bonus Rumsfeld snub: He admits he can't remember vetting Bush's "Axis of Evil" speech, the address that has come to define his foreign policy. "That speech was not particularly in my area," he explains.
Tommy Franks' Inspirational Profanities
Page 115: Franks to lethargic commanders before the Iraq war: "This is fucking serious. You know, if you guys think this is not going to happen, you're wrong. You need to get off your ass."
Page 118: To the Joint Chiefs: "You Title X motherfuckers!"
Page 281: On Douglas Feith, the Pentagon's undersecretary for policy: "I have to deal with the fucking stupidest guy on the face of the earth almost every day."
Condi Rice as Bush's Consigliere
Page 23: "She is not married and has no immediate family; it seemed she was on call for the president 24 hours a day in her West Wing office. ... Tending to the president and his priorities was her primary goal."
Page 127: When Karl Rove worries about the perception in the media that he's meddling in foreign affairs, Bush says: "Don't worry about it. Condi's territorial. She's a woman."
Page 160: Condi dresses down Brent Scowcroft, the former national security adviser, for writing an antiwar editorial in Wall Street Journal. Scowcroft ends his antiwar campaign.
Dick Armitage as Powell's Consigliere
Page 20: Powell and Armitage—whom Woodward describes as a "cross between Daddy Warbucks and a World Wrestling Federation champ"—are best friends. "The two talk on the phone so many times each day that aides think of them as teenagers joined at the hip, committed to sharing absolutely everything."
Page 39: Armitage learns of a forthcoming New York Times story that will paint Powell as exceedingly dovish. He convinces the reporter that the State Department is hip to the Saddam threat. Or, as he later says privately, "Oh, State, they're in the game. They want to get these fuckers."
Page 149: Armitage advises Powell to schedule one-on-one bonding sessions with Bush. Powell reports back, "I think we're really making some headway in the relationship. I know we really connected."
Page 176: Armitage helped Powell revise the portions of his autobiography that concerned his frosty relationship with Dick Cheney. Powell calls the finished passages "relatively truthful but not harmful."
George Tenet's Predictive Powers
Page 116-17: Months before the war begins, Tenet assures Iraq's top Kurdish leaders that the U.S. military will attack the Baathist regime. Bush has issued no such order, but Tenet proves right. As Woodward puts it, "He would sell fucking tea to Chinamen to make sure his officers got protection."
Page 186-87: Bush cites a CIA report that says 71 percent of the French population sees Saddam as a "threat to world peace." The report is bogus—the French vigorously oppose the war.
Page 247-49: At a December 2002 briefing, Tenet's deputy makes the case that Iraq is harboring weapons of mass destruction. Bush says, "I've been told all this intelligence about having WMD and this is the best we've got?" Tenet raises his arms and says, "Don't worry, it's a slam-dunk!" To date, no WMD have been found in Iraq.
Page 387-99: On March 19, 2003, Tenet informs Bush of CIA reports that suggest Saddam and his sons are hiding out on an Iraqi farm. Later, after an airstrike ordered by the president, Tenet says, "Tell the president we got the son of a bitch." Saddam and his sons survive the attack.
Woodward's Table Scraps
Every Woodward production contains a half-dozen throwaway details that would make lesser reporters drool. Here's the best of the lot:
Page 11: Bush as glutton: At a Pentagon briefing, staffers lay out peppermint candy for each attendee. Bush scarfs down his peppermint, and then begins to eye Bill Cohen's treat, which the former secretary gladly relinquishes. Gen. Hugh Shelton, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs, "noticed Bush eyeing his mint, so he passed it over."
Page 112: On a Mideast trip, Lynne Cheney lunches with an emir's wife. When do the children here in Bahrain begin school? she asks. The emir's wife reminds Cheney that she's in Qatar.
Page 184: The TelePrompTer text of Bush's climactic speech to the United Nations somehow omits his call for resolutions against the Iraqi regime. Bush remembers and ad-libs the line.
Page 186: Bush aide Nick Calio declares his intention to vitiate a congressional filibuster. Bush says, "Nicky, what the fuck are you talking about, vitiate?"
Page 336: A CIA report suggests that Saddam, whose army can barely muster working tanks or planes, has red-and-white submarines patrolling the Tigris River. The agency immediately discards the report.
Page 244: Woodward meets Bush at a White House Christmas party in 2002. Though it's months before the prez would declare war on Iraq, Bush suggests that a sequel to Woodward's previous best seller, Bush at War, should be in the works. "Maybe it will be called More Bush at War," Bush says. Laura Bush responds, "Let's hope not."
Bryan Curtis, Slate's "Middlebrow" columnist, writes for Grantland, Texas Monthly, and Newsweek. Follow him on Twitter.