The Guardian January 29, 2003

Book review

Bush at War
by Bob Woodward

reviewed by Peter Symon

Bob Woodward is an assistant managing editor of The Washington Post 
and has written four books on American Presidents. Perhaps the best 
known is All the President's Men. He is regarded as an investigative 
journalist and, for the book under review, he was given extensive 
interviews with President George W Bush, Vice President Dick Cheney, 
Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, Secretary of State Colin Powell, 
National Security adviser Condoleezza Rice, CIA Director George Tenet, and 
other leading figures of the Bush administration.

Woodward's book opens on the morning of September 11, 2001, the day of the 
terrorist attacks on the World Trade Centre and the Pentagon. But rather 
than start this review with the events of that day and their consequences I 
will quote the very last few paragraphs of Bush at War and then wind back 
the clock to the events of that day.

Woodward says: "On February 5, 2002, about 25 men representing three 
different Special Forces units and three CIA paramilitary teams gathered 
outside Gardez, Afghanistan, in the east, about 40 miles from the Pakistani 

"It was very cold, and they were bundled in camping or outdoor clothing. No 
one was in uniform. Many had beards. The men stood or kneeled on this 
desolate site in front of a helicopter. An American flag was standing in 
the background. There was a pile of rocks arranged as a tombstone over a 
buried piece of the demolished World Trade Centre. Someone snapped a 
picture of them.

"One of the men read a prayer. Then he said, 'We consecrate this spot as an 
everlasting memorial to the brave Americans who died on September 11, so 
that all who would seek to do her harm will know that America will not 
stand by and watch terror prevail.

"'We will export death and violence to the four corners of the earth in 
defence of our great nation.'"

Despite this revealing quote, Woodward fails to ask Bush and his cohorts 
many obvious questions:

Why weren't airforce planes, which were on duty specifically for the 
purpose, scrambled to intercept the hijacked planes on September 11?

Why did President Bush continue to listen to children reading a story at a 
school when informed that the World Trade Centre had been hit?

Why did the two World Trade Centre towers implode in exactly the same way 
after the planes struck? Were there other causes for their collapse?

Why hasn't a thorough and independent investigation been held into all the 

Why were the many warnings received about a possible terrorist act 
disregarded by the CIA, the FBI and the Government that must have been 

Were plans for military action against Afghanistan in the pipeline before 
September 11 as has been alleged?

What were (are) the political and economic ties between the Bush family and 
the bin Laden family and why does the book not discuss them? Why were 
members of the bin Laden family who were in the US at the time of the 
attacks allowed to leave without questioning? What is the significance of 
the oil question in regard to both Afghanistan and Iraq?

Woodward raises none of these questions which continue to swirl around the 
September 11 events. He fails completely to set the subsequent events in 
any sort of political or economic context except to speculate on President 
Bush' s "vision" for the world in the last few pages of his book.

He records Bush's claim to "worry about the human condition" and, in regard 
to a war against Iraq he reports Bush as saying, "As we think through Iraq, 
we may or may not attack. I have no idea, yet. But it will be for the 
objective of making the world more peaceful."

How often have those about to launch a war claimed to be doing so for 
"peace"? Make war for peace!

In many respects Woodward's book is totally unsatisfactory and could be 
seen as no more than a cover-up for the Bush administration and their plans 
to "export death and violence to the four corners of the earth".

Most of the book recounts the innumerable meetings of the US National 
Security Council (NSC) that is made up of the top names already mentioned 
and their day-to-day preparations and prosecution of the war against 

Neither the book, nor those involved in the NSC discussions of the war 
against Afghanistan make any attempt to give proof that the attack on the 
World Trade Centre was actually implemented and planned by al Qaida.

Although Bush and company immediately blamed bin Laden and al Qaida, even a 
fortnight after September 11, Woodward records that "the evidence was 
circumstantial and somewhat fragmentary, though there were some hard 

The NSC decided against issuing a white paper: "The danger of issuing a 
white paper that presented evidence was that it could condition people to 
view the war on terror as a law enforcement operation, within the model of 
the judicial system with its evidentiary standards, burden of proof on the 
government and proof beyond a reasonable doubt  things that could not 
possibly be met."

So the war against Afghanistan was to be launched without proof "beyond 
reasonable doubt", and thousands of people killed in the process.

The same US approach is being applied to Iraq with the unsubstantiated 
claims that Iraq has weapons of mass destruction.

Rumsfeld and Cheney emerge as the most rabid warmongers. The book quotes 
Rumsfeld quite early on in the Afghanistan war as asking: "look, as part of 
the war on terrorism, should we be getting something going in another area, 
other than Afghanistan, so that success or failure and progress isn't 
measured just by Afghanistan?"

The means to achieve the desired ends for the Bush administration have no 
limit or restriction. Here is a classical case of the "ends justifying the 
means". Principle among their means is bribery.

The author writes: "Gary (a CIA operative in Afghanistan) had stuffed $1 
million into his backpack so he could move around and pass it to people on 
other operations. He had signed for the $3 million as usual. What was 
different this time was that he could dole it out pretty much at his own 

And, when Gary meets the intelligence chief of the Northern Alliance in 
Afghanistan, Woodward records that "Gary nodded and placed a bundle of cash 
on the table: $500,000 in 10 one-foot stacks of $100 bills."

"There's big money to be made if you can ambush Zawahiri", says Gary.

Woodward records many similar instances of bribery. "The CIA was buying its 
way across Afghanistan, at least trying, giving out rice, guns and cash."

But it was not only the forces in Afghanistan that were being bribed. When 
Bush met with the Algerian President, Abdelaziz Bouteflika Woodward records 
that "the CIA was heavily subsidizing its intelligence service, spending 
millions to get their assistance in the war against al Qaeda."

The same story is true of Jordan. George Tenet (CIA) met King Abdullah of 
Jordan and Woodward declares: "The CIA was subsidizing the Jordanian 
service to the tune of millions of dollars a year."

The Russians had their hands out too. "The Russians were willing to send 
weapons to the Northern Alliance, but somebody would have to pay for the 
arms. It was eventually decided that the CIA would pay. They (the CIA) 
would give their former enemy about $10 million."

The members of the NSC cynically joked: "You can't buy an Afghan but you 
can rent one".

"The CIA calculated that they spent only $70 million in direct cash outlays 
on the ground in Afghanistan. The President considered it "one of the 
biggest 'bargains' of all time", writes Woodward.

Not in any single remark is there any mention of international law or the 
Charter of the United Nations. The UN is mentioned merely as a handmaiden 
of American policy.

When it came to the question of who was to run Kabul after the Taliban had 
been driven out, the response was "Let the UN administer it . plus third 
country forces ruling Kabul". The thinking behind this was not rooted in 
some principled concern for the United Nations but Bush's view that the US 
army is not about "nation building".

The US Army is to fight wars with the responsibility left to others to pick 
up the humanitarian calamity and property destruction that wars inevitably 
mean to others. Rebuilding was of no concern to the American leadership.

"Look", says Bush, "I oppose using the military for nation building. Once 
the job is done, our forces are not peacekeepers. We ought to put in place 
a UN protection and leave."

But the truth lies elsewhere. While assuring Russia, Pakistan and others 
that the Americans have no intention of staying in Afghanistan George Tenet 
remarks to the NSC "We need to tell the southern tribes what the political 
scenario is . We need to make it clear that we're there for the long term."

The FBI had compiled a list of what it claimed to be the 22 "Most Wanted 
Terrorists". "Bush took a classified version for himself that had photos, 
brief biographies and personality sketches of the 22 men. When he returned 
to his desk in the Oval Office, he slipped the list of names and faces into 
a drawer, ready at hand, his own personal scorecard for the war."

Such is the mentality of this saviour of humanity!

Throughout the period the National Security Council receives continual 
reports of supposed terrorist threats none of which eventuated. One wonders 
whether the alleged terrorist threats are real or are being deliberately 
manufactured to keep the American people and those of other countries in a 
continual state of worry, tension and fear.

While the spread of anthrax was initially blamed on Iraq or Russia, the 
fact that it was being mailed by persons within the US is not reported by 
Woodward. Why?

Everything and everybody is systematically manipulated to achieve US aims.

When it is suggested that Syria come out against all terrorism, Rumsfeld 
declares, "We can't let Syria help us with al Qaeda and then [have] us feel 
constrained about pursing them with respect to their support for other 

Says Bush, "We need to get some of our people on Al-Jazeera" (a Middle East 
TV station) . We need people to feed some information to them."

"We're holding the Northern Alliance in place and there's a question of 
when we release them", says George Tenet in one of the NSC briefings.

Humanitarian aid was another weapon to be cynically used and paid for by 
others. "We need a donors' conference", said Bush meaning all the countries 
who were making humanitarian donations to Afghanistan. "We need . to get 
the coalition something to hang its hat on when we continue the bombing 
during Ramadan."

While European leaders had expressed the view that "to maintain the 
coalition was to have lots of consultation, for the US to show 
responsiveness, take account of the views of others and understand their 
reasoning", Bush had other ideas.

"My belief is the best way that we hold this coalition together is to be 
clear on our objectives and to be clear that we are determined to achieve 
them. You hold a coalition together by strong leadership and that's what we 
intend to provide."

"Well", said Bush, "you can't talk your way to a solution to a problem. And 
the United States is in a unique position right now. We are the leader."

Woodward comments: "because it would be the policy of the United States, 
the only superpower, the rest of the world would have to move over, would 
adjust over time. His vision clearly includes an ambitious reordering of 
the world through preemptive and, if necessary, unilateral action to reduce 
suffering and bring peace."

But when the question of Iraq was raised again, Bush says: "A president 
likes to have a military plan that will be successful" and Woodward 
comments: "Whatever his course, he will have available a CIA and military 
that are both more capable and more hungry for action than is generally 

It is this terrible purpose and not peace on earth that those constructing 
the memorial in Afghanistan echoed when their spokesman said: "We will 
export death and violence to the four corners of the earth in defence of 
our great nation".

Woodward's book, despite its serious omissions, paints a picture of an 
American leadership that is hell-bent on war.

The Bush regime is manipulative, always looking for means to divide its 
real or imagined opponents, fearful of a string of concocted terrorist 
threats, prepared to use bribery on a massive scale, corrupt and 
incompetent but with a messianic belief in America's mission to rule the 
world and now using assassination as a means specifically authorised by 
Presidential edict.

Bush at War is published by Simon and Schuster ISBN 0-7432-0473-5

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