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Book Review: The War Within by Bob Woodward

The fourth book of the Bush at War series by Bob Woodward, The War Within: A Secret White House History 2006-2008, covers the years the final two years of the Bush Presidency and recounts the decisions and internal strife of that period. The War Within picks up where State of Denial left off, with Iraq declining into a violent cesspool of sectarian war and the U.S. with no decisive strategy. While State of Denial was condemning in accounts and tone, The War Within is a slightly drier account as the situation in Iraq goes from horrible to improving.

The focus of the book is the struggle of how to address the rising insurgency in Iraq that was causing such violence.  On one side you had the Defense Department led by Donald Rumsfeld and commanding General William Casey advocating a troop drawdown to make the Iraqis responsible for their own well being. The other push was for a “surge,” bringing more troops into Iraq to help quell the violence.  As we all know, the surge ended up happening and General Petraeus replaced Casey as the commanding General and Bob Gates became the new Secretary of Defense. What may be the most interesting tidbit in the book and that is not explored is that the real change of fortune in Iraq was most likely due not to the surge but instead a secret Manhattan Project like innovation (page 380). Unfortunately, due to its highly classified status, the reader doesn’t get anymore explanation than that.

Like State of Denial, Woodward once again describes an administration that is out of touch and ineffective, which stems from the President.  Bush’s unwavering optimism and certainty prevent any dissent which is necessary for rational debate or discussion.  The other criticism that can be levied against Bush is his public spin that everything was going fine in Iraq and his refusal to address, to the public, a necessary strategy change.  It’s a fine line between being an optimistic leader and being a deceiver. In fact, it was only until he failed miserably as the leader of the Republican Party in the mid –term elections of 2006 that Bush implemented any change. Woodward paints a picture of a President that has “displayed impatience, bravado and unsettling personal certainty about his decisions.”  President Bush surrounded himself with people that would show deference to him, not challenge him, in fact, it’s very noticeable how often Bush must remind people that he’s President or that he has the power.  It’s indicative of a sense of insecurity, as is his refusal to ask his father for any kind of input.

The Woodward quartet of books about the Bush Presidency is highly informative but will ultimately be just one source of information on the calamitous Presidency of George W. Bush.  As Bush himself often states, history will eventually judge his actions. I have no doubt the George W. Bush has no doubt that history will come down on his side. However, even if the Middle East does become a stabilized situation due to a Free Iraqi state, that will not excuse the incompetency of the execution of the War. Bush never seems to be able to grasp that there is more than just the decision, there’s also the implementation and history will judge him and his administration very harshly.