Bush at War | Bob Woodward

Summary of: Bush at War
By: Bob Woodward


In ‘Bush at War,’ Bob Woodward offers an in-depth look at the reactions and decisions of the George W. Bush administration in response to the 9/11 attacks. Woodward provides readers with a comprehensive account of the inner workings of the administration, the intelligence community, and the military as they faced the most serious challenges in recent history. Through captivating narratives and rich detail, readers will be privy to the formulation of strategies for waging war against al-Qaeda and the Taliban as well as the backstage dealings that led to significant alliances. The urgency and commitment of those tasked with protecting America’s interests are highlighted throughout the book.

The Cost of War

The events that led to the war in Iraq on September 11, 2001, marked a turning point for the U.S. George Tenet, who knew from his long-standing position as the head of the CIA that the U.S. intelligence operation needed reform, realized that putting intelligence officers in the field to collect information (HUMINT) had fallen apart and left the U.S. vulnerable to attack. When the CIA began receiving electronic intercepts indicating some imminent action from Osama bin Laden’s terrorists, Tenet had already been concerned about and focused on him for two years. The terrorist attack forced the bureaucrats to respond to the clarion wake-up call as they rapidly moved the bureaucratic wheels that were usually inert. The administration had recognized that lives would be jeopardized and lost because the rules had shifted.

Bush’s Wake-up Call

President George W. Bush was reading to second graders when his aide informed him about the jet airliner that had hit the North Tower of the World Trade Center. He received another message that America was under attack after a second plane hit the second tower. Attorney General John D. Ashcroft interrupted the discussion, emphasizing the need to stop another attack and apprehend any terrorists before they hit again. The president spoke briefly to the media before racing to the Sarasota Bradenton International Airport to board Air Force One. In his first order to the Secret Service, he asked them to check on his family’s welfare. The aircraft accelerated sharply down the runway and almost stood on its tail as it climbed steeply. Every definition of normal changed in a moment as American Airlines Flight 77 careened into the Pentagon at 9:39 a.m. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld was in the Pentagon when the plane struck, and he kept working despite the danger and criticizing the war plan’s quality against Afghanistan. Rumsfeld had prayed for the patience to measure their lust for action, but in one moment, everything changed, and the world was never the same again.

Bush and the Changed Normalcy

As President Bush returns to the White House after the 9/11 attacks, he is informed of the potential threat to the White House and understands the massive communications problem he faces. He is briefed on recommended courses of action and the need for visible progress in the war on terror. However, the most significant change was Attorney General Ashcroft’s insistence on focusing on preventing another attack rather than prosecuting the terrorists. The president urges everyone to find a way to show visible progress in the war on terror, on their terms. General Franks was having difficulty getting military plans onto his desk, with Rumsfeld asking him to operate in days or weeks instead of months.

Powell’s Persuasion

Powell convinced Musharraf to support US in defeating Taliban

After the US imposed sanctions, General Pervez Musharraf’s appointment in Pakistan created a rift between the two countries. To determine whether or not Musharraf would support the anti-Taliban mission, Powell and Bush made a list of seven demands, including severing ties with the Taliban. Powell personally called Musharraf, explaining that the US needed an ally to protect its flank. To Powell’s surprise, Musharraf agreed to support the US without exception. With this move, America won its first battle against Bin Laden without any explosion.

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