Plan of Attack | Bob Woodward

Summary of: Plan of Attack: The Definitive Account of the Decision to Invade Iraq
By: Bob Woodward


In ‘Plan of Attack: The Definitive Account of the Decision to Invade Iraq’ by Bob Woodward, readers delve into the decision-making process that led the United States into the Iraq war. The book examines the roles played by key figures such as President George W. Bush, Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, and Vice President Dick Cheney. This summary explores the inception of the war plans, the continuous dilemmas faced by the President as he pursued diplomacy to avoid war while simultaneously preparing for it, the bureaucratic tensions between key players, and ultimately, the build-up and execution of the invasion of Iraq.

Bush’s Secret Plan for War

In 2001, President George W. Bush asked Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld about a war plan against Iraq. This was the first step towards the Iraq War. Rumsfeld revised the outdated war plans and calculated what it would take to oust Saddam Hussein. President Bush pursued two simultaneous policies: planning for war and conducting diplomacy to avoid it. He wanted to keep everything confidential, but he had already mentioned his plans to his national security adviser, Condoleezza Rice. It is unclear whether he discussed the matter with Vice President Dick Cheney. However, Cheney had made it clear that he considered Saddam Hussein a threat to peace since September 11.

Cheney’s Obsession with Iraq

The book delves into how Vice President Dick Cheney’s singular focus on the threats posed by Saddam and Osama bin Laden’s al Qaeda ultimately drove the US to declare war in Iraq. Described as unsettling and obsessive, Cheney’s push for war was fueled by a desire to restore peace and order in the region. The book also provides a glimpse into the strained relationship between Defense Secretary Rumsfeld and General Tommy Franks, who was tasked with revising the Iraq war plan in just one week. Despite initial friction, the two eventually worked together and developed a mutual respect.

The Broken Pentagon

This summary reflects on the disarray within the Pentagon in the early 2000s, emphasizing Donald H. Rumsfeld’s difficulties with the system, which he found more chaotic than he had initially anticipated. Saddam Hussein had been a massive concern for the United States since the conflict to liberate Kuwait. As a response, the US imposed a no-fly zone north and south of Baghdad covering 60% of Iraq’s area. The Clinton administration had adopted a regime change policy towards Iraq, which the incoming Bush administration inherited. In a Pentagon briefing ten days before his inauguration, George W. Bush was observed joking around with outgoing Secretary of Defense William S. Cohen while military statistics were thrown around like beanbags. Donald H. Rumsfeld, who had served in the Pentagon earlier under President Ford, struggled to hear during the briefing and had trouble keeping up with the military jargon. During the first months of his second stint at the Pentagon, Rumsfeld discovered that the work environment was more broken than he had anticipated. As a result of differing views within the administration, no real policy would be formulated until the president acted or extreme events forced his hand. The 9/11 terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center changed everything for the country and the administration. Rumsfeld, who was located on a side of the Pentagon that was not hit by a jetliner, reportedly raised the idea of retaliating against Iraq.

The Elusive Iraqi War Plan

The summary revolves around the story behind the development of Op Plan 1003- the war plan for the invasion of Iraq. The plan was a work in progress, shaped by critical feedback from leaders like Rumsfeld, Cheney, Powell and President Bush. Despite multiple iterations, it failed to meet expectations, at least until one key element was changed. Tommy Franks- the man in charge of developing the plan- ultimately achieved success by reducing the necessary troops and transforming the proposed 300-day plan into a 150-day plan.

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