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Plan of attack

04/27/04 12:00AM By Barrie Dunsmore
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(Host) Commentator Barrie Dunsmore reflects on the new book by Robert Woodward that explores the decision-making process leading up to the invasion of Iraq.


(Dunsmore) For the past couple of weeks, Bob Woodward has been the hottest item on the talk show circuit - a measure of his status as the most influential journalist in America. According to the book jacket, Plan of Attack is "the definitive account" of how and why this country invaded Iraq. And it is.

In case you've forgotten, Bob Woodward is the reporter played by Robert Redford in the movie about Watergate, All the President's Men. In his soft-spoken, non-confrontational way, Woodward has consistently been able to get the movers and shakers of Washington - in both parties - to share their secrets with him. Perhaps they've learned that those who talk to him tend to look better in his books than those who don't.

In my view, Plan of Attack is the best of the dozen books Woodward has written. What makes it unique is that it is an inside look at how we got into a war that is on-going, told essentially in the words of the key people who got us there, most of whom are still dealing with the consequences of their actions. Every major policy maker in the administration talked to Woodward - under orders from the White House. And while some of the early stories to come out of the book did not please Mr. Bush and his supporters, by late last week those same officials were urging people to read the book because it shows the president as strong and decisive.

Strong indeed, as Mr. Bush refuses to admit to even the slightest doubt about his decision to go to war. But there are also a number of occasions described in the book where the administration seems neither clever nor candid. For example: There is the president's decision to totally dismiss the warnings of Colin Powell, the only member of his national security team with any actual combat experience. Instead, Powell's credibility as a respected soldier-diplomat is used to make the case for war. I am sorry to say that Powell, while opposing the war privately but ultimately supporting it publicly, comes off looking disingenuous.

Then there is the president's own skepticism about the evidence of weapons of mass destruction. From the book it seems pretty clear that these weapons were the pretext not the reason for the invasion which according to whaat Mr. Bush now says - was to change the world.

And - you have the president and Pentagon civilians all denying any shortcomings in the post-war planning - notwithstanding the fact that after more than a year, Iraq remains in turmoil while American and Iraqi body counts continue to escalate.

It is often said that the history of war is skewed because it is usually written by the victors. In this case, it's interesting that the Bush people chose to get their version of history on the record now - before we know who the actual victors in Iraq will be.

This is Barrie Dunsmore.

Barrie Dunsmore is a veteran diplomatic and foreign correspondent for ABC News, now living in Charlotte.
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