The stated purpose of Plan of Attack is to provide a detailed account of why U.S. president George W. Bush, spurred on by his supporters and his advisers, engaged the United States in an unprecedented preemptive war against a sovereign country, Iraq, to bring down its dictator, Saddam Hussein. Hussein was undeniably a cruel and power-crazed despot who ruled by brutalizing Iraqis who opposed him in any way. Famed journalist Bob Woodward's major question, nevertheless, is whether the United States could successfully justify conducting an offensive against Iraq, thereby violating the sovereignty of an independent nation.

In his earlier book Bush at War (2002), Woodward delved into the president's motivations for considering a preemptive attack on Iraq. In preparing to write Plan of Attack, Woodward had Bush's full cooperation. The heart of the book is based on three-and-a-half hours of interviews Woodward conducted in the White House with the president on December 10-11, 2003. Woodward interviewed defense secretary Donald Rumsfeld as well, for more than three hours during the autumn of 2003.

Bush directed other government officials to cooperate with Woodward, who subsequently interviewed more than seventy-five people crucially involved in events that resulted in the war against Iraq. These included White House staff members, key figures in the Departments of State and Defense, officials of the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), and members of Bush's war cabinet. It was agreed that these interviews would be conducted for background information, which meant that Woodward was free to use information gained through them but was not free to identify his sources directly or individually.

According to Plan of Attack, the Bush White House, from its inception, was supportive of more hawks (war-backers) than doves (negotiators or compromisers). Bush's top-level team members referred to themselves as “the Vulcans.” They were Richard Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld, both former secretaries of defense; Colin Powell, former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff; Paul Wolfowitz, former undersecretary of defense; Richard Armitage, former assistant secretary of defense; and national security adviser Condoleezza Rice. The only moderate among these six was Powell, who clearly favored diplomacy over war.

The administration's justification for launching a war against Iraq was that Hussein had weapons of mass destruction (WMDs) that placed the free world in imminent danger of attack and destruction. The events of September 11, 2001—when commercial airliners loaded with fuel were flown into the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, with a fourth plane aimed at Washington, D.C., presumably to destroy either the White House or the Capitol—heightened international awareness that terrorism was indeed a palpable threat, against which drastic measures seemed justified.

Shortly before Thanksgiving of 2001, although Hussein had not been convincingly linked to the catastrophic events of September 11, Bush took Rumsfeld aside and asked him to begin, in concert with Tommy Franks, the combatant commander of the area around Iraq, to devise a plan to protect the United States, one that would topple Hussein's regime. After a cabinet meeting, Bush again met privately with Rumsfeld and told him to devise a war plan against Iraq. When Bush emphasized that Rumsfeld was to discuss this plan with no one, Rumsfeld pointed out the need for input from George Tenet, director of the CIA, who would, it was hoped, provide the documentary justification for such a plan.

Bush met with Tenet in Rice's office and was provided with information about Hussein's alleged WMDs. Bush was somewhat suspicious of the information Tenet proffered and asked him if what he had given him was the best he could provide. Tenet twice told Bush that there was no need to worry, that this was, in his words, a slam-dunk case.

Bush was scheduled to speak in Cincinnati, Ohio, on October 7, 2002. He intended to use this...

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