Bob Woodward’s The War Within: A Secret White House History 2006-2008 isn’t exactly a description of something secret about the Bush presidency. The judgment, as with all four Woodward books about the Bush presidency, is in the tone. At first, Woodward seemed to be impressed with the can-do mentality Bush radiated. However, the tone rapidly changed in following books. The last installment is in some ways as bizarre as the war in Iraq itself - in the end of course the main theme of all books. How to be enthusiastic about the ’surge’ without discussing the validity in historic perspective? By now it’s even clear to the staunchest of Bush aficionados that the Iraq war was an unjust war without a cause, which from a military viewpoint started with way too few troops. The so-called surge was no brilliant strategic move but a mere correction of a flaw known from the very beginning in a war that shouldn’t have been.
The story of the book is simple. Bush lets generals decide, careful to avoid the bad example of Lyndon B. Johnson’s micromanagement of the Vietnam war. He assures his generals “tell me what you need, and I take care you’ll get it.” But in the end Bush becomes dissatisfied with the progress and slowly tips over to the surge solution. The tale is a horrid one about postponing decisions in a bloody and unjust war due to electoral considerations.
The supposed nefarious role of the VP in the Bush administration is nowhere to be found in this book. Bush seems to be in control with his “gut feeling only” decisions. Careful analysis and subtle operations are nowhere to be seen. Logical - because were such qualities available in the Bush administration the Iraq war never would have taken place. The absence of Cheney might be caused by something else. It’s clear the VP isn’t very elated about telling the outside world what happens in the White House. It’s clear his agenda was not so much starting a war, but securing unlimited presidential powers. His forte was undoing constitutional guards that followed the criminal actions of the Nixon government.
It’s weird however. Living through the Watergate area and collecting about everything I could find about it Nixon remained a tragic figure, mainly struggling with himself. A clever man turning to the Dark Side because of his fears and inferiority complexes, especially regarding the Kennedy’s. But George W. Bush never looks tragic in all his disastrous decisions. After eight years of number 43, it’s clear this man simply is what in the school yard we call a bully. And he’s surrounded by his kin as well. Some more subtle, other less. Nixon doubted all of his life. Bush never have seemed to. That might be the problem of this administration: they never doubted. They knew all the answers. But it was all preconceived wisdom. They didn’t care about subtleties, analysis and careful considerations. That’s what makes them all so unsympathetic: basically they all were a bunch of bullying know-it-alls. Woodward’s books might contain some admiration for Dubya, but it doesn’t seem to hide that cold fact.