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The History of Bush’s War Cabinet

by James Mann

Pub Date: March 8th, 2004
ISBN: 0-670-03299-9
Publisher: Viking

Intricately shaded and scary profile of President George W. Bush’s foreign policy team: Dick Cheney, Donald Rumsfeld, Colin Powell, Paul Wolfowitz, and to a lesser degree Condoleeza Rice.

In a steady voice that likes to hew to the facts, Mann (About Face, 1999, etc.) profiles a group of associates with close, intricate, and overlapping ties. Dubbing themselves the Vulcans in honor of the Roman god of fire, they craft, in the stead of a president with little to no experience in the greater world, the global vision of the current administration, which the author broadly summarizes as a willingness to deploy sledgehammer and fire to protect and further American interests abroad. Not that this chorus sings in harmony, notes Mann: they have manifold strategic and tactical differences, but they share an overriding sense of the country’s potential as a unilateral military power, with its unbridled ability to affect events on the global stage. The author anatomizes in exquisite detail the players’ backgrounds and the experiences that shaped them, to whom they are beholden, and the trajectories of their careers—no mean feat with this seemingly incestuous and opportunistic lot, whose alliances and perspectives shift through time and space. But they all emphasize US supremacy, confrontational and self-interested, diplomatically thuggish, built on “coalitions” or “ad hoc assemblies, often not lasting beyond the crisis being confronted.” Iraq, of course, is the unpersuasive field test for their belief in retaliation, an emphasis on weapons on mass destruction (real or otherwise), stanching terrorism, containing the “axis of evil” states. None of these rationales obviously apply, but all are brought to bear. Mann doesn’t address the thorny question of how the Vulcans plan (or have failed to plan) to contend with the swarm of variables that assert themselves once the façade of tyranny is dismantled.

A neat dissection of current American tactics overseas that, understandably, as history has yet to be played out, leaves hanging the question of their efficacy.