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Books About the Bush Administration Reviewed by NYT

New York Times literary critic Michiko Kakutani:
In recent months a floodlet of books has been published about President Bush, his administration and the war in Iraq. They range widely in perspective: there are books by reporters, by administration insiders and by counterterrorism and economic experts; books with conservative, liberal and nonpartisan points of view; books that offer a wide-angle window on the administration; and books that zero in on particular aspects of the war in Iraq. Yet taken together with earlier volumes, these books create a cumulative and, in many respects, surprisingly coherent portrait of the Bush White House and its management style. Authors as disparate as the Reagan administration economist Bruce Bartlett, the New Yorker investigative reporter Seymour M. Hersh, the Weekly Standard editor Fred Barnes and the New York Times reporter James Risen point to ways in which this administration has discarded past precedent, and illuminate its penchant for circumventing traditional processes of policy development and policy review. (...) Virtually every book about the war in Iraq -- whether by a reporter, or a military, intelligence or Coalition Provisional Authority insider -- is replete with examples in which expert advice was ignored or rebuffed by the administration.
Her essay covers 17 books, including:
"Squandered Victory: The American Occupation and the Bungled Effort to Bring Democracy to Iraq" (, by Prof. Larry Diamond. Michiko Kakutani writes:
Mr. Diamond, a leading American scholar on democracy and democratic movements, went to Baghdad as an adviser to the Coalition Provisional Authority at the behest of Ms. Rice, his old Stanford University colleague. He came away convinced that postwar problems in Iraq -- an increasingly virulent insurgency, the creation of a new breeding ground for terrorists, and metastasizing ethnic and religious tensions -- were the result of a series of missteps and misjudgments made by the Pentagon and Bush White House.
"My Year in Iraq: The Struggle to Build a Future of Hope," (, by L. Paul Bremer III.
L. Paul Bremer III, America's former proconsul in Iraq, was similarly stonewalled by the administration on the question of troop levels. In his recent memoir, "My Year in Iraq" (written with Malcolm McConnell), he says that before leaving for Iraq in May 2003, he sent Mr. Rumsfeld a copy of the Rand report estimating that 500,000 troops would be needed to stabilize postwar Iraq (more than three times the number of troops then deployed); he says he never heard back from the defense secretary.
"Cobra II: The Inside Story of the Invasion and Occupation of Iraq" (, by Michael R. Gordon and General Bernard E. Trainor.
Mr. Bremer says of his own controversial May 2003 announcement formally dissolving the Iraqi army (a move that critics say has contributed to the security vacuum and put several hundred thousand armed Iraqis on the street with no jobs and no salaries), that the decision was made in consultation with Mr. Wolfowitz and Under Secretary of Defense Douglas Feith, and authorized by Mr. Rumsfeld. But as the authors of "Cobra II," Gen. Bernard E. Trainor and the New York Times military correspondent Michael R. Gordon, recount, this decision "blindsided" commanders on the ground in Iraq and officials back home in Washington. They write that Lt. Gen. David McKiernan and Lt. Gen. John Abizaid considered "the decision an abrupt and unwelcome departure from their previous planning"; Peter Pace, the vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, "said later that the Joint Chiefs were not consulted about the decision" and Colin Powell "did not know about it in advance."
"The Right Man: An Inside Account of the Bush White House," (, by David Frum, who used to be a speechwriter for President Bush.
About Francis Fukuyama's "America at the Crossroads: Democracy, Power, and the Neoconservative Legacy" see our earlier post.
"Rebel-in-Chief: Inside the Bold and Controversial Presidency of George W. Bush," (, by Fred Barnes, who edits The Weekly Standard and interviewed President Bush and other principals in the administration for his book.
Although Bush believers like Fred Barnes and the former press secretary Ari Fleischer ("Taking Heat") often depict those critics as members of a vast left-wing conspiracy, readers of the many books about the Bush White House will notice that an author's view of the administration's out-of-channels policymaking is not necessarily determined by right/left, red-state/blue-state sympathies; nor is it determined by whether an author supported the original decision to go to war against Iraq.
Read Ms. Kakutani entire review, which includes many more books, including:

"State of War: The Secret History of the C.I.A. and the Bush Administration," (, by New York Times reporter James Risen, who won a Pulitzer Prize with Eric Lichtblau for exposing the government's secret domestic wiretapping program.

For a more positive take on Iraq, which was not included in the NYT review, see the autobiography "American Soldier" (, by Tommy Franks, who was Commander in Chief of the United States Central Command from July 2000 through July 2003.


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Dr. Dean on :

I suppose the main punch-line of the NYT is this:[quote]Virtually every book about the war in Iraq -- whether by a reporter, or a military, intelligence or Coalition Provisional Authority insider -- is replete with examples in which expert advice was ignored or rebuffed by the administration.[/quote] My point of view (ten thousand kilometers away - sorry) is completely different: My opinion is that [i]every[/i] government ignores [i]some[/i] expert advice, especially in complicate cases like this, where "the" experts are giving very different and varied advices. [u]The Bush administration, especially in the field of foreign politicies, typically respects expert advice. I am sure.[/u] Usually there were a thousand experts and more! From my German perspective i would say that the Bush administration is an [b]"expert driven administration".[/b] No administration in the American history had more experts! Is my observation naive? Let me add an additional observation: The "expert system" in America seems to be very special. Here in Germany we don't have that much experts for foreign affairs and international politics. In absolute numbers i would estimate that your country has not tenfold experts in this political field compared with Germany. No! Surely there are more than a hundred times the number of German experts! [i](please keep in mind that i don't think that German experts are better. I really think that in America are many more and better experts for international policy)[/i] Very big! And additional: Lots of very good experts! So and here comes my third observation: The American "expert [u]system[/u] for international politics" is [i]very[/i] special. Hundreds and thousands of "think tanks". Wow! There is absolutely nothing in Germany compared to this. Wow! This is [i]really[/i] big and at a [i]really[/i] very high level. (Maybe typically and severely influenced by special interest groups?) Is this observation naive?

David on :

There is a common thread in all of these books about the Bush administration (here I exclude the ridiculous puff-piece by Bush Cultist Fred Barnes): no other presidency in memory has displayed such gross incompetence which has had such terrible consequences.

Dr. Dean on :

Hmm. If you are right and [b]incompetence[/b] is the main problem: How could this happen? How could this happen if my observation is correct that the bush administration is an "[b]expert driven administration[/b]"? Just wrong experts? [Now] (!) a lot of experts say that the Bush administration did this and this in a wrong manner. In the moment of decision making i suppose the Bush administration refers to a lot of experts und usually to the the best of them. How could all of this experts err?

joe on :

. Dr Dean of course is correct. All these experts and no one paid any attention to them so all they could do was write. Based on sales it would appear no one still is if you use the USA Today top 150 best selling books as a source. The most successful author was David Frum. What in the world is a speechwriter an expert on? No wonder all of this is going so badly. It also might explain why the publishing industry is having a hard time right now also.

David on :

@Joe, Kevin Phillips' book "American Theocracy" has been on the NYTimes bestselling hardcover list for 7 weeks. Have you read it?

Dr. Dean on :

Looking to the book market: America seems to be completely divided in to parts. 2/3 or maybe all of the books [url=]==> in this list[/url] fits to joe's criteria for "anti-americanism". Where is the grey scale? Where is the truth?

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