Bush at War

bawThe latest in my “catching up on all my reading” project this year, I finally finished this book by Bob Woodward detailing the Bush administration’s immediate response to 9/11.

Told in bland, journalistic prose, Woodward must have interviewed pretty much everyone involved to have this kind of detail about how, meeting by meeting, the strategy of the regime change in Afghanistan evolved. Powell, Rice, Rumsfeld, Cheney, Franks, and of course, Bush all have a chance to get their various points across.

What’s most unexpected is how chaotic everything was. The basic idea (depose the Taliban, get al Qaeda) was so simple. But the logistics of how to do that, and how to manage public and diplomatic opinion at the same time, were formidable. Reading something only a few steps removed from a transcript, the meetings seem like organized chaos, with principals talking past each other constantly.

The lack of personality in the prose indicates (though, of course, doesn’t ensure) a lack of bias on Woodward’s part. He dramatizes the differences of opinion, but he does not seem to take sides. Is Rumsfeld being belligerent, or responding appropriately to unknown threats? Is Powell being conciliatory, or accurately assessing world opinion? Woodward leaves these questions to the reader. Which is how journalism should be.

As a book, it’s not a fun read, but it is an interesting one. As a source of data to evaluate my own personal views, I wasn’t particularly moved to change my opinion of this war. I was always for the invasion of Afghanistan. Their leaders openly supported the group that had attacked us brutally. That they were an oppressive regime who deserved toppling was merely gravy. They needed to go. The angle I found most hilarious was the media using the word “quagmire” before the war was a month old. Man, that’s jumping the gun. Maybe there were missteps in the decade of police action following the actual war, but the war itself seemed to go remarkably well.

The book also lays the groundwork for the following volumes, which dig into the Iraq war in more detail. The relative ease with which Afghanistan was upended gives the administration a level of comfort with regime change that directly impacts the next war. Little is said in the book about the case for war in Iraq, or the case against. Hopefully Plan of Attack addresses what has always been a much more divisive war, for us and the world.


“Seattle’s Architectural History”

Today I went to the Seattle Public Library to watch a lecture about Seattle architecture. It was remarkably entertaining. Now I know why some buildings only have terra cotta on the top and bottom floors. (Though, interestingly, I still don’t know what terra cotta is.) I know that there was a devastating fire in 1889, and that it did NOT burn 65 blocks, it burned 65 HALF-blocks! I know what a bungalow is: a one-and-a-half story house with a porch.

The most fun for me was looking at these old city planning maps and fin-de-ci├Ęcle pictures and try to correlate it with what I know of the city now. There are, apparently, a stunning number of important pre-war buildings on my street (2nd Avenue). Though, it seems, if those who fancied Seattle as the Paris of the North West had their way back in the early 20th Century, where I live would be a city center instead of condos. So there’s that.

I’m looking forward to the second half of the series, when architectural historian Jeffrey Karl Ochsner returns to describe what’s happened here since WWII, when he’ll no doubt be talking about the building we’re in at the time, which is super-cool. I’m also looking forward to watching the lecture hall’s implacable steel doors slide into place, sealing us in for two hours!