Debra J. Saunders

 While too much of the intelligence on weapons of mass destruction was old, Woodward reported, new intelligence showed that the Iraqis were "moving and concealing things" before U.N. inspections. Even Powell, the Reluctant Warrior, believed Saddam Hussein had WMDs because, Woodward wrote, "the dictator had used WMD in the 1980s, hidden them in the 1990s, and if he wasn't hiding anything now, all he had to do was come clean." (That is why Powell took the Bush case to the United Nations.)

 The whole tactic of using force to compel Saddam Hussein to agree to inspections put intelligence workers and U.S. allies in great risk. Bush knew that the White House could not hang the sword of Damocles indefinitely over Iraq's head of state through countless re-dos of weapons inspections. So it didn't help when French Foreign Minister Dominique de Villepin gave Hussein a reason to stall when the diplomat announced that "nothing" would justify war against Iraq.

 Readers who chant "Bush lied" should avoid the book. They won't want to read that Bush told CIA Director George Tenet not to stretch intelligence. They also won't want to read that, as Bush probed information, Tenet saw the WMD case as "slam dunk" -- given what he had learned from other classified information.

 As for the assertion that Bush never had "a plan," it's hard to argue that after reading "Plan of Attack."

 Not all of the reportage is flattering to Bush. Woodward reports facts that support critics who believe that the Bush Defense Department did not send sufficient troops to Iraq. I don't know the answer to that question -- what do I know about troop deployment? -- but I appreciate that Woodward laid out the thinking behind Pentagon decisions on troop numbers so that it is in context.

 In the world of punditry, too frequently the troop-number controversy is presented in such a one-dimensional way that you can't take it seriously: One expert pronounces the need for more U.S. troops in Iraq. The next critical din says: There should be more foreign troops and fewer U.S. troops. Then: There should be a draft.

 The worst of it is, these critics seem to think that a country can go to war without making any mistakes. They speak as if all the decisions are easy and all the information is clear, but for some smarmy reason, Bush refused to do it right.

 And then they accuse Bush of being insufficiently thoughtful.

Debra J. Saunders

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