Wednesday, March 8, 2023

Review Rise Of The Vulcans, The History of Bush’s War Cabinet

Mann, James, Rise Of The Vulcans, The History of Bush’s War Cabinet, New York: Viking, 2004


James Mann’s Rise Of The Vulcans, The History of Bush’s War Cabinet is about six individuals, Dick Cheney, Donald Rumsfeld, Colin Powell, Condoleezza Rice, Paul Wolfowitz and Richard Armitage who helped shape U.S. foreign policy after the Cold War. Mann gives a biography of each to explain how their experiences shaped their world views and then how they attempted to follow them while serving in government. Those ideas helped explain why they were all for the 2003 invasion of Iraq.


When George Bush campaigned for president in 1999-2000 he tried to make up for his lack of foreign policy experience and youth by assembling a group of veteran officials from previous administrations that knew the world and were respected. Together Cheney, Rumsfeld, Powell, Rice, Wolfowitz and Armitage had fought in the Vietnam War, and served under every president from Nixon to the first Bush. Cheney and Rumsfeld for instance, had both been Secretaries of Defense and Powell had been the head of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and a national security advisor. Although they disagreed on details and formed personal animosities Mann believed they shared a common view of the world. The most important was that they felt that military power was paramount for American to remain the dominant country in the world. When faced with a foreign policy crisis they tended to believe in force over diplomacy. Some such as Wolfowitz and Rice thought that the world benefited from the United States by promoting universal ideas such as democracy. Finally, Cheney and Rumsfeld felt after the Cold War ended and the U.S. became the sole superpower it no longer needed to rely upon allies like NATO because they could limit what Washington wanted to do. All of these came to play in the Iraq War.


The strength of Rise of the Vulcans is that it attempts to explain how these ideas were shaped by the histories of the six. The Cold War and Vietnam for example, led Cheney, Rumsfeld, Powell, Wolfowitz and Armitage to believe the military was the main instrument to maintain American power in the world. For the neoconservative Wolfowitz Filipino strongman Ferdinand Marcos stepping down in 1986 played a large role in shaping his views. Wolfowitz who was then at the State Department advocated for Marcos to leave office saying that democracy would be help stop the spread of Communism in the Philippines. Wolfowitz would later argue that morals needed to be included in American foreign policy like pushing for democracy around the world. Finally, Rumsfeld was U.S. ambassador to NATO under Nixon and came away cynical about the need for alliances afterward. Not all of these ideas were equally shared. Powell and Armitage did believe in America’s allies and international institutions like the United Nations. Armitage believed the U.S. abandoned Vietnam and did not want to see that repeated so maintaining relationships were important while Powell saw how the U.N. could create an international coalition behind the Gulf War and ensure not only victory but widespread support. Mann writes what kept them together despite their differences was their commitment to using the military to assert America’s position in the world.


Mann only spends the very end of his book on the Iraq War but he makes some important points. One was that all of the six agreed with President Bush that Iraq should be invaded. Powell and Armitage were able to convince the president to go to the United Nations against the advice of Cheney and Rumsfeld, but the Secretary of State and his deputy were arguing about how to overthrow Saddam not whether it should be done or not. Mann notes that this debate amongst Bush’s advisors was the only meaningful discussion about Iraq that took place in the United States. The majority of Democrats for example believed in using force as well. These observations were not made by other authors that usually portrayed Powell as being weary of war when he believed in it and missed the general consensus within the United States for invasion. Most importantly the book shows that the Bush administration would not have responded to 9/11 if it had not been for its world view.


Rise of the Vulcans is an important book for covering the underlying ideas behind the Iraq war. Few deal with that which makes Mann’s work stand out. Readers also have to understand this is not really a book about Iraq but background material for those that want a deep dive into the beliefs that led to it. Mann has a very easy to read style and there are plenty of interesting stories about each of the six figures. When Vulcans does deal with Iraq it shows that the debate was very limited to how and not why to remove Saddam. Mann helps explain how that happened.


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