Rise of the Vulcans: The History of Bush's War Cabinet

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When George W. Bush campaigned for the White House, he was such a novice in foreign policy that he couldn't name the president of Pakistan and momentarily suggested he thought the Taliban was a rock-and-roll band. But he relied upon a group called the Vulcans—an inner circle of advisers with a long, shared experience in government, dating back to the Nixon, Ford, Reagan and first Bush administrations. After returning to power in 2001, the Vulcans were widely expected to restore U.S. foreign policy to what it had been under George H. W. Bush and previous Republican administrations. Instead, the Vulcans put America on an entirely new and different course, adopting a far-reaching set of ideas that changed the world and America's role in it. Rise of the Vulcans is nothing less than a detailed, incisive thirty-five-year history of the top six members of the Vulcans—Dick Cheney, Donald Rumsfeld, Colin Powell, Paul Wolfowitz, Richard Armitage, and Condoleezza Rice—and the era of American dominance they represent. It is the story of the lives, ideas and careers of Bush's war cabinet—the group of Washington insiders who took charge of America's response to September 11 and led the nation into its wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.

Separately, each of these stories sheds astonishing light not only on the formative influences that brought these nascent leaders from obscurity to the pinnacle of power, but also on the experiences, conflicts and competitions that prefigured their actions on the present world stage. Taken together, the individuals in this book represent a unique generation in American history—a generation that might be compared to the "wise men" who shaped American policy after World War II or the "best and brightest" who prosecuted the war in Vietnam. Over the past three decades, since the time of Vietnam, these individuals have gradually led the way in shaping a new vision of an unchallengeable America seeking to dominate the globe through its military power.

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While campaigning for president in 2000, George W. Bush downplayed his lack of foreign policy experience by emphasizing that he would surround himself with a highly talented and experienced group of political veterans. This core group, consisting of Donald Rumsfeld, Dick Cheney, Colin Powell, Paul Wolfowitz, Richard Armitage, and Condoleezza Rice, has a long history together dating back 30 years in some cases. Dubbing themselves the Vulcans, they have largely determined the direction and focus of the Bush presidency. In this remarkably researched and fascinating book, Mann traces their careers and the development of their ideas in order to understand how and why American foreign policy got to where it is today.

As Mann makes clear, there has never been perfect agreement between all parties, (the relationship between the close duo of Powell and Armitage on one side and Rumsfeld on the other, for instance, has been frosty) but they do share basic values. Whether they came from the armed services, academia, or government bureaucracy, the Vulcans all viewed the Pentagon as the principal institution from which American power should emanate. Their developing philosophy was cemented after the attacks of September 11, 2001 and is best reflected in the decision to invade Iraq. They believe that a powerful military is essential to American interests; that America is ultimately a force for good despite any negative consequences that may arise from American aggression; they are eternally optimistic about American power and dismiss any arguments about over-extension of resources; and they are skeptical about the need to consult allies or form broad global coalitions before acting.

Rise of the Vulcans succeeds on many levels. Mann presents broad themes such as the gradual transition from the Nixon and Kissinger philosophies to the doctrine espoused by Rumsfeld, Cheney, and the rest in clear and logical terms. He also offers minute details and anecdotes about each of the individuals, and the complex relationships between them, that reveal the true personalities behind the politicians. This is essential reading for those seeking to understand the past quarter century and what it means for America's future. --Shawn Carkonen

About the Author:

James Mann is the senior writer in residence at the CSIS International Security Program and the author of two critically acclaimed books: About Face: A History of America’s Curious Relationship with China from Nixon to Clinton and Beijing Jeep. Previously, he was a long-time correspondent with the Los Angeles Times, and his writing has also appeared in The New Republic and The Atlantic Monthly.

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