... depicts in depressingly vivid detail Powell’s inability to summon the political and moral courage necessary to check Cheney’s foolhardy plans ... Pick up this engaging book for its insights into Cheney and Powell, but take away the two visions for American leadership they embodied.
Mann wants his readers to know that Cheney had no post-9/11 change of heart. He documents the consistency of his deep conservatism and unilateralism across decades. Mann is less clear in explaining what became of the GOP foreign policy establishment’s talent for teamwork and realism. He seems to believe that Cheney’s unilateralism and drive for power helped provoke the fatal errors of the Iraq War, while Powell’s 'passivity' prevented a meaningful challenge to the war from taking shape inside the administration. Or that is my interpretation—Mann never offers a judgment ... Mann writes with a curious indifference to the national security debates of the moment ... The story he tells unfolds over decades that saw the GOP pick up anti-affirmative-action rhetoric, Islamophobia and anti-immigrant sentiment as key campaign platforms. Those developments could have featured in this book, but they don’t ... Mann never steps back to consider the role race played not just in Powell’s rise to national prominence but in his fall from conservative favor, even as he repeats a critique of Powell—that he is an action officer, not a strategic thinker—that professionals from minority and nontraditional backgrounds have heard for generations ... to do that, Mann would have had to weave in more of the world outside the triangle formed by C Street, the White House and the Pentagon. His choice not to do so limits the explanatory capacities of this careful book.
Mann goes beyond policy and philosophical differences to portray Cheney as a dark (i.e, 'conservative,' 'right-wing') and sinister ('neoconservative,' 'hawk') force who exercised too much influence over the inexperienced Bush 43. Powell, on the other hand, is portrayed as prudent, moderate, measured, diplomatic, George Marshall-like.
A useful review of the hard-right shift of U.S. foreign policy since the end of the Cold War, delivered via a comparative study of two of the seminal players ... illuminating ... as Mann demonstrates thoroughly in his insightful dissection of their relationship, Powell was as complicit and eager a participant in the nation’s disastrous ventures as Cheney ... A significant work of American history.