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.
Mann, a former correspondent for the Los Angeles Times, offers a lucid, nonpolemical and carefully researched history of President Bush's foreign policy team, the self-described "Vulcans" (after the Roman god of fire). In doing so, Mann illuminates the administration's rationale for the Iraqi war with impressive clarity. For the Vulcans, he shows, the war is not an anomalous foreign adventure or a knee-jerk reaction to 9/11. On the contrary, the foreign policy, devised by Vice-President Dick Cheney, Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, Assistant Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz, Secretary of State Colin Powell, Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage and National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice, was 35 years in the making and has its roots in the Republican Party faction that opposed d tente with the Soviet Union. Vulcan philosophy has three major tenets: the embrace of pre-emptive action, the notion of an "unchallengeable American superpower" and the systematic export of America's democratic values. Implicit is the rejection of both the notion that transatlantic relationships are the natural focus of U.S. foreign policy and the Kissingeresque realpolitik that dominated much of 20th-century policy. Mann's purpose is to explicate Bush's foreign policy, not to make sweeping value judgments about its wisdom; he takes care to expose not only errors in the Vulcans' assumptions about the war in Iraq but also those of the war's opponents. This well-written, serious, evenhanded effort should be essential reading for anyone interested in American foreign policy.