Focused on Saddam from the Start:
"See if Saddam did this. See if he's linked in any way..."It should be noted that while Bush was having his very first and many subsequent NSC meetings focused on Iraq - months before 9/11 - Counter-Terrorism Chief Richard Clarke was unable to get a meeting and briefing scheduled on al-Qaeda for nearly 8 months.
These are the instructions given by George W. Bush to Richard A. Clarke, then the chairman of the Counterterrorism Security Group of the National Security Council on September 12, 2001. When Clarke responded "But, Mr. President, al Qaeda did this," Bush insisted "I know, I know, but... see if Saddam was involved. Just look. I want to know any shred..." This exchange was described by Clarke in his book Against All Enemies.
Why, on the first day after the devastating attack of September 11, 2001 by Osama bin Laden and al Qaeda, was Bush so focused on Iraq and Saddam Hussein? The answer to this question should be obvious to everyone, but for the benefit of those who still entertain some doubts, I would like to do a chronological review of events.
I will begin with a comment Bush made in 1999 to Mickey Herskowitz, an author who had many conversations with Bush while he was preparing to assist him in writing his autobiography. According to Herskowitz, Bush told him:
"My father had all this political capital built up when he drove the Iraqis out of Kuwait and he wasted it. If I have a chance to invade, if I had that much capital, I'm not going to waste it."
Some people have suggested that Bush had a vendetta against Saddam Hussein because Hussein had tried to have Bush's father assassinated. This comment to Herskowitz would suggest that George W. Bush was more interested in how he might acquire, and use, the popularity that his father had enjoyed during the first Gulf War. This may have been just a casual comment to a ghostwriter long before Bush became president, but most people would admit that "If I have a chance to invade" was an unusual choice of words.
Something that is definitely not just a casual comment is the 90 page document titled "REBUILDING AMERICA'S DEFENSES: Strategy, Forces and Resources For a New Century" prepared in September 2000 by the Project for the New American Century (PNAC). Many of the people who were involved in PNAC are currently in the Bush administration, including Dick Cheney, Donald Rumsfeld, and Paul Wolfowitz. This report, which was prepared four months before Bush took office, includes this statement about the Middle East:
"Indeed, the United States has for decades sought to play a more permanent role in Gulf regional security. While the unresolved conflict with Iraq provides the immediate justification, the need for a substantial American force presence in the Gulf transcends the issue of the regime of Saddam Hussein."
The section titled "Repositioning Today's Force" discusses the U.S. military presence in the Middle East over the last decade and includes this statement:
"From an American perspective, the value of such bases would endure even should Saddam pass from the scene."
There is no question that the strategy envisioned by PNAC includes a permanent U.S. military presence worldwide, and particularly in the Middle East.
On January 30, 2001, ten days after Bush took office, the National Security Council met for the first time. Former Secretary of the Treasury, Paul O'Neill provided an account of that meeting to author Ron Suskind for his book The Price of Loyalty. According to O'Neill, the entire meeting was about Iraq, and Condoleezza Rice began by noting that Iraq was destabilizing the region and that it might be the key to reshaping the entire region.
Planning the Invasion Begins - March 2001.
The next meeting of the National Security Council was held on February 1, 2001 and again it was about Iraq. In summarizing the discussions, O'Neill said this:
"From the start, we were building the case against Hussein and looking at how we could take him out and change Iraq into a new country. And, if we did that, it would solve everything. It was all about finding a way to do it. That was the tone of it. The President saying, 'Fine. Go find me a way to do this.'"
Suskind writes that by March, "Actual plans, to O'Neill's astonishment, were already being discussed to take over Iraq and occupy it - complete with disposition of oil fields, peacekeeping forces, and war crimes tribunals - carrying forward an unspoken doctrine of preemptive war."Also by March 2001, the National Energy Policy Development Group, generally referred to as the Cheney Energy Task Force, was conducting meetings. As a result of a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit filed by Judicial Watch, a number of the documents used by the Energy Task Force have been released to the public. Included in those documents were a map of the Iraqi oilfields, pipelines and refineries and a two page chart with the heading "Foreign Suitors for Iraqi Oilfield Contracts" detailing Iraqi oil and gas projects. Both were dated March 2001.
September 11, 2001 - The Catalyst for War
Then on September 11, 2001, al Qaeda attacked the United States. Bob Woodward, in his book Plan of Attack, says that Bush wrote in his diary that night "The Pearl Harbor of the 21st century took place today." The PNAC report, written one year earlier, had already used the Pearl Harbor analogy:
"Further, the process of transformation, even if it brings revolutionary change, is likely to be a long one, absent some catastrophic and catalyzing event - like a new Pearl Harbor."
Woodward also tells us that the next day, September 12, "in the inner circle of Bush's war cabinet, Rumsfeld asked if the terrorist attacks did not present an 'opportunity' to launch against Iraq." As noted earlier, that was the same day Bush instructed Clarke to try to connect Iraq to the attack.
While an attack against Iraq was ruled out in the immediate aftermath of 9/11 and the U.S. military was sent instead to Afghanistan where al Qaeda had their training camps, Woodward notes that two months later, on November 21, Bush instructed Rumsfeld to get started on updating the war plan for Iraq. By December 28, the war plan had undergone three iterations and General Tommy Franks was called to Crawford, Texas to give Bush a personal briefing about the plan.Shifting Focus.
By March, 2002 Osama bin Laden was pretty much forgotten and Iraq was the entire focus. At a press conference on March 13, 2002 Bush said of bin Laden, "I don't know where he is. You know, I just don't spend that much time on him..." About Iraq he said this: "I am deeply concerned about Iraq. And so should the American people be concerned about Iraq. And so should people who love freedom be concerned about Iraq."
In many of his comments about Iraq during this time period, Bush referred to all options being on the table. To some that might seem to indicate that the decision to invade Iraq had not yet been made. A thorough reading of his statements, however, makes it clear that his threats were strong and that he was preparing the nation for more war. His references to all options being considered were infrequent and weak, and seemed intended simply to pacify a public not yet convinced that invading Iraq was appropriate.A number of British governmental documents from this time period have recently been obtained by the press and released to the public. These documents, commonly referred to as the Downing Street Memos, confirm what many people had already concluded, that the decision to use military force against Iraq was already made.
Enlisting the Brits
Thus the strategy of using claims of Iraqi WMD capability began to become part of the policy to overthrow Saddam and take over Iraq. Bush and Blair continued to dance around each other.
In anticipation of a meeting that [British Prime Minister Tony] Blair was to have with Bush in Crawford, Texas, Foreign Secretary Jack Straw requested the thoughts of various government officials for a memo that he would be sending to Blair. In response to that request, British Foreign Office political director Peter Ricketts sent Straw a memo dated March 22, 2002. His comments about Iraq included the following:
"...even the best survey of Iraq's WMD programmes will not show much advance in recent years on the nuclear, missile or CW/BW fronts: the programmes are extremely worrying but have not, as far as we know, been stepped up.
US scrambling to establish a link between Iraq and Al Aaida [sic] is so far frankly unconvincing. To get public and Parliamentary support for military operations, we have to be convincing that:
- the threat is so serious/imminent that it is worth sending our troops to die for;
- it is qualitatively different from the threat posed by other proliferators who are closer to achieving nuclear capability (including Iran)."
The memo from Jack Straw to Tony Blair was dated March 25, 2002 and included the following comments:
"The rewards from your visit to Crawford will be few. The risks are high, both for you and for the Government. I judge that there is at present no majority inside the PLP for any military action against Iraq, (alongside a greater readiness in the PLP to surface their concerns). Colleagues know that Saddam and the Iraqi regime are bad. Making that case is easy. But we have a long way to go to convince them as to:
(a) the scale of the threat from Iraq and why this has got worse recently;
(b) what distinguishes the Iraqi threat from that of eg Iran and North Korea so as to justify military action;
(c) the justification for any military action in terms of international law;…"
With respect to the legal justification, the memo said this:
"regime change per se is no justification for military action; it could form part of the method of any strategy, but not the goal. Of course, we may want credibly to assert that regime change is an essential part of the strategy by which we have to achieve our ends - that of the elimination of Iraq's WMD capacity; but the latter has to be the goal; ..."
Three months after the meeting in Crawford, Blair had a meeting with British government officials. A briefing paper prepared by the Cabinet Office on July 21, 2002, in preparation for that meeting included the following comments:
"The U.S. Government's military planning for action against Iraq is proceeding apace. But, as yet, it lacks a political framework. In particular, little thought has been given to creating the political conditions for military action, or the aftermath and how to shape it.
When the Prime Minister discussed Iraq with President Bush at Crawford in April he said that the U.K. would support military action to bring about regime change, provided that certain conditions were met: efforts had been made to construct a coalition/shape public opinion, the Israel-Palestine Crisis was quiescent, and the options for action to eliminate Iraq's WMD through the U.N. weapons inspectors had been exhausted."
The meeting Blair had with his government officials was held on July 23, 2003. The official minutes of that meeting were also released with the Downing Street documents. The minutes contained the following entries:
"C reported on his recent talks in Washington. There was a perceptible shift in attitude. Military action was now seen as inevitable. Bush wanted to remove Saddam, through military action, justified by the conjunction of terrorism and WMD. But the intelligence and facts were being fixed around the policy. The NSC had no patience with the U.N. route, and no enthusiasm for publishing material on the Iraqi regime's record. There was little discussion in Washington of the aftermath after military action.
The Foreign Secretary said he would discuss this with Colin Powell this week. It seemed clear that Bush had made up his mind to take military action, even if the timing was not yet decided. But the case was thin. Saddam was not threatening his neighbours, and his WMD capability was less than that of Libya, North Korea or Iran. We should work up a plan for an ultimatum to Saddam to allow back in the U.N. weapons inspectors. This would also help with the legal justification for the use of force.The Attorney-General said that the desire for regime change was not a legal base for military action."
Making the WMD Case.
References to Saddam Hussein during this period were infrequent and didn't suggest any significant threat or urgency. In response to a reporter's question on August 10, 2002, Bush said this:
"I think most people understand he is a danger. But as I've said in speech after speech, I've got a lot of tools at my disposal. And I've also said I am a deliberate person. And so I'm - we're in the process of consulting not only with Congress, like I said I do the other day, but with our friends and allies. And the consultation process is a positive part of really allowing people to fully understand our deep concerns about this man, his regime and his desires to have weapons of mass destruction."
On August 16, 2002, he said this:
"There should be no doubt in anybody's mind this man is thumbing his nose at the world, that he has gassed his own people, that he is trouble in his neighborhood, that he desires weapons of mass destruction."
Note that this comment, like the one on August 10, simply refers to a desire to have weapons of mass destruction and makes no reference to an imminent threat to the U.S.
Two weeks later, on September 4, 2002, Bush's public attitude regarding Iraq changed dramatically. Following a meeting with congressional leaders, Bush gave the following summary:
"Spent most of our time talking about a serious threat to the United States, a serious threat to the world, and that's Saddam Hussein. One of the things I made very clear to the members here is that doing nothing about that serious threat is not an option for the United States."
What had changed in those two weeks that would explain this dramatic shift in attitude by Bush and his administration? The Washington Post reported that in August 2002 "Chief of Staff Andrew H. Card Jr. formed the White House Iraq Group, or WHIG, to set strategy for each stage of the confrontation with Baghdad." So why did it take until September before any change was made? The Washington Post also quoted from a New York Times article regarding an interview with Card where he made the following statement: "From a marketing point of view, you don't introduce new products in August."
On September 12, 2002 Bush also complied with another of Blair's requirements by seeking a new resolution from the United Nations requiring the return of U.N. weapons inspectors to Iraq. In his address to the United Nations General Assembly Bush said:
"Saddam Hussein's regime is a grave and gathering danger. To suggest otherwise is to hope against the evidence. To assume this regime's good faith is to bet the lives of millions and the peace of the world in a reckless gamble. And this is a risk we must not take."
On October 2, 2002 Bush discussed a proposed congressional resolution authorizing the use of force in Iraq if needed to ensure compliance with U.N. resolutions. In that address he made the following statements:
"On its present course, the Iraqi regime is a threat of unique urgency. … In defiance of pledges to the U.N., it has stockpiled biological and chemical weapons. It is rebuilding the facilities used to make those weapons. U.N. inspectors believe that Iraq could have produce enough biological and chemical agent to kill millions of people. The regime has the scientists and facilities to build nuclear weapons, and is seeking the materials needed to do so."
During the weeks that the U.N. and Congress deliberated on their respective resolutions, Bush's speeches repeatedly focused on Iraq and the dangers it posed. In his radio address to the American people on September 28, 2002, Bush said it like this:
"The danger to our country is grave and it is growing. The Iraqi regime possesses biological and chemical weapons, is rebuilding the facilities to make more and, according to the British government, could launch a biological or chemical attack in as little as 45 minutes after the order is given. The regime has long-standing and continuing ties to terrorist groups, and there are al Qaeda terrorists inside Iraq. This regime is seeking a nuclear bomb, and with fissile material could build one within a year."
Note the reference to the British government in spite of the fact that the official minutes of a meeting of their highest government officials, held just two months earlier, show that they considered the case against Saddam Hussein to be thin.
In all of his speeches during this time, Bush was careful to assure the nation that he sought the resolutions as a means of pressuring Iraq to disarm, and that war was not inevitable. In the October 5 radio address, which he finished by urging all Americans to call their members of Congress regarding the resolution authorizing the use of force, he said this:
"The United States does not desire military conflict, because we know the awful nature of war. Our country values life, and we will never seek war unless it is essential to security and justice. We hope that Iraq complies with the world's demands. If, however, the Iraqi regime persists in its defiance, the use of force may become unavoidable."
Some take this as proof that the decision to go to war had not yet been made. It is telling, though, that once the resolutions were adopted, the references to the dangers posed by Iraq continued unabated and with increasing urgency, while the denials of a war decision having already been made became weaker and more infrequent.
The Inspectors Return
On October 11, 2002 Congress approved their resolution and on November 8, 2002 the United Nations approved their resolution. On November 13, 2002 Saddam Hussein accepted the United Nations resolution and approved the return of the U.N. weapons inspectors, and on November 27, 2002 the U.N. weapons inspectors returned to Iraq.
Dr. Hans Blix, the Executive Chairman of the United Nations Monitoring, Verification and Inspection Commission (UNMOVIC) and Dr. Mohamed ElBaradei, Director General of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), who led the inspection teams, delivered a number of reports over the next three months regarding their efforts and their findings.
In his report as of January 8, 2003 Dr. ElBaradei included these comments:
"The Iraqi authorities have consistently provided access without conditions and without delay. They have also made available additional original documentation in response to requests by IAEA inspectors. … The IAEA has also started the process of interviewing key Iraqi personnel."
And in his report on January 9, 2003 Dr. Blix made this comment:
"Similarly, if we had met a denial of access or other impediment to our inspections we would have reported it to the Council. We have not submitted any such reports."
Yet in a column written by National Security Adviser Dr. Condoleezza Rice that appeared in the New York Times on January 23, 2003 she made this statement:
"Iraq is not allowing inspectors 'immediate, unimpeded, unrestricted access' to facilities and people involved in its weapons program."
In the report of January 8, Dr. ElBaradei had this comment about Iraqi attempts to import uranium:
"There have been recurrent reports of Iraqi efforts to import uranium after 1991. The Iraqi authorities deny any such efforts. The matter continues to be pursued by the IAEA."
In her column Dr. Rice said this:
"For example, the declaration fails to account for or explain Iraq's efforts to get uranium from abroad, …"
In his State of the Union address on January 28, 2003 Bush referred to Iraq's nuclear threat in this way:
"the British government has learned that Saddam Hussein recently sought significant quantities of uranium from Africa."
As it occured, the allegations that Iraq had attempted to purchase yellowcake uranium from Niger, were based on forged documents. On March 7, 2003 Dr. ElBaradei of the IAEA reported that:
Based on thorough analysis, the IAEA has concluded, with the concurrence of outside experts, that these documents - which formed the basis for the reports of recent uranium transactions between Iraq and Niger - are in fact not authentic. We have therefore concluded that these specific allegations are unfounded."The Inspectors, contrary to the claims of the Bush administration were not impeded in their investigation of WMD by Saddam Hussein, and during their time in Iraq did manage to find and destroy a number of al-Samoud missles which were in violation of UN sanctions, but did not find WMD materials or facilities which the Bush had claimed were in abundance.
But both Bush in his State of the Union address and Powell in his address to the U.N. Security Council dramatically went through the litany of weapons and biological agents that were unaccounted for with no mention of the measures being undertaken by the U.N. inspectors to determine if they in fact still existed. The message being clearly sent, as intended, was that it was a matter of the weapons being concealed, not an issue of whether they existed.
On March 7, 2003 Dr. Blix issued the quarterly report of UNMOVIC which was dated February 28. The report covered the inspections which had been done during the quarter:
"12. Since the arrival of the first inspectors in Iraq on 27 November 2002, UNMOVIC has conducted more than 550 inspections covering approximately 350 sites. Of these 44 sites were new sites. All inspections were performed without notice, and access was in virtually all cases provided promptly. In no case have the inspectors seen convincing evidence that the Iraqi side knew in advance of their impending arrival.
13. The inspections have taken place throughout Iraq at industrial sites, ammunition depots, research centres, universities, presidential sites, mobile laboratories, private houses, missile production facilities, military camps and agricultural sites. ... At certain sites, ground-penetrating radar was used to look for underground structures or buried equipment.
14. More than 200 chemical and more than 100 biological samples have been collected at different sites. Three quarters of these have been screened using UNMOVIC's own analytical laboratory capabilities at the Baghdad Ongoing Monitoring, Verification and Inspection Centre (BOMVIC). The results to date have been consistent with Iraq's declarations [that they possesed no current WMD capability]"
Dr. ElBaradei also gave a report on March 7, 2003 that included the following passage:
"In conclusion, I am able to report today that, in the area of nuclear weapons - the most lethal weapons of mass destruction - inspections in Iraq are moving forward. Since the resumption of inspections a little over three months ago - and particularly during the three weeks since my last oral report to the Council - the IAEA has made important progress in identifying what nuclear-related capabilities remain in Iraq, and in its assessment of whether Iraq has made any efforts to revive its past nuclear programme during the intervening four years since inspections were brought to a halt. At this stage, the following can be stated:
- There is no indication of resumed nuclear activities in those buildings that were identified through the use of satellite imagery as being reconstructed or newly erected since 1998, nor any indication of nuclear-related prohibited activities at any inspected sites.
- There is no indication that Iraq has attempted to import uranium since 1990.
- There is no indication that Iraq has attempted to import aluminium tubes for use in centrifuge enrichment. Moreover, even had Iraq pursued such a plan, it would have encountered practical difficulties in manufacturing centrifuges out of the aluminium tubes in question.
- Although we are still reviewing issues related to magnets and magnet production, there is no indication to date that Iraq imported magnets for use in a centrifuge enrichment programme.
As I stated above, the IAEA will continue further to scrutinize and investigate all of the above issues.
And yet, less than two weeks later, Bush notified the inspectors to leave Iraq, and on March 19, 2003 he invaded. As required by the resolution authorizing the use of force, Bush justified his actions to Congress with the following declaration:
"...based on information available to me, including that in the enclosed document, I determine that:
(1) reliance by the United States on further diplomatic and other peaceful means alone will neither (A) adequately protect the national security of the United States against the continuing threat posed by Iraq nor (B) likely lead to enforcement of all relevant United Nations Security Council resolutions regarding Iraq; …"
All of this comes back to the simple fact that there was no legal or reasonable justification to invade Iraq in the first place. Whether it was simply an incredibly incompetent mistake or part of a long and deliberate plan - it was wrong.
Since the invasion occured many have stated that removing Saddam from power was worth it - but when you look at the financial damage this was has caused with nearly $400 Billion spent so far, at the human costs not just in American lives, but in the tens of thousands of dead and wounded Iraqi people, and most importantly at how our actions in this war from Guantanemo, to Abu-Ghraib, Secret Detention Centers, the rise of Iraqi Death Squads, to our use of Chemical Weapons [White Phosporous] in Fallujah have destroyed and undermined our international credibility and increased the stock of al-Qaeda has lead to a world-wide explosion of terrorism causing the deaths of hundreds in Russia, Madrid and London - it most certainly was not worth it. All we needed to do to disarm Saddam, was to simply let the IAEA and UNSCOM inspectors finish their work. But that of course, is exactly what the Bush Administration didn't want.
Although many don't seem to recall it, HJ 114 [the Iraq War Resolution] does include a passage on regime change and the removal of Saddam. However the language used in the resolution is nearly identical to that which was originally used in the 1998 Iraq Liberation Act, which also called for the removal of Saddam but through peaceful means, not War or invasion.
Whereas the Iraq Liberation Act (Public Law 105-338) expressed the sense of Congress that it should be the policy of the United States to support efforts to remove from power the current Iraqi regime and promote the emergence of a democratic government to replace that regime;It can not be reasonably argued that those who oppose the war are in any way supporters of Saddam -- quite the contrary. During the 20th Century many dictators were removed from power, Pinoche in Chile, Marcos in the Phillipines, Noriega in Panama, Milosovic in Bosnia, but the methods used did not require that America invent an excuse (such as non existent WMD's) to accomplish the goal. In some cases, force was used - but it was a proportional use of force, and done in conjunction with many of our international allies. We didn't invade Bosnia on our own in order to end years of Ethnic-cleanings -- we joined together as 1/3rd of a force that included and equal number of European and Russian troops to keep the peace. Not a single American soldier was killed in Bosnia, while a brutal War of untold horror was ended and a murdering dictator (Milosovec) was brought to justice.
This who opposed this War should ask - if we could do it in Bosnia, why couldn't we do it in Iraq?
The answer to that question is simple: "George W. Bush" is why not.