Bush Began to Plan War Three Months After 9/11
In his previous book, "Bush at War," Woodward described the administration's response to the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001: its decision to attack the Taliban government in Afghanistan and its increasing focus on Iraq. His new book is a narrative history of how Bush and his administration launched the war on Iraq. It is based on interviews with more than 75 people, including Bush and Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld.
On Nov. 21, 2001, 72 days after the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, Bush directed Rumsfeld to begin planning for war with Iraq. "Let's get started on this," Bush recalled saying. "And get Tommy Franks looking at what it would take to protect America by removing Saddam Hussein if we have to." He also asked: Could this be done on a basis that would not be terribly noticeable?
Bush received his first detailed briefing on Iraq war plans five weeks later, on Dec. 28, when Gen. Tommy R. Franks, the head of the U.S. Central Command, visited Bush at his ranch in Crawford, Tex. Bush told reporters afterward that they had discussed Afghanistan.
While it has been previously reported that Bush directed the Pentagon to begin considering options for an invasion of Iraq immediately after the Sept. 11 attacks, Bush's order to Rumsfeld began an intensive process in which Franks worked in secret with a small staff, talked almost daily with the defense secretary and met about once a month with Bush.
This week, the president acknowledged that the violent uprising against U.S. troops in Iraq has resulted in "a tough, tough series of weeks for the American people." But he insisted that his course of action in Iraq has been the correct one in language that echoed what he told Woodward more than four months ago.
In two interviews with Woodward in December, Bush minimized the failure to find the weapons of mass destruction, expressed no doubts about his decision to invade Iraq, and enunciated an activist role for the United States based on it being "the beacon for freedom in the world."
"I believe we have a duty to free people," Bush told Woodward. "I would hope we wouldn't have to do it militarily, but we have a duty."
The president described praying as he walked outside the Oval Office after giving the order to begin combat operations against Iraq, and the powerful role his religious beliefs played throughout that time.
"Going into this period, I was praying for strength to do the Lord's will. . . . I'm surely not going to justify war based upon God. Understand that. Nevertheless, in my case I pray that I be as good a messenger of His will as possible. And then, of course, I pray for personal strength and for forgiveness."
The president told Woodward: "I am prepared to risk my presidency to do what I think is right. I was going to act. And if it could cost the presidency, I fully realized that. But I felt so strongly that it was the right thing to do that I was prepared to do so."
Asked by Woodward how history would judge the war, Bush replied: "History. We don't know. We'll all be dead."
The president told Woodward he was cooperating on his book because he wanted the story of how the United States had gone to war in Iraq to be told. He said it would be a blueprint of historical significance that "will enable other leaders, if they feel like they have to go to war, to spare innocent citizens and their lives."
"But the news of this, in my judgment," Bush added, "the big news out of this isn't how George W. makes decisions. To me the big news is America has changed how you fight and win war, and therefore makes it easier to keep the peace in the long run. And that's the historical significance of this book, as far as I'm concerned."
Bush's critics have questioned whether he and his administration were focused on Iraq rather than terrorism when they took office early in 2001 and even after the Sept. 11 attacks. Former Treasury secretary Paul H. O'Neill and former White House counterterrorism coordinator Richard A. Clarke have made that charge in recently published memoirs.
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