Bush Began to Plan War Three Months After 9/11
According to "Plan of Attack," it was Cheney who was particularly focused on Iraq before the terrorist attacks. Before Bush's inauguration, Cheney sent word to departing Defense Secretary William S. Cohen that he wanted the traditional briefing given an incoming president to be a serious "discussion about Iraq and different options." Bush specifically assigned Cheney to focus as vice president on intelligence scenarios, particularly the possibility that terrorists would obtain nuclear or biological weapons.
Early discussions among the administration's national security "principals" -- Cheney, Powell, Tenet and national security adviser Condoleezza Rice -- and their deputies focused on how to weaken Hussein diplomatically. But Deputy Defense Secretary Wolfowitz proposed sending in the military to seize Iraq's southern oil fields and establish the area as a foothold from which opposition groups could overthrow Hussein.
Powell dismissed the plan as "lunacy," according to Woodward, and told Bush what he thought. "You don't have to be bullied into this," Powell said.
Bush told Woodward he never saw a formal plan for a quick strike. "The idea may have floated around as an interesting nugget to chew on," he said.
White House Chief of Staff Andrew H. Card Jr., according to Woodward, compared Bush to a circus rider with one foot on a "diplomacy" steed and the other on a "war" steed, both heading toward the same destination: regime change in Iraq. When it was clear that diplomacy would not get him to his goal, Card said, Bush let go of that horse and rode the one called war.
But as the planning proceeded, the administration began taking steps that Woodward describes as helping to make war inevitable. On Feb. 16, 2002, Bush signed an intelligence finding that directed the CIA to help the military overthrow Hussein and conduct operations within Iraq. At the time, according to "Plan of Attack," the CIA had only four informants in Iraq and told Bush that it would be impossible to overthrow Hussein through a coup.
In July, a CIA team entered northern Iraq and began to lay the groundwork for covert action, eventually recruiting an extensive network of 87 Iraqi informants code-named ROCKSTARS who gave the U.S. detailed information on Iraqi forces, including a CD-ROM containing the personnel files of the Iraq Special Security Organization (SSO).
Woodward writes that the CIA essentially became an advocate for war first by asserting that covert action would be ineffective, and later by saying that its new network of spies would be endangered if the United States did not attack Iraq. Another factor in the gathering momentum were the forces the military began shifting to Kuwait, the pre-positioning that was a key component of Franks's planning.
In the summer of 2002, Bush approved $700 million worth of "preparatory tasks" in the Persian Gulf region such as upgrading airfields, bases, fuel pipelines and munitions storage depots to accommodate a massive U.S. troop deployment. The Bush administration funded the projects from a supplemental appropriations bill for the war in Afghanistan and old appropriations, keeping Congress unaware of the reprogramming of money and the eventual cost.
During that summer, Powell and Cheney engaged in some of their sharpest debates. Powell argued that the United States should take its case to the United Nations, which Cheney said was a waste of time. Woodward had described some of that conflict in "Bush at War."
Among Powell's allies was Brent Scowcroft, national security adviser to Bush's father, who wrote an op-ed piece against the war for the Wall Street Journal. After it was published in August 2002, Powell thanked Scowcroft for giving him "some running room." But Rice called Scowcroft to tell her former boss that it looked as if he was speaking for Bush's father and that the article was a slap at the incumbent president.
Despite Powell's admonitions to the president, "Plan of Attack" suggests it was Blair who may have played a more critical role in persuading Bush to seek a resolution from the United Nations. At a meeting with the president at Camp David in early September, Blair backed Bush on Iraq but said he needed to show he had tried U.N. diplomacy. Bush agreed, and later referred to the Camp David session with Blair as "the cojones meeting," using a colloquial Spanish term for courage.
After the U.N. Security Council passed a resolution authorizing the resumption of weapons inspections in Iraq, Bush became increasingly impatient with their effectiveness and the role of chief weapons inspector Hans Blix. Shortly after New Year's 2003, he told Rice at his Texas ranch: "We're not winning. Time is not on our side here. Probably going to have to, we're going to have to go to war."
Bush said much the same thing to White House political adviser Karl Rove, who had gone to Crawford to brief him on plans for his reelection campaign. In the next 10 days, Bush also made his decision known to Cheney, Rumsfeld, Powell and the Saudi ambassador, Prince Bandar bin Sultan. Bandar, who helped arrange Saudi cooperation with the U.S. military, feared Saudi interests would be damaged if Bush did not follow through on attacking Hussein, and became another advocate for war.
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