Behind Diplomatic Moves, Military Plan Was Launched
More Compassionate America
Cares About People Like Me
Leads a Strong Team
All things being equal, the president asked, when would you like to begin the campaign and active fundraising?
Rove said he wanted the president to start that February or March and begin raising the money, probably $200 million. He had a schedule. In February, March and April 2003, there would be between 12 and 16 fundraisers.
"We got a war coming," the president told Rove flatly, "and you're just going to have to wait." He had decided. "The moment is coming." The president did not give a date, but he left the impression with Rove that it would be January or February or March at the latest.
"Remember the problem with your dad's campaign," Rove replied. "A lot of people said he got started too late."
"I understand," Bush said. "I'll tell you when I'm comfortable with you starting."
Bush Orders a War Plan
Rice was the only member of his war cabinet whom Bush directly asked for a recommendation of whether to go to war.
"What do you think?" he had asked her a few weeks before. "Should we do this?"
"Yes," she said. "Because it isn't American credibility on the line, it is the credibility of everybody that this gangster can yet again beat the international system." As important as credibility was, she said, "Credibility should never drive you to do something you shouldn't do." But this was much bigger, she advised, something that should be done. "To let this threat in this part of the world play volleyball with the international community this way will come back to haunt us someday. That is the reason to do it."
Other than Rice, Bush said he didn't need to ask the principal advisers whether they thought he should go to war. He knew what Vice President Cheney thought, and he decided not to ask Secretary of State Colin L. Powell or Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld.
"I could tell what they thought," the president recalled. "I didn't need to ask them their opinion about Saddam Hussein. If you were sitting where I sit, you could be pretty clear. I think we've got an environment where people feel free to express themselves."
One person not around was Karen Hughes, one of his top advisers and longtime communications director. Hughes, who had resigned the previous summer to return to Texas, probably knew how Bush thought and talked as much as anyone.
"I asked Karen," the president recalled. "She said if you go to war, exhaust all opportunities to achieve [regime change] peacefully. And she was right. She actually captured my own sentiments."
More than a year before -- on Nov. 21, 2001 -- Bush had told Rumsfeld that he wanted to develop a plan for war in Iraq. Since that time the defense secretary had been working closely with Gen. Tommy R. Franks, head of the U.S. Central Command, and other U.S. commanders, as well as Bush and other members of the war cabinet to develop a plan even as Bush pursued diplomacy through the United Nations.
At times, White House Chief of Staff Andrew H. Card Jr. thought of Bush as a circus rider with one foot on a "diplomacy" steed and his other on the "war" steed, both reins in his hands, leading down a path to regime change. Each horse had blinders on. It was now clear that diplomacy would not get him to his goal, so Bush had let go of that horse and was standing only on the war steed.
Rumsfeld had been trying to put himself in the president's shoes, attempting to make sure that Bush didn't get so far out in words, body language or mental state that he couldn't get back from a decision to go to war as the United States built up forces around Iraq.
On the other hand, Rumsfeld felt there was a time when the president should not want to walk back, and really could not. That time would be well before Bush had to decide to put Special Operations Forces inside Iraq, the point of no return identified by Franks.
"I can remember trying to give him as early a clue as possible that that was coming down the road," Rumsfeld recalled in an interview.
"There comes a moment as all these things are happening," he added, "when we have to look a neighboring country in the eye, and they have to make a decision that puts them at risk. And at that moment, the president needs to know that."
© 2004 The Washington Post Company