Behind Diplomatic Moves, Military Plan Was Launched
Back in Washington in early January 2003, Bush took Rumsfeld aside.
"Look, we're going to have to do this, I'm afraid," he said. "I don't see how we're going to get him to a position where he will do something in a manner that's consistent with the U.N. requirements, and we've got to make an assumption that he will not."
It was enough of a decision for Rumsfeld. He asked to bring in some key foreign players.
The president gave his approval but pressed Rumsfeld again. When is my last decision point?
"When your people, Mr. President, look people in the eye and tell them you're going."
One of the key players that had to be notified and brought along was Saudi Arabia. U.S. forces would have to be sent through and from Saudi territory into Iraq. Rescue, communications and refueling support were not going to be enough. Of the five other countries on Iraq's border, only Kuwait and Jordan supported a military operation. The 500 miles of Saudi-Iraqi border were critical.
So on Saturday, Jan. 11, Cheney invited Prince Bandar bin Sultan, the Saudi ambassador, to his West Wing office. Rumsfeld and Gen. Richard B. Myers, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, were also there.
Prince Bandar had served during four American presidencies. At age 53, Bandar was almost a fifth estate in Washington, amplifying Saudi influence and wealth. He insisted on dealing directly with presidents and is almost family to Bush's father, former president George H. W. Bush. And he had maintained his special entree to the Oval Office under this President Bush.
Sitting on the edge of the table in Cheney's office, Myers took out a large map labeled TOP SECRET NOFORN. The NOFORN meant NO FOREIGN -- classified material not to be seen by any foreign nation.
Myers explained that the first part of the battle plan would be a massive aerial bombing campaign over several days against Iraq's Republican Guard divisions, the security services and command and control of Hussein's forces. A land attack would follow through Kuwait, plus a northern front through Turkey with the 4th Infantry Division if Turkey approved it. Included was massive use of Special Forces and intelligence paramilitary teams to secure every place in Iraq from which Hussein could launch a missile or airplane against Saudi Arabia, Jordan or Israel.
Special Forces and intelligence operatives would distribute $300 million to local Iraqi tribal leaders, religious leaders and the Iraqi armed forces.
The Saudi-Iraqi border would have to be covered. Special Forces, intelligence teams and other strikes would have to be launched from there. If there were alternatives, Myers said, they would not be asking the Saudis.
Bandar knew that his country could create a cover for the arrival of U.S. forces by closing a civilian airport at Al Jawf in the northern desert, flying Saudi helicopters day and night as a routine border patrol for a week, and then withdrawing. The U.S. Special Forces could set up a base there that might not attract much attention.
Staring intently at the 2-by-3-foot Top Secret map, Bandar, a former fighter pilot, asked a few questions about air operations. Could he have a copy of the large map so he could brief Crown Prince Abdullah? he asked, referring to the de facto leader of Saudi Arabia.
"Above my pay grade," Myers said.
"We'll give you all the information you want," Rumsfeld said. As for the map, he added, "I would rather not give it to you, but you can take notes if you want."
"No, no, it's not important. Just let me look at it," Bandar said. He tried to take it all in -- the large ground thrusts, the location of Special Forces or intelligence teams all designated on the map.
"You can count on this," Rumsfeld said, pointing to the map. "You can take that to the bank. This is going to happen."
"What is the chance of Saddam surviving this?" Bandar asked. He believed Hussein was intent on killing everyone involved at a high level with the 1991 Persian Gulf War, including himself.
Rumsfeld and Myers didn't answer.
"Saddam, this time, will be out, period?" Bandar asked skeptically. "What will happen to him?"
© 2004 The Washington Post Company