This is the third of five articles adapted from "Plan of Attack," a book by Bob Woodward that is a behind-the-scenes account of how and why President Bush decided to go to war against Iraq. Simon & Schuster. © 2004.
On April 10, 2003, Ken Adelman, a Reagan administration official and supporter of the Iraq war, published an op-ed article in The Washington Post headlined, " 'Cakewalk' Revisited," more or less gloating over what appeared to be the quick victory there, and reminding readers that 14 months earlier he had written that war would be a "cakewalk." He chastised those who had predicted disaster. "Taking first prize among the many frightful forecasters" was Brent Scowcroft, who served as national security adviser in the first Bush administration. Adelman wrote that his own confidence came from having worked for Donald H. Rumsfeld three times and "from knowing Dick Cheney and Paul Wolfowitz for so many years."
In 1991, Defense Secretary Richard B. Cheney and Gen. Colin L. Powell, chairman of the Joint Chiefs, greeted U.S. airmen in Saudi Arabia. Of his relationship with Cheney, Powell wrote, "He and I had never, in nearly four years, spent a single purely social hour together."
(Bob Daughterty - AP)
Vice President Cheney phoned Adelman, who was in Paris with his wife, Carol. What a clever column, the vice president said. You really demolished them. He said he and his wife, Lynne, were having a small private dinner Sunday night, April 13, to talk and celebrate. The only other guests would be his chief adviser, I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby, and Wolfowitz, now deputy secretary of defense. Adelman realized it was Cheney's way of saying thank you, and he and his wife came back from Paris a day early to attend the dinner.
When Adelman walked into the vice president's residence that Sunday night, he was so happy he broke into tears. He hugged Cheney for the first time in the 30 years he had known him. There had been reports in recent days of mass graves and abundant, graphic evidence of torture by Saddam Hussein's government, so there was a feeling that they had been part of a greater good, liberating 25 million people.
"We're all together. There should be no protocol; let's just talk," Cheney said when they sat down to dinner.
Wolfowitz embarked on a long review of the 1991 Persian Gulf War and what a mistake it had been to allow the Iraqis to fly helicopters after the armistice. Hussein had used them to put down uprisings.
Cheney said he had not realized then what a trauma that time had been for the Iraqis, particularly the Shiites, who felt the United States had abandoned them. He said that experience had made the Iraqis worry that war this time would not end Hussein's rule.
"Hold it! Hold it!" Adelman interjected. "Let's talk about this Gulf war. It's so wonderful to celebrate." He said he was just an outside adviser, someone who turned up the pressure in the public forum. "It's so easy for me to write an article saying, 'Do this.' It's much tougher for Paul to advocate it. Paul and Scooter, you give advice inside and the president listens. Dick, your advice is the most important, the Cadillac. It's much more serious for you to advocate it. But in the end, all of what we said was still only advice. The president is the one who had to decide. I have been blown away by how determined he is." The war has been awesome, Adelman said. "So I just want to make a toast, without getting too cheesy. To the president of the United States."
They all raised their glasses. Hear! Hear!
Adelman said he had worried to death that there would be no war as time went on and support seemed to wane.
After Sept. 11, 2001, Cheney said, the president understood what had to be done. He had to do Afghanistan first, sequence the attacks, but after Afghanistan -- "soon thereafter" -- the president knew he had to do Iraq. Cheney said he was confident after Sept. 11 that it would come out okay.
Adelman said it was still a gutsy move. When John F. Kennedy was elected by the narrowest of margins, Adelman said, he told everyone in his administration that the big agenda items such as civil rights would have to wait for a second term. Certainly it was the opposite for Bush.
Yes, Cheney said. And it began the first minutes of the presidency, when Bush said they were going to go full steam ahead. There is such a tendency, Cheney said, to hold back when there is a close election, to do what the New York Times and other pundits suggest and predict. "This guy was just totally different," Cheney said. "He just decided here's what I want to do, and I'm going to do it. He's very directed. He's very focused."
"I want you three guys to shut up," Lynne Cheney said, pointing at Cheney, Wolfowitz and Adelman. "Let's hear what Scooter thinks."
Libby, smiling, just said he thought what had happened was "wonderful."
It was a pretty amazing accomplishment, they all agreed, particularly given the opposition to war. Here was Scowcroft, the pillar of establishment foreign policy, vocally on the other side, widely seen as a surrogate for the president's father. There had been James A. Baker III, the former secretary of state, insisting on a larger coalition of nations. And Lawrence Eagleburger, Baker's successor in the last half year of the first Bush administration, on television all the time saying war was justified only if there was evidence that Hussein was about to attack us. Eagleburger had accused Cheney of "chest thumping."
They turned to the current secretary of state, Colin L. Powell, and there were chuckles around the table.
Cheney and Wolfowitz remarked that Powell was someone who followed his poll ratings and bragged about his popularity. Several weeks earlier in a National Public Radio interview, Powell had said, "If you would consult any recent Gallup poll, the American people seem to be quite satisfied with the job I'm doing as secretary of state."
He sure likes to be popular, Cheney said.
Wolfowitz said that Powell did bring credibility and that his presentation to the United Nations on weapons of mass destruction intelligence had been important. As soon as Powell had understood what the president wanted, Wolfowitz said, he became a good, loyal member of the team.