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Cheney Was Unwavering in Desire to Go to War

Cheney shook his head, no. Powell was a problem. "Colin always had major reservations about what we were trying to do."

Cheney said he had just had lunch with the president. "Democracy in the Middle East is just a big deal for him. It's what's driving him."


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)

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Powell Says He Was 'Committed' to Iraq War (The Washington Post, Apr 20, 2004)
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Wednesday: Special Relationship
Thursday: Countdown to War
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"Let me ask," Adelman inquired, "before this turns into a love fest. I was just stunned that we have not found weapons of mass destruction." There were several hundred thousand troops and others combing the country.

"We'll find them," Wolfowitz said.

"It's only been four days, really," Cheney said. "We'll find them."

Immediate Focus on Iraq

In early January 2001, before Bush was inaugurated, Cheney passed a message to the outgoing secretary of defense, William S. Cohen, a moderate Republican who served in the Democratic Clinton administration.

"We really need to get the president-elect briefed up on some things," Cheney said, adding that he wanted a serious "discussion about Iraq and different options." The president-elect should not be given the routine, canned, round-the-world tour normally given incoming presidents. Topic A should be Iraq.

Cheney had been secretary of defense during George H.W. Bush's presidency, which included the Gulf War, and he harbored a deep sense of unfinished business about Iraq. In addition, Iraq was the only country the United States regularly, if intermittently, bombed these days.

The U.S. military had been engaged in a frustrating low-grade, undeclared war with Iraq since the Gulf War when Bush's father and a United Nations-backed coalition had ousted Hussein and his army from Kuwait after they had invaded that country. The United States enforced two designated no-fly zones, which meant the Iraqis could fly neither planes nor helicopters in these areas, which made up about 60 percent of the country. Cheney wanted to make sure Bush understood the military and other issues in this potential tinderbox.

On Jan. 10, a Wednesday morning 10 days before the inauguration, Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld, national security adviser Condoleezza Rice and Powell went to the Pentagon to meet with Cohen. Afterward, Bush and his team went downstairs to the Tank, the secure domain and meeting room for the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

Two generals briefed them on the state of the no-fly zone enforcement. No-fly zone enforcement was dangerous and expensive. Multimillion-dollar jets were put at risk bombing 57mm antiaircraft guns. Hussein had warehouses of them. As a matter of policy, was the Bush administration going to keep poking Hussein in the chest? Was there a national strategy behind this, or was it just a static tit for tat?

Lots of acronyms and program names were thrown around -- most of them familiar to Cheney, Rumsfeld and Powell, who had spent 35 years in the Army and been chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff from 1989 to 1993. President-elect Bush asked some practical questions about how things worked, but he did not offer or hint at his desires.

The Joint Chiefs' staff had placed a peppermint at each place. Bush unwrapped his and popped it into his mouth. Later he eyed Cohen's mint and flashed a pantomime query, Do you want that? Cohen signaled no, so Bush reached over and took it. Near the end of the hour-and-a-quarter briefing, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs, Army Gen. Henry H. Shelton, noticed Bush eyeing his mint, so he passed it over.

Cheney listened, but he was tired and closed his eyes, conspicuously nodding off several times. Rumsfeld, who was sitting at a far end of the table, paid close attention, though he kept asking the briefers to please speak up or please speak louder. "We're off to a great start," one of the chiefs commented privately to a colleague after the session. "The vice president fell asleep, and the secretary of defense can't hear."

Given Cheney's background in national security going back to the Ford administration, his time on the House intelligence committee and as secretary of defense, the new president said that at the top of his list of things he wanted Cheney to do was intelligence.

In the first months of the new administration, Cheney made the rounds of the intelligence agencies -- the CIA; the National Security Agency, which intercepts communications; and the Pentagon's Defense Intelligence Agency. He was determined to get up to speed on what had transpired in the eight years since he had left government. Bush also asked Cheney to study the nation's vulnerability to terrorism, primarily from biological and chemical threats. By the summer of 2001, Cheney had hired a retired admiral, Steve Abbott, to oversee a program for taking homeland defense more seriously.

With the president's full knowledge and encouragement, Cheney became the self-appointed examiner of worst-case scenarios. He would look at the darker side, the truly bad and terrifying scenarios. Because of his experience and temperament, it was the ideal assignment for Cheney. He felt the administration had to be prepared to think about the unthinkable. It was one way to be an effective second-in-command -- carve out a few matters, become the expert in them and then press the first-in-command to adopt your solutions.

Cheney thought that the Clinton administration had failed in its response to terrorist acts, going back to the World Trade Center bombing, in 1993, and that there had been a pattern of weak responses: no effective response to the 1996 bombing of Khobar Towers, the U.S. military installation in Saudi Arabia; not enough to the 1998 embassy bombings in East Africa; none to the 2000 bombing of the USS Cole in Yemen.

After Sept. 11, it was clear to Cheney that the threat from terrorism had changed and grown enormously. So two matters would have to change. First, the standard of proof would have to be lowered -- irrefutable smoking-gun evidence would not have to be required for the United States to defend itself. Second, defense alone wasn't enough. They needed an offense.

The most serious threat now facing the United States was a nuclear weapon or a biological or chemical agent in the hands of a terrorist inside the country's borders. And everything, in his view, had to be done to stop it.


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