Plan of Attack

Behind Diplomatic Moves, Military Plan Was Launched

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By Bob Woodward
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, April 18, 2004

This is the first 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.

Shortly after New Year's Day 2003, national security adviser Condoleezza Rice had a private moment with President Bush at his ranch in Crawford, Tex.

Bush felt the effort to get United Nations weapons inspections inside Iraq on an aggressive track to make Saddam Hussein crack was not working. "This pressure isn't holding together," Bush told her.

The media reports of smiling Iraqis leading inspectors around, opening up buildings and saying, "See, there's nothing here," infuriated Bush, who then would read intelligence reports showing the Iraqis were moving and concealing things. It wasn't clear what was being moved, but it looked to Bush as if Hussein was about to fool the world again. It looked as if the inspections effort was not sufficiently aggressive, would take months or longer, and was likely doomed to fail.

"I was concerned people would focus on not Saddam, not the danger that he posed, not his deception, but focus on the process and thereby Saddam would be able to kind of skate through once again," Bush recalled in an interview last December.

"I felt stressed," he added. All the holiday parties at the White House had not helped. "My jaw muscle got so tight. And it was not just because I was smiling and shaking so many hands. There was a lot of tension during that last holiday season."

There was another factor at work that was not publicly known. Sensitive intelligence coverage on U.N. inspections chief Hans Blix indicated that he was not reporting everything and not doing all the things he maintained he was doing. Some in Bush's war cabinet believed Blix was a liar.

"How is this happening?" Bush asked Rice. "Saddam is going to get stronger."

Blix had told Rice, "I have never complained about your military pressure. I think it's a good thing." She relayed this to the president.

"How long does he think I can do this?" Bush asked. "A year? I can't. The United States can't stay in this position while Saddam plays games with the inspectors."

"You have to follow through on your threat," Rice said. "If you're going to carry out coercive diplomacy, you have to live with that decision."

"He's getting more confident, not less," Bush said of Hussein. "He can manipulate the international system again. We're not winning.


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