For the anniversary of the U.S. invasion of Iraq here is part of a much longer piece that I wrote back in 2006. The complete article can be found here on the blog.
I. Clinton’s Containment Policy
“Containment worked. Look at Saddam – what did he have? … He didn’t threaten anyone in the region. He was contained. It was a pain in the ass, but he was contained. He had a deteriorated military. He wasn’t a threat to the region.” Retired Gen. Anthony Zinni, former commander of CENTCOM, 2006
While Clinton was president in the 1990s he had three main policies towards Iraq. The first was to militarily contain Iraq through U.N. sanctions, and two no fly zones, one in southern Iraq, and the other in the northern region. The second policy was to maintain the U.N. weapons inspectors who were still looking into Iraq’s WMD and nuclear programs after the 1991 Gulf War. As disputes over these inspections grew, Clinton would periodically launch military strikes against Iraq. The final strategy was to order several failed CIA coup attempts against Saddam.
As part of this effort, two major events occurred. The first was in 1994 when Hussein Kamal, Saddam’s brother-in-law and head of the country’s weapons program, defected to Jordan. Kamal told U.N. officials that he had destroyed Iraq’s WMD after the Gulf War. “All chemical weapons were destroyed. I ordered destruction of all chemical weapons. All weapons – biological, chemical, missile, nuclear – were destroyed,” he told inspectors. Iraq had only maintained the facilities and the know how to produce them in the future. Kamal also said that Iraq had two plans for a nuclear bomb. The problem was that both of them were so heavy that they could not be used by any plane or missile that Iraq possessed. He also detailed how Iraqi officials had been able to deceive U.N. weapons inspectors about their programs. Kamal’s testimony made the U.S. believe that Iraq would never give up its weapons, and that Saddam could never be trusted. The fact that Kamal had said Iraq had no more WMD was basically ignored though. In 1996, Kamal was persuaded to return to Iraq where Saddam executed him.
The other major event happened in 1998 when Clinton launched Operation Desert Fox. The cause was Iraq’s refusal to cooperate with U.N. weapons inspectors anymore. Desert Fox was the largest U.S. military strike against Iraq since the Gulf War. At the time, Republicans denounced the attack as a means for Clinton to distract attention from the Monica Lewinsky affair. As it turned out, the attack was more effective than anyone knew at the time. Gen. Anthony Zinni, the commander of the U.S. Central Command (CENTCOM) at the time, received intelligence that Saddam was teetering and was seriously afraid that he might lose power after the attack. Not only that, but after these bombings, Iraq gave up on its weapons programs. Most programs were ended and labs were shutdown as Iraqi officials believed they could never work under U.N. sanctions and American bombings. Many in the U.S. military believed that Desert Fox proved that containing Iraq was working. Gen. Zinni said, “Containment worked. Look at Saddam – what did he have? … He didn’t threaten anyone in the region. He was contained. It was a pain in the ass, but he was contained. He had a deteriorated military. He wasn’t a threat to the region.”
To a small group of Republican foreign policy experts and magazine editors known as neoconservatives, the mere fact that Saddam was still in power and mistreating his people made them think containment was both a military and moral failure. Richard Perle, who had formerly served in the Reagan administration, expressed their view of Clinton’s policy well when he said, “The Clinton administration was totally risk averse. … They allowed Saddam over eight years to grow in strength. He was far stronger at the end of the Clinton administration than at the beginning.” That actually wasn’t true, but neither Clinton nor the neoconservatives could really tell how effective Desert Fox had been because before the bombing started the U.N. inspectors left and would not return until November 2002 under the Bush administration. The inspectors were the main source of intelligence within Iraq. When they departed at the end of 1998, America was blind to most of what was happening within the country. This would play a huge role during the Bush administration when intelligence reports about Iraq’s WMD and nuclear programs became based upon the flimsiest of evidence and assumptions since they had no eyes and ears within the country.
II. Neoconservative Critique Of Clinton
“Containment was a very costly strategy. It cost us billions of dollars – estimates are around $30 billion. … The real price was giving Osama bin Laden his principal talking point. If you go back and read his notorious fatwah from 1998, where he called for the first time for killing Americans, his big complaint is that we have American troops on the holy soil of Saudi Arabia and that we’re bombing Iraq. That was his big recruiting device, his big claim against us. … Finally, containment did nothing for the Iraqi people.” Paul Wolfowitz, in article written when he was Dean at Johns Hopkins University, Spring 2000
Paul Wolfowitz would become one of the major movers and thinkers behind the U.S. invasion of Iraq. Wolfowitz, like his fellow neoconservatives, was an opponent of containment. He gave three specific reasons why in an article he wrote in 2000 while he was a dean at Johns Hopkins University. 1st it cost too much. At the time, the U.S. was spending $1-$1.5 billion a year maintaining the no fly zones over Iraq. Wolfowitz argued that if Saddam had been overthrown after the 1991 Gulf War, none of this money would have been spent. 2nd, Wolfowitz said that Osama bin Laden used the American presence in Saudi Arabia after the Gulf War as a rallying cry for Al Qaeda. If U.S. troops hadn’t been in Arabia to enforce the no fly zones, bin Laden wouldn’t have had this excuse for his terrorism. Wolfowitz wasn’t much concerned about Al Qaeda however because his real issue was with Iraq who he saw as the main cause of terrorism and the source of America’s problems in the Middle East. Last, Wolfowitz touched on one of the main points of the neoconservatives, Iraq’s treatment of its own people was horrible and had to be stopped, by the use of Americans arms if necessary. These were some of the early ideas of the neoconservative movement that were then coming together.
According to Professor Francis Fukuyama, a former neoconservative himself, the neoconservatives held four major principles: 1) A concern with spreading democracy and that the internal affairs of countries mattered, 2) A belief that U.S. power could be used for moral purposes such as spreading democracy, 3) A pessimistic view that international law and institutions such as the U.N. could solve the world’s problems, and 4) Skepticism towards grand theories of social engineering. In Fukuyama’s view, neoconservatives such as Wolfowitz embraced the first three ideas when looking at Iraq, and forgot about the last as they believed that they could transform not only Iraq into a democracy, but the entire Middle East as well through military power. For example, the head of the American Enterprise Institute’s Middle East division, David Wurmser, who would become Vice President Cheney’s Middle East advisor and work in the Pentagon’s Policy Counterterrorism Information Group, wrote a book in 1999 entitled Tyranny’s Ally: America’s Failure to Defeat Saddam Hussein. Wurmser argued that getting rid of Saddam would destabilize both Syria and Iran and lead to regime change there, isolate Hamas, Islamic Jihad, and Hezbollah, and allow Israel to force a peace agreement upon the Palestinians. Thus the entire Middle East would be remade to suite America’s interests, only if Saddam was gotten rid of.
In 1997, Wolfowitz joined the Project for a New American Century. The group included Donald Rumsfeld, Richard Perle, Francis Fukayama, and others. Like Wolfowitz, they too were against Clinton’s containment policy and wanted regime change instead, although they never agreed on how. On 1/28/98 Wolfowitz and other members of the Project sent a letter to Clinton urging the overthrow of Saddam. The letter stated, “The only acceptable strategy is one that eliminates the possibility that Iraq will be able to use or threaten to use weapons of mass destruction. In the near term, this means a willingness to undertake military action as diplomacy is clearly failing. In the long term, it means removing Saddam Hussein and his regime from power. That now needs to become the aim of American foreign policy.” The Project’s statement shows how the future war proponents in and outside the Bush administration were stuck in 1991 and the 1st Gulf War. All of them were still angry that Saddam had been left in power after that war and wanted to go back and correct the mistake. This was a driving force for many neoconservatives who would rise to prominent positions in the U.S. government’s foreign policy establishment when Bush was elected president.
In 1998, Clinton signed the Iraq Liberation Act that stated, “It should be the policy of the United States to support efforts to remove the regime headed by Saddam Hussein from power.” This law, and Clinton’s authorizing of $97 million to go to Iraqi exile groups for the overthrow of Saddam, seemed to put Clinton in line with the neoconservatives. However, this was not enough for them. Many war supporters have used this law to claim that Clinton too was for regime change. However, he was never for using a military invasion to do it. Rather he would stick to the containment policy.
III. Warnings About Iraq’s WMD
“Since the Gulf War, Iraq has rebuilt key portions of its chemical production infrastructure for industrial and commercial use, as well as its missile production facilities. It has attempted to purchase numerous dual-use items.” CIA report to Congress on Iraq, February 2000.
Even before the Bush administration took office in 2001, the U.S. intelligence community began disseminating warnings about Iraq’s weapons programs. They believed that although U.N. inspectors had destroyed most of Iraq’s weapons, there was still a small stockpile remaining. More importantly they believed that Iraq must be rebuilding its programs. There was no direct evidence to support this view rather it was based upon pure speculation. U.S. intelligence experts believed that since Saddam had been so reluctant to give up his weapons after the Gulf War he must have restarted them after U.N. inspectors left in December 1998. The CIA even admitted their limitations and guesswork in a February 2000 report to Congress when it said that it had no direct intelligence on Iraq’s WMD programs, but that that it was “likely” that it had been restarted given Iraq’s past history. This turned out to be completely false, but became the basis of all subsequent intelligence reports during the Bush administration. As Kenneth Pollack of the Brookings Institute wrote, “After 1998 many analysts increasingly entertained worst-case scenarios – scenarios that gradually became mainstream estimates” about Iraq’s WMD.
These claims were made despite contradictory evidence. For example, in 2000 CIA Assistant Director Charlie Allen began a program to contact family members of Iraqi scientists working on WMD programs. The relatives told the CIA that the programs had ended. The CIA did not believe these reports and did not include them in any major intelligence assessments. Rather, the CIA believed that they were part of an Iraqi deception campaign. The intelligence community would develop a strong bias to not believe any reports that countered their claim that Iraq had active weapons programs.
Early Bush Administration
IV. The Power Of The Vice President
“We have swept that problem [Iraq] under the rug for too long. … We have a festering problem there.” Dick Cheney, candidate for Vice President, Fall 2000
Cheney is the most powerful Vice President in American history. Bush basically gave him control of foreign policy matters within his administration. All of the paperwork dealing with foreign affairs has to go through his office. He also keeps close watch over intelligence matters as well. When Dick Cheney had been Sec. of Defense under the 1st George Bush and afterwards, he had supported containment. While running for Vice President in 2000, he stated his unhappiness with Iraq policy. It would become an obsession of his in the coming years. When he was elected in 2001 he was put in charge of staffing many offices in the new administration. In his office, Defense and State Departments, and the National Security Council he placed various neoconservatives in key positions that were all united in their belief to take some kind of military action against Iraq. Cheney would eventually move towards their vision of changing Iraq and the Middle East, especially after 9/11.
Within the first few months of the new administration, he was already pressuring U.S. intelligence to come up with new details on Iraq. At his morning intelligence briefings he would ask, “Tell me about Iraq, tell me about Iraq, tell me about Iraq. What’s the status of their WMDs? What’s their support of terrorism?” When he was told there was little new, Cheney told them, “Try harder. Need to know more.” Later he would be known for maintaining charges against Iraq’s WMD and terrorist ties long after they had been disproved.
V. Bush’s Dysfunctional Iraq Policy
“He [Saddam] has not developed any significant capability with respect to weapons of mass destruction. He is unable to project conventional power against his neighbors. So in effect, our policies have strengthened the security of the neighbors of Iraq, and these are the policies that we are going to keep in place.” –Colin Powell, Secretary of State, 2/24/01
“I think there’s no question that the whole region would be a safer place, Iraq would be a much more successful country, and the American national interest would benefit greatly if there were a change of regime in Iraq.” – Paul Wolfowitz at Congressional confirmation hearings to be Deputy Secretary of Defense, February 2001
The Bush administration’s foreign policy establishment is and has been dysfunctional. Rather than having a set chain of command and coordination, various factions within the administration were able to do what they liked with little to no direction from the President. In fact, in fighting and backstabbing was the name of the game. National Security Advisor Rice was suppose to be in charge of the National Security Council that coordinates policy, but rarely had control. The real power broker was Cheney who sidestepped the normal channels of communication, and went directly to Bush or Rumsfeld and made decisions that others only found out about after the fact.
In general, the Bush administration was divided into two opposing camps. On the one side you had the neoconservatives and Cheney. Rumsfeld, while not sharing their ideology, was Cheney’s closest ally in the government. In opposition were Powell, the State Department, the CIA, and the military that are known as realists who believe states act out of self-interest and should act to protect those interests. What happened within other states didn’t matter to realists as long as America could get what it wanted. The neoconservatives on the other hand, thought what happened within states was just as important as what happened between them. To the realists Saddam was not a threat because he was contained. To the neoconservatives, the fact that he remained in power and was a brutal dictator to his people was an open sore. As UC Berkeley Prof. Mark Danner noted, “You can identify two strains in this administration, one of which would be the [neoconservatives] – officials who take a somewhat ideological and almost evangelical view of the world. … [They hold] the notion that American power should be used to change the world, not simply manage it. … The other group … are pragmatists, so-called realists. They believe that foreign policy is the patient management of alliances, competitions and, to some extent, conflict. … Insofar as you recognize that there are two strains, we have a struggle going on here for George Bush’s attention and for his allegiance.”
The Bush administration’s initial policy towards Iraq is a perfect example of this dysfunction and division. While Bush did not think Iraq was a priority when he first took office, it became a running battle between his underlings. The neoconservatives and Rumsfeld argued for regime change and some kind of military action against Iraq, although plans differed. On the opposite side were Colin Powell and the State Department who wanted better sanctions on Iraq and to maintain the containment policy. The battle between the two started at the first meeting of the National Security Council on 1/30/01. Bush told Powell to work on new sanctions, and Rumsfeld to look into military options against Iraq. Thus each faction got to do what it liked with no central policy or real coordination.
VI. Ignoring Bin Laden For Saddam
“Well, I just don’t understand why we are beginning by talking about this one man bin Laden.” Paul Wolfowitz, Deputy Secretary of Defense, April 2001
Richard Clarke, the head of Counterterrorism, gave his first briefing to the deputy Cabinet secretaries about terrorism and the threat of Al Qaeda on April 2001. At the meeting, Wolfowitz objected to talking about bin Laden. According to Wolfowitz, Iraq was the major threat to the U.S. in the Middle East and the main state supporter of terrorism in the region. Clarke and Wolfowitz then got into an argument over the matter. Clarke told Wolfowitz, “I’m unaware of any Iraq-sponsored terrorism directed against the United States, Paul, since 1993.” Wolfowitz retorted, “You give bin Laden too much credit. … He could not do all these things … not without a state sponsor.” That same month the State Department issued its annual report on terrorism for 2001 stating that Iraq had not been involved in any anti-Western terrorism since the 1993 attempt to assassinate former Pres. Bush. Despite claims to the contrary, before 9/11, the major figures in the Bush administration were not that concerned with either terrorism or al Qaeda. Iraq was a much bigger priority with many.
VII. Beginning Of Covert Public Relations Campaign Against Iraq
“U.S. Says Hussein Intensifies Quest For A-Bomb Parts.” New York Times Headline by Judith Miller, 9/8/01
By the Fall of 2001, those within the administration who were for military action against Iraq such as Vice President Cheney, began leaking stories and providing Iraqi exiles from the Iraqi National Congress (INC) to major U.S. newspapers about the threat of Iraq. One of the major recipients of this “news” was Judith Miller at the New York Times who began writing a number of stories about Iraq’s weapons programs beginning in September 2001. This was the beginning of a covert public relations campaign to convince the American public of the threat posed by Iraq that would culminate in war. In 2005 Miller would admit that almost every single one of her stories came from the INC. None of her reports proved to be true.
9/11 and Iraq
VIII. Is Iraq Behind Al Qaeda?
”The best info fast. Judge whether good enough to hit S.H. [Saddam Hussein]” Donald Rumsfeld, Secretary of Defense, 9/11/01
9/11 gave the regime change faction within the Bush administration the excuse they needed to push for war with Iraq. According to CBS News, within 5 hours of the 9/11 attacks Rumsfeld asked whether Iraq was behind things, and whether there was enough evidence for a military strike against Saddam. Rumsfeld then ordered Wolfowitz to look into connections between Al Qaeda and Iraq. On 9/12/01 Rumsfeld pushed his point again in a meeting with national security officials when he said he wanted to bomb Iraq after 9/11 because there were no good targets in Afghanistan. Rumsfeld also argued that the U.S. would have to go after Iraq eventually, so why not use 9/11 as an opportunity. Richard Clarke objected and argued for going after Al Qaeda and Afghanistan. Powell agreed with Clarke. Clarke would later write about the encounter, “Then I realized with almost a sharp physical pain that Rumsfeld and Wolfowitz were going to take advantage of this national tragedy to promote their agenda about Iraq.” Vice Admiral Wilson, head of the Pentagon’s Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA), shared Clarke’s view. Wilson said, “It was clear since 9/12 or 9/13  that some in OSD [Office of Secretary of Defense] were aiming for Iraq.”
While Bush would tell everyone to focus on Al Qaeda and Afghanistan, he too was becoming swayed by the arguments about Iraq. Bush asked Clarke, “I want you to find whether Iraq did this [9/11]” after the 9/12 meeting. Clarke told him, “Mr. President al Qaeda did this,” and “we have looked several times for state sponsorship of al Qaeda and not found any real linkages to Iraq.” Bush responded by telling Clarke, “Look into Iraq, Saddam.” Clarke and FBI experts later wrote a report that found no connection between Iraq and 9/11. The report was rejected by either National Security Advisor Rice or her deputy Stephan Hadley, and told "Wrong answer … Do it again."
On 9/15/01 Bush and his top advisors met at Camp David to discuss responses to 9/11. Rice warned that the U.S. might get bogged down in Afghanistan and brought up attacking Iraq instead because it would be an easy victory. Wolfowitz agreed and said that there was a 10-50% chance Iraq was involved in 9/11 (a claim based upon nothing but his own assumptions and biases) and that the U.S. had to go after Saddam if it was serious about the war on terror. Rumsfeld joined in with the attack Iraq line as well. Powell said that the U.S. needed to stay focused on Al Qaeda because there was no link between Iraq and 9/11. He was supported by CIA Chief George Tenet and Bush’s Chief of Staff Andrew Card. Cheney too thought the U.S. needed to handle bin Laden first. Bush finally ended the discussion by saying that Iraq was off the table and the meeting needed to focus on Afghanistan. The next day on September 16, however, Bush told Rice that Afghanistan would be the first priority, but that Iraq would have to be dealt with in the future. Bush said at a National Security meeting on 9/17/06, “I believe Iraq was involved [in 9/11], but I’m not going to strike them now. I don’t have the evidence at this point.”
Iraq was obviously on the president’s mind and the Executive Branch would begin to search for links with 9/11. On 9/19/01 Bush asked CIA Chief Tenet to look into Iraq-Al Qaeda links and Cheney told Tenet that his staff had heard reports of a meeting between Iraqi intelligence and Mohamed Atta, leader of the 9/11 hijackers, in Prague 5 months before the attacks. Tenet said he would look into both, and got back to them on 9/21/01. Tenet told Bush that Iraq was not involved with 9/11, and that there was little evidence of collaboration between Saddam and bin Laden. This briefing was later turned into a longer report and given to Cheney, Rumsfeld, Rice, Wolfowitz, and others. Tenet also said that the alleged meeting between Atta and Iraqi intelligence in Prague probably didn’t happen because records showed that Atta was in the U.S. at the time. Cheney didn’t seem to believe that part of the briefing. By the next month, Cheney’s office had leaked the Atta story to its friends in the press. William Safire in the New York Times and James Woolsey, Clinton’s CIA chief and a neoconservative, in the Wall Street Journal both wrote columns stating that the Atta meeting happened and it was proof that Iraq was behind 9/11. U.S. intelligence continued to claim that the Atta story was false in various reports. The U.S. later captured the Iraqi intelligence official who supposedly met with Atta and he said it never happened. To this day Cheney and other neoconservatives still cling to this story as being true.
On 9/20/01 Bush would meet with British Prime Minister Tony Blair. British Ambassador to the U.S. Christopher Meyer said, “Rumors were already flying that Bush would use 9/11 as a pretext to attack Iraq.” During their meeting Blair told Bush to concentrate on Afghanistan. Bush replied, “I agree with you, Tony. We must deal with this first. But when we have dealt with Afghanistan we must come back to Iraq.” Bush asked Blair whether he would be with him if the U.S. attacked Saddam, and Blair said yes.
IX. A Traditional View of States and Terrorism
”We will pursue nations that provide aid or safe haven to terrorism. Every nation, in every region, now has a decision to make. Either you are with us, or you are with the terrorists. From this day forward, any nation that continues to harbor or support terrorism will be regarded by the United States as a hostile regime.” Pres. Bush speech to Congress, 9/20/01
On 9/13/01, just two days after 9/11 Wolfowitz gave a press briefing at the Pentagon where he said, “I think one has to say it’s not just simply a matter of capturing people and holding them accountable, but removing the sanctuaries, removing the support systems, ending states who sponsor terrorism. And that’s why it has to be a broad and sustained campaign.” This was the first time someone in the administration had expanded the new war on terror from fighting terrorist organizations like Al Qaeda to states. The President would champion this view in a televised speech to Congress on 9/20/01 when he said, “We will pursue nations that provide aid or safe haven to terrorism. Every nation, in every region, now has a decision to make. Either you are with us, or you are with the terrorists. From this day forward, any nation that continues to harbor or support terrorism will be regarded by the United States as a hostile regime.” Bush, Wolfowitz and the neoconservatives had a traditional view of the world. States were the main actors, and states fight other states. Al Qaeda however, was a non-state terrorist group. Al Qaeda had been the one that supported the Taliban government in Afghanistan with money and fighters. Al Qaeda had gotten information about WMD off the internet. They had contacted Pakistan’s top nuclear scientist who was dealing nuclear technology secretly. Al Qaeda had not really relied on states, yet Bush and company mainly focused upon countries, first Afghanistan, and then Iraq, as the causes of terrorism. Wolfowitz’s and the President’s new talk alarmed Powell and the State Department however. They wanted to fight terrorists not “end states.” After hearing Wolfowtiz’s comments, Powell told reporters, “We’re after ending terrorism. And if there are states and regimes, nations that support terrorism, we hope to persuade them that it is in their interest to stop doing that. But I think ending terrorism is where I would like to leave it, and let Mr. Wolfowitz speak for himself.” The divisions within the administration were now coming out in the open.
X. Bush Doctrine of Preemption
“The overlap between states that sponsor terror and those that pursue WMD compels us to action. … To forestall or prevent such hostile acts by our adversaries, the United States will, if necessary act preemptively.” National Security Strategy of the United States Of America, 9/17/02
Each administration in America is required to issue a National Security Strategy (NSS) to outline its foreign and security policy. On 9/17/02 Bush issued his first that introduced his new policy of preemption that would become known as the Bush Doctrine. The Doctrine had three main tenets: 1) The U.S. would not allow any country to challenge its power in the world, 2) The U.S. would work to spread democracy around the globe, and 3) If necessary, the U.S. would launch unilateral preemptive wars against its enemies based upon coalitions of the willing. The need for preemption was stressed because of the new threat posed by non-state terrorist organizations. According to the NSS, “The gravest danger our nation faces lies at the crossroads of radicalism and technology. Our enemies have openly declared that they are seeking weapons of mass destruction, and evidence indicates that they are doing so with determination. The United States will not allow these efforts to succeed. … And, as a matter of common sense and self-defense, America will act against such emerging threats before they are fully formed.” What the document put forth was an expansion of preemption, the effort to stop an imminent military attack, to prevention, a war to stop a threat far in the future. The Bush administration argued that in the age of terrorists and states seeking WMD and nuclear weapons, this old distinction between preemption and prevention needed to be dropped. The world was simply too dangerous after 9/11.
All of these ideas converged in Iraq. The U.S. saw Iraq as a threat to its power, especially because it was located in the oil rich Persian Gulf. The U.S. hoped to spread democracy throughout the region by overthrowing Saddam. The U.S. claimed that Iraq could give its WMD and nuclear weapons to terrorists such as Al Qaeda, and ultimately the U.S. would strike first, without a direct provocation, and launch a preventive war with only those countries willing to follow our lead. The problem with this policy was that in order to prevent a future threat the U.S. needed to be sure one existed. In the case of Iraq, the administration would get everything wrong. Bush, like most of the world thought Iraq had WMD, but it was the only country arguing that Saddam was a threat to world security. Likewise, there was little evidence to support an Iraq-Al Qaeda connection. After the war, neither WMD nor ties with Al Qaeda would be found in Iraq, undermining the whole basis for the invasion and Bush’s new doctrine. The administration would first claim that it had been right, and then simply blow off its own reasons for war.
Planning For War
XI. Creating Links Between Iraq & Al Qaeda
Within a very short period of time, they [the Pentagon’s Policy Counterterrorism Evaluation Group] began to find links that nobody else had previously understood or recorded in a useful way. They [noticed] things that nobody else had noticed. It was there all along, it simply hadn’t been noticed … because the CIA and DIA were not looking.” Richard Perle, Head of Pentagon’s Defense Policy Board, October 2003
To find evidence to support its argument for war against Iraq, Rumsfeld told Douglas Feith, Undersecretary of Defense for Policy, to create the Policy Counterterrorism Evaluation Group in October 2001. The policy group would go through existing intelligence reports to find links between Iraq and terrorism. The group would also illegally collect intelligence directly from Iraqi exiles, mainly the Iraqi National Congress (INC). Two neoconservatives with no experience in intelligence originally staffed the group. Their main thesis was that old divisions within the Muslim world, such as between Al Qaeda’s Islamists and secular Arab nationalists like Saddam, were breaking down and that various Islamic terrorist groups and states were all working together to attack the U.S. They claimed to have found dozens of examples of cooperation between Iraq and Al Qaeda. The group’s findings and intelligence were passed directly to Cheney and the White House, and later leaked to the press.
It was based upon these reports that Bush told reporters, “You can’t distinguish between al Qaeda and Saddam when you talk about the war on terror.” Officials throughout the administration would repeat this message in various speeches and testimony to Congress in the coming days. The propaganda campaign worked so well that a majority of Americans came to believe that Iraq was involved in 9/11 and was behind bin Laden. The problem was that the Pentagon unit was the only organization in the U.S. government telling the administration this. The president and his staff received over two dozen intelligence reports saying that there was no connection between Iraq, Al Qaeda or 9/11. Even the British, the U.S.’s closest ally on Iraq in the secret Downing Street memos said, “U.S. scrambling to establish a link between Iraq and Al Aaida is so far frankly unconvincing.” The British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw went on to say, “In addition, there has been no credible evidence to link Iraq with UBL [bin Laden] and Al Qaida.”
Cheney, Rumsfeld and the neoconservatives however were biased against the U.S. intelligence community, and especially the CIA. To them, the CIA had failed to predict past events such as the collapse of the Soviet Union, and therefore were not to be trusted about Iraq. To some such as Richard Perle, they were incompetent, “Let me be blunt about this. The level of competence on past performance of the Central Intelligence Agency, in this area [terrorism], is appalling.” Rather than listen to their intelligence reports, and even the views of their ally Britain, the war supporters in the administration turned to two neoconservatives in the Pentagon to prove that Iraq was behind the terrorist threat to the U.S.
XII. The Axis Of Evil
”I will not wait on events while dangers gather. I will not stand by as peril draws closer and closer. The United States of America will not permit the world’s most dangerous regimes to threaten us with the world’s most destructive weapons.” Pres. Bush’s “Axis of Evil” State of the Union speech, January 2002
In Bush’s famous Axis of Evil State of the Union speech, he went public with some of the ideas laid out in his National Security Strategy. Not only was the administration going to argue that Iraq was behind terrorism and the 9/11 attacks, but it was also going to link terrorism, Iraq and WMD. According to the Bush administration, the gravest threat to the U.S. after 9/11 was that rogue states like Iraq would give its WMD or nuclear weapons to a terrorist group like Al Qaeda to attack America. As Bush said, “Iraq could decide on any given day to provide a biological or chemical weapon to a terrorist group or individual terrorists. … Alliances with terrorists could allow the Iraq regime to attack America without leaving any fingerprints.” There were various intelligence reports that Al Qaeda had wanted to acquire WMD and nuclear weapons but nothing solid to link them with Iraq. There were also intelligence reports that specifically refuted the idea that Iraq would give its weapons to any terrorist group let alone Al Qaeda, and that Iraq and Al Qaeda never cooperated anyway. None of this stopped the administration from making these claims against Iraq. The speech was in fact the opening public salvo in the push to war. David Frum, the man who wrote the speech was told, “Make the best case for war in Iraq, but leave exit ramps.”
XIII. Turning Iraq Into A Threat
”Simply stated, there is no doubt that Saddam Hussein now has weapons of mass destruction. There is no doubt that he is amassing them to use against our friends, against our allies, and against us.” Dick Cheney, Vice President speech, 8/26/02
There were internal disputes within the intelligence community about what exactly Iraq was doing for example over the aluminum tubes that Iraq had tried to buy, were they for centrifuges to enrich uranium for an atomic bomb, or were they simply rocket tubes, and whether Iraq had tried to buy uranium from Niger. However, the general consensus opinion had not changed since the end of the Clinton administration. Individual reports included plenty of “probably has”, “could be used for”, “suggests”, and even “no reliable information on”, but U.S. intelligence still believed Iraq had restarted its WMD and nuclear programs after U.N. inspectors left in 1998.
The CIA, DIA, and others were making report after report about how Iraq had not only restarted its weapons programs, but that they were actually larger than before the Gulf War. The proof was usually very thin, and would prove to be completely false after the war. For example, in April 2002 the CIA claimed that Iraq was expanding its nuclear weapons program based upon two reports. First, there was a report that Iraq had a new building for its atomic agency. The new building was to replace the old one that had been bombed by the Clinton administration. The CIA had no idea what was going on within the building, but because the atomic agency had worked on nuclear weapons before the Gulf War, it was assumed that their new building would be used for the same purposes. Also, the CIA received a report that a new PhD program offering studies in nuclear energy was to be begun in Iraq. It was simply assumed that this was part of Iraq’s covert weapons program. Likewise, in early 2002 there was photographic intelligence of a suspicious vehicle that might be a decontamination unit parked outside a Republican Guard munitions dump that had been used for WMD before the Gulf War. The photo was used as evidence that Iraq still had WMD munitions. When U.N. inspections began again in late 2002 this vehicle turned out to be a fire truck and no traces of WMD were found at the site. This was some of the “proof” the intelligence community used to support its claims.
Even Bush, when presented with the best evidence on Iraq by the CIA didn’t think there was enough to convince the American public that Iraq was a threat. He asked whether that was all the U.S. had on Saddam. CIA Chief George Tenet famously replied, “It’s a slam dunk case!” Within the administration it was decided that WMD was the one issue that could unify the fractured foreign policy establishment. As Wolfowitz would tell Vanity Fair, “The truth is that for reasons that have a lot to do with the U.S. government bureaucracy, we settled on the one issue that everyone could agree on, which was weapons of mass destruction, as the core reason.” Tenet, in making his “dunk” comment, was throwing in his lot with the war party.
By the fall of 2002, the administration was including its claims against Iraq in its public statements. Cheney gave a speech to the Veterans of Foreign Wars on 8/26/02 outlining the threat of Iraq and the certainty that he had about them possessing WMD. Rumsfeld told the Senate Armed Services Committee on 9/10/02 that Iraq had plans for 2 nuclear bombs. He didn’t mention that neither of these bomb plans were practical. The administration continued to feed stories to the press and provide Iraqi defectors to support their argument as well.
These facts weren’t adding up to some though. In the summer of 2002 as part of the on-going war planning, lists and documents were drawn up on Iraqi targets to be hit during the war. A senior military officer who reviewed some of these stated, “The target list didn’t match the text. The text was full of ‘We’re not sure, we don’t know this.’” When he looked at the target list it had, “About one hundred ‘confirmed or possible’ weapons of mass destruction sites.” Another military officer complained to the CIA when given the lists because they were exactly the same as those given out during the 1991 Gulf War. When pressed, the CIA said that was all that they had. A friendly foreign government told the U.S. that while Iraq retained its nuclear establishment, many of its engineers and scientists had died, retired or left Iraq since 1999. The British released a report stating that U.N. sanctions had worked to block Iraq’s nuclear program, “While sanctions remain effective, Iraq would not be able to produce a nuclear weapon.” Overall Tony Blair’s government in England, America’s closest ally in the Iraq war, felt America’s case was weak. The secret Downing Street memos written in July 2002 noting a conversation amongst Blair’s national security advisors said, “Case against Iraq was thin. Saddam not a threat to its neighbors and WMD was less than Libya, North Korea or Iran.”
The administration itself could never get its figures to match up. Two examples were Iraq’s anthrax stockpile and missiles. When U.N. inspectors left Iraq in 1998 they said Iraq only had 2 unaccounted for SCUD missiles. During the Bush administration, Iraq was charged with hiding 6 missiles, then 12, then 20, then a couple dozen. Likewise, the U.N. speculated that Iraq had the capability to produce up to 30,000 liters of anthrax in 1998. Bush, in his 2002 State of the Union Speech said that Iraq could produce up to 25,000 liters of anthrax. By October 2002 Bush was claiming between 30,000-120,000 liters. On 12/9/02 the State Department claimed that Iraq had produced 26,000 liters, and finally in Bush’s 2003 State of the Union the amount had fallen back to 25,000 liters. There was no proof that Iraq had actually produced this stockpile, it only had the capability, but as time passed the administration began claiming that they had.
The administration also presented the worse case scenarios about the threat posed by Iraq as it cherry picked intelligence reports. As a January 2004 study by the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace found, “Administration officials systematically misrepresented the threat from Iraq’s WMD … by: Insisting without evidence – yet treating as a given truth – that Saddam Hussein would give whatever WMD he possessed to terrorists. Routinely dropping cavets, probabilities, and expressions of uncertainty present in intelligence assessments from public statements.” For example, beginning in September 2002 the administration began claiming that Iraq could have a nuclear bomb within a year. On 9/8/02 administration sources leaked the story to the New York Times and included their new catch phrase, “The first sign of a ‘smoking gun,’ they [the administration] argue may be a mushroom cloud.” That same day Rice went on CNN and repeated the phrase, to be followed by the President himself in a speech in October 2002 in Cincinnati. What the administration failed to say was that intelligence reports did say that Iraq could have a nuclear device within a year if they were able to smuggle in enriched uranium and gain foreign technical assistance to process it for use in a bomb, neither of which they had. Their warnings again skipped the fact that Iraq never had a workable bomb plan to begin with. The claim that Iraq had tried to buy uranium from Niger was even a worse case of the Administration trying to paint Iraq as a threat. The validity of the claim had been a major source of debate within the intelligence community, and when the administration had tried to include it in a previous speech CIA Chief Tenet told them not to. When it came to Bush’s January 2003 State of the Union address, the Niger claim was finally included, this despite another warning by the CIA. To cover itself, the White House changed the language so Bush said that Iraq was looking to purchase uranium from “Africa” according to “British” sources. In May 2003 the President’s own Foreign Intelligence Board found after an investigation, that the White House was so desperate to find evidence against Iraq that it included the Niger claim despite warnings not to use it.
XIV. Conflicts Over Military Planning For Iraq
“Here may be the clearest manifestation of OSD’s [Office of the Secretary of Defense] contempt for the accumulated wisdom of the military profession and of the assumption among forward thinkers that technology … has rendered obsolete the conventions traditionally governing the preparation and conduct of war.” Prof. Andrew Bacevich, retired Army colonel, Boston Univ., 2006
At the first meeting of Bush’s National Security Council in January 2001, the president told Rumsfeld to begin revising military plans against Iraq. After 9/11 this became a greater concern within the Pentagon. The planning caused all kinds of tension.
First, some in the military did not understand why the U.S. was going after Iraq when it hadn’t even finished with Al Qaeda. Lt. Gen. Gregory Newbold, the Director of Operations at the Joint Chiefs of Staff, expressed this opinion in the summer of 2002, “Why Iraq? Why now? … All of us understood the fight was against the terrorists, and we were willing to do anything in that regard – so ‘Why are we diverting assets and attentions?’” Newbold would be the only senior military officer to resign because of his opposition to the Iraq war.
Second, there were disputes about how much the civilians in the Defense Department were going to have in the actual war planning. Rumsfeld was known for his micromanagement and dismissal of counter views. Deputy Sec. of Defense Wolfowitz was seen as an ideologue obsessed with Iraq, and Undersecretary of Defense for Policy Feith was considered an ideologue as well, but also an idiot. Gen. Tommy Franks, head of CENTCOM, said that Feith was “The dumbest fucking guy on the planet.” The military felt that the civilian leadership lacked the experience and knowledge to make sound military judgments and continually ignored the advice of senior generals. There were even some meetings in the Pentagon where military officers were banned from attending. For example, a few months before the war started there was a planning session at the Pentagon. Lt. Gen. John Abizaid, then director of the Joint Chiefs of Staff was waiting outside when he was told he couldn’t take part. A senior officer at the Joint Chiefs of Staff felt, “They [the civilian leaders of the Pentagon] did not take the best military advice. … To this day I feel I let people down and the dead American soldiers have paid a price for that.”
The main point of contention became over how many troops to send into Iraq. Rumsfeld did not like the war planning because it called for hundreds of thousands of troops. Rumsfeld was into transforming the military into a lean, high tech force. The easy victory in Afghanistan had convinced him that the U.S. could go into Iraq light and fast. Therefore, every time Rumsfeld sat down with military officers he low-balled the troop levels. At one of the very first meetings on the subject, he threw out the figure of less than 10,000 soldiers. Gen. Franks was finally able to work out a troop deployment of around 175,000, which included British units, a number many, like the commander of U.S. ground forces in Iraq Lt. Gen. David McKiernan and his number two, Maj. Gen. James Thurman, were unhappy with. When the invasion actually began in March 2003 Gen. Thurman said, “We wanted more combat power on the ground.” These disputes would continue after the invasion as the President and Rumsfeld would continually claim that the military was given all of the troops it wanted to occupy Iraq. That was far from the truth.
There were also casualties in this feud. On 2/25/03 General Eric Shinseki, the Army Chief of Staff, told the Senate Armed Services Committee that several hundred thousand soldiers would be needed to occupy Iraq. Immediately after the hearing Wolfowitz called up Secretary of the Army Thomas White to complain. Wolfowitz later told the House Budget Committee that Shinseki was “way off the mark,” and Wolfowitz would personally confront Shinseki over his testimony. Afterwards an Air Force officer said, “After seeing Wolfowitz chew down a four-star, I don’t think anyone was going to raise their head up and make a stink about it [the war plans].” Shinseki was eventually forced out. Later Rumsfeld and Wolfowitz forbade the Pentagon from making estimates about the cost of the war. They repeatedly said that since wars were uncertain, they couldn’t make predictions about their costs. Wolfowitz told the House Budget Committee on 2/27/03, “Fundamentally, we have no idea what is needed unless and until we get there on the ground.” People in the bureaucracy and military got the message that if they spoke up it would be professional suicide.
XV. Resistance To The U.N.
”Our position … was that Saddam was an outlaw. … We already had all the U.N. resolutions we needed to go to war. We didn’t think we needed any more arguments to justify it, or its legality.” White House official, April 2002
Another argument over the Iraq war broke out within Bush’s cabinet about whether the U.N. should be involved. Cheney, Rumsfeld and the neoconservatives were distrustful of international organizations, especially the U.N., which they saw as ineffective and full of anti-American countries. They also argued that there were plenty of U.N. resolutions already about Iraq and its WMD and that those were enough. Powell and the State Department, however, argued that in order to legitimize a U.S. invasion it needed to get international support in the form of a U.N. resolution. Tony Blair also pushed Bush in this direction. In a face-to-face meeting with Bush in August 2002, Powell was finally able to win the bureaucratic wars when the president said that he would go to the U.N.
Even though Powell was able to win a temporary victory within the administration, he still faced many opponents. Cheney and Rumsfeld were both against the plan and tried to undercut Powell’s position. Wolfowitz, as far back as January 2002 was attempting to find faults with the U.N. weapons inspectors. In that month, he ordered a CIA investigation into chief weapons inspector Hans Blix. Wolfowitz believed that while head of the International Atomic Energy Agency in the 1990s, Blix had been soft on the Iraqis. When the CIA delivered its report stating that Blix had done a good job and that weapons inspectors had worked, Wolfowitz “hit the ceiling” according to a former State Department official.
On 9/12/02 Bush gave a speech to the U.N. calling for a new resolution on Iraq because it was hiding illegal WMD. After the speech the U.S. began drafting the new resolution 1441 and what new demands would be made on Iraq. Problems immediately arose between the U.S. and France over those demands, while the U.S. put huge pressure on the members of the Security Council, to get them to support 1441. The Mexican U.N. ambassador, who was then on the Security Council, said, “We were constantly told that there were certain positions that could not be changed, because the Defense Department or the White House will not allow this to be changed.”
Opponents of the U.N. route within the administration continued to attack the process. The White House Information Group that was in charge of propaganda on Iraq released a report entitled “A Decade of Deception and Defiance” that said Iraq had never complied with previous U.N. inspectors, implying that they wouldn’t in the future. Time magazine ran an article that quoted neoconservatives within the administration saying that Iraq had been able to fool inspectors before and that they expected the same this time. They also attacked the competency of Blix. Rumsfeld told the Senate Armed Services Committee that the inspection team was weak and that, “The more inspectors that are in there, the less likely something’s going to happen.” On 10/30/02 just before inspections were scheduled to begin, Hans Blix met with Cheney in the White House. Cheney told Blix that if the U.N. didn’t find WMD the U.S. would discredit the inspectors as a waste and move onto other methods to disarm Iraq. All along, the U.N. route was not an end, but a means. The U.S. did not believe that the U.N. could actually disarm Iraq rather the administration was hoping that either Saddam would reject the inspections or accept them, but lie about his weapons programs. Either way, the U.S. would find its excuse for war.
XVI. Congress Supports The President
”Members were intimidated.” Sen. Robert Byrd, October 2002
During the run up to war, Congress was fairly silent. In October 2002, it voted on a war resolution authorization Bush to use force against Iraq if necessary. Bush had gotten the vote moved up to right before the November elections so that Republicans could use it against any Democrats who didn’t support it. The Democrats were already scared of being called weak on defense, especially after 9/11, so the Democratic Caucus had decided to get the vote out of the way as soon as possible. The vote took place in mid-October with 77 out of 100 Senators and 296 out of 435 Representatives supporting the resolution. The Republicans obviously endorsed the resolution, and a majority of Senate Democrats backed it, while in the House the majority of Democrats were against it. As Sen. Robert Byrd said, “Members were intimidated” by what could happen to them in November, just as Bush had planned.
As events spiraled forward toward war in early 2003, Congress still raised very few questions. Several administration officials such as Wolfowitz and Feith testified to congressional committees, but refused to give specifics about war planning and were never pushed about it. The Republicans obviously didn’t want to question Bush, and the Democrats either couldn’t or wouldn’t. Congress would basically rubber stamp the war, and would remain largely silent in the preceding years even as events flew out of control. Sen. Josef Biden would lament at the time, “The American people have no notion of what we are about to undertake.”
XVII. Undercutting U.N. Inspectors
”[Cheney] stated the position that inspections, if they do not give results, cannot go forward, and said the U.S. was ‘ready to discredit inspections in favor of disarmament.’ A pretty straight way, I thought, of saying that if we did not soon find the weapons of mass destruction that the U.S. was convinced Iraq possessed (though they did not know where), the U.S. would be ready to say that the inspectors were useless and embark on disarmament by other means.” Hans Blix, Chief U.N. Inspector, 6/9/05
When U.N. inspectors and the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) finally returned to Iraq in November 2002 they ran into the usual foot dragging and opposition by Iraqi authorities. The main issues were over interviewing Iraqi scientists and aerial flights over the country, but both of those were eventually resolved by early 2003. At the same time the U.S. was not really helping with the inspections either. When the U.N. asked for intelligence from the U.S. it would not share everything. Months after inspections had ended Blix told the BBC that only 3 of the sites the U.S. told the U.N. about turned up anything, none of which was related to WMD. The Senate Intelligence Committee’s July 2004 report on pre-war Iraq intelligence found that the U.S. never fully cooperated with the U.N.
Administration officials also continued their attacks on the ability of inspectors to find anything. In January 2003 when the IAEA issued its initial report that found that the aluminum tubes the U.S. claimed were for centrifuges were really for rockets, the administration told the New York Times, “I think the Iraqis are spinning the IAEA.” That same month when Blix issued a report saying that inspectors had found no WMD, but that Iraq had not fully accounted for its previous stockpiles, was working on illegal missile programs, and hadn’t allowed U-2 flights, the White House chose to attack the report. Towards the end of inspections an administration official told the New York Times on 3/2/03 that, “Inspectors have turned out to be a trap. They have become a false measure of disarmament in the eyes of the people. We're not counting on Blix to do much of anything for us." Whatever inspectors found, the U.S. was not listening. In March 2005 the Bush appointed Robb-Silberman Commission found that the administration routinely ignored findings of U.N. inspectors.
The peak of the U.S.’s critique of the U.N. process came in February 2003 when Powell gave his speech to the Security Council. Powell’s main point was that Iraq was not cooperating with the United Nations inspectors, and was trying to hide its weapons programs. Powell was given a 90-page dossier by Cheney’s office to be the basis of his speech. Most of the information came from the Pentagon’s Policy Counterterrorism Evaluation Group. Powell didn’t trust his rivals though so he spent days at the CIA going over intelligence to be used in his speech. This information didn’t prove to be any better than what he got from Cheney’s office, as almost everything he said would prove to be false. The Senate Intelligence Committee later found, “Much of the information provided or cleared by the Central Intelligence Agency for inclusion in Secretary Powell’s speech was overstated, misleading, or incorrect.” The public was unaware of these deficiencies however and Powell’s speech generally calmed critics. The administration’s stance had always been trust us, and Powell convinced many to do just that based upon his prestige and standing. As an example, a few days later when the IAEA found no evidence of an Iraqi nuclear program, the story was largely ignored.
XVIII. U.S. And Its Allies
“Why now? … Are we in a situation where we should resort to violence now? … Excuse me, I am not convinced.” Joschka Fischer, German Foreign Minister at western security conference, February 2003
Blix told the media that inspections were working and that the U.N. only needed more time. Most of the world seemed to agree with him. While the international community believed that Iraq had WMD, few of them saw Iraq as a threat or immediate danger, and thus were willing to give the inspectors all the time they needed. The U.S. however had never thought that the inspections would really work, they were just looking for an excuse for war. An officer at the Joint Chiefs of Staff commented, “If we don’t find weapons, that means Saddam is cheating and that means we go to war. If we find weapons, that means Saddam is cheating, because he is hiding them.”
In February 2003 Rumsfeld went to an annual security conference in Germany where he berated the NATO allies about their lack of support for the U.S.’s effort against Iraq. He asked how could reasonable people not support the U.S. and warned that the U.S.’s patience was waning for Europe to join the Coalition of the Willing. Rumsfeld’s comments only aggravated America’s allies. After his speech came German Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer who asked, Why now? Why war? Was the U.S. really ready to occupy Iraq? Did they really believe that democracy would blossom there? The two views showed the divide between America and many of its European friends who Rumsfeld dismissed as the “old Europe.” The neoconservatives and Cheney believed that if America acted decisively and used its power with purpose, its allies would eventually follow suite. Instead, the administration’s heavy handed tactics and dismissal of countries that didn’t follow its lead left the U.S. isolated, and in many areas hated and distrusted, as it went to war with a coalition made up mostly of small nations, Britain, Spain, Italy and much of Eastern Europe. Today the U.S. still finds itself isolated on many foreign policy initiatives because of its actions leading up to the war.
XIX. Failing To Plan For After The War
”There was little discussion in Washington of the aftermath after military action.” Sir Richard Dearlove, British MI6 Intelligence Chief, Downing Street Memo, 7/23/02
The U.S. worked on the war plans for Iraq for over a year before the actual invasion. It was a top priority of both the civilian and military leadership within the Pentagon. Planning for after the war on the other hand, was uncoordinated, haphazard, and derided by the top brass in the Defense Department. Since the Pentagon was out front in pushing for war it felt that the Iraq operation was its baby. Thomas White, Secretary of the Army said, “With DOD [Department of Defense] the first issue was, we’ve got to control this thing – so everyone else is suspect. And the second thing was, we had the mind-set this would be a relatively straight-forward manageable task, because this would be a war of liberation and therefore the reconstruction would be short-lived.”
While Rumsfeld continued to argue with the military about how many troops were to be sent into Iraq, he put his Deputy Feith in charge of the political side of the war and to take care of post-war planning under a new organization called the Office of Special Plans (OSP). Feith was already known for being disorganized, and OSP did little in the way of actual planning. Things got so bad the Pentagon transferred postwar planning to CENTCOM. That failed as well, so the task was sent back to the Pentagon. The Pentagon’s planning was limited by the fact that Army training and doctrine emphasized winning the battle at hand. What happened afterwards was someone else’s problem. The Army believed that the war would be short and quick, afterwards the international community would step in and handle reconstruction and security, the Iraqi bureaucracy would still be around to handle day to day affairs, and the military could go home in just a few months. None of this proved right.
The State Department, the National Security Council, the CIA, the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), and the Senate Foreign Relations were also looking into postwar planning. In total, there were 10 separate government organizations at one time or another working on this task. None of this work was coordinated, and their tasks were carried out with varying degrees of success.
The State Department, which historically had dealt with postwar situations got started first in October 2001 and was the most extensive. It spent millions of dollars to bring together Middle East experts and Iraqi exiles in its Future of Iraq Project that produced 13 volumes of information about what could happen in the country after a war. One of those volumes said that security and law and order immediately after fighting stopped would be the top priority. The CIA carried out a series of gaming situations to make predictions about what could happen in Iraq. One recurring problem was public disorder after the invasion. Similarly, an Iraqi exile told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, “The system of public security will break down, because there will be no functioning police force, no civil service, and no justice.” On the first day after fighting he continued, “There will be a vacuum of political authority and administrative authority. The infrastructure of vital sectors will have to be restored. An adequate police force must be trained and equipped as quickly as possible. And the economy will have to be jump-started.” These predictions would become prophetic, and tragic because they were completely ignored by the Pentagon and military.
Some within the administration simply carried out public relations stunts, while others proved to be symbolic of the dysfunction within the Bush administration. An example of the former would be the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) that brought together non-governmental organizations (NGOs) involved in postwar and humanitarian situations, only to tell them that everything would be fine after the war because the U.S. would be seen as liberators. They were told to dispense this message by the Defense Department, and no actual planning took place at their meetings. Other organizations were victims of the vicious in fighting within the administration. National Security Advisor Rice twice tried to take control of the planning by creating interagency groups within the National Security Council (NSC). The first was destroyed by rivalries between State, Defense and the NSC, while the second came up with a comprehensive plan for Iraq, briefed Bush about it, but than never sent its idea to the Pentagon, OSP, or the U.S. invasion force. The Defense Dept. relied upon neoconservatives and Iraqi exiles led by the Iraqi National Congress for most of their planning and was told that the U.S. would not really have to worry about postwar Iraq because the U.S. would be freeing the country from Saddam. Rumsfeld also banned Pentagon officials from working with others in the government working on Iraq. Iraq was suppose to be the Defense Department’s show and no one else. A four star general felt frustration over this approach when he said, “There was a conscious cutting off of advice and concerns, so that the guy who ultimately had to make the decision, the president, didn’t get the advice. … Concern was raised about what would happen in the postwar period, how you would deal with this decapitated country. It was blown off. Concern about a long-term occupation – that was discounted. The people around the president were so, frankly, intellectually arrogant. They knew that postwar Iraq would be easy and would be a catalyst for change in the Middle East. They were making simplistic assumptions and refused to put them to the test. … These are educated men, they are smart men. But they are not wise men.”
On 1/20/03 the White House officially gave postwar Iraq to the Pentagon instead of the State Department who had historically handled such situations. This was a victory for Rumsfeld over his rivals within the administration. The irony was that Rumsfeld didn’t want to deal with Iraq after the war. Getting control of operations was simply a prize to be denied his rivals. Not only that, but the Pentagon had no experience in running a post-conflict situation. A RAND Corp. study done after the invasion noted, “Overall, this approach worked poorly because the Defense Department lacked the experience, expertise, funding, authority, local knowledge, and established contacts with other potential organizations needed to establish, staff, support and oversee a large multiagency civilian mission,” like was required in Iraq.
The Pentagon created another new organization for the task, the Office Of Reconstruction and Humanitarian Aid (ORHA). Retired Gen. Jay Garner was put in charge. ORHA was supposed to be under the authority of Feith’s Office Of Special Plans (OSP), but the two never talked. ORHA had a similar attitude with the military in the Pentagon. Garner came up with 3 operations to be conducted after the war: humanitarian assistance, reconstruction and civil administration. Humanitarian planning was the only part that was given serious consideration. Garner said this was because he was never given much money to work with and the Pentagon didn’t seem to care about the other two. For example, during a planning session with CENTCOM postwar looting was brought up, but the CENTCOM officers said they couldn’t talk about that. Not only that, ORHA had little information about the internal working of Iraq anyways such as what Iraq’s ministries did so they didn’t plan for how to make them work after the war. Cheney and Rumsfeld also tried to bar Garner from hiring officials outside of the Pentagon, especially if they were from the State Department or not sufficiently pro-war.
Garner would run into his own problems when he gave his one and only press conference before flying to Kuwait in March 2003. He was asked whether the U.S. would hand over power to Ahmad Chalabi and the INC. He said no. Immediately afterwards he was called several times by Feith and told that his comments had damaged the INC and embarrassed Chalabi. Garner told Feith why didn’t he call his own press conference and say that the U.S. was going to put Chalabi in power. Feith said he couldn’t do that. Garner told him, “Then get off my ass.” Garner wasn’t allowed another press conference by the Pentagon on orders of the White House. After that Garner and ORHA were on a tight leash. Feith sent two Pentagon officials to oversee ORHA and help Chalabi in Iraq. Rumsfeld’s own spokesman Larry Di Rita was assigned to follow Garner everywhere. ORHA officials felt like the Pentagon was spying on them so they stayed in line with the administration’s message about Iraq.
The neoconservatives within the administration had hopes that Ahmad Chalabi would become the new leader of Iraq after Saddam. To further this goal the Pentagon formed its own Iraqi exile organization, called the Iraqi Reconstruction and Development Council. Only individuals and groups that supported Chalabi’s Iraqi National Congress (INC) were allowed to join. Feith also set up a program to train 6000 INC fighters to go in with U.S. forces to give the INC prestige in liberating the country. Camps were set up in Hungary but only 70 Iraqis showed up. Long after the war, Chalabi and various neoconservatives blamed the chaos in Iraq after the war on the State Department for not creating this force. They forgot to mention that it was a Pentagon program that never materialized.
The cause of the chaotic state of postwar planning started at the top. Rumsfeld refused to consider the postwar situation because he was against nation building. To him, what happened after the war was someone else’s responsibility. Gen. Franks at CENTCOM, and Gen. McKiernan, head of U.S. ground forces in Iraq, agreed with Rumsfeld because that was official U.S. military doctrine. Wolfowitz and the neoconservatives believed that the INC could take over after the war. Either way, postwar planning was not important and even considered a detriment to the more important war phase.
Just as with the war planning, people who spoke up or questioned the leadership were reprimanded and eventually forced out of office. An example is the issue of the cost of the war. Because the war planners thought conquering Iraq would be so easy they threw out a series of low estimates for reconstruction. The head of USAID told Ted Koppel on Nightline that rebuilding Iraq would only cost the U.S. $1.7 billion because other countries would pay for the majority of rebuilding Iraq. Who those other countries might be, especially after how the U.S. had treated its allies, was not elaborated upon. The Office Of Management and Budget only asked Congress for $2.5 billion in reconstruction funds, while Wolfowitz testified to the House that Iraq’s $15-$20 billion a year oil revenues would pay for the whole thing. Bush’s economic advisor however, Lawrence Lindsay told the Wall Street Journal that the war and occupation could cost up to $200 billion. In the long run Lindsay proved much closer to the truth than others in the administration, but he was fired within a month after the article appeared.
XX. The U.S. Will Be Greeted As Liberators
”I think people are overly pessimistic about the aftermath.” Paul Wolfowitz, Deputy Secretary of Defense, December 2002
One of the reasons why people like Wolfowitz didn’t pay much attention to postwar planning was their assessment of what Iraq would be like after Saddam. While the administration tended to give the worst-case scenarios about Iraq’s threat to the U.S., they gave the best-case situations about postwar Iraq. Cheney, Wolfowitz, and others made various statements about how the U.S. would be greeted as liberators. Cheney for one told the Veterans of Foreign Wars in August 2002, “As for the reaction of the Arab ‘street,’ the Middle East expert Professor Fouad Ajami predicts that after liberation, the streets of Basra and Baghdad are sure to erupt in joy in the same way the throngs in Kabul greeted the Americans.” They also believed that after years of dictatorship the Iraqi people would embrace Western style democracy. This would cause a domino affect throughout the region. By one simply act, the invasion of Iraq, the entire Middle East could be transformed and terrorism undermined. As Cheney argued at the same August speech, “Regime change in Iraq would bring about a number of benefits to the region. When the gravest of threats are eliminated, the freedom-loving peoples of the region will have a chance to promote the values that can bring lasting peace. … Extremists in the region would have to rethink their strategy of Jihad. Moderates throughout the region would take heart. And our ability to advance the Israeli-Palestinian peace process would be enhanced.” It was the neoconservative utopian vision of revolution.
On a more practical level, they also believed that Iraq’s government would continue to run the day after the war ended. Bush and other war supporters liked to compare the future occupation of Iraq to the handling of Germany and Japan after WWII, which led to the reconstruction and transformation of those two countries into democracies. The analogy failed to note that Germany and Japan had been parliamentary democracies before WWII, and thus had experience and institutions to support democratization. Iraq had no such history. Germany and Japan had also been unified countries with a strong sense of nationalism, this was also lacking in Iraq that was divided along ethnic and religious lines. Finally, the Axis were thoroughly defeated by the Allies and their publics were ready for peace. The same thing could not be said about postwar Iraq.
Based on these beliefs, Rumsfeld made plans for the majority of U.S. troops to withdraw from Iraq three months after the war was won. As Secretary of the Army White said, “Their view was almost theological in nature – that it was going to go the way they said it was going to go.”
XXI. War Was Not The Last Resort
“There was a perceptible shift in attitude. Military action was now seen as inevitable. Bush wanted to remove Saddam, through military action, justified by the conjunction of terrorism and WMD.” Downing Street Memos, Prime Minister Tony Blair’s Cabinet, July 2002
The Bush administration always publicly claimed that war was the last resort. If war was going to happen Saddam made the choice, forcing Bush into being a reluctant warrior. As Bush said in a speech in October 2002, “Our goal is to fully and finally remove a real threat to world peace and to America. Hopefully this can be done peacefully. Hopefully we can do this without any military action. Yet, if Iraq is to avoid military action by the international community, it has the obligation to prove compliance with all the world’s demands. It’s the obligation of Iraq.” That was far from the truth.
Earlier in July 2002, Tony Blair’s cabinet had a meeting after a trip to the U.S. The discussions were included in the secret Downing Street memos. British intelligence chief Sir Richard Dearlove reported, “There was a perceptible shift in attitude. Military action was now seen as inevitable. Bush wanted to remove Saddam, through military action, justified by the conjunction of terrorism and WMD.” War plans at the Pentagon and CENTCOM were already being worked on and the government’s public relations campaign was in full swing to convince the public that Iraq was connected to Al Qaeda, had WMD, and wanted a nuclear bomb to threaten the U.S. By December 2002 Bush ordered the deployment of troops to the Persian Gulf for the invasion.
In January 2003 Bush and Blair directly discussed their war plans during a meeting at the White House. This was recorded in another secret British memo from 1/13/03. The U.S. and England had already decided that the war would begin on March 10, 2003. The problem was that they didn’t have an excuse to start it. U.N. and IAEA inspectors were in Iraq at the time, but finding no evidence of WMD, which had been Bush and Blair’s main case for war. Bush said that they did not need a second U.N. resolution, but they still needed a rationale. Faced with this dilemma Bush came up with several different scenarios to provoke war. One plan was to paint a U.S. spy plane in U.N. colors and fly it over Iraq with U.S. fighter protection in hopes that Saddam would order an attack on it. Bush also hoped that an Iraqi defector would come forward with claims about Iraq’s WMD. Another faint hope was that Saddam would simply be assassinated. Both sides went away to ponder how to start the war.
By March 2003 Bush was ready and willing. Powell told the U.N. that Iraq had not disarmed based upon the fact that it was not cooperating with weapons inspectors. Blix and the IAEA reported the exact opposite. The IAEA found no renewed nuclear program, no evidence to support claims that Iraq had tried to buy uranium from Niger, and said that most of Iraq’s nuclear facilities had deteriorated since 1998 rather than been rebuilt and expanded as U.S. intelligence and the administration claimed. Blix said inspections were working, that Iraq was finally cooperating, and that the process needed more time. Despite the U.S.’s claims of thousands of WMD munitions and materials, inspectors had only found 16 empty WMD shells, 16 empty WMD rockets, and one 155 mm artillery shell filled with WMD that had been left over from the Iran-Iraq War. None of that mattered to Bush because he had already decided upon war no matter what the U.N. found. The U.S. set a unilateral deadline of 3/17/03 for Iraq to disarm. When that day came, Bush gave Saddam 48 hours to leave Iraq. Bush said, "Intelligence gathered by this and other governments leaves no doubt that the Iraq regime continues to possess and conceal some of the most lethal weapons ever devised." Bombing started on the night of 3/19/03 when U.S. intelligence believed that it had found Saddam and his top advisors in Baghdad. Bush OK’d a cruise missile attack to try to take Saddam out. Like most intelligence about Iraq, this proved to be wrong, but the war was on.
XXII. Continued Chaos Over Postwar Planning
“We don’t owe the people of Iraq anything. We’re giving them their freedom. That’s enough.” Larry Di Rita, Rumsfeld’s Spokesman, April 2003
Postwar planning for Iraq fared no better after the war actually started. On 3/16/03 Garner and his ORHA staff flew to Kuwait. There Garner and his inner circle of advisors disappeared into their hotel rooms where no one saw them for two days. Garner had almost no contact with his staff even after that. ORHA couldn’t get phones and Pentagon officials usually shut out the State Department at meetings leading to little serious work. In Kuwait, the ORHA finally came up with a plan for Iraq called “A Unified Mission Plan for Post-Hostilities Iraq.” It called for the rebuilding of Iraq’s infrastructure, reform of the government’s ministries, an interim government would be appointed, a constitution would be written, elections held, and then Iraq would govern itself. All of this was to be accomplished by August 2003 when the plan called for a U.S. withdrawal. Garner also got the OK of Bush and the Pentagon to use the Iraqi army to help with reconstruction. Garner said he planned on working on this project for 90 days and then he would go home. There were two big problems with this plan, one, Garner never sent the document to Washington to be officially okayed, and he never told his staff about it.
People in ORHA were questioning whether Garner was really in control anyways by that time because of the presence of Rumsfeld’s spokesperson Larry Di Rita who followed Garner everywhere as a kind of watchdog. In early April 2003 a USAID member said that the U.S. needed to show early success to win over the Iraqis to which Di Rita replied, “We don’t owe the people of Iraq anything. We’re giving them their freedom. That’s enough.” As if that wasn’t enough, officials from Feith’s OSP showed up in Kuwait, leaving the ORHA staff with more evidence that the Pentagon was spying on them.
To Rumsfeld, Wolfowitz and Gen. Franks, things were fine. It seemed like the U.S. leadership had no plan, but they did. It was a vision of the best-case scenario for postwar Iraq, which proved to be completely wrong. They didn’t want any extensive postwar planning because they thought this would be a quick, fast and simple war. The U.S. would march in with a small force that could technologically dominate the battlefield as Rumsfeld envisioned. The people would greet the troops as liberators for freeing them from the oppression of Saddam Hussein just as Cheney and Wolfowitz claimed. Garner would take care of any humanitarian crisis and get the Iraqi army and government back to work as the ORHA was set up for. The international community, although spurned at first for not following America’s lead, would step in with aid once it saw America’s power just as the military predicted. Finally, Iraq’s oil industry would pay for almost all the reconstruction just like Wolfowitz told Congress. In the end, the U.S. would be out of the country in just a few months, exactly as Gen. Franks had outlined in his war plan. Mission accomplished as a banner behind Pres. Bush would say in May. The realities were about to slap the taste of victory out of America’s mouth.
XXIII. The Rush To Baghdad
”The enemy we’re fighting is different from the one we ‘war-gamed against.’” Lt. Gen. William Wallace, Commander V Corps in Iraq, March 2003
The war itself was progressing quickly, but not smoothly. The Coalition went in with five divisions totaling 175,000 troops including the British. On 3/22/03 the U.S. experienced its first irregular attack by Saddam’s Fedayeen, which was a big surprise. A few days later four U.S. soldiers were killed in the first suicide bombing in Iraq. One week into combat Lt. Gen. William Wallace, commander of V Corps told reporters, “The enemy we’re fighting is different from the one we ‘war-gamed against.’” These problems led to public complaints about the light invasion force Rumsfeld had put together by ex-officers turned media consultants. Things were made worse when Rumsfeld cut the final division that was suppose to enter at the end of the war as reinforcements. The division was suppose to sweep through western Iraq’s Anbar province. This would prove to be a fateful decision as Anbar would be the birthplace of the Sunni insurgency in just a few weeks. Overall, the war was portrayed as a shining success with mistakes such as Jessica Lynch turned into heroism and fierce battles such as in Nasiriya only remembered by viewers of the History Channel.
The immediate problems would arise when the U.S. reached Baghdad. Military historian Kenneth Kagan has written that “The most important component of war … [is to provide] a reliable recipe for translating the destruction of the enemy’s ability to continue to fight into the accomplishment of the political objects of the conflict.” Basically how do you turn your tactics into achieving your strategic goals? Rumsfeld and Franks had not even considered the political side of the Iraq war. When U.S. troops controlled Baghdad the Pentagon declared fighting over on 4/14/03. The next day Bush attended a NSC meeting where they discussed four international peacekeeping divisions taking over Iraq. Even though many countries had opposed the war, it was just assumed that they would help the U.S. afterwards. Gen. Franks arrived in Baghdad on 4/16/03 and told his commanders to be ready to withdraw in 60 days. Because Franks, Rumsfeld and others lacked a strategic vision for their campaign, they had no idea what to do next. If the goal was to create democracy, overthrowing the government was only the first step. Yet that was all that the Pentagon had really planned for. The rest was simply suppose to take care of itself. As Lt. Gen. Joseph Kellog of the Joint Chiefs of Staff said, “There was no real plan. The thought was, you didn’t need it. The assumption was that everything would be fine after the war, they’d ‘be happy they got rid of Saddam.’”
Back in Washington the war supporters were too busy having victory parties to think of the consequences of their actions. Administration officials were feeling triumphant and issuing public warnings to Syria, Iran and others that they might be next. Military intelligence on the other hand sent out the following warning, “It is premature to be doing victory laps. The hard part is going to be occupation. The Israelis won in six days – but have been fighting ever since – for thirty years.”
XXIV. War Leads To Chaos
”Stuff happens and it’s untidy, and freedom’s untidy, and free people are free to make mistakes, and commit crimes and do bad things.” Donald Rumsfeld, Sec. of Defense press conference, 4/11/03
On the 2nd day of the war, a USAID contractor for ORHA asked some military officers in Kuwait what the plan was for policing Iraq. He found out there was no plan. ORHA was supposed to take care of that but no one told them. There were few military police around anyway. As part of Rumsfeld’s light invasion force he cut the number of military police companies from 20 to less than 3. The lack of security became apparent as soon as the English reached the southern city of Basra. Iraqis began swarming out into the streets, not so much to greet the British, but to rob and steal. The same occurred in Baghdad and various other cities around the country when Coalition forces arrived. In the midst of the anarchy Rumsfeld told reporters, “Stuff happens! But in terms of what’s going on in that country, it is a fundamental misunderstanding to see those images over, and over, and over again of some boy walking out with a vase and say, ‘Oh, my goodness, you didn’t have a plan.’ That’s nonsense. They [U.S. forces] know what they’re doing, and they’re doing a terrific job. And it’s untidy, and freedom’s unity, and free people are free to make mistakes and commit crimes and do bad things. They’re also free to live their lives and do wonderful things, and that’s what’s going to happen here.” Somehow Rumsfeld equated robbing and stealing with expressions of freedom. U.S. troops were never told what to do after hostilities had halted, which was why they stood by doing nothing as Iraq exploded in civil disorder. “There was not thought given in the planning, obviously, to the possibility that as soon as U.S. troops arrived in Baghdad, that the people in Baghdad would go on a systematic campaign to loot the city. This is just ignoring the lessons of history. … U.S. military forces that were there, on scene, stood by and watched. Why? Because they had no instructions to intervene, and because there is this feeling that the U.S. military doesn’t do police,” explained Robert Perito of the United States Institute of Peace. The Pentagon had not only ignored history, but various reports by the State Department, CIA, the Army War College, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and think tanks that had predicted just such a breakdown in Iraq after the war. The Defense Department didn’t listen to this advice because it didn’t fit their best-case scenario for Iraq, and they bore the fruits of its stubbornness.
Besides the famous Iraqi National Museum, government offices were robbed of almost everything that could be carried away. Garner explained, “What happened in Baghdad is not only did they take everything out of the buildings, but then they pulled all the wiring out of the buildings, and they set it on fire. So the buildings were not usable at all.” Not only were material possessions lost, but also thousands of files on Iraq’s intelligence services, Saddam’s Fedayeen, and Islamists that had immigrated to the country that could have been used by the U.S. later as the insurgency took off. The looting quickly turned violent as organized gangs joined in. Carjackings, kidnappings, rapes, murders, revenge killings of Baathists, and sporadic attacks on Americans all began, all of which have continued on to the present day. The U.S. estimated that the looting cost $12 billion, the entire projected revenue for Iraq for the 1st year after the war. The looting caused more damage to Iraq than the U.S. bombing did during the war.
Before the war a Justice Department official was put in charge of rebuilding the Iraqi police. He came up with a plan, okayed by Garner, to send in 5,000 police trainers after the war. The White House didn’t think that was necessary and didn’t want Americans doing the work anyway. Instead it was agreed to send in a group of assessors to see what the Iraqi police needed. These arrived in May to find no functioning police force. They recommended 6,663 advisors and estimated that it would take $4 billion over several years to rebuild the police. Washington said there were no advisors to be had, and little money either appropriating just $25 million that paid for the assessors and 150 advisors. The police would not become a priority for American planners until 2006, a three-year lapse that would cost them dearly.
The war also caused a general breakdown in basic services like water, electricity, phone service, etc. For example, three months after the war had ended Baghdad was averaging only four hours a day of electricity and widespread blackouts at a time when the temperature was routinely over 110 degrees. Iraqis blamed the U.S. for not taking care of them. “How can we believe that the Americans, who are so good at war, could be unable to fix the electricity. We can’t believe them,” said a resident of Baghdad.
Just as important, the anarchy in the country and the inability to take care of Iraq’s infrastructure gave the impression to many Iraqis that the U.S. was not in control. Fred Ikle, Reagan’s former policy chief and one of the founders of the Project for the New American Century said, “America lost most of its prestige and respect in that episode. To pacify a conquered country, the victor’s prestige and dignity is absolutely critical.” The postwar situation led Maj. Gen. James Mattis, commander of the 1st Marine Division to send a memo to the Army saying that the U.S. lacked the troops necessary to successfully occupy Iraq.
The worsening situation finally forced the U.S. military to act. Lt. Gen. McKiernan, commander of ground forces in Iraq, declared the U.S. the military authority in the country to put a stop to looting. When the order was relayed to the State Department, they were surprised to find out that this was the first legal responsibility for an occupying power under the Geneva Conventions. No one had checked. Rumsfeld and Gen. Franks didn’t support the order because they didn’t want the U.S. to be responsible for Iraq. Rumsfeld had already cancelled the deployment of additional troops and gave orders for the beginning of a U.S. withdrawal by April. Wolfowitz told reporters, “We’re not going to need as many people to do the peacekeeping as we needed to fight the war.” ORHA, not the military was suppose to take care of these matters people were told.
ORHA was in no shape for such a task. Garner didn’t get to Iraq until 4/21/03 because Gen. Franks wouldn’t give him permission to come earlier. When Garner finally did arrive he went to work on creating an interim government made up of the Pentagon’s hand picked Iraqi exiles and some leaders from within the country. Chalabi and Ayatollah Mohamed Baqr al-Hakim of the Supreme Council of the Islamic Revolution of Iraq (SCIRI) killed the plan because they didn’t want anyone from within Iraq to challenge their leadership. Already Chalabi was getting a head start on his rivals. Without telling the White House, the Pentagon flew Chalabi and 700 INC fighters with U.S. uniforms and weapons into Iraq. The idea was for them to get to Baghdad where they could take over. Instead, the INC began seizing government documents, snatching up prime property, and joined in the looting.
When ORHA’s staff arrived there was still looting, so it stayed in its offices for the most part. They didn’t know what was happening outside, didn’t have enough translators, didn’t really know how Iraq worked, and the White House never wanted to give it much money. Garner was still attempting to form an Iraqi government, but to little effect. He held a meeting in Baghdad with 350 Iraqis where he told them they needed a democracy. The Iraqis complained about the looting, the chaos, and the lack of basic services such as water and electricity, to which Garner told them they had to fix it themselves. An American present said, “They were losing faith in us by the second.” Garner later claimed that this meeting was a success and the birth of Iraqi democracy.
Despite all the chaos Bush flew to the USS Abraham Lincoln aircraft career on 5/1/03 with a banner in the background declaring, “mission accomplished.” In his speech, Bush said that establishing democracy in Iraq would take time, but that victory over Saddam was a victory in the war on terror that had started on 9/11. After seeing Bush’s speech, Colonel T.X. Hammes, who would later go to work in Iraq expressed his frustration by saying, “’Oh, shit.’ It struck me that, my God, we don’t have any understanding at all of how bad this can be.”
Back in Iraq local Baathists had joined in the chaos to destroy files and offices, and ORHA was sending back desperate messages on the situation to Washington. No one listened. The 3rd Infantry Div. was in charge of Baghdad and was told that it had to come up with its own plan for how to handle the city. They came up with some heavy-handed tactics that angered many Iraqi residents. Gen. Franks had removed himself from most of his work and was just thinking about retiring. Years later in his memoir he would blame the media for not taking action after Baghdad fell. According to him, he saw such rosy pictures of victory on TV and in the press that he didn’t feel like there were any problems in the country. Rice and Wolfowitz said that there was no problem with the war plan it just needed a few adjustments to adapt to the situation on the ground. The reality was from April to May 2003 the U.S. lost the initiative in Iraq and never got it back. If America had a real plan for postwar Iraq this might have been prevented. The 3rd Infantry Division’s official after action report blamed Franks, Rumsfeld and Bush. “The president announced that our national goal was ‘regime change,’ yet there was no timely plan prepared for the obvious consequences of a regime change.”
XXV. Rationales For War Evaporate
”We know where they are [Iraq’s WMD]. They’re in the area around Tikrit and Baghdad and east, west, south and north somewhat.” Donald Rumsfeld, Sec. of Defense, 3/30/03
Weapons of Mass Destruction were the main rationale given by the Bush administration for war. Before the war, Feith’s Office of Special Plans sent in special forces teams to locate them. When they came up with nothing they even considered planting some for a public relations stunt, but that was cancelled. When the bombing started the U.S. sent in additional special teams to find them. They were to check a list of 578 suspected WMD sites throughout the country. It became quite apparent early on that the government’s claims weren’t proving to be true. One site was at a girls’ school that had a newly cemented playground. Intelligence said WMD were hidden underneath. It turned out to be just a playground. Another site turned out to be a swimming pool, a WMD factory was a whiskey distillery, another WMD storage facility was a license plate factory, a cache of documents said to be about WMD turned out to be a grad student’s master’s thesis. Rumsfeld tried to assure the public by saying, “We know where they are. They’re in the area around Tikrti and Baghdad and east, west, south and north somewhat.” Hans Blix said that the U.N. inspectors could have been right there were no WMD in Iraq.
Things seemed to turn in April when Kurds and U.S. troops found what looked like the mobile labs Powell had talked about in his U.N. speech. Bush said that the trailers proved that Iraq had banned weapons. Nothing else was found though, and the labs turned out to be used for weather balloons. Captured Iraqi scientists said that Iraq’s weapons programs had ended in the 1990s, but U.S. interrogators thought they were lying. The New York Times’ Judith Miller wrote story after story predicting that WMD stockpiles were just about to be found. Like her earlier reporting, these stories were based upon Ahmad Chalabi and proved to be propaganda rather than fact.
By May the original military search teams had been disbanded and many came away saying that U.S. intelligence had been wrong about Iraq’s weapons. A new organization, the Iraq Survey Group was formed to continue the search. At the same time the administration began changing its story about huge stockpiles of thousands of WMD. Instead of “25,000 liters of anthrax – enough doses to kill several million people … more than 38,000 liters of botulinum toxin – enough to subject million of people to death by respiratory failure … as much as 500 tons of sarin, mustard and VX nerve agent,” as Bush had claimed in his January 2003 State of the Union address, the U.S. was now claiming Iraq only had a program that could produce WMD sometime in the future. As Bush said in June 2003, “Iraq had a weapons program. Intelligence throughout the decade showed they had a weapons program. I am absolutely convinced with time we’ll find out that they did have a weapons program.” The U.S. never did, and by October 2003 Rice was reduced to justifying the war by saying that Saddam “had ambitions” to build WMD that could threaten the world.
It was not surprising that the U.S. didn’t find WMD since all of the intelligence on the matter had been faulty since 1998 and the end of U.N. inspection regime. In September 2003, the House Intelligence Committee’s investigation of pre-war intelligence found that “circumstantial,” and “fragmentary” information with “too many uncertainties” had been used to conclude that Iraq possessed WMD. The Committee explained the distorted mind think of the intelligence community after 1998 that used, “The absence of proof that chemical and biological weapons and their related development programs [had] been destroyed” to prove that “they continued to exist.” According to the Iraq Survey Group, Saddam never came clean about his weapons programs because he needed them to scare the Kurds and Shiites within Iraq from rising up again, and to deter long time rival Iran.
In an attempt to absolve itself, the White House began blaming everything on the CIA; everything the administration said about WMD was based upon the Agency. CIA analysts began fighting back by leaking stories to the press about how Cheney and others tried to pressure them about intelligence reports. The larger problem was the loss of American prestige and credibility over not finding the weapons. The U.S. had launched a preemptive war on what it claimed was fact, but was now proving to be myth. As John Wolfsthal from the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace said at the time, “We’ve had a huge intelligence failure that puts us back to square one, and two, clearly costs the U.S. credibility in terms of other problem countries we face. If we were so wrong on Iraq, how accurate could we be about North Korea, Syria and others?”
In the summer of 2003, former Ambassador Joseph Wilson wrote an Op. Ed. piece claiming that the administration had distorted intelligence when it claimed that Iraq had tried to buy uranium from Niger and restarted its nuclear program. Cheney would launch a campaign to discredit Wilson by leaking information about his wife that would later lead to the indictment of Cheney’s chief of staff.
The final word on Iraq’s WMD was made by the Iraq Survey group that said Iraq had destroyed its WMD in the 1990s and only had the intellectual and physical capability to restart its weapons programs sometime in the future. David Kay would testify to Congress, “We were almost all wrong.” The administration tried to spin the findings to suite their case by saying that the Survey Group proved their case for war, Iraq wanted to produce WMD. That was far from what Bush had said about Iraq. In an added twist, the White House began calling its critics “revisionists,” changing the history about the administration’s claims against Iraq. It was actually the administration that was revising its facts.
The administration fared no better with its claims that Iraq was behind Al Qaeda. No Al Qaeda camps or operatives were found within the country and the White House had to backtrack a bit by saying that it had never claimed that Iraq was behind 9/11. After Saddam was captured documents were found on him that warned his supporters not to cooperate with foreign jihadists because they had different agendas and couldn’t be trusted. Two top Al Qaeda leaders were also captured in 2004 and said there was no alliance between Saddam and bin Laden. Finally, the 9/11 Commission and the Senate Intelligence Committee’s report on pre-war Iraq intelligence said that there was no relationship between the two. Just as with the WMD reports, the administration would come out after each revelation and claim that the reports in fact supported their belief that Iraq was behind Al Qaeda. As usual, Bush would admit no mistakes as he said, ”Knowing what I knew then, and knowing what I know today, America did the right thing in Iraq.”
Surprisingly, the majority of the American public didn’t seem to care that the main arguments for war with Iraq had proved to be false. In the U.S., Bush’s poll numbers were up, and the administration went on to other matters. As Bush’s spokesman Ari Flescher said, “The president has moved on, and, I think, frankly, much of the country has moved on as well.”