Dual Loyalties

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Friday, July 01, 2005

The rush to invade Iraq - the inside story Pt. II

The rush to invade Iraq - the inside story Pt. II: "The rush to invade Iraq - the inside story Pt. II
6/22/2005 7:00:00 PM GMT

For months memos flew between the Pentagon, the State Department, , the CIA, and the White House

In the run-up to the Iraq war, one theme is repeated again and again. From the CIA analysts pressured to tailor their intelligence to fit the Bush administration's aims to the diplomats who were steamrollered by the White House's blinkered view that Saddam was hiding wmds, many officials felt nothing they said, no fact they could present, could possibly dissuade Bush from war.

For quite some time the invasion of Iraq was an idea. It took root after President George Bush's decided to end the 1991 Gulf War abruptly, to pull back the troops that were slaughtering Iraqi soldiers by the thousands, and to end the headlong rush north toward Baghdad.

During the 1990s the ousting of Saddam's regime was championed by a circle of neoconservatives, led by Richard Perle, the former assistant secretary of defense for international-security policy under President Reagan, and Paul Wolfowitz, an undersecretary of defense for policy for George Bush senior and now head of the World Bank.

The neoconservatives first gained notice for their hard-line views on dealing with the Soviet Union during George Bush snr's administration, in which Cheney served as secretary of defense. During the Clinton years, the neocons, quite a few of whom concerned themselves with hard-line defense policies for Israel, remained tied to one another and to Cheney through a number of right-wing think tanks and institutes one of which the most influential of is the American Enterprise Institute (AEI).

In 1992, Wolfowitz's office drafted a document called the Defense Planning Guidance, which claimed the U.S. might be faced with the question of whether to take military action to prevent the use or development of WMD-a precursor to the so-called Bush Doctrine, supposedly formulated by the current president. In 1998, Perle and Wolfowitz, along with Donald Rumsfeld and 15 others, sent a much-talked-about letter to President Clinton urging regime change in Iraq and a more aggressive foreign policy in the Middle East.

With Cheney as vice president, the neo-cons influence grew in the current administration to such an extent that those unsympathetic to their hawkish views talk about the existence of "a cabal", a clique.

In addition to Wolfowitz, Scooter Libby, one of Wolfowitz's top aides in the first Bush administration, became Cheney's chief of staff, his national-security adviser, and an adviser to Bush. William Luti had been a military adviser to Newt Gingrich before working on Cheney's staff and eventually shifting to the Pentagon as chief of Middle Eastern policy. Stephen J. Hadley, a former member of the George Bush administration, was made deputy to Condoleezza Rice. Douglas Feith, who had served as special counsel to Richard Perle when Perle was an assistant secretary of defense in the 1980s, was appointed undersecretary of defense for policy at the Pentagon, and David Wurmser, a close associate of Perle's, became Cheney's Middle East adviser.

The neoconservative world-view is summarized in "An End to Evil", a book co-written by Perle and former Bush speechwriter David Frum. Their dream, they write, is "a world at peace; a world governed by law; a world in which all peoples are free to find their own destinies." Perle and Frum believe such a world will be brought into being "by American armed might."

Even among Republican hawks, there were widely differing views about how to oust Saddam. In 2001, in the early months of the Bush administration, everyone had a plan. Colin Powell's State Department favored a program of international pressure in unison with the UN and its weapons inspectors; Wolfowitz and his fellow neocons all but sneered at Powell and his dovish tendencies, ridiculing the UN as the do-nothing pawn of Third World nobodies and Euro-peaceniks.

The CIA considered what some called the "magic bullet" plan, that is, an assassination or coup d'etat. The INC and Ahmad Chalabi floated their own plan, a partial invasion of southern Iraq that would supposedly lead to a popular revolution. At President Bush's first National Security Council (NSC) meeting, on January 30, 2001, a decision was made to formulate a coherent Iraq strategy.

For months memos flew between the State Department, the Pentagon, the CIA, and the White House, but the process swiftly became bogged down in bitter interagency disagreements. In such cases, it is the national-security adviser's job to forge a common line. This, say numerous officials, is something Condoleezza Rice was unwilling to do.

"She has no opinions of her own," says an insider. "Her supreme concern is preserving her own relationship with the president. She's a chief of staff, not an advocate, until she's sure he knows what he wants to do." The result is "there's a tier missing in the foreign-policy wedding cake. A subject will get up to a certain level and then just stick until Bush decides."

The Bush administration was stuck in a gridlock on the Iraq policy when 9/11 occurred.

On the morning of 9/11 seven members of Rumsfeld's neocon group, officials who would wield enormous influence over Iraq policy in the coming months, were busy in Europe and the Middle East. The next morning, Wednesday the 12th, they boarded an air-force plane that had been sent to ferry them back to Washington.

"Just about the whole Defense Department policy shop concerned with issues linked to international terrorism ended up on that plane," says Douglas Feith, the 50-year-old undersecretary of defense for policy. A colleague of Perle's since the Reagan administration, he is a staunch supporter of Israel and a longtime opponent of a Palestinian state. "…(several of us) discussed the fact that the president had already said things which implied we were at war. People forget what a big deal that was. If we were at war, who was the enemy? That's the basic level of the questions we started with. What would be our war aims?"

But to Feith, Luti, and their traveling companions, it also seemed that Afghanistan was not the final stop. "Obviously we had Afghanistan in our minds straightaway," Luti says. "That was our immediate concern..."

Iraq was not on the table as a matter of detailed military planning at the time but it was on the table as a concept.

Upon arriving on U.S. soil, the group was informed that the president was due at the Pentagon where they were to meet him.

President Bush, accompanied by Rumsfeld, Wolfowitz, and the Joint Chiefs of Staff, instructed the gathering to think in the broadest possible terms. "The president said that this was a war, and that it was the Pentagon's responsibility," Feith says.

On September 15, President Bush gathered his closest advisers at Camp David to discuss the shape of the coming war. Much of their discussion dealt with Afghanistan. But during a session that morning, according to Bob Woodward's 2002 book, "Bush at War", Wolfowitz advocated an attack on Iraq, perhaps even before an attack on Afghanistan. There was a 10 to 50 percent chance that Iraq had been involved in 9/11, he argued, concluding that Saddam's regime might succumb easily to an American attack-in contrast to the difficulties involved in going to war in the mountains of Afghanistan.

Colin Powell was appalled.

To attack Iraq without clear evidence of Saddam's involvement in September 11 would drive America's allies away, he argued. Much better to go after bin Laden and the Taliban. If that went well, it would only enhance America's ability to oust Saddam later.

In front of his advisers at Camp David, and in later interviews, Bush indicated that he supported Powell's argument. During the lunch break, the president sent a message to Wolfowitz and the other neocons, indicating that he did not wish to hear any more about Iraq that day.

But, according to Richard Perle, Wolfowitz had planted a seed. Bush told Perle at Camp David that once Afghanistan had been dealt with, it would be Iraq's turn.

By Monday September 17th, Wolfowitz and his neocon colleagues had already started studying ways to justify an eventual attack on Iraq.

The next day, Perle convened a two-day meeting of the Defense Policy Board, a group that advises the Pentagon. The board's meetings amount to a form of "organized brainstorming" with the defense secretary, his key lieutenants, and a group of well-informed outsiders, all of whom are cleared to have access to classified intelligence. The 30 members, appointed by the secretary of defense, have traditionally represented a broad spectrum of political beliefs. Under Rumsfeld, however, the board has taken a hard turn to the right, with several Democrats being ousted.

The group met in Rumsfeld's conference room at the Pentagon. After a CIA briefing on the 9/11 attacks, Perle introduced two guest speakers. The first was Bernard Lewis, professor emeritus at Princeton, a longtime associate of Cheney's and Wolfowitz's. Lewis told the meeting that America must respond to 9/11 with a show of strength: to do otherwise would be taken in the "Islamic world as a sign of weakness". At the same time, he said, America should support "democratic reformers" in the Middle East. "Such as," he said, turning to the second of Perle's guest speakers, "my friend here, Dr. Chalabi."

Though Chalabi enjoyed powerful support, there were reasons to keep him at a distance. In particular, he had been convicted in 1992 of embezzling tens of millions of dollars from Petra Bank, Jordan's third-largest, which he had started. He fled the country before he could be imprisoned. When it came to discussing who should replace Saddam, State Department and CIA officials soon came to use the abbreviation: "ABC-anyone but Chalabi."

During the later part of the second day, Wolfowitz and Rumsfeld listened carefully to the debate. "Rumsfeld was getting confirmation of his own instincts ... " Perle says. "He seemed neither surprised nor discomfited by the idea of taking action against Iraq.""

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