Why did George go to WAR?!
Wed, 22 Jun 2005 08:14:17
Why George Went To War Russ Baker - June 20, 2005
Investigative reporter and essayist Russ Baker is a
longtime contributor to TomPaine.com.
He is currently involved with
launching a nonprofit organization dedicated to revitalizing
investigative journalism. He can be reached at email@example.com.
The Downing Street memos have brought into focus an essential question:
On what basis did President George W. Bush decide to invade Iraq?
The memos are a government-level confirmation of what has been long
believed by so many: that the administration was hell-bent on invading
Iraq and was simply looking for justification, valid or not.
Despite such mounting evidence, Bush resolutely maintains total denial.
In fact, when a British reporter asked the president recently about the
Downing Street documents, Bush painted himself as a reluctant warrior.
"Both of us didn't want to use our military," he said, answering for
himself and British Prime Minister Blair. "Nobody wants to commit military into combat.
It's the last option."
Yet there's evidence that Bush not only deliberately relied on false
intelligence to justify an attack, but that he would have willingly
used any excuse at all to invade Iraq.
And that he was obsessed with the notion well before 9/11--indeed, even
before he became president in early 2001.
In interviews I conducted last fall, a well-known journalist,
biographer and Bush family friend who worked for a time with Bush on a
ghostwritten memoir said that an Iraq war was always on Bush's brain.
"He was thinking about invading Iraq in 1999," said author and Houston
Chronicle journalist Mickey Herskowitz. "It was on his mind. He said,
'One of the keys to being seen as a great leader is to be seen as a
commander-in-chief.' And he said, 'My father had all this political
capital built up when he drove the Iraqis out of Kuwait and he wasted
it.' He went on, 'If I have a chance to invade..., if I had that much
capital, I'm not going to waste it. I'm going to get everything passed
that I want to get passed and I'm going to have a successful
Bush apparently accepted a view that Herskowitz, with his long
experience of writing books with top Republicans, says was a common
sentiment: that no president could be considered truly successful
without one military "win" under his belt. Leading Republicans had long
been enthralled by the effect of the minuscule Falklands War on British
Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher's popularity, and ridiculed Democrats
such as Jimmy Carter who were reluctant to use American force. Indeed,
both Reagan and Bush's father successfully prosecuted limited invasions
(Grenada, Panama and the Gulf War) without miring the United States in
Herskowitz's revelations illuminate Bush's personal motivation for
invading Iraq and, more importantly, his general inclination to use war
to advance his domestic political ends. Furthermore, they establish
that this thinking predated 9/11, predated his election to the
presidency and predated his appointment of leading neoconservatives who
had their own, separate, more complex geopolitical rationale for
supporting an invasion.
Conversations With Bush The Candidate
Herskowitz--a longtime Houston newspaper columnist--has ghostwritten or
co-authored autobiographies of a broad spectrum of famous people,
including Reagan adviser Michael Deaver, Mickey Mantle, Dan Rather and
Nixon cabinet secretary John B. Connally. Bush's 1999 comments to
Herskowitz were made over the course of as many as 20 sessions
together. Eventually, campaign staffers--expressing concern about
Bush had told the author that were included in the manuscript--pulled
the project, and Bush campaign officials came to Herskowitz's house and
took his original tapes and notes. Bush communications director Karen
Hughes then assumed responsibility for the project, which was published
in highly sanitized form as A Charge to Keep.
The revelations about Bush's attitude toward Iraq emerged during two
taped sessions I held with Herskowitz. These conversations covered a
variety of matters, including the journalist's continued closeness with
the Bush family and fondness for Bush Senior--who clearly trusted
Herskowitz enough to arrange for him to pen a subsequent authorized
biography of Bush's grandfather, written and published in 2003.
I conducted those interviews last fall and published an article based
on them during the final heated days of the 2004 campaign. Herskowitz's
taped insights were verified to the satisfaction of editors at the
Houston Chronicle, yet the story failed to gain broad mainstream
coverage, primarily because news organization executives expressed
concern about introducing such potent news so close to the election.
Editors told me they worried about a huge backlash from the White House
and charges of an "October Surprise."
Debating The Timeline For War
But today, as public doubts over the Iraq invasion grow, and with the
Downing Street papers adding substance to those doubts, the Herskowitz
interviews assume singular importance by providing profound insight
into what motivated Bush--personally--in the days and weeks following
9/11. Those interviews introduce us to a George W. Bush, who, until
9/11, had no means for becoming "a great president"--because he had no
easy path to war. Once handed the national tragedy of 9/11, Bush
realized that the Afghanistan campaign and the covert war against
terrorist organizations would not satisfy his ambitions for greatness.
Thus, Bush shifted focus from Al Qaeda, perpetrator of the attacks on
New York and Washington. Instead, he concentrated on ensuring his place
in American history by going after a globally reviled and easily
targeted state run by a ruthless dictator.
The Herskowitz interviews add an important dimension to our
understanding of this presidency, especially in combination with
further evidence that Bush's focus on Iraq was motivated by something
other than credible intelligence. In their published accounts of the
period between 9/11 and the March 2003 invasion, former White House
Counterterrorism Coordinator Richard Clarke and journalist Bob Woodward
both describe a president single-mindedly obsessed with Iraq. The first
anecdote takes place the day after the World Trade Center collapsed, in
the Situation Room of the White House. The witness is Richard Clarke,
and the situation is captured in his book, Against All Enemies.
On September 12th, I left the Video Conferencing Center and there,
wandering alone around the Situation Room, was the President. He looked
like he wanted something to do. He grabbed a few of us and closed the
door to the conference room. "Look," he told us, "I know you have a lot
to do and all...but I want you, as soon as you can, to go back over
everything, everything. See if Saddam did this. See if he's linked in
I was once again taken aback, incredulous, and it showed. "But, Mr.
President, Al Qaeda did this."
"I know, I know, but...see if Saddam was involved. Just look. I want
to know any shred..." ...
"Look into Iraq, Saddam," the President said testily and left us.
Lisa Gordon-Hagerty stared after him with her mouth hanging open.
Similarly, Bob Woodward, in a CBS News 60 Minutes interview about his
book, Bush At War, captures a moment, on November 21, 2001, where the
president expresses an acute sense of urgency that it is time to
secretly plan the war with Iraq. Again, we know there was nothing in
the way of credible intelligence to precipitate the president's
Woodward: "President Bush, after a National Security Council
meeting, takes Don Rumsfeld aside, collars him physically and takes him
into a little cubbyhole room and closes the door and says, 'What have
you got in terms of plans for Iraq? What is the status of the war plan?
I want you to get on it. I want you to keep it secret.'"
Wallace (voiceover): Woodward says immediately after that, Rumsfeld
told Gen. Tommy Franks to develop a war plan to invade Iraq and remove
Saddam--and that Rumsfeld gave Franks a blank check.
Woodward: "Rumsfeld and Franks work out a deal essentially where
Franks can spend any money he needs. And so he starts building runways
and pipelines and doing all the necessary preparations in Kuwait
specifically to make war possible."
Bush wanted a war so that he could build the political capital
necessary to achieve his domestic agenda and become, in his mind, "a
great president." Blair and the members of his cabinet, unaware of the
Herskowitz conversations, placed Bush's decision to mount an invasion
in or about July of 2002. But for Bush, the question that summer was
not whether, it was only how and when. The most important question,
why, was left for later.
Eventually, there would be a succession of answers to that question:
weapons of mass destruction, links to Al Qaeda, the promotion of
democracy, the domino theory of the Middle East. But none of them have
been as convincing as the reason George W. Bush gave way back in the
summer of 1999.
Thursday, July 14, 2005 2:31
Subject: Finally, a straight look at the real issues in Rove, Cheney, Bolton vs Wilson
Minneapolis Star Tribune
Karl Rove: Real Issue is the Case for War
Did White House political adviser Karl Rove deliberately reveal the identity of an undercover CIA operative? Only two people can answer that question, and neither one is talking: Rove himself and special prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald, who is investigating the question.
Sooner or later, we probably will get an answer. Fitzgerald has been so aggressive in this investigation -- to the point of jailing a New York Times reporter who refused to reveal her confidential sources -- that indictments are reasonably likely.
In the meantime, it's important to look beyond the immediate political spectacle in Washington -- White House spokesman Scott McClellan finally confronted by reporters who feel abused and lied to -- to the reason Rove was talking to a reporter about ex-diplomat Joseph Wilson at all.
The real issue, more serious and less glitzy than whether Bush will stand by his political adviser, is the extraordinary efforts the Bush administration made to protect a case for war in Iraq from all contradictory evidence -- in effect, as the British spymaster Sir Richard Dearlove put it, to "fix" the facts and intelligence so they would support a decision already made.
Enter Wilson and his wife, Valerie Plame, an undercover CIA operative specializing in weapons of mass destruction. As Wilson tells it, a question arose at the CIA early in 2002, prompted by an inquiry from Vice President Dick Cheney's office, about reports that Iraq had purchased uranium for nuclear weapons from the African country of Niger, where Wilson previously had served. When someone was needed to travel to Niger, Plame apparently told her superiors that her husband had good contacts there. CIA officials talked with Wilson and decided he should be the one to make the trip.
In late February of 2002 Wilson made the trip, talked with numerous people in Niger, including the U.S. ambassador, and concluded there was nothing to reports of an Iraq-Niger connection. He briefed officials at both the CIA and State Department on his conclusions.
In January 2003, however, President Bush asserted an Iraq-Africa uranium connection in his State of the Union message. Subsequently, it turned out that Bush was indeed referring to Niger. The Niger-Iraq connection became one of the pillars in Bush's case for war with Iraq.
After the start of the war, Wilson wrote a lengthy op-ed piece for the New York Times laying out the facts of his trip and saying he had "little choice but to conclude that some of the intelligence related to Iraq's nuclear weapons program was twisted to exaggerate the Iraqi threat."
Five days later, Rove told Time reporter Matt Cooper he should "not get too far out on Wilson." His trip to Niger, Rove said, wasn't approved by Cheney or CIA Director George Tenet. Cooper wrote to his boss, "It was, KR said, wilson's wife, who apparently works at the agency on wmd issues who authorized the trip."
Three days later, columnist Robert Novak identified Plame as a CIA operative and said two "senior administration officials" told him Plame suggested sending her husband. About the same time, a confidential source also told a Washington Post reporter that the trip was a "boondoggle" arranged by Plame.
This is a classic Rove technique: undercut a critic by planting the notion that he was off to Africa on a lark arranged by his wife. Rove's history as a rough political player is well-documented. But this wasn't about a political campaign; this was about a serious question of national security and the justification for a difficult war.
It also wasn't true. On July 22, Newsday reported that a "senior intelligence officer confirmed that Plame was a directorate of operations undercover officer who worked 'alongside' the operations officers who asked her husband to travel to Niger. But he said she did not recommend her husband to undertake the Niger assignment." This senior intelligence officer also told Newsday that it was incorrect to suggest " 'she was the one who was cooking this up.' " Besides, he said, " 'We paid his airfare. But to go to Niger is not exactly a benefit. Most people you'd have to pay big bucks to go there.' " The CIA always said Plame did not recommend her husband.
It is instructive to remember that the investigation into who revealed Plame's identity was initiated by Tenet, not by administration critics. Remember also that Wilson was correct; ultimately the White House had to retract Bush's State of the Union statement on the Niger connection.
In addition to discrediting critics of the Niger connection, the Bush administration, through the actions of John Bolton -- now nominee to be U.N. ambassador -- sought to intimidate intelligence analysts who objected to conclusions about Iraq's WMD, and to get a U.N. chemical weapons official fired so he wouldn't be able to send inspectors back to Iraq, where they might disprove more of the case for war.
In the scheme of things, whether Rove revealed Plame's identity, deliberately or not, matters less than actions by Rove, Bolton, Cheney and others to phony up a case for war that has gone badly, has cost thousands of lives plus hundreds of billions of dollars, and has, a majority of Americans now believe, left the United States less safe from terrorism rather than more.
That's the indictment which should matter most.
Friday, July 15, 2005
Subject: London and Iraq
[Political Junkie Editor Michael Carmichael quotes a Guardian Unlimited article that expresses unusually clearly the tie between invading Iraq and heightened terrorism.]
Gary Younge of the Guardian Unlimited writes an introspective piece on the terrorists‚EUR^(TM) attack in London that is compelling. While it is an assessment of PM Blair, it is equally applicable to Bushk
The demand that we abandon rational thought, contextual analysis and critical appraisal of why this happened and what we can do to limit the chances that it will happen again, should not. To explain is not to excuse; to criticize is not to capitulate.
We know what took place. A group of people, with no regard for law, order or our way of life, came to our city and trashed it. With scant regard for human life or political consequences, employing violence as their sole instrument of persuasion, they slaughtered innocent people indiscriminately. . . .
The trouble is there is nothing in the last paragraph that could not just as easily be said from Falluja as it could from London. The two should not be equated - with over 1,000 people killed or injured, half its housing wrecked and almost every school and mosque damaged or flattened, what Falluja went through at the hands of the US military, with British support, was more deadly. But they can and should be compared. We do not have a monopoly on pain, suffering, rage or resilience. Our blood is no redder, our backbones are no stiffer, nor our tear ducts more productive than the people in Iraq and Afghanistan. Those whose imagination could not stretch to empathize with the misery we have caused in the Gulf now have something closer to home to identify with. "Collateral damage" always has a human face: its relatives grieve; its communities have memory and demand action.
These basic humanistic precepts are the principle casualties of fundamentalism, whether it is wedded to Muhammad or the market. They were clearly absent from the minds of those who bombed London last week. They are no less absent from the minds of those who have pursued the war on terror for the past four years.
Tony Blair is not responsible for the more than 50 dead and 700 injured on Thursday. In all likelihood, "jihadists" are. But he is partly responsible for the 100,000 people who have been killed in Iraq. And even at this early stage there is a far clearer logic linking these two events than there ever was tying Saddam Hussein to either 9/11 or weapons of mass destruction.
It is no mystery why those who have backed the war in Iraq would refute this connection. With each and every setback, from the lack of UN endorsement right through to the continuing strength of the insurgency, they go ever deeper into denial. Their sophistry has now mutated into a form of political autism - their ability to engage with the world around them has been severely impaired by their adherence to a flawed and fatal project. To say that terrorists would have targeted us even if we hadn't gone into Iraq is a bit like a smoker justifying their habit by saying, "I could get run over crossing the street tomorrow." True, but the certain health risks of cigarettes are more akin to playing chicken on a four-lane highway. They have the effect of bringing that fatal, fateful day much closer than it might otherwise be.
Similarly, invading Iraq clearly made us a target. Did Downing Street really think it could declare a war on terror and that terror would not fight back? That, in itself, is not a reason to withdraw troops if having them there is the right thing to do. But since it isn't and never was, it provides a compelling reason to change course before more people are killed here or there. So the prime minister got it partly right on Saturday when he said: "I think this type of terrorism has very deep roots. As well as dealing with the consequences of this - trying to protect ourselves as much as any civil society can - you have to try to pull it up by its roots."
What he would not acknowledge is that his alliance with President George Bush has been sowing the seeds and fertilizing the soil in the Gulf, for yet more to grow. The invasion and occupation of Iraq - illegal, immoral and inept - provided the Arab world with one more legitimate grievance. Bush laid down the gauntlet: you're either with us or with the terrorists. A small minority of young Muslims looked at the values displayed in Abu Ghraib, Guant√°namo Bay and Camp Bread Basket - and made their choice. The war helped transform Iraq from a vicious, secular dictatorship with no links to international terrorism into a magnet and training ground for those determined to commit terrorist atrocities. Meanwhile, it diverted our attention and resources from the very people we should have been fighting - al-Qaida.
Leftwing axe-grinding? As early as February 2003 the joint intelligence committee reported that al-Qaida and associated groups continued to represent "by far the greatest terrorist threat to western interests and that that threat would be heightened by military action against Iraq". At the World Economic Forum last year, Gareth Evans, the former Australian foreign minister and head of the International Crisis Group think tank, said: "The net result of the war on terror is more war and more terror. Look at Iraq: the least plausible reason for going to war - terrorism - has been its most harrowing consequence."
None of that justifies what the bombers did. But it does help explain how we got where we are and what we need to do to move to a safer place. If Blair didn't know the invasion would make us more vulnerable, he is negligent; if he did, then he should take responsibility for his part in this. That does not mean we deserved what was coming. It means we deserve a lot better.