War on Iraq: an international crime

Print edition : June 04, 2004

THE United States' attack on Iraq in 2003, along with Britain and a few other accomplices, was a war of aggression; conceived in malice and executed in deceit. The two stated grounds for the war - that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction (WMDs) and was linked to Al Qaeda - have been exposed to be untrue to the knowledge of those who made it - President George Bush, his National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice; Vice-President Dick Cheney, Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and his Deputy Paul Wolfowitz, Secretary of State Colin Powell and British Prime Minister Tony Blair.

These two authoritative books, although written from different perspectives prove that the attack was thought of soon after Bush became President in January 2001; that Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld and Wolfowitz revived the idea on the morrow of 9/11; Rice lent her full support and Powell abandoned his qualms and went along. Bush and Blair continued to deny that a decision to go to war had been made even after it had been.

Richard A. Clarke was appointed the first National Coordinator for Security Infrastructure Protection and Counter-Terrorism in 1998, having begun his federal service in 1973. An analyst on nuclear weapons, security issues and intelligence, this career official's book records his anguish at failures by successive Presidents since Ronald Reagan to combat terrorism. He would have liked the U.S. to march to Baghdad and topple Saddam Hussein in 1991. 9/11 upset him because, unlike Bill Clinton, Bush did not take terrorism seriously. Clarke was opposed to the war on Iraq for two reasons - it would divert the war against the terrorists in Afghanistan and elsewhere and the grounds that were advanced in support of the war were false. "My fellow citizens were being misled." He resigned from service and wrote this superb volume. It begins with the crime of 9/11 and how the leaders reacted to it, relying on Clarke as prime adviser. No one doubted Al Qaeda's complicity.

The next day on September 12: "I expected to go back to a round of meetings examining what the next attacks could be, what our vulnerabilities were, what we could do about them in the short term. Instead, I walked into a series of discussions about Iraq. At first I was incredulous that we were talking about something other than getting Al Qaeda. Then I realised with almost a sharp physical pain that Rumsfeld and Wolfowitz were going to try to take advantage of this national tragedy to promote their agenda about Iraq. Since the beginning of the administration, indeed well before, they had been pressing for a war with Iraq. My friends in the Pentagon had been telling me that the word was we would be invading Iraq sometime in 2002 (emphasis added, throughout)." Rumsfeld talked about "getting Iraq", Powell disagreed. When Clarke thanked him for it, "Powell shook his head `It's not over yet'." He knew his senior colleagues were all for war and that Bush agreed with them. His resignation, at an opportune moment, might have arrested the drift. Instead, he criticised and complained - but went along.

"Later, on the evening of the 12th, I lelt the video conferencing centre 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. See if Saddam did this. See if he's linked in any way... .' 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... .' `Absolutely, we will look... again.' I was trying to be more respectful, more responsive. But, you know, we have looked several times for state sponsorship of Al Qaeda and not found any real linkages to Iraq. Iran plays a little, as does Pakistan, and Saudi Arabia. Yemen.' `Look into Iraq, Saddam,' the President said testily and left us."

U.S. President George W. Bush reviews the progress of the war with members of the War council, April 2, 2003. With the President are (from left) Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff General Richard B. Myers. Vice-President Dick Cheney, Chief of Staff Andy Card, Secretary of Defence Donald Rumsfeld and National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice.-REUTERS

The evidence suggests that Bush felt that his father was wrong to end the 1991 war without toppling Saddam Hussein and Cheney and the rest thought like-wise.

Like his earlier book Bush at War, Woodward's book is a public relations job on Bush. He is an ace reporter, tireless and with the widest contacts possible. It is amazing how much his account, based on what he heard from friends in the administration, supports Clarke's censures of them.

Like Bush Rumsfeld talked of war on Iraq the very next day after 9/11. Woodward reports: "The next day in the inner circle of Bush's war cabinet, Rumsfeld asked if the terrorist attacks did not present an `opportunity' (sic.) to launch against Iraq." 9/11 was, then, no reason for war; still less, a provocation. It was an "opportunity" to exploit domestic and international anger to complete what was left incomplete in 1991. That explains the lies they had to retail to cover up this sinister plan. Cheney "harboured a deep sense of unfinished business about Iraq", Woodward recalls.

The lies will be nailed to the mast as books roll off the presses - Nixon's counsel John Dean's book Worse Than Watergate and Ambassador Joseph Wilson's The Politics of Truth. Wilson was the one who had exposed the lie about the uranium from Niger story in Bush's State of the Union Speech on January 28, 2003, in retaliation for which administration officials broke the law and blew the cover off his wife Valerie Plame, a Central Intelligence Agency officer.

Perhaps the deadliest of all will be the formidable historian John Prados' book Hoodwinked: The Documents That Reveal How Bush sold us a War, which the public interest publishers The New Press, will publish. Meanwhile, we have another documented account which also supports Clarke's charges. It is an article entitled "The Path To War" published in Vanity Fair, in May. The introduction reads: "Amid the smoking wreckage of September 11, 2001, the Bush administration took its policy goal of regime change in Iraq and began an 18-month campaign marked by miscalculation, bullying, and deception that would tarnish its credibility and turn the world's sympathy for the U.S. into fear and mistrust. From the coining of the phrase "axis of evil" in a D.C. Starbucks to repeated attempts to discredit the United Nations Weapons Inspectors, Bryan Burrough, Eugena Peretz, David Rose, and David Wise unfold the saga of stunning blunders, desperate manoeuvres and dangerous arrogance as seen by White House, Pentagon, CIA and other insiders." They are likely to spill the beans before long.

At the United Nations Security Council on February 2003, U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell unveiling 'evidence' that Iraq harbours weapons of mass destruction.-AFP

All three, the two books and the article, reveal an administration torn by bitter strife to an unprecedented degree. It testifies to the incompetence of its head, President Bush. One "insider" told Vanity Fair, that Rice "has no opinions of her own. Her supreme concern is preserving her own relationship with the President. She is a chief of staff, not an advocate, until she's sure he knows what he wants to do."

Rice's article in Foreign Affairs of January 2000 entitled "promoting national interest" showed none of the obsession with Iraq, which she came to share with Bush; only a mediocre intellect, slender equipment and a taste for banality.

The writers mention: "The White House and several key officials involved in the diplomatic and military preparations, including Condoleezza Rice and Colin Powell, declined to be interviewed. But many others agreed, including senior officials at the CIA, the Pentagon, the State Department and the White House. Some of the keenest observations about the evolution of the war effort come from top officials in the British government... ."

In contrast, Bush and all the senior members of his Cabinet spoke to Woodward for hours. He was given texts of "top secret" documents, not because they owed him a living, but because, as before, he could be trusted to show Bush as one in full command, quoting Cheney and Rumsfeld's profuse praise of the man they cynically manipulate. Rumsfeld told Woodward on January 9, 2002, that 9/11 provided "the opportunity to rearrange the world" not merely to eliminate Saddam Hussein. Israel was at the centre of this plan. Clarke, ever the professional, records: "Five rationales are attributed to three senior advisers (Cheney, Rumsfeld and Wolfowitz) and to President Bush: To clean up the mess left by the first Bush administration when, in 1991, it let Saddam Hussein consolidate power and slaughter opponents... ; to improve Israel's strategic position by eliminating a large, hostile military; to create an Arab democracy that could serve as a model to other friendly Arab states now threatened with internal dissent, notably Egypt and Saudi Arabia; to permit the withdrawal of U.S. forces from Saudi Arabia (after 12 years), where they were stationed to counter the Iraqi military and were a source of anti-Americanism threatening to the regime; to create another friendly source of oil for the U.S. market and reduce dependency upon oil from Saudi Arabia, which might suffer overthrow someday. I believe all of these motivations were at work. Most of them reflect a concern with the long term stability of the House of Saud."

The Executive Director of the 9/11 Commission, Philip Zelikow, said in speech on September 10, 2002: "Why would Iraq attack America or use nuclear weapons against us? I'll tell you what I think the real threat is and actually has been since 1990 - it's the threat against Israel. And this is the threat that dare not speak its name, because the Europeans don't care deeply about this threat, and the American government doesn't want to lean too hard on it rhetorically, because it is not a popular sell." Bush's total support for Ariel Sharon confirms this.

Clarke writes: "Our stronger military relationship with Israel came about only by the Reagan White House imposing it on the Pentagon and State Department. The decision was the right thing to do militarily and morally, but the closer relationship with Tel Aviv did over time inflame some Arab radicals and give them propaganda to help recruit terrorists to their anti-American cause. Thus, between our build-up in the Gulf and our programmes with Israel, by the mid-1980s, the United States had a growing military presence in the Middle East." To this day Americans do not realise that this is the single gravest source of their unpopularity in the Arab World and in Muslim countries. Malaysia and Indonesia are as resentful as any Arab country.

Initially, when Saddam Hussein invaded Kuwait in 1990, President George H.W. Bush, Secretary of State James Baker and Defence Secretary Dick Cheney "were reluctant to act". But they soon changed their minds. "Reluctantly, Bush and his team decided that they needed to defend the Saudi oil fields, and do so quickly. They needed Saudi permission for the defensive deployment, but there were some in the Pentagon and White House who thought that U.S. forces needed to protect the Saudi oil with or without Saudi approval."

The Saudis are aware of this latent threat. Saudi Arabia was deafeningly silent on the invasion. Cheney persuaded the King that Iraq eyed his oil fields. "We had no evidence that Iraq was intending to keep going." It was a mere possibility. The King's nephew Prince Bandar, Ambassador to the U.S. and a friend of the Bushes, pressed him to accept Cheney's advice and receive U.S. troops on his soil. Most of the King's brothers were opposed to it. Cheney prevailed. Whatever chances there were of an Arab solution to the problem were extinguished. The U.S. acquired a massive presence, with lasting consequences. No Vice-President has played a more active role in making policy then Cheney has. He participated in the National Security Council's principals' meetings, which no Vice-President had done.

Clarke's book is devoted mainly to showing how the war on terrorism was fought; not to denounce Bush. He figures in the context of the main theme. Clarke reveals much: "Albright and I and a handful of others (Michael Sheehan, Jamie Rubin) had entered into a pact together in 1996 to oust Boutros Boutros-Ghali as Secretary-General of the United Nations... . In the end Clinton was impressed that we had managed not only to oust Boutros-Ghali but to have Kofi Annan selected to replace him." Vanity Fair reports that "behind closed doors, he (Colin Powell) actually called Annan `My man Annan'."

If Rice downgraded Clarke's position as the National Coordinator, Wolfowitz asked: "I just don't understand why we are beginning by talking about this one man [Osama] bin Laden." Clarke answered: "We are talking about a network of terrorist organisations called Al Qaeda, that happens to be led by bin Laden, and we are talking about that network because it and it alone poses an immediate and serious threat to the United States." Wolfowitz retorted: "Well there are others that do as well, at least as much. Iraqi terrorism for example."

Clarke had to battle hard to get the administration to focus on terrorism. "On September 4, 2001, the Principals Committee meeting on Al Qaeda that I had called for `urgently' on January 25 finally met", a week before 9/11.

There is an overlap between Woodward's earlier book and this. The former mentioned talk of an Iraqi war, but recorded no criticism. His style is to report, keeping criticism to a minimum and leave all avenues open for himself. Access to the top was bought at a price, which he, evidently, was ever eager to pay in, some might call, a Faustian pact. Neither his insights nor his profiles of the players are to be underestimated, however. The question is when did he come to know of the decision to attack Iraq? Also, how did he feel about it? Apparently he had no moral objections to the war. Access helps him to produce bestsellers. By May 2002 "well-wired Pentagon reporters knew Iraq war planning was going on". Woodward could not have been ignorant of them. Bush at War was published in October 2002, Plan of Attack, on April 24, 2004. The book begins with Bush's question to Rumsfeld on November 21, 2001. "What kind of a war plan do you have for Iraq?" There follows a blow-by-blow account of war plans, the war and its aftermath.

Woodward replays Powell's long talk with Bush on August 5, 2002, in a desperate bid to dissuade him from launching a war. "Sixteen months later in the office where Powell had made his case. I asked the President about Powell's argument that a military solution would mean he would own Iraq. `He sure did,' Bush replied. `He did say that.'

`Your reaction?' I asked, expecting him to articulate an understanding of the case against war. `And my reaction to that is, is that my job is to secure America,' the President said. `And that I also believe that freedom is something people long for. And that if given a chance, the Iraqis over time would seize the moment. My frame of mind is focussed on what I told you - the solemn duty to protect America."

Now, note Woodward's reaction: "I sat there somewhat nonplussed as the President discussed the issues of freedom and security, which were very much beside the points Powell had made." It is a rare comment critical of Bush. But the implications of his irrelevant reply are lost on Woodward and do not disturb his enormous admiration of the man - Bush is simply incompetent. He had no answer to give and was "nonplussed" himself and tried to be evasive. Woodward did not press him further.

Woodward could not have been taken away by Bush's disclaimer on August 20, 2002, that he had not decided on war. In the CIA's brief to Bush in January 2001 "Iraq was barely mentioned". The rise of China was "but that problem was 5 to 15 or more years away". But 9/11 presented a fine "opportunity" which Bush & Co. were not going to miss. Till the last he denied that he had taken the fateful decision, indeed as recently as on March 6, 2003. "Cheney, Powell, Rumsfeld and Rice knew otherwise."

Of all the participants Powell comes out the worst because he sinned against the light. Cheney, Rumsfeld and others in the cabal sneered at him. His resignation would not have been an "act of disloyalty to the President" but of obedience to his conscience. Another soldier Lt. Gen. Sahebzada Yacub Khan resigned as Governor of East Pakistan in 1971.

We are told that Time's story on Powell before 9/11 was "sanctioned" by the White House and was designed "to knock Powell down a notch". Was it loyalty to Bush or love of office that kept him glued humiliatingly to the job? After 9/11 Bush found him useful for the diplomatic charade. Powell enjoyed the new-found importance.

He had, apparently, as little scruples about lying as the rest of the lot. Powell was present at a briefing on February 7, 2002, at which Gen. Tommy Franks, commander for the region (CENTCOM) "presented the refined Generated Start Plan for war with Iraq" to the President (page 98). But on February 12, Powell told the Senate Budget Committee that Bush "has no plan on his desk right now to begin a war with any nation" (page 103). Bush of course had no such qualms whatever. At a press conference in Berlin and in Paris, on May 23 and 26, 2003, respectively, he said: "I have no war plans on my desk."

It is Woodward's style not to censure him for this but to suggest meekly that it "would have served him better" had he simply said that he would reserve "whatever options I have". No wonder that Bush took keen interest in the writing and publication of this book in the election year. He met the author on December 10, 2003, for a lengthy interview. It was not tough. Sample this: "I said I was asking these questions because I wanted to show in the book what he thought the status of the WMD search was. `Why do you need to deal with this in the book?' he asked. `What's this got to do about it?' I said that I had to cover the aftermath of the war. This was a key question." It was obviously a "collaborative" interview. Bush collaborated in the writing of the book.

"The President said he wanted to make sure that his acknowledgement that no weapons of mass destruction had been found so far would not be published in The Washington Post until the book was released. `In other words, I'm not going to read a headline, `Bush says: No Weapons.' I promised that he would not... ." Bush admitted as much himself on February 8, 2004.

To be fair to the author, he does an excellent job tracing the tale of the WMD as it came to be told over the months. On August 26, 2002, Cheney said: "There is no doubt that Saddam Hussein now has weapons of mass destruction." A month later Bush asserted that he "possesses" WMD. "Powell found much of the intelligence murky," but went along. Tony Blair was as much a partner in deception as he was in the war. He was, indeed, plus royaliste que le roi (more royalist than the king).

How did Woodward view all this? "I did not feel I had enough information to effectively challenge the official conclusions about Iraq's alleged WMD. In (the) light of subsequent events, I should have pushed for a front page story, even on the eve of the war, presenting more forcefully what our sources were saying. Several of these sources, I know, did voice their reservations within their various organisations but they also did not have enough to robustly challenge the conclusions that had already been reached. I have no evidence that the reservations of these particular sources reached the President." Small wonder that he is given access.

Contrast this with James B. Raston. He was deceived by Kissinger. But he won access because of his integrity and ability. He never lent himself. More, he never refrained from censure when censure was called for.

The Vanity Fair article confirms disclosures in these books. On Powell's speech to the Security Council on February 5, 2003, the four writers' remarks: "Powell, for all his carping, delivered a speech that was close to what the White House wanted, describing mobile biological weapons labs, ties to Al Qaeda, and stockpiles of anthrax. Much of it later proved to be untrue. His legacy and the Bush administration's will be forever tarnished as a result. A U.N. official said: `Everyone felt uncomfortable to see a man saying these lies'."

Cheney's unprecedentedly frequent visits to Langley were calculated to shape the CIA's estimates as were Blair's exertions with his own intelligence. Vanity Fair's report on a dinner at the White House on September 20, 2001, exposes Blair completely. It was attended by Powell, Rice and the British Ambassador Sir Christopher Myers. "Rumours were already flying that Bush would use 9/11 as a pretext to attack Iraq," Myers remembers. "On the one hand, Blair came with a very strong message - `don't get distracted, the priorities were Al Qaeda. Afghanistan, the Taliban'. Bush said: `I agree with you, Tony. We must deal with this first. But when we have dealt with Afghanistan, we must come back to Iraq'."

Blair's efforts to dissuade Bush months later were rebuffed. "Still, Blair repeatedly told both the media and his own Cabinet Ministers that no decision had been made."

Against all enemies:Inside America's war on terror

Plan of Attack

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