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"...I abhor aggressive wars like the one we waged there; it is out of character for America in terms of our history, sense of morality, and basic decency. ...[T]he US invasion of Iraq was not preemption; it was -- like our war on Mexico in 1846 -- an avaricious, premeditated, unprovoked war against a foe who posed no immediate threat but whose defeat did offer economic advantages." CIA analyst Michael Scheuer quotes Boston University's Andrew Bacevich: "Disclaimers by the White House notwithstanding, this war has not been thrust upon us. We have chosen it. ...The United States no longer views force as something to be used as a last resort. There is a word for this. It is called militarism." -- Michael Scheuer

"The propagandist will not accuse the enemy of just any misdeed; he will accuse him of the very intention that he himself has and of trying to commit the crime that he himself is about to commit. ...He who wants to provoke a war will not only proclaim his own peaceful intentions but also accuses the other party of provocation. He who uses concentration camps accuses his neighbor of doing so. He who intends to establish a dictatorship always insists that his adversaries are bent on dictatorship." -- ethicist Jacque Ellud, quoted by Mark Crispin Miller

Former Bush treasury secretary Paul O'Neill said on the eve of the invasion of Iraq, "Conviction is something you need in order to act. But your action needs to be proportional to the depth of evidence that underlies your conviction. I marvel at the conviction that this president has in terms of this war. Amazing. I don't think he has the personal experience. With his level of experience, I would not be able to support his level of conviction." In November 2003, as questions about the justifications of the war began to percolate through the mainstream media, O'Neill said that he was always fearful about the US "grabbing a python by the tail, by dropping a hundred thousand troops into the middle of 24 million Iraqis and an Arab world of one billion Muslims. Trust me, they haven't thought this through." -- Ron Suskind

"There never was a formal meeting of all of the president's senior advisors to debate and decide whether to invade Iraq, according to a senior administration source." -- James Risen

In the Works Since 1993

"The longer [this goes] on, [the more] we are likely to see the emergence of a generation who will regard Saddam Hussein as too moderate and too willing to listen to the West." -- Denis Halliday, February 2003 (ZNet)

"If the situation in Iraq is the result of liberation, we may have set the cause of freedom back 200 years." -- Democratic Senator Robert Byrd, May 21, 2003 (AP/Kansas City Star

After the Clinton victory of 1992, former Bush administration policy advisors, including Cheney, Rumsfeld, Wolfowitz, Libby, Perle, and others, began reformulating the New World Order they had envisioned, and begun to attempt to bring about, under Bush's presidency. One linchpin of their new paradigm involved the ouster of Saddam Hussein and the US occupation of Iraq. When these former officials joined the younger Bush's administration in 2001, all bets were on again. A day after the 9/11 attacks, Rumsfeld began proposing using the attacks to justify invading Iraq; cooler heads prevailed, insisting that Afghanistan, with its real ties to al-Qaeda through the ruling Taliban, come first. But Iraq was never off the list. Once the Taliban had been ousted and Osama bin Laden was on the run, the administration once again targeted Iraq; in addition to being critical for their plans for reshaping the globe's political and economic infrastructure, Hussein made a much better villain for the Bush administration than the others; both bin Laden and the Taliban had too many embarrasing ties to the Bush family. Osama bin Laden became a bit player in the drama, and Iraq was pushed to the forefront, with dire warnings of Saddam's arsenal of biological, chemical, and possibly nuclear weapons being focused on American targets. The fact that these WMDs didn't exist -- what progress Iraq had made towards developing any weapons platforms that would threaten anyone outside his immediate region had long been destroyed by UN inspectors -- didn't faze anyone in the Bush adminstration.

The parallel assertion that Hussein was a longtime bedfellow of al-Qaeda, and wouldn't hesitate to provide the terrorists with WMDs, was equally fallacious. But the administration knew that proving a negative is inherently difficult, and while experts and the mass media dithered over what, in fact, Hussein did possess and what links between Hussein and al-Qaeda actually existed, the Bush adminstration rolled forward with plans for war. The relentless drumbeat from the Bush administration had its desired effect -- one April 2002 poll showed a majority of Americans convinced that Hussein had been "personally involved in the September 11 terror attacks," an assumption that had no basis in fact. Bush and his officials used every opportunity to link Hussein to 9/11, a tactic that the Christian Science Monitor called "as successful as it was deceptive." -- Kevin Phillips

During the 2000 presidential campaign, Bush told an interviewer, "If I found in any way, shape, or form that [Hussein] was developing weapons of mass destruction, I'd take 'em out." On another occasion, he said, "Saddam just needs to understand that if I'm the president, he's going to have a problem." The movie-tough rhetoric is backed by a decade of pushing from what David Corn calls "think-tank warriors" for a war against Iraq, in the "vital interests" of both Israel and the US. The 1998 PNAC letter from Perle, Rumsfeld, Wolfowitz, Bennett, Kristol, and others is vague about exactly what those "vital interests" are, but it's interesting that nowhere in the letter does it mention that we should be concerned about Hussein's brutality, or we should worry about "bringing democracy to Iraq," concerns that were hawked by Bush as a benefit of the invasion and overthrow. -- David Corn

Lewis Lapham calls Iraq "a test market for a reconfigured American political ideal matched to Benito Mussolini's definition of fascism, 'which should more properly be called corporatism, since it is the merger of state and corporate power.' Envisioning a slum clearance project for the whole of the Islamic Middle East, Iraq the first in a series of model satrapies soon to be erected in Syria, Iran, Libya, Egypt, and Saudi Arabia, the would-be proconsuls of the Bush administration further assume the absence of strenuous objection on the part of an American public and an American news media content to drift from news cycle to news cycle in a state of political somnambulism not much different from their own." -- Lewis Lapham

"In 2003, the United States invaded a country that did not threaten us, did not attack us, and did not want war with us, to disarm it of weapons we have since discovered it did not have. His war cabinet assured President Bush that weapons of mass destruction would be found, that US forces would be welcomed with garlands of flowers, that democracy would flourish in Iraq and spread across the Middle East, that our triumph would convince Israelis and Palestinians to sit down and make peace. None of this happened. Those of us who were called unpatriotic for opposing an invasion of Iraq and who warned we would inherit our own Lebanon of 25 million Iraqis were proven right. Now our nation is tied down and our army is being daily bled in a war to create a democracy in a country where it has never before existed. With the guerrilla war, US prestige has plummeted. The hatred of President Bush is pandemic from Marrakesh to Mosul. Volunteers to fight the Americans have been trickling into Iraq from Syria, Saudi Arabia, and Iran. In spring 2004, revelations of the sadistic abuse of Iraqi prisoners at Abu Ghraib prison sent US prestige sinking to its lowest levels ever in the Arab world. We may have ignited the war of civilizations it was in our vital interest to avoid. Never has America been more resented and reviled in an Islamic world of a billion people." -- Pat Buchanan

"...Bush spent 14 months trying to make the case that Saddam Hussein was an imminent danger to the United States because he possessed weapons of mass destruction and was in league with the evildoers of 9/11. He proved neither one of these key assertions. Veracity lost out to rhetoric. But Bush got his war. Bush always had the option, in arguing for war, of playing it straight, telling the public that the evidence pertaining to weapons of mass destruction and a link between Iraq and al-Qaeda was inconclusive, but that the United States could not take a chance. He could have forthrightly explained that he and US allies had different views of how to handle Hussein and that he felt obligated to follow his own principles. If there were other reasons beyond the purported immediate threat from Hussein that justified sacrificing American lives and taking Iraqi lives, Bush could have fully shared these. Instead, in the long prelude, truth became a casualty before the war. Bush, his vice president, his secretary of state, his defense secretary, his national security advisor, and other administration officials distorted evidence, misrepresented facts, hurled unsubstantiated charges, and switched stories and rationales in their attempt to win support at home and abroad for a war against Iraq. They fibbed their way to battle.

"There was some truth amid all of this. Administration officials were certainly accurate when they assailed Hussein as a murderous tyrant who oppressed millions. They were also right when they claimed this brute could not be believed when he claimed he did not have awful weapons, and they were right to be concerned about the prospect of a Hussein armed with biological, chemical, or nuclear weapons. But too often the Bush crowd tampered with, or outright avoided, the truth to justify their war. On what was literally the most serious of presidential matters -- involving thousands of lives and deaths and the future security of the United States, if not other parts of the world -- Bush and his lieutenants could not be trusted. Of all the lies Bush has told as president, none so brazenly challenged the bond between the government and the governed as did the lies that led to the invasion of Iraq. By relying upon deceit to guide the nation to an elective war, Bush violated the most fundamental principles of democracy. His war was an attack on the notion that an informed populace should be -- and must be -- the ultimate judge of presidential conduct." -- David Corn

Just a Garden-Variety Thug

Saddam Hussein "has been a monster for 30 years. The reason he stayed in power so long is that he used to be our monster. We put [his] Baath Party in power. The CIA supported the coup that overthrew the pro-Soviet ruler of Iraq, General Abdel Karim Kassem, and brought the Baathists to power in 1963. Our CIA operatives liked the cut of Saddam's jib. We encouraged his rise when he became vice-president. When he took over as president in 1979, we didn't say a word when he liquidated the core of his own party's leadership. We sold him the chemicals that he used to build his chemical weapons. We sold him the biological agents that he used to build his biological weapons. Did he build them? Absolutely. Was it a crime against humanity? Absolutely. Was it a crime that he killed 50,000 Iranians with chemical attacks in the Iran-Iraq War? Yes. Did the Reagan administration do anything to stop it? No, we did not. We wanted to kill Iranians, and Saddam was doing just that. We sent Donald Rumsfeld to seal the deal in 1983 and again in 1984, to restore relations with Saddam's regime and make sure that Saddam and the US were in close coordination on policy. Did those good relations help us stop him when he gassed 10,000 Kurds in Halabja in 1988? They did not. We did not even try. We had sold him the helicopters he used to spray the poison gas. We kept him in power. Now he has changed, now he's evil and has to go. ...But that's the problem with the good guy/bad guy strategy. Now, we want democracy in Iran. Iran used to have a democracy -- we overthrew it in 1954. We put the Shah of Iran in power. We supported that evil dictatorship and kept him in power. We sold the Shah his first nuclear reactor. When the people in Iran did then what some say they should do now, when they rose up and overthrew the dictatorship, we did not like the results and have been campaigning against the new Iranian government ever since. ...[S]ome people in this administration are in favor of invading Iran. That is the next country on their 'To Do' list." -- Joseph Cirincione

Unfortunately for the Bush propaganda machine and the complicit American media, the vaunted war machine of Saddam Hussein didn't meet up to its billing. Instead of a Hitler figure bent on world domination, the US forces found instead "remnants of a dictator more accurately compared to a psychopathic prison warden, a brutal but almost comic figure, so enslaved by the dream of his omnipotence that he apparently had entrusted the defense of his kingdom to histrionic press releases and gigantic portraits of himself armed with a shotgun and a porkpie hat. No Iraqi shock troops appeared in the field to oppose the Third Infantry Division's advance into the valley of the Euphrates; no Iraqi aircraft presumed to leave the ground; no allied combat unit met with, much less knew where to find, the fabled weapons of mass destruction. The desultory shows of resistance at the river crossings constituted ragged skirmish lines of young men for the most part poorly armed, so many of them out of uniform that it wasn't worth the trouble to distinguish between the military and the civilian dead. The weakness of the Iraqi target made ridiculous Washington's propaganda posters. Here was the American army in the sinister landscape of Iraq, equipped to fight the Battle of Normandy or El Alamein but conducting a police action in the manner of the Israeli assassination teams hunting down Palestinian terrorists in the rubble of the Gaza Strip. How then would it be possible to hide in plain sight the false pretext of Operation Iraqi Freedom? The Bush administration answered the question by simply changing the mission statement. The American army had not come to Iraq to remove the totalitarian menace threatening all of Western civilization -- absolutely not; the American army had come briefly eastward into Eden to 'liberate' the long-suffering Iraqi people from the miserly inflicted upon them by an evildoer with the bad habit of cutting out their tongues. One excuse for war was as good as another."

But this sudden tectonic shift of purpose and rationale was swallowed whole by the American media. Instead, the news outlets competed to show stories of individual American heroism and overarching stories of the magnificence and efficacy of the assault. American tanks rolling unchallenged through the desert won comparisons to the tank assaults of George Patton and Erwin Rommel. The desultory siege of Basra was compared to the siege of Stalingrad. When footage from the front was temporarily unavailable, the news networks, with sets festooned with patriotic buntings and waving flags, filled the airwaves with paeans to American military might and gloy. MSNBC went so far as to use a portrait of Bush on its primary set, "the studio equivalent of a loyalty oath," observes Lewis Lapham. MSNBC's president said the news had no business asking ugly questions, and instead should be "positive.quot; Fox News broadcasters, both anchors and commentators, launched a full-scale assault on anyone who dared ask questions of the administration or the military, denouncing dissenters of any stripe: "You were sickening then, you are sickening now," they told anti-war protestors, who were called "leftist stooges" who were "absolutely committing sedition, or treason" by daring to question the validity and the legitimacy of the invasion. -- Lewis Lapham

The successful invasion of Iraq, the quick defeat of Hussein's ragged military, and the fall of Baghdad and the subsequent forcing of Hussein to flee, worked with the American public. The failure to find WMDs concerned relatively few, as did Bush's failure to secure UN approval for the invasion; the administration was relatively successful at redirecting the focus of the invasion away from the non-existent WMDs towards a humanitarian move to free the long-suffering Iraqi people from a savage dictator and the US resolve to install democracy in Iraq. Unfortunately, few in Bush's administration were able to come to grips with the realities of a postwar Iraq. Like his father, Bush focused on the absolute evil of Saddam Hussein, whom both portrayed as being a leader worse than Hitler. Both administrations tarred critics of their wars with Iraq as "appeasers" But the attacks on the war's critics did not work as well as hoped, as Iraq sank further and further into chaos and more and more US troops were killed after the May 1 declaration of "mission accomplished" by Bush on board an aircraft carrier. Increasingly, questions about Bush's real motives came to the forefront of the discussion. In 1991, control of Iraq's oil industry was acknowledged as one reason for the Gulf War, as was Bush's 1992 intervention in Somalia, which was done less to restore order to that country as it was to restore the oil exploration contracts for Conoco, Amoco, Phillips, and Chevron. In an August 1992 speech, Cheney warned the world that if Hussein got his hands on WMDs, he would "seek domination of the Middle East" and "take control of a great portion of the world's oil supplies." This was one of the few public acknowledgements of the link between the US's energy policy and national security. The assertion went over badly in the media; from then on out, both administrations would assert, in the words of Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld in July 2003, that the invasion of Iraq had "nothing to do with oil, literally nothing to do with oil." -- Kevin Phillips

There is no doubt Hussein was an unstable, dictatorial thug. As former Wasit governor Mark Etherington writes in his memoir, Revolt on the Tigris,"[A]ll I saw in my tenure -- the echoing palaces, the profligacy and evidence of wholesale persecution, the lack of development, the insane size and variety of his armed forces -- trumpeted Saddam Hussein's deficiencies as a leader and made preposterous any notion that the region could have remained at peace with him in power. He was hated in the Iraqi south. Our mistake was to think that we would therefore be loved. A local man said to me: 'Saddam Hussein could be eliminated only by Allah or by the Americans, so we accepted the Americans -- yet we are anti-American because of Israel.'" -- Mark Etherington

Defense Secretary Rumsfeld was heavily influenced by the book Shock and Awe: Achieving Rapid Dominance, published in December 1996 by the Pentagon. The idea behind this military tactic of invasion and conquest is that demoralizing the enemy is as important as taking out strategic military targets, usually with a quick, overwhelming attack of irresistable force. The Nazi blitzkrieg is one example of "shock and awe" tactics that the authors, Harlan Ullman and James Wade, cite approvingly, as are the nuclear bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Rumsfeld spoke approvingly of the Nazi's blitzkrieg tactics in a February 2004 interview with PBS's Jim Lehrer. As it worked out, the entire "shock and awe" assault was largely for show, when in the first days of the war, Iraqi Republican Guard commander Maher Sufyan agreed to have his troops stand down if the US would fly him and his family to safety. (News of the Sufyan deal stunned much of Europe but went unreported here.) Some military observers believe that, in light of Sufyan's deal, Iraq's military strategy was not to fruitlessly resist the overwhelming American and British forces, but to allow US forces to "cakewalk" into Baghdad in order to draw them into an unwinnable guerrilla war. -- Mark Crispin Miller

Donald Rumsfeld, the Department of Defense, and "Cowboy Diplomacy"

New York Times reporter and author James Risen observes that "[t]he national security bureaucracy is maddeningly slow, lacks creativity, and is risk-averse. It is ill suited to fight a nimble enemy in a war on terrorism. That is clear to anyone who reads The 9/11 Commission Report, which describes how proposals to deal with al-Qaeda languished in bureaucratic hell during the Clinton administration and during the first few months of the Bush administration. Yet this creaking process does serve one purpose: it tends to weed out really stupid or dangerous ideas, unethical and even immoral ideas, ideas that could get people killed or even start wars.

"After 9/11, the moderating influences of the slow-moving bureaucracy were stripped away. The president and his principals -- Don Rumsfeld, Colin Powell, Condi Rice, and a handful of others -- held almost constant, crisis-atmosphere meetings, making decisions on the fly. Instead of proposals gradually rising up through the normal layers of the government, they were introduced and imposed from above. Debate was short-circuited. Interagency reviews of new initiatives were conducted on the run. The bureaucracy fell far behind the political leadership on a wide array of policy initiatives. During the eighteen months between the September 11 attacks and the March 2003 invasion of Iraq, the bureaucrats never caught up."

"In that intense atmosphere, the political leaders within the administration with the clearest answers and the greatest certainty and the most persistance were quickly able to dominate the agenda. It was a perfect environment for Dick Cheney -- and Donald Rumsfeld." Rumsfeld, with Cheney's backing, oversaw tremendous turnover at the NSC, replacing old, more cautious veterans with untried ideologues who agreed with his views and submitted to his dictates. He ignored the counterterrorism coordinator, Richard Clarke, because he believed he and not Clarke (or anyone else) was responsible for conducting the war on terror -- he actually tried to get Bush to eliminate the position. While that didn't happen, the counterterrorism coordinator was severely curtailed in effectiveness, one of the reasons that Clarke eventually resigned and the position became, in essence, a revolving door through which one bureaucrat after another passed, eventually becoming downgraded and merging with the White House coordinator for homeland security. "There were many times the Pentagon just did what it wanted, no matter what the NSC said," recalls a former White House aide. Rumsfeld and Cheney built a network of officials with longstanding ties to the two, many with impeccable neoconservative credentials, throughout the administration. Between this network and with Rumsfeld's own dogmatic, belligerent leadership style, the "normal checks and balances in the national security apparatus" simply broke down.

Rumsfeld ran roughshod over CIA director George Tenet as well. "George Tenet liked to brag about how he was a tough Greek from Queens, but in reality, he was a p*ssy," recalls one former Tenet aide. "He just wanted people to like him." Rumsfeld took much of Tenet's authority and influence away, and the White House did nothing to stop him. One of Rumsfeld's key assistants was his senior intelligence aide, Rich Haver, who held the CIA in open contempt and was placed in charge of "reorganizing" US intelligence -- essentially doing what he could to weaken the CIA's influence and abilities and assigning them to the Department of Defense. It was Rumsfeld's idea of having "one dog to kick" on intelligence that helped lead to the creation an intelligence czar at the Pentagon who would oversee the NSA, the DIA, the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency, and the intelligence arms of each major military branch, and who would be directly answerable to Rumsfeld. That gave Rumsfeld control of the entire US intelligence apparatus with the exception of the CIA and the small intelligence branch of the State Department. Tenet put up little more than token resistance, and ignored the outcry from his senior staff and even former security advisor Brent Scowcroft, the elder Bush's close friend and head of the younger Bush's Foreign Intelligence Advisory Board. Scowcroft saw Rumsfeld's reorganization as a direct assault on the authority of the CIA director, who traditionally has been considered the head of the entire US intelligence community. Though the position was ill defined, it carried great weight. Now Rumsfeld wanted it for himself.

Tenet didn't particularly care. As long as he felt he had Bush's ear, and could oversee the CIA's clandestine operations, he didn't care about intelligence reform or reorganization. Tenet didn't object to the creation of the new post -- undersecretary of defense for intelligence -- and the only surprise was that Haver himself didn't get the job, a position most people believed he created for himself. Instead, Rumsfeld's trusted aide, Stephen Cambone, ascended to the job, where he would become involved in the illegal torture of "enemy detainees."

Rumsfeld was horrified at the role of the CIA in Afghanistan -- not because the CIA failed, but because the CIA's success in engineering the downfall of the Taliban and its orchestration of US military policies left Rumsfeld out of the limelight. Rumsfeld intended never to have such a march "stolen" away from him again. There was no reason the Pentagon couldn't handle the kind of covert activities the CIA had performed in Afghanistan, Rumsfeld believed, and no reason the Pentagon had to restrict itself to operational combat zones. He could, and should, be free to operate anywhere he pleased. Rumsfeld saw the entire world as a combat zone, in the fight against global terrorism, and secret US activities in otherwise peaceful and even allied nations could be justified as preparation for battle. Such activities represented a radical expansion of the Pentagon's existing espionage capabilities. The new "operational support units" didn't fall under the government's existing rules overseeing covert actions, rules that required explicit presidential authorization and Congressional notification. In fact, Rumsfeld and his aides didn't believe they needed to tell anyone what these units were doing, much less coordinate their activities with US ambassadors and CIA stations in those countries. In essence, Rumsfeld created his own spy service, funded by the Pentagon's vast "black budget" funds, and with no accountability from anyone. Before long, the rogue operations began causing trouble, interfering with CIA operations, embarrasing US officials, and breaking national and international laws. One such instance, a bar fight in Latin America between unit forces and civilians, resulted in the death of one civilian. The death went unreported for years in the press (see the Los Angeles Times-sourced item in the December 2006 page), but the units and their operations began drawing unwanted attention and concern. -- James Risen

While all of this bureaucratic skullduggery and naked power-grabbing was going on in Rumsfeld's office, his deputy, Paul Wolfowitz, was busy with his neoconservative allies, most centered around Dick Cheney's office, pressuring the CIA to come up with intelligence that would justify their plans to invade Iraq. Again, George Tenet failed to stand up to Defense Department pressure, and eventually began working with the hardliners in "cherrypicking" intelligence that would bolster their intent. Unlike the warmongerers in Cheney's office and the Defense Department -- where Rumsfeld had determined that he would use Iraq to outshine the CIA's accomplishments in Afghanistan -- the CIA wanted little to do with Iraq. At the CIA, the focus was on al-Qaeda and the war on terror. If they were worried about any particular country, it was Iran, with its nuclear weapons development program and its close ties to terrorist organizations like Hezbollah. "It is hard for people outside the agency to understand how little we were thinking about Iraq," recalls one top intelligence official. But the CIA's lack of focus on Iraq, and its failure to see Saddam Hussein as an imminent threat to the US, infuriated the administration's hardliners. They wanted a war with Iraq, they wanted to use the 9/11 attacks to justify the war, and if they couldn't tie Baghdad directly to the attacks, they wanted to tie Hussein to al-Qaeda in a more general fashion, enough to justify an invasion.

The problem was that the CIA had no proof at all of any connections between Iraq and al-Qaeda; in fact, the intelligence they had showed that Hussein viewed al-Qaeda as an enemy of his regime. Far from having evidence of any collusion between Hussein and al-Qaeda, they had the opposite. But that didn't suit Wolfowitz or his lieutenant, undersecretary of defense for policy Douglas Feith. Wolfowitz had made much of his career on challenging the CIA. In the 1970s, he had been a key member of Rumsfeld's infamous and inglorious "Team B," which excoriated the CIA for "underestimating" the Soviet threat ("Team B" was even more in error than the CIA on just how little a threat the Soviet Union actually posed), and Wolfowitz had been a part of Rumsfeld's ballistic missile commission, which criticized the CIA's assessments of the threats posed by rogue nations such as North Korea. Wolfowitz couldn't understand why the CIA wasn't as hawkish and war-happy as he was, and he wasn't about to let the CIA softpedal the connections between Hussein and al-Qaeda. In briefing after briefing, Wolfowitz demanded that the CIA produce intelligence showing the connections between Hussein and 9/11, and was never satisfied with the failure of the CIA to produce.

What most didn't know about were the extensive, back-door connections between Wolfowitz and Israeli intelligence, Mossad. The CIA didn't trust Mossad's analysis and assessments, judging that that agencie's blatant anti-Arab bias overly influenced its reporting, but what the CIA discounted, Wolfowitz embraced. Wolfowitz and other top Defense Department conservatives had been having their own, off-the-books briefings from Mossad agents, and they believed the CIA was systematically downplaying a serious threat from Iraq. Wolfowitz would complain to Tenet about the failure of the CIA's analytical work on Iraq and al-Qaeda; Tenet would listen politely, say something mollifying, and return to the CIA untroubled by Wolfowitz's rantings. A frustrated Wolfowitz eventually set up his own intelligence analysis unit, which would give him the results he wanted. "[T]hat really pissed off the people at the CIA," recalls a former top Pentagon official. Wolfowitz and Feith created the Pentagon's Counter-Terrorism Evaluation Group through Feith's office to serve as a hardline, neoconservative counterweight to the CIA's own assessments. Unlike CIA analysts, who attempted to stick to the facts and go from there, the rank amateurs and ideologues in CTEG knew what they were looking for and, one way or another, would find it.

The smoothly corrupt Ahmad Chalabi, the prominent Iraqi exile who had become the darling of the neoconservatives, played a key role in CTEG's radically different assessments of Iraq and Middle East terrorism. Chalabi, who was eventually exposed as an Iranian intelligence asset who fed Wolfowitz and the other Washington hardliners misinformation for years, was a boon for Wolfowitz's plans. The CIA had no use for Chalabi, having long dismissed him as unreliable, tainted, and a likely adversary to US intelligence, but Chalabi was telling Wolfowitz exactly what he wanted to hear. Chalabi had other sponsors with great influence in the administration, most prominently Richard Perle, the war hawk who chaired the Defense Policy Board. Chalabi, Perle, and Wolfowitz all hated the CIA, and in Wolfowitz's new Defense intelligence agency, Chalabi found a place to flourish. While Chalabi wined and dined on Defense Department funds (read tax dollars), the White House pressured the CIA to drop its opposition to Chalabi and the intelligence he was providing to Wolfowitz and Feith. "They sent us that message a thousand times, in a thousand different ways," recalls one former senior CIA official, even before the 9/11 attacks.

In the spring of 2001, well before the 9/11 attacks, Bush officials were discussing the strategy that they could mount to invade Iraq and overthrow Saddam Hussein. During one meeting, deputy national security advisor Stephen Hadley admonished deputy CIA director John McLaughlin to stop badmouthing Chalabi and stop opposing the administration's attempts to build a close working relationship with Chalabi and his Iraqi National Congress. McLaughlin acquiesced, and passed the message back to the CIA. Though the CIA still refused to work directly with Chalabi, and Tenet tried to warn Wolfowitz of Chalabi's unreliability, the CIA did not try to stop the Pentagon from disseminating intelligence reports based on information from Iraqi defectors channeled by Chalabi's INC. "The result was," Risen writes, "that the information from the Iraqi exiles was injected directly into the intelligence community's bloodstream as the United States was gearing up for war in Iraq." As later events proved, almost nothing Chalabi's people provided turned out to be true -- but it was quite useful in scaring the American people with the prospects of biological toxins and nuclear holocaust from Iraqi missiles and unmanned gliders.

Some senior CIA officials privately begged Tenet to do something to oppose the upcoming invasion of Iraq, fearing that the invasion and subsequent occupation would derail the agency's efforts to battle Islamic terrorism. The agency couldn't handle terrorism concerns if it was dealing with Iraq on top of Afghanistan and global terror, Tenet was warned by numerous officials, including deputy director of operations James Pavitt. But Tenet never took those concerns to the White House in any serious manner. "A lot of people went to George to tell him that Iraq would hurt the war on terrorism, but I never heard him express an opinion about war in Iraq," recalls one former aide to Tenet. "He would just come back from the White House and say they are going to do it." That was the message Tenet brought to the CIA: since war was inevitable, the CIA had to get on board. Veteran agency officials who continued to express concerns suddenly found themselves sidelined to unimportant desk jobs, while their more eager and ambitious colleagues found themselves on the rise. Risen writes, "The pressure from the Bush administration was being transmitted directly into the ranks of the nation's intelligence community, affecting careers and lives." -- James Risen

Okay, President Gore, What Now?

Paul Waldman observes, accurately enough, that Bush correctly waited over a month after the 9/11 attacks to launch an attack on Afghanistan, "taking time to prepare militarily and assemble an international coalition." He also observes that Democrats held back from any criticism of any sort towards Bush, allowing him to proceed as he saw fit with their virtually unqualified support. "Would the Republicans have been as patient with Gore as Democrats were with Bush?" Waldman asks rhetorically. "The notion strains credulity. How many days without retaliation would congressional Republicans have waited before calling Gore a gutless coward? And what about the conservative media? As Bill Clinton said in an April 2002 interview, 'One of my friends called me the other day and said, if we had a Democrat in there, they would have had a "Bin Laden watch" every day. They would have been up there for the last three months just marking off the days [when he hadn't yet been caught.]' Waldman notes, again accurately, that when Bush flip-flopped on his approach to bin Laden, going from his tough-guy "wanted dead or alive" rhetoric to saying just a few months later, "I am truly not that concerned about him," and Bush's communication director telling the press, "I don't know if finding bin Laden is one of our objectives," Democrats said virtually nothing in response, and the mainstream, supposedly "liberal" press continued to cheerlead for Bush. Waldman observes, "When Bush changed his mind about who America's No. 1 enemy was, the press went happily along." -- Paul Waldman

Changing Rationales Faster Than You Can Change Your Shirt

The Bush administration's justifications for invading Iraq have changed several times since the invasion was first announced. Initially, Bush offered two parallel sets of reasons, summed up by ethicist Peter Singer:

"The cease-fire that ended the first Gulf War in April 1991 required Iraq to give up weapons of mass destruction and to accept UN inspectors who would inspect and monitor the destruction and removal of chemical, biological, and nuclear weapons. The Iraq government led by Saddam Hussein accepted these terms, but Saddam deceived the world, continuing to develop weapons of mass destruction. Hence he was in breach of the cease-fire, and the coalition that had fought Iraq in 1991 was free to resume hostilities.

"A change of regime in Iraq would liberate that country from a tyrant who had, during the long years of his rule, been responsible for the deaths of hundreds of thousands of his own people and allowed others to remain in grim poverty while he poured the country's oil revenues into military projects and extravagant palaces for his own luxury.

"Iraq's WMDs present a threat to national and world security. Singer reminds us that Bush's main justification for declaring war on Iraq, a country that was not engaged in any hostilities with any of its neighbors and had not declared war on the US, was that Hussein was hiding proscribed weapons of mass destruction. That rationale was undermined within days of the March 2003 invasion, when observers wondered if Hussein did indeed possess such weapons, why wasn't he using them to defend his country? Of course, later efforts to find those putative WMDs were fruitless. It is now an accepted fact that Hussein did not possess such weapons, unless you are one of those diehards who believes that Hussein, dodging all surveillance efforts and ignoring the fact that the US already had almost unlimited control of the Iraqi skies, managed to hide them in the Syrian deserts west of Iraq. So Bush's main justification for the first preemptive war in American history, a war not supported by the UN or by most of its allies, is either a tremendous mistake or a flat lie. But even if Iraq did possess such WMDs, Singer asks if that in and of itself is a justification for war. The question then is, was the invasion justified by Hussein's failure to comply with UN Resolution 1441 of November 2002?"

That resolution gave, in Bush's words, "a final opportunity to comply with its disarmament obligations under relevant resolutions of the [UN Security] Council." But Bush's words are simplistic. The resolution directs the executive chairman of the UN's Monitoring, Verification, and Inspection Commission (UNMOVIC) to conduct inspections of Iraq's weapons systems, report if Iraq is or is not cooperating with the inspectors, and has or has not fulfilled his obligations to disarm. The resolution warns Iraq of "serious consequences" if it does not comply. The last words of the resolution says that the Council "decides to remain seized of the matter," meaning that the Council remains interested in the matter and has not yet finished with it. The same wording was used in Resolution 687, which declared the cease-fire in 1991. The language of both resolutions is in sharp contrast to Resolution 678 of August 1990, which authorized member nations to "use all necessary means" to evict Iraqi forces from Kuwait. Thus, the Gulf War of 1991 was authorized by the UN. But the language of Resolutions 687 and 1441 do not authorize any military interventions in Iraq by any member nations -- instead, the Council is actively monitoring the situation, rather than handing it over to any nation or group of nations to decide whether or not Iraq was in compliance and, if not, what to do about it. France, Russia, and China, three of the five Security Council members along with the US and Great Britain, recognized all along that 1441 did not authorize any military intervention by anyone, and likely would have vetoed the resolution had it contained an automatic authorization of force. At least 7 other non-voting members of the Council, including Ireland, Norway, and Mexico, made similar points. The Mexican representative said that the passage of 1441 "strengthened the Council, the United Nations, multilateralism, and an international system of norms and principles," and that it provided for the use of force only "as a last resort, with prior, explicit authorization of the Council."

Both the US and Britain accepted that there were no "hidden triggers" which would have allowed automatic military intervention, though the US's ambassador to the UN, John Negroponte, maintained that 1441 "did not constrain any Member State from acting to defend itself against the threat posed by that country, or to enforce relevant United Nations resolutions and protect world peace and security." Negroponte's argument suggests that the US considered Iraq a threat to its own security and therefore allows for US military action outside the framework of the UN. He also fails to note what other resolutions might need to be enforced. Interestingly, Britain's UN ambassador openly acknowledged that "[i]f there was a further Iraqi breach of its disarmament obligations, the matter would return to the Council for discussion." The upshot is that 1441 mandated further reports by the UN weapons inspectors, and that further decisions would be made upon hearing the content of those reports. That is exactly what happened over the next four months. Iraq denied having any weapons of mass destruction, and although its cooperation with the inspectors was spotty and marred by occasions of petty duplicity, the inspectors were not able to prove that the Iraqis were lying. By February, probably in reaction to the US's ever-heigtening rhetoric, Iraq was showing a significant amount of cooperation with the inspectors. The only violation was when inspectors found conventional missiles that had slightly longer range capabilities than were allowed under the agreement; when found out, Iraq agreed to destroy them, and had already destroyed 65 when the US missiles began striking their targets.

Instead, Bush insisted that Iraq had flatly refused to comply with any of the UN's requirements to rid themselves of the proscribed weapons. He insisted over and over again, without any proof, that Iraq "has weapons of mass destruction." In his last ultimatum, delivered 48 hours before the attack, he 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." At this point the news was just beginning to leak that in January, Bush had lied in his State of the Union address when he informed the world that Britain had proof that Hussein was buying weapons-grade uranium from Niger, a lie based on a batch of documents that proved within hours of their examination to be crude forgeries. Other evidence cited by Bush and his officials, such as the infamous aluminum tubes said to be part of a nuclear weapons program, quickly proved to be false. Instead, Bush sent the highly regarded Colin Powell to the UN in February to make a most magnificently fraudulent set of claims "proving" Iraq's duplicity, claims whose proof were universally proven false and which probably shattered Powell's reputation for honesty beyond repair. Bush officials and conservative spokesmen in and out of government lambasted France for threatening to veto any UN resolution authorizing an attack on Iraq, going so far as to have some Americans rename French fries "freedom fries" and publicly smashing bottles of French wine. But French president Jacques Chirac had strong reason for his resistance, understanding that Bush and Powell had not, indeed, made their case for Iraqi violations of 1441 in a way that would justify a war. Of course, later events would prove Chirac correct.

Singer goes even farther, saying that no matter what the evidence, the US and Britain had no right under the UN Charter to unilaterally attack Iraq. "Similarly," he notes, "the decision as to whether Israel is or is not in compliance with UN resolutions relating to the occupied territories is not a decision for, say, Russia to make." 1441 reserves the right to decide what actions to take against Iraq for the UN Security Council, not for any individual member nation. That is why the Bush administration tried so hard to obtain a second resolution declaring that Iraq had not disarmed and authorizing the use of military force. France would have certainly vetoed any such resolution, and perhaps Russia and China as well; instead, the Bush administration withdrew its resolution proposal and declared that it wasn't bound by UN decisions. Singer points out that the US would certainly have staunchly resisted any such action by any other member nation to unilaterally defy the UN. The leader of the British House of Commons, Robin Cook, resigned his post in protest of Prime Minister Tony Blair's determination to join with Bush in a military invasion of Iraq, and later said of his resignation, "I applaud the determined efforts of the prime minister and foreign secretary to secure a second resolution. Now that those attempts have ended in failure, we cannot pretend that geting a second resolution was of no importance." Instead, the British attorney general, Lord Goldsmith, issued a tortured opinion giving legal justification for the invasion, basing his argument on the "fact" that 1441 doesn't explicitly deny the US and Britain the authority to invade, and therefore doesn't prohibit it. Goldsmith is not only wrong, but in direct conflict with the words of Britain's own ambassador at the UN on the day 1441 was passed.

Singer writes, "It looks very much as if Bush supported Resolution 1441 because he expected that Iraq would refuse to accept the stringent inspection requirements. That was a reasonable prediction, since Saddam had previously refused to accept more restricted inspections. Bush no doubt thought that Saddam's refusal to accept the inspectors would provide a justification for the US to overthrow Saddam with the backing of the United Nations. Indeed, while Bush was going to the UN, the military forces under his command were already softening up Iraq for the war to come. From June 2002 into early 2003, the US Air Force was striking at Iraq's command centers, radar, and fiber-optic networks, dropping more than 600 bombs on about 350 selected targets. Although these attacks were justified at the time as a reaction to Iraqi violations of a no-flight zone that the United States and Britain had established in southern Iraq, Lieutenant General Michael Moseley, the chief commander of the air war against iraq, later admitted that this justification was at least partly spurious, since the Iraqis were responding to more aggressive American attacks that were consciously preparing the way for a military offensive against Iraq. When, to the surprise of Bush and his advisors, Saddam accepted the inspectors, who then proved unable to find proof of the existence of weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, Bush became concerned that if the inspections continued in that manner, he would no longer have any grounds for attacking Saddam. So he switched to a different justification for an attack."

Two weeks before the attack, Bush told a CBS journalist who asked whether he was worried about being perceived as defying the UN if he authorized an attack without the UN's backing, Bush did not try to use past resolutions as justification for an attack. Instead, he said "if we need to act, we will act, and we really don't need United Nations approval to do so...when it comes to our security, we don't need anybody's permission." Singer notes that since Bush decided that UN approval was unnecessary for the US to do what it felt necessary, then the entire attempt to secure UN approval was a fraud. "Like someone who accepts arbitration in a dispute because he hopes the decision will go his way, but has no intention of complying if it does not, Bush took his case to the UN but had already decided to act no matter what the UN decided." Singer calls this a "grave ethical failing," but notes that even more importantly, in the face of evidence that as early as July 2002, when Powell stopped trying to oppose Bush on the decision to invade Iraq because, as he was informed by Condoleezza Rice that his opposition was "a waste of breath," it seems clear that Bush had made up his mind to invade long before the issue of WMDs was settled one way or another.

The second set of arguments is equally groundless, at least in terms of the necessity of US military involvement. According to Bush, Saddam was an evil dictator whose oppression of his people could no longer be tolerated. In September 2002, adding a second string to his bow, Bush told the UN, "Liberty for the Iraqi people is a great moral cause and a great strategic goal. The people of Iraq deserve it." He used similar language in his order to General Tommy Franks to invade Iraq in March 2003. There is no doubt that Hussein was a brutish dictator of the worst kind. But the UN Charter, the overarching signatory legislation that makes the UN what it is, specifically prohibits any member nation, or the UN itself, from intervening "in matters which are essentially within the domestic jurisdiction of any state, or shall require the Members to submit such matters to settlement under the present Charter." Simply stated, a nation's or a citizenry's internal problems are their own, to solve or endure as they may. Of course, the UN has not always lived up to the letter of their own law, such as in 1991, when the Security Council determined that the repression of the Iraqi people had unacceptable consequences for international peace and security, and therefore justified intervention; another example is when the Council decided to intervene in Haiti's domestic affairs by restoring democratically elected president Jean-Bertrand Aristide to power after he had been overthrown by a military coup. And a right to intervene in extreme cases of genocidal abuses or egregrious human rights violations has been upheld. Many believe that the UN had the obligation to intervene in Rwanda in 1994, when tribal members were slaughtering one another wholesale; the UN's failure to intervene in Rwanda might have led to the UN's decision to stop similar slaughter in Kosovo. "It is possible," writes Singer, "to argue that international law is constantly evolving, and will eventually follow world opinion on ethical issues such as the right to humanitarian intervention." The overarching mandate of the UN charter, though, gives no weight to any such invasion by one member country of another for the reasons presented by the US.

And Iraq in 2003 was nothing like Rwanda in 1994 or Kosovo in 1999. The heinous atrocities committed by Hussein, and documented by Bush in his speech to the UN, occurred years before, with Hussein's attack on Iran in 1980 (supported by the US), his gassing of a large number of Kurds in 1988 (again with the tacit support of the US), his brutal repression of a Shi'a uprising in 1991, and his attack on Iraqi Arabs living in remote regions of his country in the mid-90s. Certainly, if the US had chosen to plead a case for intervention on humanitarian grounds at any of these times, they would have had a strong argument. But in 2003 and the years immediately preceding, while Hussein was carrying on his brutalities against prisoners and selected citizens, there was nothing happening in Iraq to match the scale of the previous atrocities. Indeed, by 2002, most Iraqis were beginning to recover from the worst of Saddam's reign of terror, both socially and economically. Even in the face of privations due to the US-led economic sanctions and Hussein's casual butchery, the lives of the ordinary Iraqi were slowly improving -- a condition which throws Bush's assertions of "imminent threats" to large sections of the Iraqi population to the winds. And if Bush was so determined to stamp out the brutality of the Hussein regime, there were other regimes more worthy of intervention than even Iraq -- Myanmar, for example, or North Korea, or Turkmenistan. Indeed, the despotic regime in Uzbekistan, whose officials killed thousands by the most brutal of tortures, was embraced by the Bush administration as an ally.

Interestingly, Bush the presidential candidate stood foursquare against such humanitarian interventions. In the 2000 debates, he defended the Clinton administration's decision not to intervene in Rwanda (a decision Clinton has said he bitterly regrets). Most experts believe that a relatively small force of UN peacekeepers would have had little trouble stopping the worst of the genocidal rampages taking place in that small, globally insignificant African country. Singer writes, "It is therefore curious that Bush should, in 2000, have believed it wrong to send a modest number of US troops to Rwanda to save 600,000 lives, but by 2003 have changed his mind to such an extent that he was willing to send a much larger force to overthrow Saddam who, though undoubtedly oppressive and cruel, was not about to massacre 600,000 of his subjects. (Security advisor Condoleezza Rice ignored her boss's own history when she threw the subject of the Rwanda genocides in the collective faces of the UN during the Iraq debates.)

And there is a third consideration. The US Congress is the only branch of the three that can authorize war against another nation. On October 10, 2002, Congress did authorize such intervention, but only for specific purposes: to "defend the national security of the United States against the continuing threat posed by Iraq," and to "enforce all relevant United Nations Security Council resolutions regarding Iraq." The resolution does not authorize the US intervening to save the Iraqi people from a tyrant. If that was the real reason for the war, as Bush has asserted now that the issue of Iraqi WMDs has been proven to be a fraud, then the entire war is unconstitutional. -- Peter Singer

CIA officer Paul Pillar, the national intelligence officer for the Middle East during the Iraq invasion, who was tormented by his participation in the drafting of a CIA white paper that misled Congress and the intelligence community on Iraq's WMDs, says he came to believe that the main motivation of the Bush administration was "to stir up the politics and economics of the Middle East and use regime change in Iraq as a stimulus for regime change and other kinds of changes elsewhere in the region." The overriding impetus was not WMDs in Iraq, but a desire to remake the Middle East. Of course, the dual pitch had been WMDs and terrorism. "If you want to sell anything," Piller says, "the best way to do it would be to link to what had become after 9/11 the main concern of the American people." At that time, that concern was al-Qaeda and Islamist terrorism. Piller says Bush and his officials had engaged in the selective use of intelligence to create a steady flow of "rhetorical coupling" in which Bush officials repeatedly said 9/11 and Iraq in the same breath. "The overall judgment of the [CIA] analysts" was that "what you had [regarding Iraq and al-Qaeda] was more in the nature of two organizations that were trying to keep track of each other." There was never any organization alliance between the two, except in Bush administration rhetoric. When Piller was asked, in March 2006, why Bush hadn't made the real case for war -- reshaping the geopolitics of the region -- he replied, "It's a lot harder to make a case based on that...than it is to make a case built on fear, based on fear of weapons of mass destruction and mushroom clouds and dictators putting WMDs in the hands of terrorists.... That is a debate I wish we had. ....The American people have a right to know the real reason we make major initiatives like going to war." But Piller won't utter the "L" word. "Then he lied," said a questioner, to which Piller replied, "Your word, not mine." -- Michael Isikoff and David Corn

The rationales for justifying the war in other segments of the White House shifted from day to day, it now seems, but in Dick Cheney's office, and among his confreres in the Pentagon and the conservative think tanks in Washington and elsewhere, the rationales were solid. "Bush believed the democracy part," says a member of Ahmad Chalabi's Iraqi National Congress. "That's where his head was. For Cheney, it was the threat -- we cannot live with the threat. Democracy was an afterthought. The issue was to take Saddam out. There was a debt to us by the US. The spring '91 uprising, chemical weapons sold in the eighties, sanctions that were really hurting the Iraqi people but not Saddam." The perspective is, of course, from a member of Chalabi's INC. Chalabi was always meant to take over Iraq, according to Cheney and his long-serving "shadow adminstration," made up of Defense Department officials and fellows at conservative think tanks like the American Enterprise Institute and the Project for a New American Century, who had been banging out position papers and meeting for discussions since midway through the Clinton administration. According to Chalabi's exiled Iraqis, America owed them bigtime -- for selling the raw materials for Hussein to make chemical weapons, and for failing to live up to the promises made to them after the Gulf War. "My interest," says the INC member, "was Iraq, not America."

The INC had direct and powerful access to the White House through Cheney's office. John Hannah, Cheney's NSC director, was the INC's conduit. Chalabi's argument was one that suited Cheney and his cabal of neoconservatives -- the US had to go back and finish what was left undone in 1991. The support for Saddam Hussein within the Iraqi borders, never strong among the populace, would evaporate within hours of US boots hitting the ground. The Iraqi exiles would return to be lionized and elevated to positions of power as they, with the help of the US, built a democratic system that would ensure their own status. The arguments by the INC-Cheney axis would be consistent and powerful components of the Bush administration's rationale for war. In essence, Bush's war was being planned by Dick Cheney, his staff, and his loyalists.

It is well known that in most areas of policy, and particularly foreign policy, Cheney, not Bush, runs the administration. Cheney was nicknamed "Backseat" by Gerald Ford's security details for his penchant as chief of staff for metaphorically leaning forward and steering policy. Now, White House staffers sometimes refer to Cheney as "Edgar" -- a reference to famed puppeteer Edgar Bergen who did the talking, and the thinking, for his ventriloquist's dummy Charlie McCarthy. Backroom deals and statehouse conflicts over Texas's education policy had done nothing to prepare Bush for the myriad details and vagaries of the largest and most influential country in the world's policies towards, and with, other countries, and Bush's endless preparation sessions before the 2000 elections with Cheney, Saudi Arabia's Prince Bandar, Condoleezza Rice, and others had had limited impact on Bush's rather simple outlook on global relations. Instead, the "cabal" (to use the term by Colin Powell's former chief of staff, Larry Wilkerson) of Cheney staffers and neocons in the Department of Defense ran America's foreign policy. This "cabal" had been working together in and out of government for the best part of thirty years. Cheney, his chief counsel and later chief of staff David Addington, his then-chief of staff Lewis Libby, the DOD's Paul Wolfowitz, and what authors Lou Dubose and Jake Bernstein call "several moles in the State Department" drove the administration into war with Iraq.

It was primarily Cheney and Libby who cooked the intelligence findings to justify their war. Cheney's staff, led by Libby, prepared the 48-page backgrounder for the seminal February 2003 speech by Powell to the United Nations. Hannah wrote the material, and Libby massaged it into shape. Wilkerson calls the backgrounder a "movie script." Libby called it a "Chinese smorgasbord." Powell called it "bullsh*t" and threw it aside, instead choosing to rely on the National Intelligence Estimate on Iraq for the source information for his speech. Wilkerson now believes that the Cheney backgrounder was little more than a setup, designed to direct Powell to the NIE -- which itself had been massaged and rewritten by Cheney sympathizers and staffers to point in much the same direction as the hellbroth of lies, baseless allegations, and deliberate misinterpretations that made up the Libby "smorgasbord." Virtually every single "fact" presented to the UN in Powell's speech had either already been debunked before Powell opened his mouth, or was disproven shortly thereafter.

Indeed, the Cheney plan for Iraq went much farther than the overthrow of Saddam Hussein and the occupation of that oil-rich, centrally located Middle Eastern nation. Next stop: Iran. "These guys planned to spend ninety days in Baghdad, then move on to Tehran," says a knowledgeable retired general. "Then [Donald] Rumsfeld's plan fell apart in Iraq." But even with Iraq becoming a maelstrom of sectarian violence instead of the nation of happy, subservient Iraqis grateful to be given the opportunity to hand their oil over to the Americans, the plans to lash out against Iran were still in the works. The general believes that the group of generals who, in April 2006, broke ranks to speak out against Rumsfeld's failed war plan did so in large part to stymie plans to launch a massive bombing campaign against Iran's nuclear research and development facilities -- perhaps even using nuclear weapons against at least one Iranian facility, at Natanz. Dubose and Bernstein write, based on their discussions with the general, "The generals knew the armed forces were overextended to the point of being broken in Iraq, yet the neocons were planning to move on to the neighboring country. So, upon retirement, the generals broke with precedent and publicly criticized the conduct of the Iraq war. Iran was a subtext, and the notion that the United States would bomb rather than negotiate, a serious concern." In April 2006, a State Department source told Dubose and Bernstein, "Everybody seems to believe that we'll be bombing Iran after the November [2006] elections. It feels like the decision has been made." The Democrats' sweeping victories in those elections, coming seven months after the generals' "April Revolution," threw up a serious roadblock into the Bush-Cheney plan to set the Middle East on fire.

The plan to bomb Iran was the centerpiece of what Dubose and Bernstein call "the coercive foreign policy that the Cheney cabal had in the works...." It was complemented by a project run out of the State Department's Burear of Near Eastern Affairs. The project would spread at least $85 million in 2006 to dissidents in Iran and Syria (another country on Cheney's hit list) and to influential exiles from those two nations. The program was very similar -- and may have proven no more reliable -- than the program to fund Chalabi's INC in preparation for Chalabi and his exiles to take over in Iraq. There's a reason for the program's similarities: they were both directed by Cheney's daughter, Elizabeth Cheney.

Elizabeth "Liz" Cheney is a textbook example of nepotism gone horribly wrong. She is widely viewed as smart, competent, and personable. She is also completely unqualified for her former position as the Principal Deputy Assistant for Near Eastern Affairs at State (PDAS). Liz Cheney came to State as PDAS, a position she held until the spring of 2006, from a political appointment to a lower-level State position in 2002, as Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs, a position apparently created especially for her. She arrived at State with a thin resume as an attorney at a powerful conservative Washington law firm and no knowledge of Middle Eastern affairs. After leaving the State Department to work on the Bush-Cheney re-election campaign, she returned in February 2005 as PDAS. What she brought to the job, besides the fact that she is Dick Cheney's daughter, is an ideology that closely matches her father's. She worked for Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs David Welch. A source at State said of Liz Cheney while she was still PDAS, "There was kind of a parallel universe over there, where David had his projects and Liz had hers. There were some things David didn't touch." Liz Cheney brought a different mindset to the bureau. Before her ascent to the PDAS post, "the NEA bureau always had a variety of people and a variety of perspectives," said the State Department source. "Under Powell, anyone could voice their opinion, make dissenting arguments, even if it wasn't the policy of the administration. That changed when Liz came to be PDAS. It's now understood that it does you no good to make your views known. In fact, it can hurt you professionally. ...She filled a big space here. There's always a fear of the [Defense Department] hawks associated with her father, and she's obviously talking to her father and his people."

Liz Cheney, like her father, had little use for rules or protocols. On at least two of her visits to Middle Eastern countries, she announced that she would meet with the head of state alone -- a violation of the hard-and-fast rule that no one meets with a head of state without being accompanied by the US ambassador to that country. On one occasion, Liz Cheney told the protesting ambassador to call Washington if he had a problem with her meeting. She went in alone, and the embarrassed head of state later briefed the ambassador on his discussion with the vice president's daughter.

Liz Cheney left her post in the spring of 2006, but many felt that her departure was temporary at best, though as of this writing (April 2007) she has not yet returned. Once she left, there was a perceptible policy shift away from confrontation with Iran and towards negotiation. "Probably a coincidence," said the State Department source, "but it would have been much more difficult with her in the building."

Even though the move to blast Iran seems to have been backburnered by the Bush administration, there is little doubt that Cheney, for one, still wants to proceed with the bombings and perhaps with a military invasion as well. For Cheney and his confederates, diplomacy is never a serious option. "They are incapable of diplomacy," says Wilkerson. Not only incapable, but hostile to the very notion of diplomacy, particularly in dealing with adversaries of the US. Cheney and his colleagues think of diplomacy as imposing the United States' will on a capitulating enemy. This has been demonstrated time and again throughout Cheney's career, as when, during the Reagan administration, he almost derailed nuclear disarmament talks with the Soviet Union by insisting that the Soviets accept "all our terms," and again in 2003, when Cheney disrupted nuclear disarmament talks with North Korea by twice (and perhaps more often) unilaterally changing the terms of negotiations after they had been established by all of the principals who decide American foreign policy. Cheney took it upon himself to rewrite the terms of negotiation for then-chief negotiator Jim Kelly after the terms had been approved by Bush, Cheney, the Secretary of State, the Secretary of Defense, the national security advisor, and the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. Cheney's hardline revisions "put handcuffs on our negotiator, so he could say little more than 'welcome and good-bye,'" Wilkerson recalls. Cheney's position was clear: there would be no negotiations. North Korea could take the US terms, as rewritten by Cheney, or leave them. In 2003, the North Koreans, representatives of what is one of the most dangerous, volatile, and unpredictable regimes in the world, rejected Cheney's propositions.

Perhaps one of the most egregrious instances of Cheney's brutal style of "negotiating" came in May 2003, when the Iranians approached the US government with an urgent request to open up talks. The Iranians, who had only had one official communication with the US government since Iranian radicals seized the US embassy in Tehran in 1979, were coming to the Americans almost as supplicants, begging for talks. Iran, dazed and frightened by the speed in which the American military had swept through Afghanistan and Iraq, and with relative moderates in power, wanted to open talks with the US about de-escalating tensions between the two countries. The Iranians approached the Americans through the auspices of Swiss ambassador Tim Guildemann, and offered sweeping concessions on their nuclear policy, on its policy towards Israel and Iran's support of the anti-Israeli organization Hezbollah, and to swap al-Qaeda prisoners for homegrown Iranian terrorists of the Mujahedeen e Khalq (MEK) in American custody. In other words, one of the three nations Bush had designated a member of the "axis of evil" wanted to come in out of the cold, and help stabilize the region, reduce tensions between Israel and the Palestinians, and provide the US with key sources of information about al-Qaeda terrorism. Instead, says Wilkerson, "We told them no. Not only did we tell them no -- we wrote a letter of protest to the Swiss for interfering in our foreign policy." A golden opportunity was missed, and, partially in response to the US's intransigence, the Iranians elected radical hardliner Mahmoud Ahmadinejad as their new leader. Who was responsible for this insanely misguided decision to slap the Iranians across the face instead of sit down at the negotiating table? Says Wilkerson, "It was the vice president of the United States."

Cheney's refusal to negotiate in any diplomatic sense of the word has been a hallmark of Bush's foreign policy until very recently. The Bush stance -- you will accept all of our terms, unconditionally and without protest, and then we can begin negotiations, more like abject surrender talks than negotiations between a group of extant world entities -- is pure Cheney, and, as Dubose and Bernstein note, "a corollary to the neocons' hegemonic foreign policy agenda." -- Lou Dubose and Jake Bernstein, Wikipedia

Democrats' Collusion by Action and Inaction

In the runup to the invasion, Democrats were notably timid and fearful of speaking out, even when poll after poll showed that Americans were not sold on the need to invade Iraq, or the need to lose thousands of US troops in the Iraqi deserts and city streets. Though Democrats continued to call for a "debate" on the invasion, they never pushed the issue, and White House officials responded by making bland pronouncements that a debate was, indeed, going on, and Bush was, in fact, "listening" to all points of view. That stance was countered by the alacrity to which White House officials would attack the patriotism of anyone who actually dared attempt a debate. The only safe areas of questioning seemed to be about the timing and working of whatever resolution Congress would pass, and whether Bush should bother to make his case to the United Nations. Questioners were routinely compared with Britain's Neville Chamberlain by White House officials, and called "Saddam-lovers" and worse on the airwaves and in print. (In August 2002, the Weekly Standard's William Kristol labeled Colin Powell, Brent Scowcroft, Chuck Hagel, and New York Times editor Howell Raines "The Axis of Appeasement.")

Author and columnist Frank Rich, in his 2006 book The Greatest Story Ever Sold, reiterates several explanations for the supine Democrats -- fear of Bush's soaring poll numbers, fear of being labeled unpatriotic, and a hope that they could put Iraq "behind us" and "move forward" (in Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle's words) to refocus on the economy by the elections. My own explanation has the virtue of simplicity -- Bush and his Republican followers used classic playground bullying tactics to win the argument. They were threatening and abusive while at the same time denying that they were doing anything of the sort. With the mainstream media acting as Bush's enthusiastic enablers, the Democrats lacked the spine and the integrity to do anything except become whining victims. Besides, as Rich points out, the Democrats' desire to "move on" past Iraq and on to the economy was hollow. "The dirty secret of the Democrats was that they had no more of an economic plan than they had an Iraq plan, even were the country in the mood to listen to one."

The Washington, DC sniper attacks of October 2002 transfixed the attention of the public and destroyed whatever slim chance the Democrats had of refocusing attention on the economy. Until the snipers -- a drifter and his teenaged accomplice -- were caught on October 24, the capital was paralyzed while the FBI and DC police fell over themselves trying to capture the shooters. Rich calls the snipings "a proxy illustration of how vulnerable the nation's capital was to a terrorist attack." The Hart-Rudman report (discussed at length elsewhere in this site) added to the nation's discomfiture by finding that the nation was still unprepared for, and vulnerable to, new terrorist attacks.

Ten days later, the midterm elections gave Bush and the GOP a resounding victory, with Republicans expanding their majority in the House and regaining control of the Senate. Rich writes, "As the reigning cliche had it, 2002 was the Seinfeld election -- an election about nothing. But how could an election in the midst of one war and on the eve of another be about nothing? To make it so was the Democrats' sole significant, if self-annihilating, achievement of the entire campaign." -- Frank Rich, pp.62-4

The US's Lack of Preparation for Invasion

"War is often simpler than the reconstruction that follows it, and strategic failure in this sphere may risk the very object for which the conflict was launched." -- Mark Etherington

"Bush and Rumsfeld, by insisting that the attack on Iraq go ahead in mid-March regardless, not only took bigger risks than their own military commanders wanted, by sending a smaller force, with insufficient reinforcements, but skimped on their equipment. The army, with some experience in these things, wanted 400,000 troops. Firstly, they wanted to prepare for eventualities, not even unexpected ones but those WMDs that they did expect, but were unexpectedly absent; secondly, they wanted to secure the country in the ensuing occupation. The Bush administration wanted a small mobile force, working more for the quasi-coup d'etat that their Iraqi National Congress friends, like Ahmad Chalabi, had persuaded them was going to happen. The actual troops commanders were haggled and bullied into halving the troop numbers, with holdout Chief of Staff Eric Shinseki being publicly put down by Paul Wolfowitz as 'wildly off the mark,' for suggesting that it would take several hundred thousand troops to occupy the country. As a result of this interference by know-it-all chickehhawks, the army that went in was small, with thousands of unused, and in the immediate period unusable, troops strewn across the world, from those still in the US and Germany, to those who were waiting in the Mediterranean to go through Turkey. Missing in action were the armor and artillery as well. That was partly the result of tactical decisions on force composition made by the Pentagon civilians appointed by Bush, whose bravery knows no limits when sending other people into the fray.

"...The operation was, in the short term, a quick success. In the long term, it is killing both doctors and patients in large numbers.... We should give due credit to the one major factor in the speed and success of the operation. The Pentagon and the White House were completely wrong about Iraqi possession of weapons of mass destruction, and although they are still gnashing their teeth in frustration and denying the self-evident truth, the rest of us, not least the American and British forces who actually had to go in, should be very glad that they were wrong." -- Ian Williams

"What was most shocking was the Bush administration's actions -- or lack thereof -- regarding Iraq's nuclear facilities. Bush had maintained that Saddam Hussein was a danger partly because he was close to developing nuclear weapons. That may have been an overblown claim based on little -- or phony -- evidence. But the United States and the rest of the world did know that Iraq possessed radioactive materials that could be useful to anyone looking to develop a nuclear weapon or construct a dirty bomb. The IAEA had catalogued much of Iraq's nuclear holdings. But during the war, the US military did not bother to secure quickly Iraq's major nuclear sites. A Washington Post story by Barton Gellman noted that before the war the vast Tuwaitha nuclear repository held about 4,000 pounds of partially enriched uranium and more than 94 tons of natural uranium, as well as radioactive cesium, cobalt, and strontium. Yet, Gellman reported on April 25 [2003], 'Defense officials acknowledge that the US government has no idea whether any of Tuwaitha's potentially deadly contents have been stolen, because it has not dispatched investigators to appraise the site. What it does know, according to officials at the Pentagon and US Central Command, is that the sprawling campus, 11 miles south of Baghdad, lay unguarded for days and that looters made their way inside.'"

David Corn notes that another Iraqi nuclear site, the Baghdad Nuclear Research facility, was not secured until May 3, after a month of what Gellman terms "official indecision." The radioactive waste stored there would make a number of quite effective dirty bombs; when the Defense Department team arrived on site, they found it ransacked to the bare walls. Gellman reported that the team's site survey "appeared to offer fresh evidence that the war has dispersed the country's most dangerous technologies beyond anyone's knowledge or control." Five other nuclear sites were similarly ransacked, with files and containers known to hold radioactive materials missing. And the lack of preparation for dealing with such materials is astonishing. One US team did detect a strong source of radiation -- possibly cobalt-60 -- at a long-abandoned test site, and one team member told the Times that his unit had no specific policy for handling found radioactive material. Evidence is found of villagers near Tuwaitha suffering from radiation sickness, indicating that locals had looted the huge nuclear repository; later it is determined that when the electricity for the villages went out and a water-pumping station failed, villagers "emptied hundreds of barrels containing uranium ore and other radioactive material, stole the drums, and used them to store water for drinking, cooking, and bathing. For almost three weeks, the Times reported, these people drank and bathed in water containing radioactive material." The Bush administration dawdled until the end of May before permitting IAEA teams to enter Iraq and visit the nuclear sites, six weeks after IAEA chief Mohammed ElBAradei had first warned the US of the potential problems posed by these sites. The teams managed to account for much of the prewar uranium, but were unable to account for large amounts of radioactive material, much of which could be made into crude but devastatingly effective dirty bombs. -- David Corn

One problem the US never solved was the conflict between the Pentagon neoconservatives, who planned on turning the government over to the exquisitely corrupt Iraqi exile Ahmad Chalabi, and Bush and other officials, who opposed just giving control of the country to Chalabi in the hopes that the Iraqi people would spontaneously create a democratic government for themselves. Bush himself refused to countenance giving Chalabi control of the government. As laudable as his and his advisors' commitment to democracy was, when the Chalabi plan was vetoed, no other plan for establishing governance was ever implemented. The NSC led an interagency team that came up with specific and detailed policy guidelines to be used during the postwar period. That team briefed Bush and his senior advisors just before the March 2003 invasion, and recommended, among other things, that the Iraqi Army be retained and that de-Ba'athification of the government be kept to a minimun, recommendations echoed by General Jay Garner's reconstruction team and others, including the State Department. But these recommendations were ignored. After the Pentagon, in charge of handling postwar reconstruction, realized that Bush wouldn't allow them to place Chalabi in power, they did nothing else. "After Chalabi, there was no Plan B," writes reporter James Risen. "Part of the reason the planning for post-Saddam Iraq was so nonexistent was that the State Department had been saying that if you invade, you have to plan for the postwar," says one former White House official. "And DOD said, no you don't. You can set up a provisional government in exile around Chalabi," and then the US military could quickly get out. "DOD had a stupid plan, but they had a plan. But if you don't do that plan, and you don't make the Pentagon work with State to develop something else, then you go to war with no plan."

As detailed throughout this site, the plans of Garner's team, the Office of Reconstruction and Humanitarian Assistance (ORHA), were never followed through, and the problem of how to get from ORHA, slated to get the lights back on and get a temporary government in place, to a permanent Iraqi leadership structure were never addressed. ORHA was replaced by Paul Bremer's Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA), which itself was soon overrun by a raft of conservative ideologues who tried to turn Iraq into a laboratory for conservative ideas about economy and governance that had never been tried in the US -- largely because many of them were constitutionally prohibited. While they played their ideological games and turned private corporations loose to ravage Iraq's economic infrastructure, they left the country to burn.

The lack of planning was considered by some in the administration to be, not irresponsible or lacking, but visionary. Undersecretary of defense for policy Douglas Feith told a reporter from the Atlantic Monthly in a postwar interview that no one saw a need for any postwar planning, a claim that is amazing in its revisionism of the facts. "You will not find a single piece of paper," Feith told the reporter. "If anybody ever went through our records -- and someday some people will, presumably -- nobody will find a single piece of paper that says, 'Mr. Secretary [Rumsfeld] or Mr. President, let us tell you what postwar Iraq is going to look like, and here is what we need plans for.' If you tried that, you would get thrown out of Rumsfeld's office so fast -- if you ever went in there and said, 'Let me tell you what something's going to look like in the future,' you wouldn't get to your next sentence." Indeed, such planning existed, not only with the NRC's interagency report and with Garner's ORHA, but with the State Department's expansive "Future of Iraq" project. The reports were there, but Rumsfeld, Feith, Dick Cheney, and others simply ignored them.

When then-Army Chief of Staff Eric Shinseki told Congress in February 2003 that several hundred thousand troops would be needed for postwar Iraq, Rumsfeld and his deputy, Paul Wolfowitz, publicly mocked and slandered Shinseki, arguing that a far smaller force could accomplish the attack, and that Shinseki was indulging in "negative" predictions. Shinseki was hounded into early retirement. Risen writes, "The message was not lost on other American military commanders: don't complain about the resources available for the war in Iraq if you want to keep your job. Bush and Rumsfeld would later both claim that they were always prepared to send more troops to Iraq if commanders in the field requested them. But the generals had learned not to ask."

Risen writes that the disastrous combination of de-Ba'athification and the disbanding of the Iraqi Army "convinced the Sunni elite, a minority that had been ruling Iraq for centuries, that the Americans were determined to overturn its traditional hold on power. The Bush administration was not going to stop at ousting Saddam Hussein; it was going to topple the existing class structure of Iraq. American policies were having the effect of ripping power away from the Sunni Muslims and handing it to Iraq's long-suffering Shi'ite majority, which was certain to come out on top in direct elections. This was social engineering on a historic scale, akin to Reconstruction in the post-Civil War American South. When Iraq's embittered Sunnis turned against the occupation, the United States had no effective response. The insurgency began to grow." Though Bush officials tried for years to dismiss the insurgents as "dead-enders," disaffected Ba'athists and Hussein cronies joined by foreign jihadists (led by al-Qaeda's head of operations in Iraq, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi), the sad irony is that the insurgency, though it has its foreign elements, is largely native-born. Originally the insurgents were led by former Hussein officials who had planned for just such an insurgency before the US invasion, and drew support largely from the disaffected Sunni minority population. By the time Bremer and the CPA attempted to reach out to the Sunnis, their leaders who attempted to work with the CPA were considered collaborators and threatened with assassination. Bush officials refused to recognize that the insurgency was largely fueled by Sunni anger and resentment. That would give it too much political credibility. Far easier to treat reports suggesting that conditions in Iraq were deteriorating as mere partisan political attacks.

The CIA, too, failed to plan ahead. In the months before the invasion, General David McKiernan, the commander of land forces for the invasion, told a senior CIA official that he didn't know who the military was supposed to link up with after Hussein's regime was gone. Who would serve as the intermediary betwen the US and the Iraqis to make sure that things kept running? The CIA official had to admit that his agency didn't have any answers. They didn't have any sources in Baghdad who could help coordinate with local leaders to keep the government running. In fact, the official admitted, the CIA had not done any serious thinking about the problem.

One expensive war plan that was never implemented was the rather melodramatic idea of a secret Iraqi paramilitary force that would be used to trigger a war in Iraq. Codenamed the "Scorpions," the group of Iranian exiles, trained by the CIA and US Special Forces in the Jordanian desert, were in some ways the CIA's covert answer to Chalabi's Free Iraq Forces, who themselves had been trained in Hungary before the invasion. The CIA went to great lengths to ensure that Chalabi had no influence within the Scorpions.

Part of the rationale behind the Scorpions is the everpresent turf battle between the CIA and the Defense Department. The CIA had been successful in Afghanistan, not only in directing the invasion forces, but in rubbing the noses of Donald Rumsfeld and Rumsfeld's senior advisors in the fact that the CIA, and not the Pentagon, had run the show in Afghanistan. Defense was determined to make Iraq their show and keep the CIA on the sidelines. In response, the CIA hoped to make their involvement in Iraq significant enough to gain some credit for themselves in the eventual overthrow of Saddam Hussein. The idea was to turn the Scorpions loose in the first hours after the invasion, to commit acts of sabotage within Iraq and perform other acts that would sow chaos and dissent, and make it seem as if Hussein were losing control of his own forces -- one idea along these lines was to airdrop the Scorpions near a military base and have them stage a mutiny, making it appear if elements of the Iraqi Army were rebelling against Hussein. If effective, real Iraqi soldiers might join suit.

Though the CIA spent vast resources on the Scorpions, many within the agency viewed the group as a paramilitary "fantasy" best left in the pages of fiction, that would have no chance of significantly impacting the course of the war. Ultimately, after senior US commanders objected, fearing that the exile group would merely get in the way of combat operations, the use of the Scorpions was scrubbed.

Instead, CIA set up joint teams working with Special Forces units, to provide critical intelligence for the main invasion force. These teams tried to develop local contacts in cities near the main invasion route; some of the teams garnered important information, especially in Shi'ite-controlled southern Iraq. But, as one CIA source later recalled, the CIA teams were vulnerable to misinformation. The source, a case officer on the ground with a Special Forces unit, recalls receiving a call from another CIA official asking that the case officer assign Iraqi agents to kill a local Iraqi whom, according to the official, was causing a problem. In effect, the official was asking the CIA-Special Forces unit to perform an assassination. "That shows you the mentality of the people running this thing," says the former case officer. The case officer contacted a senior CIA officer about the request, and the assassination was not attempted. -- James Risen

Former National Guard Staff Sergeant Lorenzo Dominguez, who gave an interview in late 2004 to the Los Angeles Times where he sharply criticized the training and equipment provided to his unit and was in return accused of giving aid and comfort to the terrorists and stripped of his command, says of National Guard training, "The US Army says that we train like we fight, but in reality, the National Guard does not get trained like we fight -- because if we did, we'd have everything that you need up front. The quality of the training was so poor and pathetic in our dumb boot-camp environment. Our Humvees were breaking down all the time. Mexico has better equipment.... I would have liked to take the battalion colonel, the command sergeant major, and Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld and put them in a light-skin Hummer and let them do the patrols in Iraq. See how quickly they'd get the proper equipment up front." -- Lorenzo Dominguez, quoted by Bill Katovsky

The Acquiesance of the Military and the CIA

As James Risen writes, neither the military nor the CIA put up much resistance towards the invasion, even though almost all of their senior officials, at least in private, either flatly opposed the invasion or harbored serious questions about its necessity and its ramifications. "The docility of the American officer corps is particularly striking. One senior administration source notes that during his visits to Iraq, he invariably heard American commanders complain about such problems as the lack of sufficient troops. But during meetings and videoconferences with Bush and Rumsfeld in which this source participated, those same senior military commanders would not voice their complaints. Their silence in the face of authority allowed the White House to state publicly that US commanders in the field were satisfied with the resources at their disposal and that they had never requested additional troops for Iraq.

If anything, the performance of the CIA was worse. The CIA lost its main focus when the Soviet Union collapsed at the end of 1991. "The agency had been created in 1947 for a singular purpose, to wage war against Soviet Communism, and for generations of CIA officers all other issues had been secondary." After the USSR collapsed, critics charged, with reason, that the agency had systematically overstated the Soviet threat and raised questions that the CIA, which had failed to predict the fall of the Berlin Wall, may have outlived its usefulness. The Clinton administration and Congress began slashing its budget in search of its promised "peace dividend." Clinton himself showed almost no interest in intelligence matters, and his first CIA director, James Woolsey, felt so abandoned that he quit after two years. In 1994, the agency was rocked by the Aldrich Ames spy case, triggering a devastating mole hunt in the agency and triggering a mass exodus of veteran CIA hands. "One CIA veteran compared the agency to an airline that had lost all of its senior pilots." In 1995, the new CIA director, John Deutch, exemplified the status of the agency; he had made it clear that he didn't want the job, and that he took the position only in the belief that Clinton would later name him Secretary of Defense. Deutch quickly alienated the critical Directorate of Operations, the CIA's clandestine service. Deutch's tenure was crippled by an open rebellion in the DO, morale in the agency plummeted, few high-risk intelligence-gathering operations were mounted, and the CIA was far less able to recruit effective spies in dangerous places like Iraq. The CIA tried, with little success, to expand its focus, working briefly on such topics as nuclear proliferation and drug trafficking, even making for a short time, under the auspices of Vice President Al Gore, an attempt to work on the global environment.

The agency began the highly damaging practice of focusing on current topics of interest, with its analysts and managers competing to get an item inserted into the Presidential Daily Briefing (PDB). They became, in Risen's words, "the classified equivalent of television reporters, rather than college professors. The result was that fewer analysts were taking the time to go back and challenge basic assumptions." Former analyst Carl Ford, who once headed the State Department's Bureau of Intelligence and Research, said, "If I had to point to one specific problem that explains why we are doing such a bad job, it is this almost single-minded focus on current reporting. ...Analysts today are looking at intelligence coming in and then writing what they think about it, but they have no depth of knowledge to determine whether the current intelligence is correct. There are very few people left in the intelligence community who even remember how to do basic research.

"Enter Clinton's last CIA director, George Tenet. Tenet replaced Deutch in 1997 virtually by accident; Clinton wanted his national security advisor, Anthony Lake, for the job, but Lake foundered in the Republican-controlled Senate because he was considered too liberal and too close to Clinton. Tenet had been Deutch's deputy; his biggest asset was that the Senate would confirm him. Tenet, a former Senate staff member, was determined to forge the kind of personal relationships that always eluded Deutch, so he set about cozying up to both the heads of DO and to Clinton. "In many ways, Tenet was a fine DCI," Risen writes. "He worked hard to rebuild the shattered morale of the CIA while lobbying Congress and the White House to increase the agency's budget. He dispelled the poisonous climate of the Deutch years and won plaudits by bringing back a legendary Cold Warrior, Jack G. Downing, to run the Directorate of Operations in a bid to return the DO to its espionage roots." But, as one former CIA officer noted for Risen, "Tenet was a great cheerleader [but] not a great leader, and while he rebult budgets and morale, the structural weaknesses of the US intelligence community were not addressed. The failure to deal with hard management problems during peacetime would come back to haunt Tenet when a new administration, one with a harder edge and a much greater interest in intelligence, came into office." Risen, along with many veteran CIA observers and even some of Tenet's admirers and associates, believe that, in hindsight, Tenet should have resigned when Bush came into office. He would have dodged 9/11 and left office with the reputation as the man who turned the CIA around.

Under Clinton, Tenet could take a tough stance, something that he rarely displayed under Bush. Tenet told Clinton he would quit if Clinton commuted the sentence of convicted spy Jonathan Pollard in order to win concessions from Israel in the Middle East peace negotiations. Clinton backed down. Tenet's bluntness showed the lack of depth and preparation of himself and his agency at least once, when, in May 1998, the CIA was surprised by India's detonation of a test nuclear bomb. Republican Senator Richard Shelby, the chairman of the Senate's Select Committee on Intelligence, asked Tenet what happened, and Tenet replied, "Senator, we didn't have a clue." Shelby later said that that particular conversation led him to question Tenet's basic competence; Shelby would later become Tenet's harshest Congressional critic. Tenet and the CIA would be caught similarly flatfooted by the rise of hardline Islamic terrorists, 19 of whom hijacked four American airliners on September 11, 2001, and turned them into flying bombs.

Tenet also fell victim to his own desire to please. He formed an unusually close relationship with George W. Bush; Bush liked Tenet's streetwise, "Greek from Queens" persona, Tenet's passion for college basketball (mirroring Bush's own athleticism and interest in sports), and his gruff, plainspoken demeanor. Risen writes, "It was a relationship in which George Tenet started out as the aggressive suitor, but the imbalance in power inevitably meant that Tenet ended up as the one seduced." Tenet was quite popular in the CIA, but some had already begun to question his tendency to tell those in power what they wanted to hear as opposed to what the agency believed the facts on the ground to be. This tendency would play directly into Bush's hands when he made Tenet his point man for digging up intelligence on Iraq's supposed WMDs.

Tenet wanted to stay as the head of the CIA. Most believed that had Al Gore taken the White House, he would not have chosen Tenet to remain; but Tenet knew that with Bush coming into power, all he had to do was to make a strong first impression on Bush. He knew just how to do that, and did so to become one of only two people to keep their jobs between administrations (the FBI's chief, Robert Mueller, is the second). As Risen cynically observes of Tenet's machinations, "First you find out what they want, and then you make sure you are the one who gives it to them." Before long, CIA officials were privately joking that Tenet had "case officered" Bush, winning Bush over to his side. Bush had initially planned on firing Tenet, but between his own liking for Tenet and on the advice of his father, who liked Tenet, kept him on against the advice of his own advisors, who preferred Donald Rumsfeld for the job. But Bush decided against his first choice for Defense, Senator Dan Coats, and turned to Rumsfeld to head the Pentagon, on the advice of Cheney, who wanted a strong voice at Defense to counter the influence of Colin Powell at State. They briefly considered Powell's close friend Richard Armitage to head the CIA, but Cheney didn't like the idea of having such a close associate of Powell's at the agency. Instead, Armitage became Powell's deputy.

The man in charge of intelligence issues for Bush's transition team, Richard Haver, had strong ties to Cheney and conservative Republicans; Haver thought Tenet was too weak and too "tainted" by his time in the Clinton administration to stay on under Bush. Shelby and other conservative Republicans agreed. A number of CIA officials believed that Haver was angling for the CIA post himself, an interesting observation considering Haver's outspoken disdain for the agency, but Haver had ruffled too many feathers, and Tenet had a powerful ally in George H.W. Bush. The elder Bush had painful memories of his own brief tenure as DCI, only to be replaced by Jimmy Carter, who put Stansfield Turner in Bush's seat. Bush thought that changing DCIs every time a new president entered office was often a mistake. Bush wanted to signal that the CIA was free from the daily grind of partisan politics, and he liked Tenet, who had worked to ingratiate himself with him over the past several years. The elder Bush advised his son to keep Tenet in place for the time being. Haver became Rumsfeld's special assistant on intelligence at the Pentagon, where his harsh, oppositional relationship with the CIA would help sour relations between the two agencies.

Tenet knew he was CIA director on Bush's sufferance, and worked mightily to secure his position. He broke with CIA tradition by personally attending Bush's daily briefings, a job once left to various agency analysts. (Clinton had abandoned his daily intelligence briefings entirely, and simply read his PDBs.) Tenet worked hard to curry favor with the new president, and it paid off. In short order, Bush told Tenet that he thought they had forged a good working relationship, and even though Bush's closest advisor, Condoleezza Rice, was wary of Tenet, Tenet kept his position. Rice never trusted Tenet, and Tenet and many of his officials came to believe that Rice, perhaps jealous of her position as Bush's primary gatekeeper of information, was not honest in her presentations of the CIA's facts and thinking to Bush.

After the 9/11 attacks, Tenet became one of Bush's closest advisors. The US military knew virtually nothing current about Afghanistan, the source of the terrorist bombers, and, while planning its military retaliation, were forced to rely on old Soviet-era maps of the country for its targeting. But the CIA had far more current information on Afghanistan, and had been working diligently, if rather unsuccessfully, to find out more about Osama bin Laden and his organization, al-Qaeda. The CIA could handle the preparation for the invasion of Afghanistan far better than the Defense Department, regardless of the angry sputterings and jealous turf control of Rumsfeld. (Rumsfeld was embarrassed that CIA officers were on the ground in Afghanistan before anyone from the US military, and that they were on hand to welcome Special Forces troops as they arrived in country.) In late September 2001, Bush told a crowd of CIA employees, "George and I have been spending a lot of quality time together. There's a reason. I've got a lot of confidence in him, and I've got a lot of confidence in the CIA." Bush defended Tenet, and to a lesser extent the CIA, for years afterwards when accusations of mismanagement, incompetence, and fraudulent intelligence presentations began swirling in the wake of 9/11 and the failure to find Iraq's WMDs. But Tenet, the intelligence community, and the country paid a price for Tenet's cleaving to Bush. "George Tenet was too close to the president," recalls one of Tenet's former top lieutenants. "You shouldn't be the president's friend." Tenet lost much of his objectivity, and instead of challenging the assumptions of Bush and his top officials on Iraq, became Bush's enabler. -- James Risen

The former British governor of Wasit province, Mark Etherington, has an interesting take on British-American relations in Iraq, when the two countries and their respective military and civilian establishments attempt to work together in administering post-invasion Iraq: "[I]t is clear that the British-American relationship of 1941-5 was no less fractious than that of Iraq in 2003. ...[T]he British were wont to give the impression that, had they only been in charge of Iraq, everything would somehow run a great deal more smoothly. I imagine the Americans found this rather irritating. The British would, meanwhile, rightly highlight the fatal American belief that everyone secretly wants to be an American, and bemoan a lack of US curiosity about Iraq, its peoples and preoccupations. One doubts such complaints are novel." Etherington goes on to write, "The extent to which this 'War' shaped the thoughts of ordinary Americans in Iraq was striking, particularly in the Armed Forces and among blue-collar subcontractors like KBR. Had the present endeavor supplanted another great cause or had the nation simply lacked a battle-standard since the demise of the Soviet Union? In a conversation I heard between Rob McCarthy, our Administrative Officer, and Reda Salem, our US Air Force pharmacist, Rob asked why he was in Iraq and Reda replied that it was to make the world safe for his grandchildren. Rob laughed, as any Briton would -- the British deployment in Iraq remained unpopular and most of us are cynics. Reda, of course, was deadly serious. European reservations about the existence of this global foe and the very existence of an 'Axis of Evil' merely reinforced the widespread American notion that in the end they could rely on no one but themselves." -- Mark Etherington

Etherington also touches on the difference in approach and philosophy between the British and American military, as well as abuses committed by American soldiers: "As a lieutenant I had once asked my American commander his opinion of the British army. He said that we would spend hours deciding how best to outflank a hillside position, while the Americans would simply remove the hill. If the British argued that US methods in Fallujah, for example, were counter-productive, American officers I met were adamant that if they had only been allowed to 'flatten' the city they might have broken the insurgency. In purely military terms it is difficult to decide who was right, and there is no evidence that a more gentle approach would have worked. It is true that the readiness of US troops to shoot to kill in Iraq generally eclipsed that of their British counterparts, but when there had important lapses of US discipline in this area, they were roundly condemned by American commanders whose soldiers were forced to endure the consequences of a worsening security environment. My own impression was that such lapses were born of inexperience, procedural failures exacerbated by an over-stretched US Army's enforced reliance on raw reservists, and a damaging lack of interest among Americans about the region and its people. This allows Iraqis to be dehumanized in their eyes. Most Americans I know were suspicious of the Arab world and its principal religion, and in some this amounted to phobia. If some of this sentiment was imported, much was also the result of experience: the shock felt by American soldiers in finding themselves under attack by those they had come to liberate was profound...." -- Mark Etherington

"There were clearly damaging rivalries, most notably between the US Departments of State and Defense, and the political schism made the combining of civilian and military [aims] difficult for the Coalition as a whole. One sensed too a certain intellectual distaste for the Iraq venture among the intelligentsia of the State Department and the British Foreign Office, as though it were somehow possible to divorce departmental posture from that of the governments they ostensibly served -- in the State Department's case, it is arguable that they were actively prevented from taking a key role. The United States showed complacency, certainly, and perhaps arrogance too, about Iraqis and their reaction to occupation, and, in their frustration with existing security structures such as the United Nations, simply ignored the accumulation of practical experience gained by such organizations in similar ventures. If it cannot be proved that this atmosphere of miscalculation, rivalry, and dissent exacerbated CPA's practical difficulties, the empirical evidence for the charge remains strong." -- Mark Etherington


It is axiomatic that Bush, after telling the country he abhorred the concept of nation-building in the 2000 campaign, took this country down just that road in March of 2003, when he had the US military overthrow Saddam Hussein and put the US in charge. But not everyone believes that this was the plan from the outset. Frank Rich, in his 2006 book The Greatest Story Ever Sold, writes, "Though Bush was fond of stating that 9/11 changed his thinking about everything, he never did change his [opposition to] nation-building in the run-up to the Iraq War; he never talked about building a democracy in Iraq. The reason he didn't talk about it was not that he was consciously trying to keep a hidden, hard-to-sell motive secret. The record shows that, for once, Bush's private convictions actually did match his public stance. Neither he nor the administration had any intention of doing any nation-building. The war plan was an easy exercise in regime change, a swift surgical procedure, after which the Iraqis would be left to build their own democracy by spontaneous civic combustion, like Eastern Europeans after the fall of the Soviet Union." Rich is accurate enough, but he fails to note that administration neoconservatives aligned with Dick Cheney did, indeed, have more elaborate nation-building ideas, though their actual plans were almost vapidly simplistic and astonishingly ignorant of the facts and lessons of history.)

This is why Jay Garner was named to be the top American official in Baghdad, as the White House wanted a short-term military emissary rather than what Rich calls a "full-dress occupation administrator." The idea was "merely" to manage a quick turnover of power to the Iraqis, to be followed by a quick exit of American troops. According to the original plan by General Tommy Franks, American troop numbers in Iraq would be drawn down from 130,000 to 30,000 by the fall of 2003. No plans for actually rebuilding Iraq were ever made; attempts to consider the issues of such rebuilding, most notably the State Department's Future of Iraq project, were ignored and sometimes derided. Instead, the spectacularly unqualified Douglas Feith was put in charge of the Defense Department's short-term rebuilding agenda.

In June 2003, according to the Downing Street memos, Bush and Blair agreed that the transition to a peaceful, democratic, Western-friendly Iraqi regime would be quick and relatively painless, with Bush predicting, in an appalling mixture of hubris, ignorance, and wishful thinking, that it would be "unlikely there would be internecine warfare between the different religious and social groups." Just as bad, Blair agreed with Bush's assessment. Condoleezza Rice said in the same meeting that "a great deal of the work" in creating such a stable post-Saddam regime "was now in hand." It is difficult to excuse Bush's, Blair's, and Rice's tremendous ignorance of history; Rich writes that all they would have needed to do to get an idea of the realities was to rent Lawrence of Arabia. Rich writes, "But ignorance, apparently, was bliss for a president whose lifelong incuriousity about the world beyond his own charmed circle did not change with his arrival in the White House." Author George Packer relates the story of a March 2003 meeting between Bush and several Iraqis, who spend an inordinate amount of time, with little success, trying to explain to Bush that there are two kinds of Arab Muslims in Iraq: Shi'a and Sunni. The Iraqis concluded after the meeting that "the very notion of an Iraqi opposition appeared to be new to him." Rich adds, "Yes, Bush was incurious, but if he had really planned on nation-building in Iraq, he would have had to be mentally defective to be that incurious."

The focus for the Bush administration in Iraq was less on nation-building and creating a democracy -- no matter what pious claims were made after the WMD issue was proven to be a huge McGuffin -- but instead on building business opportunities for American corporations. The two placed in charge of "private-sector development" in Iraq were a former Bush campaign chair in Connecticut and a venture capitalist who happed to be Ari Fleischer's brother. Young, firebrand ideologues who went straight to the Heritage Foundation and the American Enterprise Institute from college landed plum jobs in Iraq even though they lacked any hint of experience in foreign policy or Arab culture. Iraq's legate, Paul Bremer, expressly vetoed any role for Zalmay Khalilzad, the US emissary already dealing with Iraqi leaders, even though Khalilzad was the only highly-placed diplomat in the administration who is Muslim, knows the Iraqi principals, and speaks Arabic. "Who needed that level of expertise?" Rich asks rhetorically.

When the administration finally realized what it had gotten itself into with rebuilding iraq, it responded characteristically -- with impromptu, shallow, ad hoc "solutions" based more on marketing and public relations than on anything of substance.

Of course, the overriding concern regarding Iraq was political -- making George W. Bush a "war president" for both the 2002 and 2006 elections. "A war that the United States could initiate on its own deliberate schedule -- after it had all its diplomatic, military, and post-invasion ducks in a row -- was instead rushed to fruition half-baked to serve Rove's priority over all others," Rich writes. Rove wanted to create a permanent Republican majority in both houses of Congress and in the White House, as documented throughout this site. "This partisan dream, not nation-building, was consistent with the president's own history and Washington ambitions." Since the 9/11 "bump" would no longer carry either Bush or the Republicans to victory in the elections, "Iraq was just the vehicle to ride to victory in the [2002] midterms, particularly if it could be folded into the proven brand of 9/11. A cakewalk in Iraq was the easy way, the lazy way, the arrogant way, the telegenic way, the Top Gun way to hold on to power. It was of a piece with every other shortcut in Bush's career, and it was a hand-me-down from Dad drenched in oil to boot." -- Frank Rich, pp.212-14

To Defeat the Enemy, You Must Become Like the Enemy

There is much within these pages about the US's secret torture program of terror suspects, and its "rendition" of prisoners and suspects to a variety of nations that have much laxer laws against torture than the US, including Thailand, Egypt, and several former Soviet-bloc nations such as Romania. New York Times reporter James Risen writes in his 2006 book State of War that the first such prisoner to be so treated was low-level al-Qaeda operative Abu Zubaydah, secretly shipped to Thailand and tortured on the specific, if indirect, orders of George W. Bush, who asked why the severely wounded Zubaydah was allowed to have pain medication if it was impairing the CIA's efforts to interrogate him.

There is solid evidence that senior administration officials, particularly Vice President Dick Cheney, worked to protect Bush from personal involvement in any of the subsequent debates on the handling of prisoners. The CIA's Office of the Inspector General found, in a secret report, that there was never any written form of presidential authorization covering the CIA's interrogation tactics used on detainees in its custody. The IG found that CIA director George Tenet gave briefings on the subject to Cheney and a small group of top administration officials, including Condoleezza Rice, John Ashcroft, and Alberto Gonzales. By law, any such extraordinary measures must be authorized by the president and vetted by the White House. In the days after 9/11, Bush signed a covert action finding authorizing the CIA to kill or capture and detain any al-Qaeda operatives it could find, but the finding remained mute on the kinds of interrogation tactics that could be used against those captives. Tenet apparently never asked for such authorization for the use of torture, and agreed not to discuss with Bush in any formal briefing what methods of interrogation and torture were being used. Whether Tenet made the decision on his own or he was operating under the instructions of Cheney, other senior White House officials, or perhaps Bush himself, is not known. It is clear that Tenet's decision gave Bush the cover of deniability, allowing him to state under oath, if necessary, that he knew nothing of any official decision to torture captives nor had he authorized such.

Certainly Cheney and other senior White House officials knew that Bush was not being provided such information in his briefings, and the CIA wasn't operating under presidential authorization. Risen writes, "It appears that there was a secret agreement among very senior administration officials to insulate Bush and to give him deniability, even if his vice president and senior lieutenants were meeting to discuss the harsh new interrogation methods. President Bush was following a 'don't ask, don't tell' policy on the treatment of prisoners." Ashcroft and the Justice Department did issue a legal opinion that authorized the use of harsh methods in interrogating prisoners, a classified memo prepared specifically for the Zubaydah case. The CIA wanted legal protection for its officers involved in interrogating and torturing Zubaydah. The Justice Department lawyers twisted a legal opinion from the concept of national self-defense; since Zubaydah might have information about future terrorist attacks, the CIA could use whatever means necessary to wring such information out of him. Still, some CIA officials later expressed their dismay that Tenet had not obtained any presidential authorization, to make it clear in any future hearings that they were merely following Bush's orders. To avoid the need for such an authorization, the CIA determined that the interrogation tactics should be considered part of the agency's normal "intelligence collection," rather than anything unusual that might require authorization. "That semantic difference allowed the CIA to conduct the interrogations without specific presidential approval," Risen writes.

CIA officials later recall the Zubaydah case as the critical precedent for the future handling of prisoners both in the global war on terrorism and in Iraq. The torture of Zubaydah prompted the first wide-ranging legal and policy review establishing the procedures to be followed in the interrogation of future captives. "Abu Zubaydah's capture triggered everything," says one CIA source. Once the precedent was established, the gloves were indeed off; the Zubaydah case created, in Risen's words, "a permissive climate that eventually permeated the entire government and transformed American attitudes toward the handling of prisoners. Once the CIA, which had no history of running prisons or of handling large numbers of prisoners, was given the green light to use harsh methods, the United States military, which had a proud tradition of adhering to the Geneva Conventions, began to get signals from the Bush administration that the rules had changed." -- James Risen

Ironically, the original rules that cover the interrogation of prisoners are drawn from the training given to US Special Forces troops, to resist torture at the hands of enemies. The methods used in Special Forces training simulate actual torture, but stop short of inflicting serious injury. One of the most effective methods used in training is a controversial tactic called "waterboarding," in which a prisoner is strapped down and, using any of a variety of methods, is made to believe he will drown. While the CIA insists that its tactics stop short of actual torture, the FBI has a different perspective, and refuses to have anything to do with them, to the point where FBI agents are ordered to stay away from CIA-led interrogation sessions. Some FBI agents did briefly see Abu Zubaydah during his captivity, and at least one agent said that he believed Zubaydah was indeed being tortured. Several knowledgeable CIA officials say privately that they are sure the tactics being used by the agency are, indeed, torture. Waterboarding is used, not merely to simulate torture, but over and over again. Other, lesser methods include confinement in coffin-like boxes for long periods of time, denied sleep, subjected to long sessions of rap music at excessive volume for extended periods of time (Eminem is a CIA favorite), and forced to stand or squat for extended lengths of time in what are euphemistically called "stress positions," which could be compared to torture on the medieval rack. "If you read the interrogation reports, you see that what is being done is torture," says one CIA agent. "It is the accumulation of all the procedures, and how frequently they are being used, that makes it torture. The reports are horrifying to read."

While supporters of the interrogation techniques say that they are necessary in fighting this new, unconventional war against suicidal terrorists, others say that torture has long been shown not to work, that victims of torture will say anything that the interrogator wants to hear to make the torture stop. (Both Zubaydah and al-Qaeda operative Ibn al-Shaykh al-Libi are prime examples of this caveat, as is Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, who has now recanted much of what he told his torturers; until the recants, Mohammed's testimony has been considered some of the most vital extractions of information from any al-Qaeda captive.)

A related CIA tactic, begun by director George Tenet, is the use of "renditions" -- the turning over of terror suspects to the officials of other nations who routinely use torture as part of their own interrogation methodologies, including Arab countries such as Egypt and Syria. Renditioning was not new to the CIA before 9/11, but the numbers and kinds of renditions used changed radically after the terrorist attacks. The CIA and Bush officials have all stated repeatedly that prisoners are not shipped to countries that use torture, and they have been assured by those countries' officials that torture will not be used on the captives sent to them by the CIA, but these assertions are lies. While some cases of innocent people being rendered to foreign countries and tortured there have been documented, the vast majority of renditioned captives remain under lock and key, and silent.

A CIA officer recounted one graphic tale of a rendition to journalist and author James Risen. According to the CIA officer, the CIA flew a prisoner from Afghanistan to another Persian Gulf country, where he was to be turned over to local authorities and imprisoned again, even though the CIA knew for a fact that the man was innocent of any crime or terrorist connections. The officer says the CIA was moving the man around to conceal its mistake. When the prisoner arrived in the Gulf country, he was fingerprinted, and the local authorities determined that he was not the suspect the CIA claimed it was turning over. The local authorities refused to take the man into their custody, and the CIA returned the man to detention in Afghanistan. During the process, they learned that the man had bought a passport for $50 on the local black market; the passport was in the name of a terror suspect. The officer never learned the ultimate fate of the misidentified man. -- James Risen

How many prisoners are being held by the CIA, either in its own prison camps or via rendition to other countries, is unclear; perhaps a hundred, perhaps more. The agency has been closemouthed about its activities. Making it harder to track those prisoners is the CIA's propensity for "ghost prisoners," prisoners that are kept "off the books" and undocumented. Very little accountability for the CIA's actions and methodologies has, so far, been done. James Risen writes, "The establishment of a series of secret prisons around the world and the widespread use of harsh interrogation tactics against prisoners in American custody has been part of a broader and disquieting pattern by the Bush administration. The White House has interpreted the constitutional powers of the president to fight terrorism in such an expansive way that long-standing rules governing the military and intelligence communities have been skirted or ignored, and secret intelligence activities inside the United States have been approved that may be violating the civil liberties of American citizens." -- James Risen

WMDs? What WMDs?

By the end of April 2003, the Bush administration will begin downplaying the failure to find WMDs in Iraq, even saying that such weapons were irrelevant to the rationale behind the invasion. The Washington Post responded drily, "If such weapons or the means of making them have been removed from the centralized control of former Iraqi officials, high-ranking US officials acknowledged, then the war may prove to aggravate the proliferation threat that President Bush said he fought to forestall." Captured Iraqi officials, one after another, told US officials that Iraq possessed no WMDs. So much for the rationale for the invasion, even though Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz will make the amazing statement in late May 2003, "The issue of WMD has never been in controversy." Wolfowitz is also the official who admitted around the same time that administration officials settled on the issue of WMDs because it was the one issue everyone could agree on. David Corn writes, "It just happened to be the only one deployed by Bush that made the immediate safety of the country the paramount issue. ...'We were not lying,' said one official. 'But it was just a matter of emphasis.'" -- David Corn

In fairness to the CIA, when the runup to the Iraqi invasion began, the agency had virtually no human intelligence (HUMINT) assets in Iraq, and was desperately scrambling for any intelligence it could find. This lack of intelligence made it far easier for the push by the CIA's top officials, George Tenet and John McLaughlin, to produce unreliable results. Jack Downing, the CIA's deputy director of operations from 1997 to 1999, recalls that the agency's inability to recruit spies in Iraq was a glaring weakness that top CIA officials at the time recognized and tried, with little success, to shore up. "We kept pounding away on the issue of why don't we have any sources in Iraq," he recalls. The chief of the Near East Division "would come in with these PowerPoint presentations to show that they were trying things, but none of them ever worked. I knew that it was hard to get sources, it was difficult because we didn't have any diplomatic presence in Iraq, but we still should have been able to get some. Nothing much ever worked." Under Clinton, Iraq had been removed as a priority for intelligence-gathering, with officials at the CIA and the White House believing that Iraq was contained because of the UN sanctions and the US no-fly zones. Instead, the priority shifted to focusing on Iran. When the Bush administration came into power in 2001 and almost immediately began pushing for war, the CIA's capability to spy on Iraq had been allowed to wither.

But it is also clear that Bush's daily briefings on intelligence were systematically cherrypicked to edit out any questions about the reliability of the evidence of Iraq's WMDs. Bush, Cheney, and the top White House officials wanted hard evidence, and they didn't want questions. So that's what the CIA gave them. An investigation by the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence later suggested that if someone had asked some tough questions about the intelligence on Iraq's WMDs, the entire house of cards might have collapsed. Instead, briefings and the October 2002 NIE on Iraq were, in the panel's report, "overstating or were not supported by the underlying intelligence reporting." The panel found that the intelligence community's prewar assessments about Iraq's WMD programs "were all wrong." -- James Risen

"As the administration's supporters fled, their most frequent farewell was a sentence beginning, 'If only I had known...' as in 'If only I had known the White House would do such a lousy job of managing the war, of bungling intelligence, of indulging an obvious incompetent like Rumsfeld.' The trouble with this excuse is that ther was nothing in the administration's record before 9/11 to suggest that it was capable of anything other than a superficial, PR-focused approach to any project except tax cuts, business deregulation, or pandering to its culturally conservative base. The president who eased through his pre-political life with the help of connections and family retainers was still that same man when he took the country into Iraq." -- Frank Rich, p.221

Subcontracting a War

The idea of subcontracting various critical elements of an invasion and occupation is unique in American history, and one that has come back in large measure to plague the Americans trying to exert their control over Iraq and institute some sort of democracy. Mark Etherington, who worked with a number of private contractors in his tenure as governor of Wasit province, had widely varying experiences with the different contractors. "The sheer disparity in their quality was striking," he writes.

He has nothing but praise for the security personnel of Control Risks Group (CRG), who provided personal security for him and his staff in the city of Kut, calling their personnel "first-rate" and "an integral and indispensable part of our team."

On the other end of the spectrum were the contract employees of Kellogg Brown & Root, who were to provide logistical support of every kind, from building camps and security emplacements to handling food and laundry. He intimates numerous times that the KBR officials he worked with were, if not cowards, overly demanding of security for their own hides -- "[a] KBR plumber needed a level of protection that exceeded Sir Jeremy Greenstock's," the UK's Special Envoy to Iraq. He calls them "unreliable" and writes that "over our time in Kut I can say unequivocally that dealing with KBR's people was our single biggest operational headache. Of all the projects they undertook for us, all over-ran and many were not completed at all," including critical security emplacements that would have, if properly built, protected both the CPA staff in Kut and the military forces in the nearby Camp Delta. "The irony is that KBR was supposed to be the answer to many of our problems -- but in giving a single company so much administrative power we also gave it command, and hence implicitly subordinated our operations to its policies. KBR promised to return in April [when Etherington's staff returned to Kut after being chased out by the Sadr militias] but did not. So absolute was its control that CPA teams had never been given any sort of operating budget; and during KBR's absence we could neither recruit nor pay local staff, which was obviously absurd. KBR may have been good at maintaining large logistical bases for the military and discharging the support functions this required, but the error lay in attempting to extend that expertise to small and exposed camps such as our own. If the creation of CPA Governorate Teams was an afterthought, it is not surprising that the issue of administrative support to them appeared haphazard. KBR could not do it -- the role should have been discharged by military engineers. We placed far too much reliance on a single company, and its monopoly became an embarrassment. In our nine months in Kut, KBR were unable to provide my staff with a single hot meal on site."

Etherington has less personal experience with the contract firm RTI (Research Triangle Institute), who were given the daunting task by US Aid to carry out the "democratization" of Iraq. The idea itself of subcontracting such a task to a private firm is questionable, and RTI's task was made harder by an almost-complete lack of instructions and parameters. Etherington and his staff assumed that RTI would work to form local councils and establish rules of procedures; instead, RTI provided experts in fields such as women's rights, agriculture, and water supply, and "knew nothing about Councils or any of the fields that were pressing priorities for us at the time. ...The quality of these people was variable, and I believe that their team leaders were as frustrated as we were."

"...The age-old lessons about coordination had not been absorbed by the Coalition, despite the full force of experience in, say, the former Yugoslavia -- and one was left with a raft of largely unaccountable companies with their own sets of rules and security procedures, arriving at intervals, whose roles had never been properly defined or harmonized with CPA's political objectives. ...This hotch-potch of ill-defined objectives and individuals of variable capacity was then merely dropped into theater without benefit of a defined chain of command or an overarching strategy. Shortly thereafter, the emergence of the November 15 Agreement forced the entire jumble to produce results in seven months flat rather than over a period of years as originally envisaged. The outcome, predictably, was chaos, and CPA teams like ours, which had thought we would launch ourselves from the shoulders of our sub-contractors, found reality to be quite the reverse." -- Mark Etherington

Better than a Christmas Gift for Bin Laden

Like so many others on both the left and the right, former CIA analyst Michael Scheuer notes that the invasion of Iraq was for Osama bin Laden "like a Christmas present you long for but never expected to receive.... [T]here is nothing bin Laden could have hoped for more than the American invasion and occupation of Iraq. The US invasion of Iraq is Osama bin Laden's gift from America, one he has long and ardently desired, but never realistically expected. Think of it: Iraq is the second holiest land in Islam; a place where Islam had been long suppressed by Saddam; where the Sunni minority long suppressed and brutalized the Shi'a majority; where order was only kept by the Ba'athist barbarity that prevented a long overdue civil war; and where, in the wake of Saddam's fall, the regional powers Iran and Saudi Arabia would intervene, at least clandestinely, to stop the creation of, respectively, a Sunni or Shi'a successor state. In short, Iraq without Saddam would obviously become what political scientists call a "failed state," a place bedeviled by its neighbors and -- as in Afghanistan -- a land where al-Qaeda or al-Qaeda-like organizations would thrive. Surely, thought bin Laden, the Americans would not want to create this kind of situation. It would be, if you will, like deliberately shooting yourself in the foot." The invasion of Iraq sharply escalated the hatred and resentment towards America held by so many in the Muslim world, that hatred fed by the endless march of videos and photos of Iraqi citizens killed (and later tortured and brutalized in American-run prisons) that, while rarely shown on American television, are shown without respite throughout the rest of the world. America's insistence on installing a democracy that would suppress the long-dominant Sunnis, strongly limit Islam's role in Iraq's government, and control over Iraq's oil fields, all have worked to reinforce bin Laden's characterization of America as bent on controlling and even destroying Islam and Muslims. Islamic clerics and scholars would -- and did -- call for worldwide defensive jihad, thousands of fiery Muslim males would flock to Iraq to fight the "Crusaders" -- a term used thoughtlessly and with great destructive effect by George W. Bush -- and, thusly, in Iraq would erupt a second Afghanistan, "a self-perpetuating holy war that would endure whether or not al-Qaeda survived. Then bin Laden awoke, and knew it was only a dream. It was, even for one of Allah's most devout, too much to hope for." But, "[i]n the end, something much like Christmas had come for bin Laden, and the gift he received from Washington will haunt, hurt, and hound Americans for years to come." -- Michael Scheuer

As a side note to the above entry, Vali Nasr, a professor of national security affairs at the Naval Postgraduate School, wrote in the New York Times on March 6, 2004, that a Shi'a-controlled Iraq is unthinkable and demands armed, violent resistance. Nasr writes, "Anti-Shiism is embedded in the ideology of Sunni militancy that has risen to prominence across the region in the last decade. Wahhabi Sunnis, who dominate Saudi Arabia's religious affairs and export their philosophy to its neighbors, have led the charge, declaring Shiites 'infidels' and hence justifying their murder. (The legacy of Wahhabi violence against Shiites dates back to at least 1801, when Wahhabi armies from the Arabian Peninsula invaded southern Iraq and desecrated the holy shrine at Karbala.)

"These anti-Shiite beliefs have spread to South Asia and Afghanistan, where the Taliban government used them to justify massacres of Shiite civilians. Even with the fall of the Taliban, widespread killings of Shiites and bombings of Shiite mosques and community centers in both Afghanistan and Pakistan have continued. Many of the Sunni militants responsible for the attacks were trained in the same camps in Afghanistan as the Qaeda fighters and the Taliban soldiers. They fought side by side when the Taliban secured its grip on Afghanistan, notably the captures of Mazar-i-Sharif and Bamiyan in 1998, during which at least 2,000 Shiite civilians were murdered. And Ramzi Yousef, who was convicted of planning the 1993 bombing of the World Trade Center, is also a prime suspect in the bombing of the Shiite shrine of Mashad in Iran in 1994.

"The point here is that the forces that are today killing Shiites in Iraq have their roots all over the region. It is a network of Arabs and non-Arabs, South Asians and Middle Easterners, Wahhabis and non-Wahhabis. And if these men succeed in starting a sectarian civil war, it will quickly spread beyond Iraq's borders. While Shiites make up only 10 percent to 15 percent of the world's 1.3 billion Muslims, 120 million of them live in the Middle East. They are the majority populations in Azerbaijan, Bahrain, Iran and Iraq, the largest community in Lebanon, and sizable minorities in various Persian Gulf emirates, Afghanistan, Pakistan and Saudi Arabia.

"The American-led invasion of Iraq has produced a Shiite cultural revival there that is shifting the balance of power between Shiites and Sunnis. Political events have further angered Sunnis outside Iraq -- especially the creation of the Shiite-dominated Iraqi Governing Council and the virtual veto power over it exercised by the Shiites' religious leader, Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani.

"It is virtually unthinkable to many Sunnis that one of the most important Arab countries -- the seat of the Abbasid Empire from the 8th to 13th centuries, which established Sunni supremacy and brutally suppressed Shiites -- would pass from Sunni to Shiite domination. In militant Sunni circles, it is taken as proof of an American conspiracy against them and against Islam as a whole. Thus Sunni militancy is not only inherently anti-Shiite, but anti-American as well.

"What the United States is facing in Iraq is not just a Qaeda operation against American control, but the vanguard of a broad movement. It is based on the premise that violence against Shiites will not only derail Iraq's transition to democracy, but will also incite Shiite-Sunni violence throughout the Muslim world." -- Vali Nasr

The Long-Term Effects of the Invasion and Occupation

"American units had not endured this kind of separation from their families since the 1950-3 Korean War." -- Mark Etherington (note: Etherington wrote this line in mid- to late 2004; the period of time for such separations has now exceeded the time spent by all American troops fighting World War II)

"Iraq is Vietnam on steroids." -- Max Cleland, quoted by Bill Kavotsky

"Bush has created a war that didn't have to happen. As Richard Clarke put it, 'Invading Iraq after 9/11 was like invading Mexico after Pearl Harbor.' Instead of going after bin Laden and all of his terrorists in the mountains, Bush transferred those resources and those men on the ground to Iraq. We now see a new generation of terrorists willing to blow themselves up to take out a bunch of Americans. And you add the Iraqi people. What you have is an absolute disaster. Bush has gotten young Americans killed and wounded and blown up in a shooting gallery in Iraq. In a way,that is criminal. It is grinding the American military down. People are going back for their third tours. We have in effect throwin in everything we've got. And it ain't working. It's getting worse. There's continued killing. And sooner or later either the people or Congress are gonna ask, 'Is it worth it?' And they are gonna answer, 'No!' And then were are all these young men and women who have lost legs and arms and eyes going to be? That's called Vietnam.

"The main problem is that there is no exit strategy to win in Iraq. What was our exit strategy in World War I and World War II? My answer was to win. Former Army Chief of Staff [Eric] Shinseki requested 250,000 to 500,000 troops for Iraq. These additional troops were necessary to secure the population. Bush didn't want to go with that number. So there are not enough troops on the ground to win. We are trapped in the quagmire. And the American people will ultimately reject that. As a matter of fact, the majority of Americans think it is not worth it anymore. I knew it would happen. It took the American people about two years to come to that realization.

"Sooner or later, the US will ultimately withdraw from Iraq. What they have created in Iraq is a terror haven, a civil war that has no end. We destabilized Iraq. It had a stable government. We didn't like it. We had Saddam Hussein in a box. But this president went in and took Saddam Hussein out and thought that was going to be the end of it. He didn't listen to Secretary of State Colin Powell, who said, 'Mr. President, do you understand the consequences?' Of course he did not. Not only didn't he know the consequences of those decisions, Bush wanted to be macho and be better than his daddy. ...Rumsfeld and Bush wanted to go in and do it on the cheap in a running start -- not as Colin Powell did in the first Gulf War and send 500,000 people over there at one time. Your ground war lasts ten hours and it's over. Not this crowd. They had no idea what they were doing. So the problem is that another generation of young Americans will come to grief over war. Under Bill Clinton, General Hugh Shelton, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, used to say, '[the] American military is the great hammer. But every problem in the world is not necessarily a nail.' ...The Bush crowd...[is] not willing to pay the price to do it right militarily. Yet they wanted a military solution. So they are stuck with this tar-baby war." -- Max Cleland, quoted by Bill Kavotsky

Britain's Mark Etherington, the former civilian governor of Iraq's Wasit province, writes, "[S]ome on the American Right appeared to believe that America's hyper-power status somehow absolved it of the need to study history or practice diplomacy -- the country was so overwhelmingly powerful, the argument ran, that it needed to do neither. The use of the American air arm and the precision-guided munitions they delivered so effectively had been a leitmotif of sophisticated wars of intervention for fifteen years. In the first Gulf War, in Kosovo and Serbia, in Afghanistan, and recently in Iraq a credulous public had been fed grainy images of alleged pinpoint destruction; believed the tales of war-time heroism and daring written by Special Forces soldiers under pseudonyms; watched increasingly militaristic and flag-waving fare from Hollywood; and concluded, particularly in the United States, that their forces were immortal. ...It hardly needs to be said that, despite the seductive and exhilarating power and splendor of the of the US armed forces, their invulnerability is a myth...." Speaking of the many military misfortunes suffered by the American forces, he writes, "One could only wonder how substantial these reverses might have been against a sophisticated enemy." -- Mark Etherington

The problems do not exist just with the US approach to the occupation. "I did not believe then that the British office in Baghdad understood the circumstances at Governorate level, and I am now sure that they did not," writes Etherington. "I believed that our leadership structures were flawed on the British side, and that what we needed was someone capable of satisfactorily combining diplomatic and military strategies. I was not persuaded that the British Foreign Office could do this alone. ...the Foreign Office, for all the demonstrable caliber and intellectual ability of its staff, was out of its depth in Iraq. ...The Foreign Office in Iraq, lacking operational experience, was, at heart, risk-averse, while their military counterparts were trained to accept risk and manage it. They lacked practice in handling operations on the ground, and despite their traditional strengths of analysis and reporting, those qualities could not alone compensate for this deficiency. The British establishment's commitment to the Iraqi venture had been lukewarm from the outset; and its fragility was now most obvious when the risks that had always been implicit in the enterprise were most evident. I thought this damaging, and a strategic fault that Britain ought to have rectified at an early stage." -- Mark Etherington

"With admirable speed, adoring media, and little killing, US forces moved from Kuwait to Baghdad in less than a month. Soon after, on 9 April 2003, the president declared that the US mission to liberate Iraq was complete. As in Afghanistan, however, there is more to the story, and the more again suggests US generals are all to willing to silently obey their political masters' demand for fast, nearly bloodless war." Former CIA analyst Michael Scheuer is not calling for an indiscriminate bloodbath in either Iraq or Afghanistan, though he believes that to fulfill the policy objectives of the Bush administration the commitment of American troops to both deployment and to large-scale casualties must increase dramatically. Rather, he makes a powerful argument that the invasion and occupation of Iraq was conducted quickly and "cleanly" for the TV cameras and for the political fortunes of George W. Bush and his Republican colleagues, but to truly battle the terrorists and insurgents in Iraq and Afghanistan in the manner envisioned by Cheney and Rumsfeld, the occupations of both must be conducted dramatically differently, with far more intensity and even ruthlessness, than they have to date.

Worse, the US military planners, primarily civilian neoconservatives under the aegis of Donald Rumsfeld, went into the invasion and occupation with little understanding of the religious and cultural divisions of Iraq, nor with the planning necessary to handle the inevitable insurgency, made even more powerful and recalcitrant by the sudden firing of hundreds of thousands of former Iraqi Army members. As in Afghanistan, US and coalition forces failed to seal the borders with Syria, Jordan, Turkey, Kuwait, and Saudi Arabia -- this time not preventing the egress of thousands of anti-American fighters as in Afghanistan, but preventing the entrance of "jihadists from across the Muslim world bent on killing coalition soldiers and officials and those Iraqis collaborating with them. Notwithstanding claims of surprise by US political and military leaders, the covey of frothing-at-the-mouth Iraq experts led by a former director of central intelligence, and some journalists, the surge of Islamist fighters into Iraq was easy to predict." The US knew full well about the fatwas calling for defensive jihad against the occupation forces "that rivaled or exceeded in virulence those greeting the 1979 Soviet invasion of Afghanistan. In short, only a dunce or a man ready to be silent to protect his career could have failed to know the US-led occupation of Iraq would create a 'mujahedeen magnet' more powerful than Moscow created in Afghanistan."

As of the time Scheuer wrote his book Imperial Hubris, completing it in mid-2004, no current US general had spoken out to say that, in Scheuer's words, "the post-1991 US way of war is a sham causing more instability than it prevents and costing more American lives than it saves." (Editor's note: I personally disagree with this assessment, offering the US-led NATO intervention into Kosovo and Bosnia as an example of a post-1991 intervention that caused more good than harm.) Scheuer writes with astonishment that the US-led coalition has even allowed Mongolian troops into Iraq as part of the occupation force, forgetting, if indeed the leaders are aware of, the fact that in Muslim history there is no more hated figure than the Mongol general Hulagu, Genghis Khan's grandson, who sacked Baghdad in 1258, slaughtered 800,000 Muslims, and ended Baghdad's reign as the Arab world's largest urban center. Such events in "remote" history may mean little to Americans and Westerners, but Muslims remember quite well. Bin Laden has described the US as the "Hulagu" of the modern age, an epithet that resonates within the Muslim world as much as it passes over Western consciousness. Scheuer also decries the use of "polytheistic Indian troops in Muslim Iraq," noting that not only do Muslims see polytheism as anathema, but India is involved in a blood feud with Muslim Pakistan. "Are we seeking Indian help because they are experienced and reliable Muslim killers? That question is facetious, but the Islamists would portray Indian deployment in that way -- and our leaders know they would." Such deployments feed bin Laden's rhetoric that "Christian and Hindu forces have joined in Iraq to suppress Islam, kill Muslims, and 'establish a huge Jewish superstate (Greater Israel) that will include the whole of Palestine; parts of Iraq, Egypt, Syria, Lebanon, and Jordan; and a huge area from the land of the Two Holy Sanctuaries [Saudi Arabia]," as was claimed on an Islamist Web site in 2003.

Scheuer rightly does not blame US military forces and their commanders for these egregrious missteps and blunders. Instead, he pins the blame directly on their civilian leaders, most of which, as he quotes Ralph Peters, have "never laced up a combat boot" and behave as "the lions of the green room." Scheuer rightly refuses to denigrate civilian leaders merely for not having served in the military -- some of America's greatest wartime leaders have never served -- but for this particular bunch, their failure to serve compounds their innate failure to understand the most basic of military tenets and foreign policy requirements. Scheuer does, however, ask why the generals, the military leaders with knowledge, training, and experience, do not step up "and alert the citizenry that our war against the Islamists has been a shell game staged by those who think that by capturing al-Qaeda leaders and hoping the 11 September attacks were one-off events, America will crush the Islamists' military capabilities and end their threat." After Scheuer published his book, several retired generals, including Anthony Zinni and Wesley Clark, have stepped forward to make at least some of these warnings. -- Michael Scheuer

One analyst says of the decision to attack Iraq and the war on terror in general, "It's a war without end. I don't think this thing will ever be resolved. We'll create about 10 generations of new terrorists in the Arab world. We have to go in and occupy Baghdad and that is a true disaster. There will be soldiers coming back in body bags and that will destroy his [George W. Bush's] presidency. You go into Iraq, and you will have tens of thousands of casualties. And who in the hell wants their kid to die for a tank of cheap gasoline?" The analyst obviously underestimates political strategist Karl Rove's ability to manipulate American opinion about the war. -- James Moore and Wayne Slater

The predictions of Bush supporters and imperialist neoconservatives now seem tragically, perhaps hysterically, misguided. Bush speechwriter David Frum, in his January 2003 biography of Bush entitled The Right Man, believes that an "an American-led overthrow of Saddam Hussein -- and a replacement of the radical Ba'athist dictatorship with a new government more closely aligned with the United States -- would put America more wholly in charge of the region since the Ottomans, and maybe the Romans." Neoconservative George Packer predicted a "democratic domino effect," with "tyrannies collapsing on top of one another." Defense strategist Richard Perle, who contributed mightily to the planning of the invasion, says it had "the potential to transform the thinking of people around the world about the potential for democracy, even in Arab countries where people have been disparaging of their potential." And neoconservative godfather William Kristol suggested that a US invasion of Iraq would inspire "the principles of liberty and justice in the Islamic world." A more realistic analyst called all of this "magical realism, Middle-East style." William Schulz, the head of Amnesty International, defines the Bush-neocon policy as "become a democracy, or we bomb the living sh*t out of you." -- Eric Alterman and Mark Green

Of the infamous radical cleric Sadr and his militia, Mark Etherington writes, "Moqtada al-Sadr's platform of principle made his followers potentially the most dangerous of all. In rejecting CPA government and proposing one of his own based on religious precepts, he encouraged closer public examination of us. Whether or not we had ourselves created the unemployment, shortages, corruption and decay that made the lives of so many Iraqis a misery, we were now seen as responsible. [The Sadr clerics'] questions were more difficult to parry at this point seven months after the war when public patience had been eroded. Why did we tolerate this police force, which was so clearly incompetent? Why was there no electricity? Why were there fuel shortages? How long did we think the population would endure unemployment and present levels? In proposing an alternative form of government they had signalled their intention to impose order where we had failed to do so ourselves. ...It is clear in retrospect that we had failed to chart the growing influence of Moqtada al-Sadr's followers over the minds of ordinary Iraqis. If some actively supported him, he inspired fear in many more; and such was the potency of his brand of Islamic nationalism that that few dared criticize him openly. His militia, the Jaish al-Mahdi, did not concern the Coalition much. Our attitude towards it -- certainly my opinion -- was that this was schoolboy amateur dramatics and no more than a faintly amusing irritant. For much of our time in Kut, Iraqis themselves took the same position -- these were young people, they would say indulgently, occasionally intemperate, and not to be taken too seriously."

This judgment will turn out to be false. "I saw in the followers of a large sect with its own discrete rituals and beliefs. I had not fully understood that it was also an aggressive sect which unhestitatingly used intimidation when mere sermonizing failed, and that its influence had grown. We fear instinctively what we do not entirely understand, and for me these men and their black-robed Puritanism exuded an indefinite malign presence." -- Mark Etherington

Etherington still holds a cautious optimism about the outcome of the Iraqi occupation, centered in his belief in the Iraqi people. "Overwhelmingly, however, any success the Coalition achieved in 2003-4 was due to the resilience of the 'ordinary' Iraqi citizen. It is ironic that the weaknesses I describe forced us to rely in Wasit on the Iraqi population earlier and more completely than we had first envisaged; and despite our failure to engage completely with the educated middle class, the results of a gambit that seemed dangerous at the time now emphasize the enduring power of local capacity and the durability of the democratic ideal. The inhabitants of Kut and the wider province bore our errors and inadequacies with endless courtesy, dignity, and grace. They were ambivalent about many things, particularly the occupation of their country; and saw no contradiction in thanking us with great emotion for toppling Saddam Hussein and as passionately asserting their right to be left alone, independent, and in peace." -- Mark Etherington

"The specter of an American failure in Iraq has created new anxieties and new alliances, and reshaped the politics of the Middle East. Before the war, the neoconservatives in the Bush administration had convinced themselves -- and the President and Vice President -- that the road to Middle East democratization and peace ran through Baghdad. Once the regime of Saddam Hussein was cast aside, they argued, democracy would spread among all factions in Iraq and move on to Iran, Syria, Saudi Arabia, and Lebanon. Countries across the region would renounce terrorism and embrace the West. Israelis also welcomed the invasion because the United States, its best ally, was now much more present in the Middle East.

"Things did not work out as planned: terrorism, instead of democracy, is spreading through the region. ...In Saudi Arabia, a corrup royal family is implicated in the movement that opposes it; Iran, now the dominant power in the region, is on the verge of becoming a nuclear power as well; and Syria is torn between wanting to work with the West and its self-proclaimed rule as a pan-Arab leader. The Israelis are also disaffected, and seeking a risky new partnership with Kurdistan, while Syria, Iran, and Turkey have put aside their regional rivalries to form a new alliance. All of these countries have been directly affected by the chaos in the region, for which the Bush administration seems to have few answers. The result: heightened tension and heightened danger." -- Seymour Hersh

"We have a President who spent months terrorizing the nation with dire warnings about mushroom clouds emanating from Saddam Hussein's arsenal and then could say, as he did in a campaign speech in August of 2004, that it didn't matter. 'We may still find weapons,' Bush said. 'We haven't found them yet.... Let me just say this to you, knowing what I know today, we still would have gone into Iraq.' We have a President who can stand aside as the dogs of war are turned loose on prisoners and then declare, as he did in June 2004, that 'America stands against and will not tolerate torture. We will investigate and prosecute all acts of torture and undertake to prevent other cruel and unusual punishment in all territory under our jurisdiction' and that 'freedom from torture is an inalienable human right.' There are many who believe George Bush is a liar, a President who knowingly and deliberately twists facts for political gain. But lying would indicate an understanding of what is desired, what is possible, and how best to get there. A more plausible explanation is that words have no meaning for this President beyond the immediate moment, and so he believes that his mere utterance of the phrases makes them real. It is a terrifying possibility." -- Seymour Hersh

Former Democratic senator Max Cleland, a decorated Vietnam vet and triple amputee as a result of wounds suffered during combat, says that the effect of the Iraq war on America's veterans will be profound, likening it to the devastation wrought among so many Vietnam veterans. "I look down the hall [of Walter Reed Hospital] and it's still 1968. Seeing all those young Iraq War veterans blown up, missing arms and legs and eyes, I just can't stand it. It triggers all of my stuff [post-traumatic stress] from Vietnam. And these young men had the same grit and courage that we had going off to war. You go up to 'em and say, 'How ya doing, son?' 'Fine, sir!' they answer. Byt years later, it will take its toll. They just don't know yet. I'm seeing the full circle of the Vietnam experience. What's happening today is that a certain number of young Marines and Army guys are doomed to get killed and blown up and have missing arms and legs and eyes, and maybe they'll be on the phone twenty or thirty years later talking to some guy writing a book about them. I have seen this movie before. I'm terrified that I'm seeing Vietnam all over again in my lifetime. Iraq is Vietnam on steroids." -- Max Cleland, quoted by Bill Kavotsky

"What if those thousands of tactical errors belated conceded by Rice had not been made? The story might have not turned out all that difrerently. The 'what-if' that matters most is not 'what if the Iraqi army had not been disbanded,' but 'what if the Bush administration had told the truth?' What if it had not hyped the intelligence and tried to argue the case for regime change in Iraq on its merits, whether geopolitical or humanitarian? What if it had conceded early on that it miscalculated the post-Saddam aftermath in Iraq? What if it had then invited Americans and their elected representatives to have a candid debate about the options, costs, sacrifices, and possible benefits ahead? What if a government that so fervently espoused democracy for the world had had a commensurate faith in democracy at home? These questions, simple and even naive as they may be, matter more than all the tactical questions combined. That they are so rarely asked in the wake of this debacle is a measure of just how much the very idea of truth is an afterthought and an irrelevancy in a culture where the best story wins. While the Bush administration's toboggan ride into Iraq was facilitated by an easily cowed press and a timid and often disingenuous political opposition, the news culture that predated both 9/11 and this presidency also played a big role." -- Frank Rich, p.224

"I submit that Bush has committed the vilest, most cynically depraved act of betrayal of the American people in the history of the Presidency. Nothing less than impeachment, with the conviction that must inexorably follow, can begin to address the damage and redress the harm this President and his amoral handlers have inflicted on America." -- Paul Edwards (Truthout)

"If you want to change the situation [in Iraq], you have to have a vision. And you have to be respected. You are not respected." -- a senior European intelligence officer on the Bush administration, summer 2004, quoted by Seymour Hersh

Enough Already With Calling Iraq a Mistake

Veteran Daily Kos writer "Meteor Blades" writes a damning indictment of the Iraq debacle being mislabeled a "mistake," which he has given me kind permission to reprint below. I think this sums the whole ugly mess up quite well.

"Someone said it again today. Invading Iraq was a mistake. Every time it gets said, I grind another layer of enamel off my teeth. Nancy Pelosi says it. John Kerry says it. Mikhail Gorbachev says it. Spain's Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero says it. Even the occasional Republican says it. And recent polls indicate 55% to 59% of Americans think it.

"Every one of them is wrong. Invading Iraq was no mistake. It was bloody treason. And the traitors still rule us instead of breaking rocks at Leavenworth.

"They knowingly, willingly, unhesitatingly pronounced what they knew to be lies and marginalized, denigrated and smeared contrary-minded people, manipulated real evidence, concocted fake evidence, tricked an American population traumatized, fearful and furious about terrorism and sent young men and women off to a war at the tip of a bayonet named '9/11.'

"A mistake is when you hammer your thumb instead of the nail. A mistake is when you choose c) instead of d) on the SAT. A mistake is when you put too much garlic in the minestrone. Invading Iraq was no damned mistake. And calling it a mistake is more than a mere slip of the tongue. It sets a precedent. Pretty soon, everybody will be saying invading Iraq was a mistake. And in 20 years, your grandkids will be studying out of textbooks that call it a mistake.

"Instead of calling it what it really was. Sedition.

"Over and over again for three years we've had our faces rubbed in the evidence. Yet, every day, someone calls this perfidious, murderous scheme a mistake. As if invading Iraq were a foreign policy mishap. Oopsy.

"Stop it already. People do not commit treachery by mistake.

"As we full well know, even before George W. Bush was scooted into office 5-to-4, the men he came to front for were already at work plotting their rationale for sinking deeper military and economic roots in the Middle East, petropolitics and neo-imperialist sophistry greedily intertwined. When they stepped into office, as Richard Clarke explained to us, terrorism gave them no worries. They blew off Clarke and they blew off Hart-Rudman [PDF file] with scarcely a fare-thee-well. Then, when they weren't figuring out how to lower taxes on their pals and unravel the tattered social safety net, they focused -- as Paul O'Neill informed us -- on finding the right excuse to persuade the American people to go to war with Saddam Hussein as a prelude to going to war with some of his neighbors. In less than nine months, that excuse dropped into their laps in the form of Osama bin Laden's kamikaze crews.

"From that terrible day forward, Richard Cheney and his sidekick Donald Rumsfeld and their like-minded coterie of rogues engineered the invasion. They didn't slip the U.S. into Iraq by mistake. Like the shrewd opportunists they have shown themselves to be in the business world, they saw the chance to carry out their invasion plan and they moved every obstacle - most especially the truth - out of their way to make it happen.

"When they couldn't get the CIA to give them the intelligence that would justify their moves they exerted pressure for a change of minds. They exaggerated, reinterpreted and rejiggered intelligence assessments. For icing they concocted their own.

"Larry Wilkerson merely confirms what O'Neill and Clarke previously had told us: The traitors didn't mistakenly stumble their way into invasion pushed along by world events; they created a cabal of renegades specifically to carry out the Project for a New American Century's plans for hegemony, first stop -- Baghdad. They didn't carefully weigh options and evaluate the pros and cons and make error in judgment, the kind of wrong choice that could happen to anyone. They studiously ignored everyone who warned them against taking the action they had decided upon years before the World Trade Centers were turned to ashes and dust.

"The traitors ignored Brent Scowcroft when he wrote in August 2002, 'Don't Attack Saddam.' They ignored the Army War College when it warned of the perils of invasion and occupation in a February 2003 report, 'Reconstructing Iraq: Insights, Challenges, And Missions For Military Forces In A Post-Conflict Scenario.'

"When their propaganda failed to measure up as a justification for expending American lives and treasure, they fabricated evidence. Aluminum tubes that experts said could in no way be used to help make nuclear weapons were turned into prima facie evidence of Saddam's intent to do so. Documents that intelligence veterans said from the get-go were forged remained the basis for the traitors' claims. With the straightest face he'd mustered since taking the oath of office, Dubyanocchio declared: 'Facing clear evidence of peril, we cannot wait for the final proof, the smoking gun that could come in the form of a mushroom cloud.'

"If the ousted Colin Powell can be believed, they sandbagged him into publicly providing the United Nations with information the traitors knew to be false.

"Senators and Congressmen were lied into granting the President authority to take military action to protect the United States from a threat that the traitors knew didn't exist.

"When the weapons inspectors under Hans Blix couldn't find anything, but asked for more time to look, they brushed him off and began pounding Baghdad and other Iraqi targets with a display of raw power they labeled, like ad writers for some ultimate cologne, 'Shock and Awe.'

"Every smidgen of this betrayal of the American people was purposely calculated, even if poorly planned and frequently incompetently handled. Just as invading Iraq was no mistake, the pretense that Bush hadn't made up his mind months before the invasion was no mistake. It was a calculated ploy to suggest falsely that the President and the ideological crocodiles in the White House gave two snaps about cooperating with the international community other than as a means to camouflage their unalterable determination to stomp Iraq, plundering it under the guise of righteous magnanimity.

"Just as the war was no mistake, torturing prisoners was no mistake. It was a deliberate, premeditated policy of international outlawry and inhumanity guided by legal arguments requested and approved by the man who soon got his reward, appointment as attorney general, and carried out on the direct orders of men like General Geoffrey Miller at the 'suggestion' of Don Rumsfeld and under the command [of] George Walker Bush.

"It was no mistake that the vice president's company collected billions in no-bid contracts and that the White House attempted to cover up massive over-charges by that company.

"Just as planning for invasion, the concoction of evidence, the ignoring of counter-advice, and the lying to Congress, to the United Nations and to the American people were not mistakes, the outing of Valerie Plame Wilson was no slip of the tongue, but a conscious, purposeful and deliberate act. Nor did the traitors mistakenly smear Ambassador Joe Wilson -- a smear which continues today. It was the intentional plot of men fearful of having their treacherous lies exposed.

"Mistakes were definitely made. Three years ago, too many elected Democrats and too many other Americans believed the president and vice president of the United States to be honorable men. To be patriots. To have the best interests of Americans at heart. They believed them and they believed a megamedia that operated like government-owned megaphones instead of independent watch dogs. Those were gigantic mistakes.

"I haven't told you a single thing you haven't heard dozens of times previously. And yet, every day, people who I am positive are as well or better acquainted than I with the facts I've outlined here say or write: 'Invading Iraq was a mistake.'


"Our leaders betrayed us and aided our enemies. They worked overtime to silence dissident voices. They deliberately took us into war under a cloak of deceit and the outcome, so far, is tens of thousands of dead soldiers and civilians, a weakened national security, a diplomatic catastrophe, a sullied American voice, a dwindling treasury and increased terrorism, with no end in sight.

"Stop calling what they did a mistake." -- "Meteor Blades"

"When Bush had campaigned for governor in the early 1990s, he had flown about on a plane called 'Accountability One.' When he ran for president in 2000, Bush claimed accountability as one of his campaign themes, and his aides dubbed his campaign jet 'Responsibility One.' But there has been no accountability for those who were wrong about Iraq -- about the threat or about what would come after the invasion. Bush fired no one. Nobody resigned in disgrace. There were no consequences." -- Michael Isikoff and David Corn

Vietnam veteran Stan Goff has written the moving Open Letter to GIs, reprinted in full on this site. Click on the link to read it for yourself.