Editor's Note: As the war in Iraq surpassed its sixth year, a common refrain from politicians who supported the invasion is "don't dwell on the past, think about the future." It is an argument that distracts Americans from the important lessons that this history can teach.
The Iraq War, which was predicated on the existence of weapons of mass destruction and fear of another 9/11, has resulted in the deaths of more than 4,000 U.S. troops and has cost taxpayers more than $600 billion. (Estimates of Iraqi dead range into the hundreds of thousands.)
Yet, the invasion of Iraq was conceived prior to 9/11, according to Paul O'Neill, President Bush's first Treasury Secretary. In the book, The Price of Loyalty, journalist Ron Suskind interviewed O'Neill who said that the Iraq War was planned just days after the president was sworn into office.
"From the very beginning, there was a conviction, that Saddam Hussein was a bad person and that he needed to go," O'Neill told Suskind, adding that going after Saddam Hussein was a priority 10 days after the Bush's inauguration and eight months before Sept. 11.
"From the very first instance, it was about Iraq. It was about what we can do to change this regime," Suskind wrote. "Day one, these things were laid and sealed."
As Treasury Secretary, O'Neill was a permanent member of the National Security Council. He says in the book he was surprised at the meeting that questions such as "Why Saddam?" and "Why now?" were never asked.
O'Neill was fired from his post for disagreeing with Bush's economic policies. In typical White House fashion, senior administration officials have labeled O'Neill a "disgruntled employee," whose latest remarks are "laughable" and have no basis in reality.
But a little known article in the Jan. 11, 2001, edition of the New York Times entitled "Iraq Is Focal Point as Bush Meets with Joint Chiefs" confirms that the incoming Bush administration was working on a plan to topple Saddam Hussein's regime, even before Bush's inauguration on Jan. 20, 2001.
"George W. Bush, the nation's commander in chief to be, went to the Pentagon today for a top-secret session with the Joint Chiefs of Staff to review hot spots around the world where he might have to send American forces into harm's way," the Times story says.
Bush was joined at the Pentagon meeting by Vice President Dick Cheney, Secretary of State Colin L. Powell, Secretary of Defense Donald H. Rumsfeld, and National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice.
The Times reported that "half of the 75-minute meeting focused on a discussion about Iraq and the Persian Gulf, two participants said. Iraq was the first topic briefed because 'it's the most visible and most risky area Mr. Bush will confront after he takes office, one senior officer said.'"
"Iraqi policy is very much on his mind," one senior Pentagon official told the Times. "Saddam was clearly a discussion point."
WMDs Cited for "Bureaucratic Reasons"
On Sept.13, 2001 - two days after the terror attacks - during a meeting at Camp David with President Bush, Rumsfeld and other Bush administration officials, Wolfowitz said he discussed with President Bush the prospects of launching an attack against Iraq, for no apparent reason other than a "gut feeling" Saddam Hussein was involved in the attacks, and there was a debate "about what place if any Iraq should have in a counter terrorist strategy."
"On the surface of the debate it at least appeared to be about not whether but when," Wolfowitz said during a May 9, 2003, interview with Vanity Fair. "There seemed to be a kind of agreement that yes it should be, but the disagreement was whether it should be in the immediate response or whether you should concentrate simply on Afghanistan first. ...
"The decision to highlight weapons of mass destruction as the main justification for going to war in Iraq was taken for bureaucratic reasons."