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Deceit About Iraq: "Things Related and Not"

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Hitting First: Preventive Force in U.S. Security Policy
Ed. by William W. Keller and Gordon R. Mitchell
University of Pittsburg Press, September 2006, 368 pp., $27.95

Reviewed by Walter C. Uhler

As they did during the mid-term congressional election campaign of 2002 and the presidential election campaign of 2004, President Bush, Vice President Cheney and Defense Secretary Rumsfeld are once again attempting to scare Americans into voting for Republicans in November. They certainly should, because their very political lives depend upon November's outcome.

But, what's astounding -- given their massive campaign of deceit about Iraq - is the thought that they still possess even an ounce of residual credibility with either the news media or the electorate. After all, Mr. Bush trumpeted false claims about Iraq's possession of weapons of mass destruction and ties to al Qaeda, in order to lead us into an unnecessary war we are now losing. Ironically, given his false claims about Iraq's ties to al Qaeda, in mid-2005 the CIA reported, "Iraq may prove to be an even more effective training ground for the Islamic extremists than Afghanistan." Thus, instead of bringing democracy, our deceitful, bumbling President brought international terrorism to Iraq - as well as its proliferation around the world.

Mr. Rumsfeld has done no better. Not only did he falsely claim to possess "bulletproof" evidence linking Saddam to al Qaeda, he also claimed to know the precise location of Iraq's WMD (We now know that Iraq possessed no WMD). But even less forgivable was his decision, in the face of U.S. Army opposition, to deploy a military force in Iraq that was too small to secure the peace after toppling Saddam. Thus, the present quagmire of insurgency and civil war.

Unfortunately, neither Mr. Bush nor Mr. Rumsfeld can top the real boss, Mr. Cheney (boss at least until America got bogged down in Iraq). It was Cheney, who boldly, but falsely, asserted that Iraq possessed WMD. It also was Cheney, who confidently, but erroneously, predicted that American soldiers would be greeted as liberators in Iraq.

Worse still, it was this man with five draft deferments - who probably was more responsible than any other Bush administration official for the negligence that greased the skids for al Qaeda's attacks on 9/11 - who had the gall to suggest that the election of Vietnam war hero, John Kerry, could lead to another attack on America. Cheney was referring to Kerry when he warned: "If we make the wrong choice, then the danger is that we'll get hit again." Unfortunately, too few Americans realized that the "wrong choice" was to return to office the very incompetents who already had permitted a terrorist attack during their watch.

In fact, when President Bush held his first meeting of the "principals" of the National Security Council (NSC) on January 30, 2001, he took his first steps toward two stupendous national security disasters -- 9/11 and the invasion of Iraq. First, he ignored information provided by the Director of Central Intelligence, George Tenet, warning him that the greatest threat to U.S. national security during his administration would come from Osama bin Laden and his al Qaeda terrorists. (National Security Advisor, Condoleezza Rice ignored a similar warning from counterterrorism czar, Richard Clarke.)

Second, when Bush's NSC principals met on January 30, 2001, they not only ignored the threat posed by al Qaeda, they commenced their obsession with "regime change" in Iraq. That obsession goes far to explain the Bush administration's monumental failure to do all it could have done to prevent al Qaeda's terrorist attacks on 9/11.

According to former Treasury Secretary, Paul O'Neill (who sat in on those NSC meetings during 2001-2002): "From the start, we were building the case against Hussein and looking at how we could take him out and change Iraq into a new country. And, if we did that, it would change everything. It was all about finding a way to do it. That was the tone of it. The President saying, 'Fine. Go find me a way to do this.'" [Ron Suskind, The Price of Loyalty, p. 86]

One of President Bush's most fervent supporters was Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld. At the NSC meeting held on February 1, 2001, Rumsfeld disputed Secretary of State Colin Powell's advocacy of "targeted sanctions." "Sanctions are fine," Rumsfeld said. "But what we really want to think about is going after Saddam." [Ibid, p. 85]

According to The 9/11 Commission Report, the NSC principals held 32 meetings on such topics as "the Middle East peace process, Russia, and the Persian Gulf," before finally getting around to discussing al Qaeda on September 4, 2001 - just one week before it launched its horrific terrorist attacks. [The 9/11 Commission Report, p. 201]. When the 9/11 Commission asked Ms. Rice to explain why the NSC principals paid such little attention to al Qaeda, "Rice told us the Administration did not need a principals meeting on al Qaeda because it knew that al Qaeda was a major threat." [Ibid, Note 174, p. 509]

Now, to anyone familiar with the workings of the NSC, Rice's assertion appears to be a bald-faced lie. In fact, Ms. Rice was more forthright a few months later, when she told David Rothkopf that her most important responsibilities were "staffing the president and pushing his high-priority items" because "he has nobody else to do that but the NSC." [Rothkopf, Running the World: The Inside Story of the National Security Council and the Architects of American Power, p. 405]

True, there were "more than 40 intelligence articles" in the President's Daily Brief (PDB), from January 20, 2001 to September 10, 2001, "that related to Bin Laden." [The 9/11 Commission Report, p. 254] Moreover, in late May 2001, Ms Rice was involved in the drawing up of a new presidential directive initiating a long-term plan for eliminating al Qaeda. [Ibid. pp. 204-05]

Yet, Ms. Rice's excuse doesn't square with other evidence. For example, it doesn't square with Paul Wolfowitz's behavior in April 2001. For, when Wolfowitz met with other deputies in April 2001 to be briefed by Richard Clarke about "pending decisions needed to deal with al Qaeda," Wolfowitz scowled: "Well, I just don't understand why we are beginning by talking about this one man bin Laden." {Clarke, Against All Enemies , p. 231]

Moreover, Rice's assertion doesn't square with Clarke's request for a transfer out of counterterrorism "because he was frustrated with his role and with an administration that he considered not 'serious about al Qaeda.'" [The 9/11 Commission Report, p. 205] Neither does it square with President Bush's indifference to the August 6, 2001 PDB titled, "Bin Laden Determined to Strike in US," which he claims he dismissed as "historical in nature." [Ibid, p.260]

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Walter C. Uhler is an independent scholar and freelance writer whose work has been published in numerous publications, including The Nation, the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, the Journal of Military History, the Moscow Times and the San (more...)
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