The Book We've Been Waiting For
Jude Wanniski
April 16, 2004

 

Memo To: Website Fans, Browsers, Clients
From: Jude Wanniski
Re: Bob Woodward's "Plan of Attack"

The reason President Bush is never going to apologize for any "failure" in the Middle East as a result of his war with Iraq, he told Bob Woodward, is that the USA has to be "the beacon for freedom in the world." According to the Washington Post's assistant managing editor, the President minimized the weapons of mass destruction issue and told him simply: "I believe we have a duty to free people. I would hope we wouldn't have to do it militarily, but we have a duty."

The first account of the Woodward book, which gets into depth on the clash between Secretary of State Colin Powell and Vice President Cheney, we find that before the war with Iraq, Powell bluntly told Bush that if he sent U.S. troops there "you're going to be owning this place." Powell and his deputy and closest friend, Richard L. Armitage, used to refer to what they called "the Pottery Barn rule" on Iraq -- "you break it, you own it," according to Woodward.

Here's the Post's Friday story by William Hamilton. The link promises excerpts from the book on Saturday. http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/articles/A17347-2004Apr16.html.

washingtonpost.com
Bush Planned for War as Diplomacy Continued

By William Hamilton
Washington Post Staff Writer

Beginning in late December, 2001, President Bush met repeatedly with Army Gen. Tommy R. Franks and his war cabinet to plan the U.S. attack on Iraq even as he and administration spokesmen insisted they were pursuing a diplomatic solution, according to a new book on the origins of the war.

The intensive war planning throughout 2002 created its own momentum, according to "Plan of Attack" by Bob Woodward, fueled in part by the CIA's conclusion Saddam Hussein could not be removed from power except through a war and CIA Director George J. Tenet's assurance to the president that it was a "slam dunk" case that Iraq possessed weapons of mass destruction.

In three and a half hours of interviews with Woodward, an assistant managing editor at The Washington Post, Bush said the secret planning was necessary to avoid "enormous international angst and domestic speculation." He said, "War is my absolute last option."

Adding to the momentum, Woodward writes, was the pressure from advocates of war inside the administration led by Vice President Cheney, whom Woodward describes as a "powerful, steamrolling force" who had developed what some of his colleagues felt was a "fever" about removing Hussein by force.

By early January, 2003, Bush had made up his mind to take military action against Iraq, according to the book. But Bush was so concerned that the government of his closest ally, British Prime Minister Tony Blair, might fall because of his support for Bush that he delayed the war's start until March 19 here--March 20 in Iraq--because Blair asked him to seek a second resolution from the United Nations. Bush later gave Blair the option of withholding British troops from combat, which Blair rejected.

Woodward describes a relationship between Cheney and Secretary of State Colin L. Powell -- never close despite years of working together -- that became so strained that Cheney and Powell are barely on speaking terms. Cheney engaged in a bitter and eventually winning struggle over Iraq with Powell, an opponent of war who believed Cheney was obsessed with trying to establish a connection between Iraq and the al Qaeda terrorist network and treated ambiguous intelligence as fact.

Powell felt Cheney and his allies -- his chief aide, Lewis "Scooter" Libby, deputy defense secretary Paul Wolfowitz and undersecretary of defense for policy Douglas Feith and what Powell called Feith's "Gestapo" office -- had established what amounted to a separate government. The vice president, for his part, believed Powell was mainly concerned with his own popularity and told friends at a private dinner he hosted a year ago to celebrate the outcome of the war that Powell was a problem and "always had major reservations about what we were trying to do."

Before the war with Iraq, Powell bluntly told Bush that if he sent U.S. troops there "you're going to be owning this place." Powell and his deputy and closest friend, Richard L. Armitage, used to refer to what they called "the Pottery Barn rule" on Iraq -- "you break it, you own it," according to Woodward.

But, when asked personally by the president, Powell agreed to present the U.S. case against Hussein at the United Nations in February, 2003 -- a presentation described by White House communications director Dan Bartlett as "the Powell buy-in." Bush wanted someone with Powell's credibility to present the evidence that Hussein possessed weapons of mass destruction -- a case the president had initially found less than convincing when presented to him by CIA deputy director John McLaughlin at a White House meeting on December 21, 2002.

McLaughlin's version used communications intercepts, satellite photos, diagrams and other intelligence. "Nice try," Bush said when he was finished, according to the book. "I don't think this quite -- it's not something that Joe Public would understand or would gain a lot of confidence from."

He then turned to Tenet, McLaughlin's boss and said, "I've been told all this intelligence about having WMD and this is the best we've got?"

"It's a slam dunk case," Tenet replied, throwing his arms in the air. Bush pressed him again. "George, how confident are you."

"Don't worry, it's a slam dunk," Tenet repeated.

Tenet later told associates he realized he should have said the evidence on weapons was not ironclad, according to Woodward. After the CIA director made a rare public speech in February defending the CIA's handling of intelligence about Iraq, Bush called him to say he had done "a great job."

In his previous book, "Bush at War," Woodward described the administration's response to the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001 -- its decision to attack the Taliban government in Afghanistan and its increasing focus on Iraq. His new book is a narrative history of how Bush and his administration launched the war on Iraq. It is based on interviews with more than 75 people, including Bush and Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld.

This week the president had to acknowledge that the violent uprising against U.S. troops in Iraq has resulted in "a tough, tough, series of weeks for the American people." But he insisted that his course of action in Iraq has been the correct one in language that echoed what he told Woodward more than four months ago.

In two separate interviews with Woodward in December, Bush minimized the failure to find the weapons, expressed no doubts about his decision to invade Iraq, and enunciated an activist role for the United States based on it being "the beacon for freedom in the world."

"I believe we have a duty to free people," Bush told Woodward. " I would hope we wouldn't have to do it militarily, but we have a duty."

The president described praying as he walked outside the Oval Office after giving the order to begin combat operations against Iraq on March, 19, 2003, and the powerful role his religious belief played throughout that time.

"Going into this period, I was praying for strength to do the Lord's will. . . . I'm surely not going to justify war based upon God. Understand that. Nevertheless, in my case I pray that I be as good a messenger of His will as possible. And then, of course, I pray for personal strength and for forgiveness."

The president told Woodward that "I am prepared to risk my presidency to do what I think is right. I was going to act. And if it could cost the presidency, I fully realized that. But I felt so strongly that it was the right thing to do that I was prepared to do so."

Asked by Woodward how history would judge the war, Bush replied: "History. We don't know. We'll all be dead."

2004 The Washington Post Company