Surprising Evidence Bush Planned to Invade Iraq Before 9/11
President Bush has always insisted that he only went to war with Iraq as a last resort, in response to Saddam’s refusal to disarm:
“Of course, I haven’t made up my mind we’re going to war with Iraq.” [10/1/02]
“You said we’re headed to war in Iraq — I don’t know why you say that. I hope we’re not headed to war in Iraq. I’m the person who gets to decide, not you. I hope this can be done peacefully.” [12/31/02]
“First of all, you know, I’m hopeful we won’t have to go war, and let’s leave it at that.” [1/2/03]
“I’ve not made up our mind about military action. Hopefully, this can be done peacefully.” [3/6/03]
“We are doing everything we can to avoid war in Iraq. But if Saddam Hussein does not disarm peacefully, he will be disarmed by force.” [3/8/03]
“Should Saddam Hussein choose confrontation, the American people can know that every measure has been taken to avoid war, and every measure will be taken to win it.” [3/17/03]
A number of administration insiders have revealed that Bush actually intended to invade Iraq long before he made these claims — even before 9/11. Osama Siblani, the publisher of an Arab-American newspaper, has said that Bush told him while still a candidate that he was going to “take Saddam out” if he became president. Richard Clarke, Bush’s counterterrorism advisor, has said that the administration “had been planning to do something about Iraq from before the time they came into office,” and that they were looking for a causus belli as early as March, 2001. And then, of course, Mickey Herskowitz, Bush’s ghostwriter, has claimed that Bush’s need to be seen as a capable commander-in-chief led him to decide to invade Iraq as early as 1999:
It was on his mind. He said to me: “One of the keys to being seen as a great leader is to be seen as a commander-in-chief.” And he said, “My father had all this political capital built up when he drove the Iraqis out of Kuwait and he wasted it.” He said, “If I have a chance to invade, if I had that much capital, I’m not going to waste it. I’m going to get everything passed that I want to get passed and I’m going to have a successful presidency.”
I was not thinking of this debate while I was reading a “behind the scenes” account of the Saddam trial that was recently published in the ABA Journal. On the contrary, I was planning to fisk the article, which is spectacularly biased in favor the prosecution, the IHT judges, and the Tribunal’s U.S. advisors. But then I came across these two shocking paragraphs about the trial:
American preparations for the case had begun years earlier. Even before the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, Pierre-Richard Prosper, U.S. ambassador-at-large for war crimes issues, had begun studying a series of what-if scenarios should Saddam fall from power.
The day before terrorists crashed jetliners into the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, two lawyers from the Army Judge Advocate General’s Corps were assigned to Prosper’s State Department office to collect evidence against Saddam. Prosper describes the effort as “just broad forward thinking.”
If true — and there is no reason to think otherwise, given the author’s access to high-level Iraq insiders — Prosper’s efforts strongly corroborate Siblani, Clarke, and Herskowitz’s claims. Speculating about what would happen if Saddam was overthrown is one thing; given its hostility toward Saddam, I have little doubt that the Bush administration would have asked “what if” even if had not intended to invade Iraq. But assigning JAG lawyers to start collecting evidence against Saddam is a different story — a clear indication not only that the State Department believed that Saddam’s hold on power would soon be coming to an end, but also that the U.S. would be in a position to have a hand in his prosecution when it did. Why start collecting evidence against a dictator who has been in power for more than two decades if you don’t expect to be able to use it?
“Broad forward thinking” indeed.
UPDATE: Let me be clear — I do not believe that the JAG lawyers’ reassignment on September 10th is evidence that the Bush administration somehow knew that 9/11 was going to happen. I like a good conspiracy theory as much as the next person, but I have always thought that such claims are (1) ridiculous, and (2) counterproductive, because they divert attention from the administration’s knowing and intentional misuse of 9/11 to further its right-wing agenda at the expense of genuine national security. The increased activity is important because it indicates that the “lonely campaign” to document Saddam’s crimes during the Clinton administration became far less lonely when Bush was elected, because Bush had every intention of overthrowing Saddam just as soon as the “causus belli” mentioned by Clarke — which turned out to be 9/11 — presented itself.