Chapter 6 The Iraq War: American Decision-Making



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Newsweek, November 17, 2003. Michael R. Gordon and Bernard E. Trainor argue that Bush and Cheney were more focused on Iraq as the Administration came into office, thinking that a new approach was necessary, but not committed to a particular plan. Cobra II: The Inside Story of the Invasion and Occupation of Iraq, (New York: Pantheon Books, 2006), pp. 13-14. Ron Suskind contends that Cheney believed that the first President Bush “missed history’s call” by not destroying Saddam Hussein in 1991, but he offers no source for this assertion. The One Percent Doctrine: Deep Inside America’s Pursuit of Its Enemies Since 9/11, (New York: Simon and Schuster: 2006), p. 25.

12 Nicholas Lemann, “The Iraq Factor,” The New Yorker, January 22, 2001.

13 Suskind, The Price of Loyalty, pp. 72-76. Later in the book, O’Neill reflected on the pre-9/11 “battle” between Powell and the Rumsfeld bloc, indicating that there was hardly a set policy line for war against Iraq, p. 96-97. It was in this context that O’Neill mentioned a Pentagon intelligence document he had seen that mapped Iraq’s oil fields and listed companies that might be interested in developing them. This document is sometimes cited as proof that there was a pre-9/11 plan in the Bush Administration for war on Iraq. However, the fact that O’Neill specifies that it came from the Defense Intelligence Agency, “Rumsfeld’s intelligence arm,” seems to indicate more that the Secretary of Defense was thinking about a war with Iraq.

14 The 9/11 Commission Report, (New York: W. W. Norton, 2003), p. 336.

15 Jane Perlez, “Bush Team’s Counsel is Divided on Foreign Policy,” New York Times, March 27, 2001.

16 Steven Mufson and Alan Sipress, "Deal on Iraq Sanctions Eludes U.S.," Washington Post, May 31, 2001, p. A22; "Russia Blocks Smart Sanctions," Middle East Economic Survey, Vol. 44, No. 28 (July 9, 2001).

17 Petroleum Intelligence Weekly, May 21, 2001; al-Hayat (London), June 5, 2001, pp. 1, 6.

18 Bob Woodward, Plan of Attack, (New York, Simon and Schuster, 2004), p. 21.

19 Woodward, Plan of Attack, p. 23. “When the Administration did focus on Iraq, its initial deliberations were inconclusive.” Gordon and Trainor, Cobra II, p. 14. This conclusion is supported by Douglas Feith in his memoir War and Decision: Inside the Pentagon at the Dawn of the War on Terrorism, (New York: Harper, 2008), Chapter 6.

20 Nicholas Lemann, “How It Came To War,” The New Yorker, March 31, 2003.

21 Daalder and Lindsay, America Unbound, p. 130.

22 Thomas E. Ricks, Fiasco: The American Military Adventure in Iraq, (New York: Penguin Press, 2006), p. 28.

23 Woodward, Plan of Attack, p. 12, 27.

24 Clarke, Against All Enemies, p. 32. The president told the 9/11 commissioners that he wondered immediately after the attack whether Iraq had a hand in it. The 9/11 Commission Report, p. 334.

25 Bob Woodward, Bush at War, (New York: Simon and Schuster, 2002), p. 99. Woodward had access to the notes taken at the NSC meetings in the period after 9/11.

26 Glenn Kessler, “U.S. Decision on Iraq Has Puzzling Past,” Washington Post, January 12, 2003; Gordon and Trainor, Cobra II, p. 17. Feith reports that Rumsfeld asked the military to begin preparing options for an attack on Iraq on September 29. War and Decision, p. 218.

27 Woodward, Plan of Attack, pp. 1-3, 30.

28 “By all accounts, the administration was quick to suspect a possible link between Iraq and the anthrax attacks that had shaken the nation in the fall of 2001. Purdum, A Time of Our Choosing, p. 30.

29 Jacob Weisberg, The Bush Tragedy, (New York: Random House, 2008), p. 190. Based on his interviews with people in the White House, Weisberg concluded that “[i]nside the administration, the October bioterror attacks had a greater impact that is generally appreciated – one in many ways greater than 9/11. Without the anthrax attacks, Bush probably would not have invaded Iraq.” p. 189.

30 Quoted in Daalder and Lindsay, America Unbound, p. 119. See also Carla Anne Robbins and Jeanne Cummings, “How Bush Decided that Hussein Must Be Ousted from Atop Iraq,” Wall Street Journal, June 14, 2002.

31Robbins and Cummings, “How Bush Decided.”

32 Glenn Kessler, “U.S. Decision on Iraq Has Puzzling Past,” Washington Post, January 12, 2003.

33 Woodward, Plan of Attack, p. 4. See also pp. 29-30.

34 Suskind, The One Percent Doctrine, p. 62. Tenet reports the quote in his own memoir, At the Center of the Storm: My Years at the CIA, (New York: Harper Collins, 2007), p. 264.

35 Kessler, “U.S. Decision on Iraq Has Puzzling Past.”

36 Robbins and Cummings, “How Bush Decided.” Lawrence Freedman concludes that Iraq emerged quickly on the administration’s agenda after the 9/11 attacks because “worst-case analysis had suddenly gained a new credibility.” “War in Iraq: Selling the Threat,” Survival, Vol. 46, No. 2 (Summer 2004), p. 16. Feith argues that it was not the mistaken belief that Iraq had chemical and biological weapons that drove the war decision, but the correct (in his view) belief that Saddam could easily develop those weapons and pass them along to terrorists. War and Decision, p. 227-28.

37 Steven R. Weisman, “Pre-emption: Idea with a Lineage Whose Time Has Come,” New York Times, March 23, 2003.

38 Kessler, “U.S. Decision on Iraq Has Puzzling Past.”

39 “After 9/11, everything changed…Still, had 9/11 not happened, the argument to go to war in Iraq undoubtedly would have been much harder to make. Whether the case could have been made at all is uncertain. But 9/11 did happen, and the terrain shifted with it.” At the Center of the Storm, pp. 305-06.

40 PM/02/019, “Crawford/Iraq,” Jack Straw to Tony Blair, 25 March 2002. This is one of a series of documents leaked to a British reporter in 2005 about the lead-up to the war. It can be accessed at: www.downingstreetmemo.com/docs/straw.pdf.

41 Woodward reports that he asked one of his subordinates “what the f--- are they talking about?” Plan of Attack, p. 8.

42 Daalder and Lindsay, America Unbound, p. 131; Woodward, Plan of Attack, Chapter 5; Gordon and Trainor, Cobra II, pp. 30-32.

43 Text of the speech at http://archives.cnn.com/2002/ALLPOLITICS/01/29/bush.speech.txt/.

44 Michael Isikoff and David Corn, Hubris: The Inside Story of Spin, Scandal and the Selling of the Iraq War, (New York: Crown Publishers, 2006), p. 9; Woodward, Plan of Attack, p. 108. Kessler, “U.S. Decision on Iraq Has Puzzling Past,” has the decision in January 2002.

45 Much of Woodward, Plan of Attack, revolves around the various war plans that Gen. Franks brought to Sec. Rumsfeld and President Bush during 2002.

46 Barton Gellman and Dafna Linzer, “Afghanistan, Iraq: Two Wars Collide,” Washington Post, October 22, 2004, p. A1.

47 Quoted in Daalder and Lindsay, American Unbound, p. 132. For another example of President Bush’s extremely colorful vocabulary regarding Saddam, see Isikoff and Corn, Hubris, p. 3. In the realm of scatology, Pres. Bush had a serious rival in Gen. Franks. Woodward reports that in the same month, at a meeting with his commanders at Central Command headquarters in Florida, Franks told them: “This is f---ing serious. You know, if you guys think this is not going to happen, you’re wrong. You need to get off your a--.” Plan of Attack, p. 115.

48 Quoted in Woodward, Plan of Attack, pp. 119-20.

49 “Cabinet Office Paper: Conditions for Military Action,” Times (London), June 12, 2005.

50 Speech can be found at www.globalsecurity.org/military/library/news/2002/06/mil-020601-usia01b.htm.

51 “The Secret Downing Street Memo,” Times (London), May 1, 2005. Also available at www.downingstreetmemo.com/memos.html#otherdocs.

52 John F. Burns, “Jordan’s King, in Gamble, Lends Hand to the U.S.,” New York Times, March 9, 2003.

53 Nicholas Lemann, “How It Came to War,” The New Yorker, March 31, 2003.

54 Michael Gordon, “U.S. Air Raids in ’02 Prepared for War in Iraq,” New York Times, July 20, 2003. Gordon cites a briefing by Lt. Gen. T. Michael Mosley, identified as “the chief allied war commander” for air operations, and interviewed Mosley for the article.

55 Rowan Scarborough, “U.S. Rushed Post-Saddam Planning,” Washington Times, September 2, 2003. The article cites a report prepared for the Joint Chiefs of Staff entitled “Operation Iraqi Freedom: Strategic Lessons Learned” that contains a time-line of events from the September 11 attacks through the Iraq war. See also Gordon and Trainor, Cobra II, pp. 72-73, for contents of the document.

56 Woodward, Bush at War, (New York: Simon and Schuster, 2002), pp. 331-36; Woodward, Plan of Attack, pp. 148-57, 161-62.

57 Purdum, A Time of Our Choosing, pp. 42-45.

58 President Bush subsequently told Bob Woodward that his decision to go to the UN for a new resolution was partially the result of pressures from his coalition partners in Great Britain, Australia and Spain. “Blair had a lot to do with it.” Plan of Attack, p. 183. “Going to the UN could help the administration to gain support for the war not just overseas but at home as well. At the time polls consistently showed that the American people would support a war with Iraq only if it had the support of the international community.” James Mann, Rise of the Vulcans: The History of Bush’s War Cabinet, (New York: Viking, 2004), p. 343.

59 Bush told Woodward that his goal with the return of weapons inspectors to Iraq was “a very intrusive inspection regime which Blair and I both were hoping would cause there to be a crumbling within the regime.” Plan of Attack, p. 227, 315-16.

60 Some in the Administration, suspicious of the UN to begin with, believed Blix “was a liar” when he spoke of Iraqi cooperation. Woodward, Plan of Attack, p. 240.

61 Woodward, Plan of Attack, pp. 254, 261, 269-70.

62 The definitive statement of the absence of WMD is the “Comprehensive Report of the Special Advisor to the DCI on Iraq’s WMD,” 30 September 2004, https://www.cia.gov/library/reports/general-reports-1/iraq_wmd_2004/index.html [hereafter referenced as the Duelfer Report, after Charles Duelfer, the special adviser]. See the “Key Findings” section. On the lack of a link between al-Qaeda and Saddam Hussein, according to al-Qaeda members in American custody, see James Risen, “Captives Deny Qaeda Worked in Baghdad,” New York Times, June 9, 2003; and Dana Priest, “Al Qaeda-Iraq Link Recanted,” Washington Post, August 2, 2004. President Bush himself admitted on September 17, 2003 that there was no link between Saddam Hussein and the September 11 attacks. Dana Milbank, “Bush Disavows Hussein-Sept. 11 Link,” Washington Post, September 18, 2003. The staff of the 9/11 Commission concluded, in a staff report presented to the Commission on June 16, 2004, that “we have no credible evidence that Iraq and Al Qaeda cooperated on attacks against the United States.” www.9-11commission.gov/staff_statements/staff_statement_15.pdf.

63 This is the clear implication of the vigorous case made by Chaim Kaufman, “Threat Inflation and the Failure of the Marketplace of Ideas: The Selling of the Iraq War,” International Security, Vol. 29, No. 1 (Summer 2004).

64 That literature is too vast to review here, and this work is not meant to be a full theoretical test of competing hypotheses of decision-making regarding this case. I simply want to suggest that the insights of the literature on psychology and foreign policy can suggest plausible answers to the question I posed. For guidance on these theoretical issues, see Robert Jervis, American Foreign Policy in a New Era, (New York: Routledge, 2005), particularly Chapters 3-5. For his specific analysis of the US intelligence failures, see his article “Reports, Politics and Intelligence Failures: The Case of Iraq,” Journal of Strategic Studies, Vol. 29, No. 1 (February 2006).

65 Richard Kerr, who headed a team of retired CIA officials that reviewed pre-war intelligence about Iraq, said that intelligence analysts drew heavily “on a base of hard evidence growing out of the lead-up to the first war, the war itself and then the inspections process…We had a rich base of information and [after the inspectors left Iraq in 1998] we drew on that earlier base.” James Risen, David E. Sanger and Thom Shanker, “In Sketchy Data, White House Sought Clues to Gauge Threat,” New York Times, July 20, 2003. George Tenet confirms that the misjudgments of the late 1980’s and early 1990’s influenced intelligence judgments about Iraqi WMD. At the Center of the Storm, pp. 316, 330.

66 The Commission on the Intelligence Capabilities of the United States regarding Weapons of Mass Destruction, “Report to the President of the United States,” March 31, 2005, Chapter 1, p. 49, www.wmd.gov/report. Hereafter referred to as the Silberman-Robb Commission Report. This was the special commission appointed by President Bush to investigate the intelligence failure on the WMD issue. The Senate Select Committee on Intelligence report, that is referenced below shared this general conclusion (pp. 18-22).

67 United States Senate, Select Committee on Intelligence, “Report on the U.S. Intelligence Community’s Prewar Intelligence Assessments on Iraq,” 108th Congress, July 7, 2004 [hereafter referred to as Senate Intelligence Committee Report], pp. 143-45.

68 Senate Intelligence Committee Report, pp. 152-60; Silberman-Robb Commission Report, pp. 81-85.

69 Jim Dwyer, “Defectors’ Reports on Iraq Arms Were Embellished, Exile Asserts,” New York Times, July 9, 2004. The Senate Intelligence Committee subsequently concluded that “the Iraqi National Congress (INC) attempted to influence United States policy on Iraq by providing false information through defectors directed at convincing the United States that Iraq possessed weapons of mass destruction and had links to terrorists.” U.S. Senate, Select Committee on Intelligence, “The Use by the Intelligence Community of Information Provided by the Iraqi National Congress,” 109th Congress, 2nd Session, September 8, 2006, p. 113. http://intelligence.senate.gov/phaseiiinc.pdf

70 Senate Intelligence Committee Report, Conclusion 54 (p. 192).

71 Senate Intelligence Committee Report, p. 195.

72 Senate Intelligence Committee Report, pp. 195-96. See also Silberman-Robb Report, p. 115.

73 Silberman-Robb Commission Report, pp. 116, 123-26. See also Senate Intelligence Committee Report, pp. 200-01.

74 “Iraq: Options Paper,” Overseas and Defense Secretariat, Cabinet Office, 8 March [2002], www.downingstreetmemo.com/docs/iraqoptions.pdf.

75 Warren Hoge, “Blix Says White House Had ‘Set Mind’ on Iraqi Weapons,” New York Times, March 15, 2004.

76 “The Failure to Find Iraqi Weapons,” New York Times, September 26, 2003.

77 Duelfer Report, Regime Strategic Intent section, p. 16.

78 In July 2003 Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld told the Senate Armed Services Committee: “The coalition did not act in Iraq because we had discovered dramatic new evidence of Iraq’s pursuit [of WMD]. We acted because we saw the evidence in a dramatic new light – through the prism of our experience on 9/11.” Dana Milbank and Mike Allen, “Bush and Rumsfeld Defend Use of Prewar Intelligence on Iraq,” Washington Post, July 10, 2003.

79 Gordon and Trainor, Cobra II, p. 80.

80 Robert Jervis comes to much the same conclusion, not just on biological and chemical weapons but also on the intelligence community’s assessment of the Iraqi nuclear program. “Reports, Politics and Intelligence Failures.”

81 Senate Intelligence Committee Report, pp. 84-85; Silberman-Robb Commission Report, pp. 53-55.

82 Silberman-Robb Commission Report, p. 55.

83 The Silberman-Robb Commission Report puts dates that report in March 2001 (pp. 55-56); the Senate Intelligence Committee Report dates it in April 2001 (p. 88).

84 Silberman-Robb Commission Report, p. 56. Tenet reports that the intelligence underestimation of the Iraqi nuclear program at the time of the Gulf War “had a profound impact on my views and those of many of our analysts…we were haunted by the possibility that there was more going on than we could detect.” At the Center of the Storm, p. 316, see also p. 330.

85 “Iraq’s Continuing Programs for Weapons of Mass Destruction,” National Intelligence Estimate, October 2002, declassified July 18, 2003, www.fas.org/irp/cia/product/iraq-wmd.htm.

86 David Barstow et al., “Skewed Intelligence on Iraq Colored the March to War,” New York Times, October 3, 2004.

87 The Senate Intelligence Committee Report has the most extensive and detailed account of the conflict within the community over the aluminum tubes, and a damning criticism of the CIA assessment that they were intended for centrifuge construction, pp. 87-119.

88 “Iraq’s Continuing Programs for Weapons of Mass Destruction,” NIE, October 2002.

89 Barstow et al., “Skewed Intelligence on Iraq Colored the March to War.”

90 For a detailed account of this issue, see Isikoff and Corn, Hubris, Chapters 5, 13-15, 17-19.

91 “Iraq’s Continuing Programs for Weapons of Mass Destruction,” NIE, October 2002.

92 Silberman-Robb Report, pp. 77-78.

93 Senate Intelligence Committee Report, p. 68.

94 Senate Intelligence Committee Report, p. 66.

95 “Iraq’s Continuing Programs for Weapons of Mass Destruction,” NIE, October 2002.

96 David Barstow et al., “Skewed Intelligence on Iraq Colored the March to War.”

97 Barton Gellman and Walter Pincus, “Depiction of Threat Outgrew Supporting Evidence,” Washington Post, August 10, 2003.

98 Text of the speech available at www.newamericancentury.org/iraq-082602.htm. George Tenet says that the speech, which was not cleared by CIA, “went well beyond what our analysis could support.” At the Center of the Storm, p. 315.

99 David Barstow et al., “Skewed Intelligence on Iraq Colored the March to War.”

100 Paul Pillar, the national intelligence officer for the Middle East at the National Intelligence Council at the time, has written: “The administration used intelligence not to inform decision-making, but to justify a decision already made.” “Intelligence, Policy and the War in Iraq,” Foreign Affairs, Vol. 85, No. 2 (March/April 2006), p. 17-18.

101 The most notable was the account by an Iraqi scientist involved with the program: Khidhir Hamza and Jeff Stein, Saddam’s Bombmaker: The Terrifying Story of the Iraqi Nuclear and Biological Weapons Agenda, (New York: Simon and Schuster, 2000).

102 One senior policymaker with directly relevant responsibilities told the Washington Post after the war: “I never cared about the ‘imminent [nuclear] threat’…The threat was there in [Saddam’s] presence in office. To me, just knowing what it takes to have a nuclear weapons program, he needed a lot of equipment. You can stare at the yellowcake all you want. You need to convert it to gas and enrich it. That does not constitute an imminent threat, and the people who are saying that, I think, did not fully appreciate the difficulties and effort involved in producing nuclear material and the physics package.” Barton Gellman and Walter Pincus, “Depiction of Threat Outgrew Supporting Evidence.”

103 Text can be found at www.cnn.com/2003/US/02/05/sprj.irq.powell.transcript/.

104 The quote is from the CTC’s analytical paper “Iraq and al-Qaida: Interpreting Murky Relationship,” distributed in June 2002. Cited in Senate Intelligence Committee Report, p. 305.

105 Senate Intelligence Committee Report, pp. 304-49; reliability of link reports on p. 326.

106 Senate Intelligence Committee Report, p. 322.

107 Senate Intelligence Committee Report, pp. 307-312; Isikoff and Corn, Hubris, Chapter 6; James Risen, “How Pair’s Finding on Terror Led to Clash on Shaping Intelligence,” New York Times, April 28, 2004; Douglas Jehl, “CIA Chief Says He’s Corrected Cheney Privately,” New York Times, March 10, 2004.

108 Risen, “How Pair’s Finding on Terror Led to Clash on Shaping Intelligence.”

109 The content of the briefing was conveyed by Undersecretary Feith to the Senate Intelligence Committee in October 2003. It was subsequently leaked, its contents appearing in summary form in Stephen Hayes, “Case Closed: The U.S. Government’s Secret Memo Detailing Cooperation Between Saddam Hussein and Osama bin Laden,”
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