The fever to fell Saddam


Geraldine Sealey
April 16, 2004 8:20PM (UTC)

The Washington Post just put up its preview of Bob Woodward's new book Plan of Attack. This first section highlights Bush's shifting justifications of the invasion of Iraq. It doesn't matter that he sold the war on completely bogus pretenses, he says. He had another reason to invade: His duty to free people, by force if necessary.

From the Post: "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.'

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After giving the order to invade Iraq in March 2003, Bush prayed, he said. "'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.'"

Woodward also describes the strained relationship between Dick Cheney -- who felt a "fever" to get rid of Hussein -- and Colin Powell. Cheney and Powell now barely speak, the book says.

From the Post: "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 case,' Tenet repeated."

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"Tenet later told associates he realized he should have said the evidence on weapons was not ironclad, according to Woodward."

But Bush had been looking for reasons to invade Iraq. As Richard Clarke says in his book, and as the White House admitted, Bush pulled Clarke aside on Sept. 12, 2001, and told him to "go back over everything, everything. See if Saddam did this. See if he's linked in any way."

Tenet may have told him it was a slam-dunk case, but it's clear that Bush didn't need one to do what he and Dick Cheney had dreamed of since taking office -- taking out Saddam.


Geraldine Sealey

Geraldine Sealey is senior news editor at Salon.com.

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