George W. Bush “betrayed us,” howled Al Gore.
“He played on our fear. He took America on an ill-conceived foreign adventure, dangerous to our troops, an adventure that was preordained and planned before 9-11 ever happened.”
Hearing it, Gore’s rant seemed slanderous and demagogic. For though U.S. policy since Clinton had called for regime change in Iraq, there is no evidence, none, that Bush planned to invade prior to 9-11.
Yet, the president has a grave problem, and it is this: Burrowed inside his foreign-policy team are men guilty of exactly what Gore accuses Bush of, men who did exploit our fears to stampede us into a war they had plotted for years. Consider:
- In 1996, in a strategy paper crafted for Israel’s Bibi Netanyahu, Richard Perle, Douglas Feith and David Wurmser urged him to “focus on removing Saddam Hussein from power” as an “Israeli strategic objective.” Perle, Feith, Wurmser were all on Bush’s foreign policy team on 9-11.
- In 1998, eight members of Bush’s future team, including Perle, Wolfowitz and Rumsfeld, wrote Clinton urging upon him a strategy that “should aim, above all, at the removal of Saddam Hussein.”
- On Jan. 1, 2001, nine months before 9-11, Wurmser called for U.S.-Israeli attacks “to broaden the [Middle East] conflict to strike fatally … the regimes of Damascus, Baghdad, Tripoli, Tehran and Gaza … to establish the recognition that fighting with either the United States or Israel is suicidal.”
“Crises can be opportunities,” added Wurmser.
On Sept. 11, opportunity struck.
On Sept. 15, according to author Bob Woodward, Paul Wolfowitz spoke up in the War Cabinet to urge that Afghanistan be put on a back burner and an attack be mounted at once on Iraq, though Iraq had had nothing to do with 9-11. Why Iraq? Said Wolfowitz, because it is “doable.”
On Sept. 20, 40 neoconservatives in an open letter demanded that Bush remove Saddam from power, “even if evidence does not link Iraq directly to the [9-11] attack.” Failure to do so, they warned the president, “would constitute an early and perhaps decisive surrender in the war on international terrorism.”
While Bush had taken office as a traditional conservative skeptical of “nation-building” and calling for a more “humble” foreign policy, after 9-11, he was captured by the neocons and converted to an agenda they had worked up years before. Suddenly, he sounded just like them, threatening wars on “axis-of-evil” nations that had nothing to do with 9-11.
And here is where Bush’s present crisis was created.
Though he had internalized the neoconservative agenda for war, he had no rationale, no justification, no casus belli. Iraq had not threatened or attacked us.
Enter the WMD. Neoconservatives pressed on Bush the idea that Iraq must still have weapons of mass destruction and must be working on nuclear weapons. And as Saddam was a figure of such irrationality – i.e., a madman – he would readily give an atom bomb to al-Qaida. An American city could be incinerated.
Therefore, Saddam had to be destroyed. Bush bought it.
The problem, however, was this: While there is much evidence Saddam is evil, there is no evidence he was insane. He had not used his WMD in 1991, when he had them. For he was not a fool. He knew that would mean his end. Why would he then build a horror weapon now, give it to a terrorist and risk the annihilation of his regime, family, legacy and himself, a fate he had narrowly escaped in 1991?
Made no sense – and there was no hard evidence on the WMD.
Thus, when the CIA was unable to come up with hard evidence that Saddam still had WMD, or was building nuclear weapons, neocon insiders sifted the intelligence, cherry-picked it, presented tidbits to the media as unvarnished truth, and persuaded Powell and the president to rely on it to make the case to Congress, the country and the world. Powell and the president did.
Now the WMD case has fallen apart. Powell has egg on his face. And the president must persuade Tim Russert and the nation that Iraq was a “war of necessity” because we “had no choice when we looked at the intelligence I looked at.”
But, sir, the intelligence you “looked at” was flawed. Who gave it to you?
To its neocon architects, Iraq was always about empire, hegemony, Pax Americana, global democracy – about getting hold of America’s power to make the Middle East safe for Sharon and themselves glorious and famous.
But now they have led a president who came to office with good intentions and a good heart to the precipice of ruin. One wonders if Bush knows how badly he has been had. And if he does, why he has not summarily dealt with those who misled him?