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Powell Warned of Bloody Price for Unilateral War on Iraq


If the United States decides to wage a war with Iraq without the full support of the United Nations it will be “much more complicated and bloody” than the siege in Afghanistan after 9-11 and the first Gulf War combined, Secretary of State Colin Powell warned President Bush privately early last year, Bob Woodward wrote in the book “Bush at War.”

“It’s nice to say you can do it unilaterally,” Powell said to Bush about attacking Iraq, Woodward wrote. “Except you can’t. A successful military plan would require we need allies… International support has to be garnered.”

So what has changed between the time Powell warned Bush about alienating a majority of our allies in the United Nations and now, when Powell’s rhetoric before the U.N. Security Council this month is understood to mean that if the U.N. doesn’t back a full-scale war with Iraq the U.S. and Britain will attack Iraq alone if necessary?

Absolutely nothing. Despite the fact that Powell has recently changed his tone before the U.N., he knows full well that if the U.S. made good on its threats it will face a bloody battle in the Iraqi desert or on the streets of Baghdad.

A “unilateral war would be tough, close to impossible” Powell told Bush, according to Woodward’s book.

One can only assume that Powell’s sudden departure from the earlier warnings he made to the President is just Powell being a team player and agreeing with the “hawks” even though he knows better, said Sherry Bebitch Jeffe, a political and media analyst at the University of Southern California’s school of Public Policy and Development.

“If anything, international support for a war in Iraq has eroded over the past five months,” Jeffe said. “So it’s likely that those risks Powell presented to President Bush last year still exist. Powell’s rhetoric is just that. He knows better having spent most of his life in the military that without international support the U.S. is facing a dangerous situation if it decides to go to war alone.”

Dr. Hussein Shahristani, once Iraq’s top nuclear scientist who spent 11 years in solitary confinement for refusing Saddam Hussein’s order to build an atomic bomb, said in an interview Sunday on 60 Minutes that he believes the U.S. is rushing into a war without fully understanding the threat it faces. Shahristani was tortured for refusing to comply with the Saddam’s order and fled Iraq during the first Gulf War. He said would like nothing more than to see Saddam removed from power but he warned the Bush Administration not to start a war with Iraq without the support of the U.N.

As the U.S. moves closer to war it’s important to take another look at how the Bush Administration got here and how through lying, manipulation and with the events that brought this country to its knees, the Bush Administration has used this in attempt to make a case for war.

Of the half-dozen books that have been written about Bush since he was sworn into office two years ago, the recurring theme throughout all of them is the strong desire by the Administration to find a reason to start a war with Iraq–be it allegations that the country is concealing weapons of mass destruction or using 9-11 as an excuse to launch an immediate assault–without caring about how such a war would alienate the U.N. and the public or the fact that the U.S. cannot make a good case to justify a war with Iraq.

Woodward wrote in “Bush at War” that Vice President Dick Cheney was “hell bent for action against Saddam. It was as if nothing else existed.”

Following the 9-11 terrorist attacks on the Pentagon and the World Trade Center, Woodward wrote that Rumsfeld “could take advantage of the terrorist attacks and make Iraq a target immediately.”

Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz said, without a shred of evidence to back it up, that there was a 10 to 50 percent chance that Saddam Hussein was involved in 9-11, Woodward wrote.

David Frum, the former White House speechwriter who coined the phrase “Axis of Evil,” wrote in “The Right Man,” his book about the year he spent in the Bush Administration, that the U.S. received intelligence information from Czechoslovakia that it could not confirm that a meeting took place between Mohammed Atta, the lead 9-11 hijacker, and an Iraqi intelligence officer in Prague in April 2001 “suggesting some degree of cooperation between the al-Qaeda and the Iraqi dictator.”

That information, which has never been confirmed by U.S. intelligence, according to Frum, became the excuse the Bush Administration would use to attack Iraq and link 9-11 to Saddam Hussein. But according to Woodward, who spent ample time with Bush before writing his book, the President had no evidence that Iraq was involved in 9-11. He only had a gut feeling.

“I believe Iraq was involved but I am not going to strike them now. I don’t have the evidence at this point,” Bush said to his war cabinet, which includes Rumsfeld, Cheney, Powell and Wolfowitz, Woodward wrote.

Hard evidence linking Iraq to 9-11 never materialized. Still, the Bush Administration debated the idea of using 9-11 as an excuse to attack Iraq and remove Saddam from power, which Frum wrote in his book “was quite a gamble but also quite a prize.”

But it was Powell who was the lone dissenter and told Bush that he must put Iraq on the backburner and focus on dismantling al-Qaeda cells because “Americans were focused on al-Qaeda, Woodward’s book says.

Moreover, Powell told Bush that if he does consider attacking Iraq it’s crucial that he gets the public’s support first. Bush said recently, in response to the millions of anti-war protestors who marched in opposition to a war with Iraq last week, that the anti-war movement will not sway his efforts to use military force against Iraq if necessary.

“Any action needs public support,” Powell told Bush, Woodward wrote in his book. “It’s not what the international coalition supports it’s what the American people want to support.”

The American people have spoken.

JASON LEOPOLD can be reached at:


JASON LEOPOLD is the former Los Angeles bureau chief of Dow Jones Newswires where he spent two years covering the energy crisis and the Enron bankruptcy. He just finished writing a book about the crisis, due out in December through Rowman & Littlefield. He can be reached at:

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