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O'Neill's Claims Supported by 1998 Memo

The Rummy/Wolfowitz War Letters

by JASON LEOPOLD

Anyone who doubts former Treasury Secretary Paul O’Neill’s recent claims that President Bush mislead the public and secretly planned the Iraq war eight months before the terrorist attacks on Sept. 11 needs to read the two letters sent to then President Bill Clinton in 1998 and Speaker of the House Trent Lott by current members of the Bush administration urging Clinton to launch a preemptive strike against Iraq.

Back then, Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, his deputy, Paul Wolfowitz and other pro-war hawks lobbied Clinton and Gingrich to remove former Iraqi President Saddam Hussein from power using military force and indict him as a "war criminal." Rumsfeld and Wolfowitz, both of whom were working in the private sector at the time, were affiliated with the right-wing think tank Project for a New American Century, which was founded by Weekly Standard editor William Kristol in 1997 to promote America’s foreign and defense policies.

Other familiar names on PNAC’s roster of supporters include Richard Armitage, currently Deputy Secretary of State, Richard Perle, one of the architects of the Iraq war and former chairman of the Pentagon’s Defense Policy Board, and Robert Kagan, a former Deputy for Policy in the State Department’s Bureau for Inter-American Affairs during the Ronald Reagan’s presidency. Kagan is also co-chair of PNAC.

PNAC has been instrumental in helping the Bush administration shape its defense policies. Since Bush has been in office, PNAC has succeeded in getting Rumsfeld to scrap the multibillion-dollar Army Crusader Artillery Program and also advising the Defense Secretary to request a $48 billion one-year increase for national defense, both of which were written about extensively in reports posted on PNAC’s web site before Rumsfeld was approached by the group.

However, one of PNAC’s first goals when it was founded in 1997 was to urge Congress and the Clinton administration to support regime change in Iraq because Saddam Hussein was allegedly manufacturing chemical and biological weapons, claims that today have turned out to be untrue.

"Only ground forces can remove Saddam and his regime from power and open the way for a new post-Saddam Iraq…" PNAC founder Kristol wrote in a 1997 report. Kristol’s Weekly Standard magazine is owned by News Corp. Chairman Rupert Murdoch, who also owns the Fox News Channel, considered by many media critics to be the mouthpiece of the Bush administration.

A year after Kristol’s report, Rumsfeld, Wolfowitz, Perle, Armitage and other PNAC members sent a letter to Clinton, repeating much of what Kristol said in his report a year earlier.

"We urge you to turn your Administration’s attention to implementing a strategy for removing Saddam’s regime from power," says the letter sent to Clinton. "This will require a full complement of diplomatic, political and military efforts. Although we are fully aware of the dangers and difficulties in implementing this policy, we believe the dangers of failing to do so are far greater. We believe the U.S. has the authority under existing UN resolutions to take the necessary steps, including military steps, to protect our vital interests in the Gulf. In any case, American policy cannot continue to be crippled by a misguided insistence on unanimity in the UN Security Council."

However, in an ironic twist, Clinton rebuffed the advice saying his administration was focusing on the worldwide threat posed by the terrorist group al-Qaeeda and it’s leader Osama Bin Laden, who was responsible for the 9/11 terrorist attack and who Iraq war critics say the Bush administration should have been focusing on after 9/11 instead of Saddam Hussein.

The 1998 letters to Clinton and Gingrich seems to back up the revelations made by O’Neil in the book "The Price of Loyalty" that the Iraq war was, in fact, planned in the days after Bush was sworn into office-possibly even earlier-if you consider that between 1998 and late 1999, when Rumsfeld and Wolfowitz, the chief architects of the Iraq war, they spent nearly two years lobbying Congress to use military force to overthrow Saddam Hussein from power.

When Clinton refused, Rumsfield, Wolfowitz and others from PNAC wrote another letter on May 29, 1998, to Gingrich and Senate Republican Majority Leader Trent Lott, saying that the United States should "establish and maintain a strong U.S. military presence in the region and be prepared to use that force to protect our vital interests in the Gulf-and, if necessary, to help remove Saddam from power."

"We should take whatever steps are necessary to challenge Saddam Hussein’s claim to be Iraq’s legitimate ruler, including indicting him as a war criminal," says the letter to Gingrich and Lott. "U.S. policy should have as its explicit goal removing Saddam Hussein’s regime from power and establishing a peaceful and democratic Iraq in its place. We recognize that this goal will not be achieved easily. But the alternative is to leave the initiative to Saddam, who will continue to strengthen his position at home and in the region. Only the U.S. can lead the way in demonstrating that his rule is not legitimate and that time is not on the side of his regime."

All of the Iraq "war" letters are posted on PNAC’s web site, www.newamericancentury.org

The letters offered no hard evidence that Iraq was in possession of weapons of mass destruction but it did say that with Saddam Hussein in power "a significant portion of the world’s supply of oil will all be put at hazard . . ."

JASON LEOPOLD can be reached at: jasonleopold@hotmail.com