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The 1998 Origins of the Bush Iraq War Drive

by JASON LEOPOLD

Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and Deputy Secretary Paul Wolfowitz undertook a full-fledged lobbying campaign in 1998 to get former President Bill Clinton to start a war with Iraq and topple Saddam Hussein’s regime claiming that the country posed a threat to the United States, according to documents obtained from a former Clinton aide.

This new information begs the question: what is really driving the Bush Administration’s desire to start a war with Iraq if two of Bush’s future top defense officials were already planting the seeds for an attack five years ago?

In 1998, Rumsfeld and Wolfowitz were working in the private sector. Both were involved with the right-wing think tank Project for a New American Century, which was established in 1997 by William Kristol, editor of the Weekly Standard, to promote global leadership and dictate American foreign policy.

While Clinton was dealing with the worldwide threat from Al-Qaeda and Osama Bin Laden, Rumsfeld and Wolfowitz wrote to Clinton urging him to use military force against Iraq and remove Hussein from power because the country posed a threat to the United States due to its alleged ability to develop weapons of mass destruction. The Jan 26, 1998 letter sent to Clinton from the Project for the New American Century said a war with Iraq should be initiated even if the United States could not muster support from its allies in the United Nations. Kristol also signed the letter.

“We are writing you because we are convinced that current American policy toward Iraq is not succeeding, and that we may soon face a threat in the Middle East more serious than any we have known since the end of the Cold War,” says the letter. “In your upcoming State of the Union Address, you have an opportunity to chart a clear and determined course for meeting this threat. We urge you to seize that opportunity, and to enunciate a new strategy that would secure the interests of the U.S. and our friends and allies around the world. That strategy should aim, above all, at the removal of Saddam Hussein’s regime from power.”

“We urge you to turn your Administration’s attention to implementing a strategy for removing Saddam’s regime from power. 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,” says the letter.

The full contents of the Rumsfeld and Wolfowitz letter can be viewed at http://www.newamericancentury.org/iraqclintonletter.htm.

Clinton rebuffed the advice from the future Bush Administration officials saying he was focusing his attention on dismantling Al-Qaeda cells, according to a copy of the response Clinton sent to Rumsfeld, Wolfowitz and Kristol.

Unsatisfied with Clinton’s response, Rumsfeld, Wolfowitz, Kristol and others from the Project for the New American Century wrote another letter on May 29, 1998 to former House Speaker Newt 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.”

The letter to Gingrich and Lott can be viewed at http://www.newamericancentury.org/iraqletter1998.htm.

The White House would not comment on the letters or whether Rumsfeld and Wolfowitz possessed any intelligence information that suggested Iraq posed an imminent threat to the United States at the time. The letters offered no hard evidence that Iraq was in possession of weapons of mass destruction.

The Clinton aide said the former President believed that the policy of “containing Saddam Hussein in a box” was successful and that the Iraqi regime did not pose any threat to U.S. interests at the time.

President Clinton “never considered war with Iraq an option,” the former aide said. “We were encouraged by the UN weapons inspectors and believed they had a good handle on the situation.”

Rumsfeld, Wolfowitz and Kristol, however, disagreed; saying the only way to deal with Hussein was by initiating a full-scale war.

“The policy of “containment” of Saddam Hussein has been steadily eroding over the past several months,” Rumsfeld, Wolfowitz and Kristol wrote in their letter to Clinton. “As recent events have demonstrated, we can no longer depend on our partners in the Gulf War coalition to continue to uphold the sanctions or to punish Saddam when he blocks or evades UN inspections. It hardly needs to be added that if Saddam does acquire the capability to deliver weapons of mass destruction, as he is almost certain to do if we continue along the present course, the safety of American troops in the region, of our friends and allies like Israel and the moderate Arab states, and a significant portion of the world’s supply of oil will all be put at hazard. The only acceptable strategy is one that eliminates the possibility that Iraq will be able to use or threaten to use weapons of mass destruction. In the near term, this means a willingness to undertake military action as diplomacy is clearly failing. In the long term, it means removing Saddam Hussein and his regime from power.”

Those alleged threats posed by Iraq and the advice Rumsfeld, Wolfowitz and Weekly Standard Editor William Kristol first offered the attention of the Clinton Administration five years ago have now become the blueprint for how the Bush Administration is dealing with the Iraq.

The existence of the Rumsfeld and Wolfowitz “war” letters is just another reason to question the Bush Administration’s desire to go to war with Iraq now instead of dealing with other pressing issues such as Al-Qaeda. Because the letters were written in 1998 it proves that this war was planned well before 9-11 and casts further doubt on the claims that Saddam Hussein was involved in the 9-11 terrorist attacks.

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

 

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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: jasonleopold@hotmail.com

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