Even while working people were still coming to terms with the shock of witnessing the unimaginable and traumatic collapse of the World Trade Center, top US officials were describing this mass murder of 3000 people as “an opportunity” recent books by government “insiders” and Washington Post assistant managing editor Bob Woodward have revealed.
As the country went into mourning, Bush’s war cabinet quickly began to coolly debate just how soon it could get away with shifting the enemy in its coming “war on terrorism” to Iraq, a country that had absolutely nothing to do with the attacks.
In the days that followed September 11, 2001, the US rulers immediately recognised that those awful acts of mass murder had provided them with a golden opportunity to achieve the US capitalist ruling class’ long-held objective of unchallenged world domination — the “American century” it predicted was at hand at the end of World War II.
In January, Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Ron Suskind’s The Price of Loyalty: George W. Bush, the White House and the Education of Paul O’Neill was published. O’Neill, a former CEO of the giant Alcoa corporation, was Bush’s treasury secretary until December 2002, when he was sacked.
O’Neill told Suskind that Bush’s hawk-dominated regime, led by vice-president Dick Cheney, defence secretary Donald Rumsfeld, deputy defence secretary Paul Wolfowitz and national security adviser Condoleezza Rice, was determined to overthrow Saddam Hussein’s regime in Iraq from ?day one?.
He reported that at the first National Security Council meeting, 10 days after Bush’s inauguration in January 2001, the ousting of Hussein was “Topic A” on Bush’s agenda.
“From the start, we were building the case against Hussein and looking at how we could take him out and change Iraq into a new country… It was about finding a way to do it. That was the tone of it. The president saying, `Fine. Go find me a way to do this”’, O’Neill told the January 10 Time magazine.
Following 9/11, in order to convince the US public that the ?war on terrorism? should include Iraq, the Bush gang set about systematically inventing, spreading and fuelling fears that Hussein possessed weapons of mass destruction — chemical, biological and nuclear — and was prepared to pass them to terrorists to be used against the US.
“In the 23 months I was there”, O’Neill told Time magazine, “I never saw anything that I would characterise as evidence of weapons of mass destruction. There were allegations and assertions by people… I never saw anything in the intelligence that I would characterise as real evidence.”
Suskind told CBS television’s 60 Minutes on January 11 that he had seen thousands of official documents that confirmed O’Neill’s account and threw light on Washington’s true motive in going after Iraq, including memos titled “Plan for post-Saddam Iraq” and “Foreign suitors for Iraqi oilfield contracts”, which included maps for future oil exploration.
O’Neill’s claims were bolstered in March with the release of Richard Clarke’s Against All Enemies: Inside America’s War on Terror. Clarke, who was the Bush administration’s national coordinator for counter-terrorism and sat on the National Security Council (the position he also held during the Clinton presidency), accused the Bush administration of, prior to 9/11, downgrading the Clinton administration’s focus on combating al Qaeda.
The Bush gang was determined to fast-track their maximum program of regaining absolute military and political dominance of the oil-rich Middle East. That meant aggressively seeking ways to achieve “regime change” in Iraq, Iran and Syria, and providing even more unconditional US support to Israel’s efforts to crush the Palestinian freedom movement.
The Bush gang’s attitude was summed up by Wolfowitz in April 2001 at a meeting of deputy department secretaries, the Bush administration’s first high-level meeting to discuss al Qaeda (the first cabinet-level meeting to discuss al Qaeda was not held until September 4, just one week before 9/11). After Clarke outlined the threat posed by al Qaeda and his ideas for dealing with it, Wolfowitz screwed up his face and complained: “I just don’t understand why we are beginning by talking about this one man [Osama] bin Laden… There are others [that pose an immediate threat to the US] as well, at least as much. Iraqi terrorism, for example.”
Disregarding Clarke’s argument that there had been no Iraqi-sponsored terrorism since 1993, while al Qaeda had successfully launched several recent devastating attacks on US targets, Wolfowitz claimed that bin Laden’s role was overblown and that he could not have carried out the attacks without Iraq as his state sponsor.
This cynical approach continued after the terrible 9/11 attacks. Clarke told CBS 60 minutes on March 21 that the day after 9/11, Bush “dragged me into a room with a couple of other people … and said, `I want you to find whether Iraq did this’. Now, he never said, `Make it up’. But the entire conversation left me in absolutely no doubt that George Bush wanted me to come back with a report that said Iraq did this. I said, `Mr President. We’ve done this before… We’ve looked at it with an open mind. There is no connection’. He came back at me and said, `Iraq! Saddam! Find out if there’s a connection’. And in a very intimidating way, that we should come back with that answer.”
Clarke and the others wrote a report that was based on all available evidence and it was cleared by both the CIA and FBI. They found no Iraqi connection to 9/11. “We sent it up to the president and got it bounced by the national security adviser or [her] deputy … and sent back, saying, `Wrong answer … Do it again!”, he told 60 Minutes.
“The White House carefully manipulated public opinion, never quite lied, but gave the very strong impression that Iraq did it”, Clarke told 60 Minutes. “The tragedy here is that Americans went to their death in Iraq thinking that they were avenging September 11, when Iraq had nothing to with it.”
Bush administration officials responded to O’Neill’s and Clarke’s whistleblowing with lies and personal abuse. On January 13, US ABC News reported that Rumsfeld had implied that O’Neill had not attended the meetings as he had claimed. However, in the same report, ABC quoted an anonymous official, who had also attended Bush’s first NSC meeting, and confirmed O’Neill’s presence. The official reported that Bush had ordered “Pentagon officials to explore the military options, including use of ground forces. That went beyond [US President Bill Clinton’s] administration’s halfhearted attempts to overthrow Hussein without force.”
Cheney’s similar dishonest charge, that Clarke was “out of the loop” on the post-9/11 decisions, also backfired when Rice had to correct the vice-president and confirm that Clarke had indeed attended key meetings attended by Cheney. In fact, after 9/11 Clarke was appointed by Cheney to co-chair the “Campaign Committee” to conduct the ?war on terror?.
`Take out Saddam?’
O’Neill’s and Clarke’s accounts tally in many respects with revelations contained in Woodward’s Plan of Attack, which was published in April. Woodward’s “fly on-the-wall” account of the lead-up to the invasion of Iraq is based on in-depth interviews with Bush and his cabinet members, including Cheney, Rumsfeld, Rice and US Secretary of State Colin Powell. Woodward also talked to scores of other senior administration, intelligence and military figures.
Woodward describes how Cheney was a “powerful, steamrolling force” determined to overthrow Hussein. Powell told Woodward that Cheney had formed what amounted to a “separate government” within the administration, which included Rumsfeld, Wolfowitz, Cheney’s chief of staff I. Lewis Libby and other prominent neo-cons.
Plan of Attack details how Cheney, prior to Bush’s January 2001 inauguration, asked outgoing defence secretary William Cohen to provide Bush with a “serious discussion about Iraq and different options” to deal with Hussein. Before 9/11, Wolfowitz proposed to Cheney, Rice and Powell that the US seize Iraq’s southern oil fields to allow the Iraqi National Congress — the neo-cons’ pet Iraqi “opposition” — a territorial base from which to overthrow Hussein.
Woodward told CBS 60 Minutes on April 18 that just five days after September 11, Bush told Condoleezza Rice, “There’s pressure to go after Saddam Hussein. Don Rumsfeld has said, `This is an opportunity to take out Saddam Hussein, perhaps. We should consider it”. However, Bush told Rice: “We won’t do Iraq now. But it’s a question we’re gonna have to return to.”
Plan of Attack confirms much of the information contained in Woodward’s earlier 2002 book, Bush at War, which dealt with the Bush administration’s response to 9/11.
A series of Washington Post articles by Woodward and Dan Balz, based on the extensive interviews with senior members of the administration that formed the basis of Bush at War, were published in late January 2002. They revealed how 9/11 was manipulated by the Bush gang in order to implement the hawks’ grand strategy.
On the morning of September 12, 2001, Rumsfeld was already demanding that the US attack Iraq. According to Woodward, in a meeting of the NSC that afternoon, Rumsfeld argued that Iraq should be “a principal target of the first round in the war on terrorism”. “Wolfowitz was even more committed to a policy that would make Iraq a principal target in the first round in the war on terrorism and would continue to press his case”, Woodward and Balz reported. Cheney argued that the target should be quickly expanded from the Taliban and al Qaeda to “those who support terrorism”.
“Everyone around the table believed that Saddam Hussein was a menace… Any serious, full-scale war against terrorism would have to make Iraq a target — eventually. The issue Rumsfeld raised was whether they should take advantage of the opportunity offered by the terrorist attacks to go after Hussein immediately.”
According to Woodward and Balz, Powell and the top military officers argued that the first target had to be Afghanistan because “the American people were focused on al Qaeda” and that “it would be far easier initially to rally the world behind the specific target of al Qaeda”. Public opinion had to be prepared before a move against Iraq was possible.
Woodward and Balz reported in the January 31, 2002, Washington Post that on September 15, Wolfowitz and Rumsfeld again pressed for an immediate military strike against Iraq. It was not until September 17 that Bush definitively ruled out striking Iraq in the first round of post-9/11 attacks.
However, reported Woodward and Balz, on February 1, 2002, “Bush said he wanted them to keep working on developing plans for military action in Iraq but indicated there would be plenty of time to do that.” In Bush at War, Woodward quotes Bush as saying: “I believe Iraq was involved [in 9/11], but I’m not going to strike now. I don’t have the evidence at this point.”
The October 12, 2001, New York Times reported that the Defense Policy Board, a semi-official Pentagon advisory panel, met on September 19-20 “to discuss the ramifications of the attacks of September 11. The members of the group agreed on the need to turn to Iraq as soon as the initial phase of the war on Afghanistan and Mr bin Laden and is organisation is over, people familiar with the meetings said. Both … Donald Rumsfeld and … Paul Wolfowitz took part in the meetings”, the NYT reported.
An article in the April 2002 issue of the New Yorker by reporter Nicholas Lemann confirmed that the Bush gang saw the slaughter of 9/11 as a political “opportunity”.
Lemann wrote that Condoleezza Rice told him that she had called together senior staff of the NSC and asked them “to think about `how do you capitalise on these opportunities’ to fundamentally change American doctrine, and shape the world, in the wake of September 11. `I really think this period is analogous to 1945 to 1947 in that the events so clearly demonstrated that there is a big global threat that has started shifting the tectonic plates in international politics. And it’s important to try to seize on that and position American interests and institutions and all that before they harden again.”
Another top official was even more honest. Lemann reported: “Inside government, the reason September 11 appears to have been `a transformative moment’, as one senior official I had lunch with put it, is not so much that it revealed the existence of a threat of which officials had previously been unaware [but] that it drastically reduced the American public’s usual resistance to American military involvement overseas, at least for a while.”
According to Woodward’s Plan of Attack, just two months after 9/11 and before US forces had defeated the Taliban regime in Afghanistan, Bush ordered Rumsfeld on November 21, 2001, to secretly prepare the military plan for the invasion of Iraq. Rumsfeld immediately began working with General Tommy Franks, head of the US General Command, to formulate the war plan. Bush told Woodward that the decision was kept secret to avoid ?enormous international angst and domestic speculation?.
From late December, 2001, Bush’s war cabinet was meeting regularly with Franks to fine-tune the plans to invade Iraq. The first detailed briefing took place on December 28 at Bush’s ranch in Texas. Afterwards, Bush lied when he claimed the meeting was a briefing on the war in Afghanistan.
In July 2002, a CIA team entered northern Iraq to prepare for military action and around the same time, Woodward revealed, Bush secretly approved hundreds of millions of dollars worth of invasion-related ?preparatory tasks?, such as the upgrading of airfields and bases in the Persian Gulf region, to allow a massive increase in US troops and arms. This funding was covertly diverted — unconstitutionally — from funds earmarked for the Afghan conflict, to avoid having to seek approval from Congress.
By now, Woodward concluded in Plan of Attack, the invasion of Iraq was past the point of no return.
`New American Century’
The power behind the Bush throne, Cheney, heads a tightly organised, highly disciplined cabal of ideologically driven figures who dominate the Bush cabinet. Many are veterans of the Reagan and Bush senior administrations.
While Bill Clinton was president, these so-called “hawks” organised themselves through a network of right-wing ruling-class think tanks and journals, with overlapping memberships and interlocking leaderships. The most important being the Project for the New American Century and the American Enterprise Institute.
The PNAC, established in 1997 to promote “American global leadership”, included among the 25 signatories of its founding ?statement of principles? Cheney, Rumsfeld, Wolfowitz and Libby.
In September 2000, the PNAC’s imperial vision was set out in a report, “Rebuilding America’s Defences: Strategy, Forces and Resources for a New Century”. It noted that the US “is the world’s only superpower, combining preeminent military power, global technological leadership and the world’s largest economy… At present the US faces no global rival. America’s grand strategy should aim to preserve and extend this advantageous position as far into the future as possible.”
The report urged Washington to develop the capability to “fight and win multiple, simultaneous major theatre wars” and at the same time “perform the `constabulary’ duties associated with shaping the security environment in critical regions”.
“Rebuilding America’s Defences” frankly admitted that a key “critical region” was the oil-rich Persian Gulf and that Iraq would be a target when its authors regained power: “The US has for decades sought to play a more permanent role in Gulf regional security. While the unresolved conflict with Iraq provides the immediate justification, the need for a substantial American force presence in the Gulf transcends the issue of the regime of Saddam Hussein.”
Clearly, the Cheney cabal had a long-standing mission to expand US global domination when it came to power behind front-man Bush junior in January 2001. But the agenda lacked the existence of a serious enough “threat” to convince the US people to abandon their desire for a post-Cold War “peace dividend” and their opposition to US soldiers dying in overseas wars.
The PNAC’s 2000 report recognised this when it stated: “the process of transformation is likely to be a long one absent some catastrophic and catalysing event — like a new Pearl Harbor.”
Remarkably, they got just that with the 9/11 terrorist attacks. As the rash of recent books reveal, the Bush gang immediately recognised the opportunity it was presented when those airliners smashed into the World Trade Center. It is perhaps no coincidence that, as Woodward notes in Bush at War, Bush wrote in his diary on the night of September 11, 2001: “The Pearl Harbor of the 21st century took place today.”
NORM DIXON is a former editor of Australia’s Green Left Weekly.