Plan of Attack, by Bob Woodward of the Washington Post: on War & Peace


Colin Powell: Contradicted Cheney and sought more UN involvement

Powell was often confounded by Cheney. In his 1995 memoir "My American Journey," Powell wrote of Cheney, "He and I had never, in nearly four years, spent a single purely social hour together."

For the first 16 months of the administration, Powell had been "in the refrigerator," as he called his frequent isolation. [Finally, in Aug. 2002, Powell presented his case without Cheney present] and Bush asked, "What else can I do?" Powell offered, "You can still make a pitch for a coalition or UN action to do what needs to be done."

[In response, Cheney said in a speech], "There is no doubt that Saddam Hussein now has weapons of mass destruction. A return of inspectors would provide no assurance whatsoever of his compliance with UN resolutions." Powell was astonished. It was a preemptive attack on what the president had agreed to 10 days earlier. Powell was accused of contradicting Cheney and of disloyalty. How can I be disloyal, he wondered, when I'm giving the president's stated position?

Source: Plan of Attack, by Bob Woodward, adapted in Washington Post

Dick Cheney: Biggest threat comes from WMD and from Saddam

Cheney thought that the Clinton administration had failed in its response to terrorist acts, going back to the World Trade Center bombing, in 1993, and that there had been a pattern of weak responses: not enough response to the 1998 embassy bombings in East Africa; none to the 2000 bombing of the USS Cole in Yemen.

After Sept. 11, it was clear to Cheney that the threat from terrorism had grown enormously. First, the standard of proof would have to be lowered-irrefutable smoking-gun evidence would not have to be required for the US to defend itself. Second, defense alone wasn't enough. They needed an offense.

The most serious threat now facing the US was a nuclear weapon or a biological or chemical agent in the hands of a terrorist inside the country's borders. And everything, in his view, had to be done to stop it. "The vice president, after 9/11, clearly saw Saddam Hussein as a threat to peace," Bush said. "And was unwavering in his view that Saddam was a real danger."

Source: Plan of Attack, by Bob Woodward, adapted in Washington Post

Dick Cheney: UN inspections would not reduce WMD threat

[In Aug. 2002, Cheney made a series of speeches]. "A return of inspectors would provide no assurance whatsoever of his compliance with UN resolutions," Cheney said of Hussein. "On the contrary, there is a great danger that it would provide false comfort that Saddam was somehow 'back in the box.' "

"There is no doubt that Saddam Hussein now has weapons of mass destruction [and] there is no doubt that he is amassing them to use against our friends, against our allies and against us," including "an aggressive nuclear weapons program." Ten days earlier, the president himself had said only that Hussein "desires" these weapons. Neither Bush nor the CIA had made any assertion comparable to Cheney's.

Cheney also said that these weapons in the hands of a "murderous dictator" are "as great a threat as can be imagined. The risks of inaction are far greater than the risk of action." These remarks, just short of a declaration of war, were widely interpreted as administration policy.

Source: Plan of Attack, by Bob Woodward, adapted in Washington Post

Dick Cheney: Contradicted Powell and sought to connect Saddam and 9/11

Powell thought that Cheney had the fever. The vice president kept looking for the connection between Hussein and Sept. 11. He saw in Cheney a sad transformation. The cool operator from the first Gulf War just would not let go. Cheney now had an unhealthy fixation. Nearly every conversation or reference came back to al Qaeda and trying to nail the connection with Iraq. He would often have an obscure piece of intelligence. Powell thought that Cheney took intelligence and converted uncertainty and ambiguity into fact.

It was about the worst charge that Powell could make about the vice president. But there it was. Cheney would take an intercept and say it shows something was happening. No, no, no, Powell or another would say, it shows that somebody talked to somebody else who said something might be happening. A conversation would suggest something might be happening, and Cheney would convert that into a "We know." Well, Powell concluded, we didn't know. No one knew.

Source: Plan of Attack, by Bob Woodward, adapted in Washington Post

Dick Cheney: WMD inspections makes decision to take out Saddam harder

Cheney listed reasons inspections [for Iraqi weapons] could mire them in a tar pit. First, the inspectors would be lawyers and experts from around the world who were less concerned about, and less skeptical of, Saddam. Second, these inspectors would be more inclined to accept what they were told by Iraqi authorities, less likely to challenge, more likely to be fooled. The end result would be inconclusive. So inspections would make getting to a decision to actually take out Saddam much more difficult.
Source: Plan of Attack, by Bob Woodward, p.176

George W. Bush: $389M in 2002-2003 for CIA to overthrow Saddam

[The CIA] worked on a new Top Secret intelligence order for regime change in Iraq that Bush signed on Feb. 16, 2002. It directed the CIA to support the US military in overthrowing Hussein and granted authority to support opposition groups and conduct sabotage operations inside Iraq. The cost was set at $200 million a year for two years. After some disputes in Congress, the budget was cut to $189 million for the first year.

In March 2002, [CIA director George] Tenet met secretly with two Kurdish leaders who would be critical to covert action inside Iraq. Tenet had one message: The US was serious, the military and the CIA were coming. Bush meant what he said. It was a new era. Hussein was going down.

When Tenet took problems to Bush, the president asked, Well, what's a solution? How do you take the next step? It was a new ethos for the intelligence business. Suddenly there seemed to be no penalty for taking risks and making mistakes.

Source: Plan of Attack, by Bob Woodward, adapted in Washington Post

George W. Bush: CIA report hedged on whether Saddam had WMD

The CIA had never declared categorically that it believed Hussein possessed weapons of mass destruction. The Dec. 2000 National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) concluded that Hussein "retained a small stockpile" of chemical warfare agents-not actual warheads perhaps 100 tons. This conclusion was drawn largely from accounting discrepancies between UN [reports of what had been destroyed].

A long NIE has a section called "Key Judgments" in which the intelligence analysts would try to give a bottom-line answer If the Key Judgments used words such as "maybe" or "probably," the NIE would be "pablum." The real and best answer was that Saddam probably had WMD, but that there was no proof and the case was circumstantial. [But the final] document said under the Key Judgments, without qualification, "Baghdad has chemical and biological weapons." No pablum. From that attention-getting assertion, the NIE makes muted but clear equivocations. In the end, the hedging and backing off telegraphed immense doubt.

Source: Plan of Attack, by Bob Woodward, adapted in Washington Post

George W. Bush: CIA chief told Bush "slam dunk" that Saddam had WMD

[On Dec. 21, 2002, CIA director George] Tenet went to the Oval Office to present "The Case" on WMD to the president, Cheney, Rice, & Andrew Card. [When the presentation was done], there was a look on the president's face of, What's this? And then a brief moment of silence. "Nice try," Bush said. "I don't think this is quite something that Joe Public would understand or would gain a lot of confidence from." Bush turned to Tenet. "I've been told all this intelligence about having WMD and this is the best we've got?"

Tenet rose up, threw him arms in the air. "It's a slam-dunk case!" the director of central intelligence said. It was unusual for Tenet to be so certain. Cheney could think of no reason to question Tenet's assertion. Bush said of Tenet's reassurance -- "That was very important."

"Needs a lot more work," Bush told Card & Rice. "Let's get some people who've actually put together a case for a jury." The president told Tenet several times, "Make sure no one stretches to make our case."

Source: Plan of Attack, by Bob Woodward, adapted in Washington Post

Colin Powell: Invading Iraq means "owning" it, for better or worse

[Bush told Powell], "The inspections are not getting us there." He had made up his mind that the US should go to war.

"You understand the consequences," Powell said in a half question. For nearly six months, he had been hammering on this theme-that the US would be taking down a regime, would have to govern Iraq, and the ripple effect in the Middle East and the world could not be predicted. "You know that you're going to be owning this place?" Powell said. An invasion would mean assuming the hopes, aspirations and all the troubles of Iraq. Powell wasn't sure whether Bush had fully understood the meaning and consequences of total ownership.

But I think I have to do this, the president said, making it clear this was not a discussion, but the president informing one of his Cabinet members of his decision. The fork in the road had been reached and Bush had chosen war. In all the discussions, meetings, chats and back-and-forth, the president had never once asked Powell, Would you do this?

Source: Plan of Attack, by Bob Woodward, adapted in Washington Post

Condoleezza Rice: War stops Saddam from beating international community

Rice was the only member of his war cabinet whom Bush directly asked for a recommendation of whether to go to war. "Should we do this?," he had asked her a few weeks before.

"Yes," she said. "Because it isn't American credibility on the line, it is the credibility of everybody that this gangster can yet again beat the international system." As important as credibility was, she said, "Credibility should never drive you to do something you shouldn't do." But this was much bigger, she advised, something that should be done. "To let this threat in this part of the world play volleyball with the international community this way will come back to haunt us someday. That is the reason to do it."

Other than Rice, Bush said he didn't need to ask the principal advisers whether they thought he should go to war. He knew what Cheney thought, & he decided not to ask Powell or Rumsfeld. "I could tell what they thought," the president recalled. "I didn't need to ask them their opinion about Saddam Hussein.

Source: Plan of Attack, by Bob Woodward, adapted in Washington Post

Dick Cheney: Pre-war planning: once the war starts, Saddam is "toast"

"What is the chance of Saddam surviving this?" [Saudi ambassador] Prince Bandar asked. He believed Hussein was intent on killing everyone involved at a high level with the 1991 Persian Gulf War, including himself. Rumsfeld didn't answer. "Saddam, this time, will be out, period?" Bandar asked skeptically.

Cheney replied, "Prince Bandar, once we start, Saddam is toast."

After Bandar had left, Rumsfeld voiced some concern about the "toast" remark. "What was that all about, Dick?"

"I didn't want to leave any doubt in his mind what we're planning to do," Cheney said.

[The next day, to Bush], Bandar said, "People are not going to shed tears over Saddam Hussein, but if he's attacked one more time by America and he stays in power after you've finished this, yes, everybody will follow his word." The problem would be if Hussein survived. The Saudis needed assurance that Hussein was going to be toast. Bush said, "The message [from Cheney that] you're taking is mine, Bandar."

Source: Plan of Attack, by Bob Woodward, adapted in Washington Post

George W. Bush: US could not maintain Iraq inspection regime indefinitely

"How long does [UN Inspector Hans Blix] think I can do this [maintain a limited US military presence]?" Bush asked. "A year? I can't. The United States can't stay in this position while Saddam plays games with the inspectors."

"You have to follow through on your threat," Condoleezza Rice said. "If you're going to carry out coercive diplomacy, you have to live with that decision."

"He's getting more confident, not less," Bush said of Saddam Hussein. "He can manipulate the international system again. We're not winning.

"Time is not on our side here," Bush told Rice. "Probably going to have to, we're going to have to go to war."

In Rice's mind, this was the moment the president decided the United States would go to war with Iraq. Military planning had been underway for more than a year even as Bush sought a diplomatic solution through the United Nations. He would continue those efforts, at least publicly, for 10 more weeks, but he had reached a point of no return.

Source: Plan of Attack, by Bob Woodward, adapted in Washington Post

John Kerry: Karl Rove: "Kerry gave green light to Bush on Iraq"

By early February 2004, White House political adviser Karl Rove could see that Iraq was turning into a potential negative. "The good news for us is that Dean is not the nominee," Rove now argued. But Kerry had voted in favor of the resolution for war. Rove offered some readings from the Kerry record.

"Iraq has developed a chemical weapons capability," Rove quoted Kerry saying in October 1990. In 1998, Kerry said that Hussein was "pursuing a program to build weapons of mass destruction," and in October 2002, he said, "The threat of Saddam Hussein with weapons of mass destruction is real. I am prepared to hold Saddam Hussein accountable."

Kerry's main response was that Bush did not press hard enough or long enough with the UN, that he did not plan for the aftermath, and was too eager to go to war when Hussein was isolated and weak. But Rove believed they had Kerry pretty cold on voting to give the president a green light for war and then backing off when he didn't like the aftermath.

Source: Plan of Attack, by Bob Woodward, adapted in Washington Post

  • The above quotations are from Plan of Attack, by Bob Woodward of the Washington Post.
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Other candidates on War & Peace:
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