Two weeks before 9/11, national security wasn't even
a top priority for the Bush administration. Job security and health
security were the top two major issues Bush planned to deal with
in the fall of 2001, according to a transcript of a speech Bush gave on August
31, 2001, to celebrate the launch of the White House's new web site.
But 9/11 gave the Bush administration the excuse they
needed to execute a long-planned military strike against Iraq. President
Bush and his cabinet duped Congress and the American people into
believing the country had ties to al-Qaeda, and helped the terrorist
organization plan the attacks on the World Trade Center and the
Pentagon five years ago.
Now, lawmakers have finally released a report debunking
those assertions. For a majority of Americans, that's now old news.
Yet forty percent of Americans are still under the
impression that the Iraq war is directly linked to 9/11. A January
11, 2001, article in the New York Times, "Iraq Is Focal Point as Bush Meets With
Joint Chiefs," should
finally put an end to that debate and prove that the Iraq war was
planned out just days after Bush was sworn into office.
"George W. Bush, the nation's commander in chief
to be, went to the Pentagon today for a top-secret session with
the Joint Chiefs of Staff to review hot spots around the world where
he might have to send American forces into harm's way," reads
the first paragraph of the Times article. Bush was joined at the
Pentagon meeting by Vice President Dick Cheney, Secretary of State
Colin L. Powell, Secretary of Defense Donald H. Rumsfeld, and National
Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice.
The Times reported that "about half of the 75-minute
meeting ... focused on a discussion about Iraq and the Persian Gulf,
two participants said. Iraq was the first topic briefed because
'it's the most visible and most risky area' Mr. Bush will confront
after he takes office, one senior officer said."
"Iraqi policy is very much on his mind,"
one senior Pentagon official told the Times. "Saddam was clearly
a discussion point."
As early as January 2000, Rice was trying to sell
a war with Iraq. It was then that she wrote an article for Foreign
Affairs Magazine titled "Campaign 2000 - Promoting the National Interest,"
in which she advocates a policy of regime change in Iraq, but fails
to mention threats from Islamic fundamentalist groups such as al-Qaeda.
"As history marches toward markets and democracy,
some states have been left by the side of the road. Iraq is the
prototype. Saddam Hussein's regime is isolated, his conventional
military power has been severely weakened, his people live in poverty
and terror, and he has no useful place in international politics.
He is therefore determined to develop WMD. Nothing will change until
Saddam is gone, so the United States must mobilize whatever resources
it can, including support from his opposition, to remove him. These
regimes are living on borrowed time, so there need be no sense of
panic about them."
She echoed that line in August 2000, during an interview
with the Council on Foreign Relations, when Rice said Iraq posed
the gravest threat to the US and the world.
"The containment of Iraq should be aimed ultimately
at regime change because as long as Saddam is there no one in the
region is safe - most especially his own people," she said
during the August 9, 2000, interview. "If Saddam gives you
a reason to use force against him, then use decisive force, not
just a pinprick." Rice was interviewed by dozens of print and
broadcast journalists between January and September 2001. An extensive
search of more than 400 news stories available on Lexis Nexus between
January 1, 2001, and September 10, 2001, show that Rice never once
spoke about the threat posed by al-Qaeda or its leader Osama bin
When Rice discussed terrorism in public speeches and
in interviews in 2001, she uttered the word to describe rogue nations
such as Iraq and then followed it up by promoting President Bush's
National Missile Defense strategy. The White House wanted to build
a missile defense system to defend the United States against small-scale
missile attacks by so-called rogue states like North Korea, Iraq
and Iran. Al-Qaeda, which the administration says it dealt with
seriously, is never mentioned.
On July 29, 2001, Rice was interviewed by CNN's John
King. She was asked how the United States would respond to missiles
Iraq fired at US war planes patrolling the no-fly zones. She didn't
mince words with her response.
"Well, the president has made very clear that
he considers Saddam Hussein to be a threat to his neighbors, a threat
to security in the region, in fact a threat to international security
more broadly," Rice said. "And he has reserved the right
to respond when that threat becomes one that he wishes no longer
"But I can be certain of this, and the world
can be certain of this: Saddam Hussein is on the radar screen for
the administration. The administration is working hard with a number
of our friends and allies to have a policy that is broad; that does
look at the sanctions as something that should be restructured so
that we have smart sanctions that go after the regime, not after
the Iraqi people; that does look at the role of opposition in creating
an environment and a regime in Baghdad that the people of Iraq deserve,
rather than the one that they have; and one that looks at use of
military force in a more resolute manner, and not just a manner
of tit-for-tat with him every day."
The question of whether the Bush administration targeted
Iraq prior to 9/11 has long been the center of heated debate between
Democrats and Republicans. The Bush administration says Iraq was
not in its crosshairs prior to 9/11. In the book "The Price
of Loyalty," Bush's former treasury secretary, Paul O'Neill,
said that the Iraq war was planned just days after the president
was sworn into office.
the very beginning, there was a conviction that Saddam Hussein was
a bad person and that he needed to go," O'Neill said, adding
that going after Saddam Hussein was a priority 10 days after the
Bush's inauguration and eight months before September 11. "From
the very first instance, it was about Iraq. It was about what we
can do to change this regime. Day one, these things were laid and
As treasury secretary, O'Neill was a permanent member
of the National Security Council. He says in the book that he was
surprised that at the meeting questions like "Why Saddam?"
and "Why now?" were never asked.
In his inaugural address on January 20, 2001, President
Bush also alluded to the possibility of war, although he did not
mention Iraq by name. "We will confront weapons of mass destruction,
so that a new century is spared new horrors," Bush said. "The
enemies of liberty and our country should make no mistake ... We
will defend our allies and our interests."
Further evidence suggests that when the Bush administration
took office it was worried that the US was losing international
support for the sanctions it placed on Iraq ten years earlier, leaving
the door open to the possibility that Saddam Hussein would be let
out of his proverbial box. President Bush sent Powell on a trip
to the Middle East in late February 2001 to study the situation
in Iraq to decide whether the administration should keep the sanctions
in place or whether it should start to lay the groundwork for a
But Powell returned and championed the sanctions,
saying Iraq posed absolutely no threat to the US, during testimony
before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on March 8, 2001,
much to the dismay of Vice President Cheney, Rumsfeld and his deputy,
Paul Wolfowitz, all of whom believed in using military force to
oust Saddam Hussein.
"When we took over on the 20th of January, I
discovered that we had an Iraq policy that was in disarray, and
the sanctions part of that policy was not just in disarray; it was
falling apart," Powell said during his Senate testimony. "We
were losing support for the sanctions regime that had served so
well over the last ten years; with all of the ups and downs and
with all of the difficulties that are associated with that regime,
it was falling apart. It had been successful. Saddam Hussein has
not been able to rebuild his army, notwithstanding claims that he
has. He has fewer tanks in his inventory today than he had 10 years
ago. Even though we know he is working on weapons of mass destruction,
we know he has things squirreled away, at the same time we have
not seen that capacity emerge to present a full-fledged threat to
Moreover, claims by O'Neill that the US and Britain
were operating from murky intelligence during the buildup to war
came six days after Bush's inauguration. It was then that British
intelligence communicated to the CIA, the Pentagon, and National
Security Adviser Rice's office that an Iraqi defector had told British
intelligence officials that Saddam Hussein had two fully operational
nuclear bombs, according to two senior Bush advisers.
The London Telegraph reported the defector's claims on January 28,
2001. "According to the defector, who cannot be named for security
reasons, bombs are being built in Hemrin in north-eastern Iraq,
near the Iranian border," according to the Telegraph report.
The defector said: "There are at least two nuclear bombs which
are ready for use. Before the UN inspectors came, there were 47
factories involved in the project. Now there are 64."
That information turned out to be grossly inaccurate,
but it was cited by Vice President Dick Cheney during a speech in
2002 as a means to build the case for war.
O'Neill's allegations that Bush planned an Iraq invasion
prior to 9/11 are backed up by dozens of on-the-record statements
and speeches made by the president's senior advisers, including
Rumsfeld, Secretary of State Colin Powell and National Security
Adviser Condoleezza Rice, during Bush's first four months in office.
In dozens of transcripts posted on the Defense Department's web
site between January and May 2001, Rumsfeld said the United States
needed to be prepared for surprises, such as launching pre-emptive
wars against countries like Iraq.
"If you think about it, Dick Cheney's (Secretary
of Defense) confirmation hearing in 1989 - not one United States
senator mentioned a word about Iraq," Rumsfeld said in a May
25, 2001, interview with PBS's NewsHour. "The word 'Iraq' was
never mentioned in his entire confirmation hearing. One year later
we're at war with Iraq. Now, what does that tell you? Well, it tells
you that you'd best be flexible; you'd best expect the unexpected."
In fact, Rumsfeld discusses the above scenario in
a half-dozen other interviews in May 2001 and appears to suggest,
by specifically mentioning Iraq, that history would eventually repeat
itself. Responding to a reporter's question on January 26, 2001,
about the Bush administration's policy toward Saddam Hussein's regime
days after his Senate confirmation hearing, Rumsfeld said "I
think that the policy of the country is that it is not helpful to
have Saddam Hussein's regime in office."
Leopold is a former Los Angeles bureau chief for Dow Jones Newswire.
He has written over 2,000 stories on the California energy crisis
and received the Dow Jones Journalist of the Year Award in 2001
for his coverage on the issue as well as a Project Censored award
in 2004. Leopold also reported extensively on Enron's downfall and
was the first journalist to land an interview with former Enron
president Jeffrey Skilling following Enron's bankruptcy filing in
December 2001. Leopold has appeared on CNBC and National Public
Radio as an expert on energy policy and has also been the keynote
speaker at more than two dozen energy industry conferences around
This article originally appeared in Truthout.org.