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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 Laden.

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 to tolerate."

"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.

"From 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 sealed."

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 pre-emptive strike.

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 us."

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."

Jason 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 the country.

This article originally appeared in Truthout.org.

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September 14, 2006
Issue 197

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