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THE IRAQ WAR -- PART II: Was There Even a Decision?

U.S. and British Documents Give No Indication Alternatives Were Seriously Considered

National Security Archive Electronic Briefing Book No. 328

Edited by John Prados and Christopher Ames

Posted - October 1, 2010

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John Prados - 202/994-7000

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Washington, D.C., October 1, 2010 – Contrary to statements by President George W. Bush or Prime Minister Tony Blair, declassified records from both governments posted on the Web today reflect an early and focused push to prepare war plans and enlist allies regardless of conflicting intelligence about Iraq’s threat and the evident difficulties in garnering global support.

Perhaps most revealing about today’s posting on the National Security Archive’s Web site is what is missing—any indication whatsoever from the declassified record to date that top Bush administration officials seriously considered an alternative to war. In contrast there is an extensive record of efforts to energize military planning, revise existing contingency plans, and create a new, streamlined war plan.

This electronic briefing book is the second of three to be posted by the National Security Archive that re-examine several aspects of the run-up to the war. The previous EBB covered the development of President Bush’s thinking during the first year of his presidency. This posting focuses on U.S. planning and preparations for action, and British deliberations over how to respond to the Bush administration, during 2002. It is accompanied by a separate analysis by Archive Senior Fellow John Prados and journalist Christopher Ames that reframes this critical period. The third part of this set will address a parallel effort to create political conditions conducive to carrying out an invasion of Iraq.

Among other findings from the documents, the posting’s editors conclude that the Bush administration sought to avoid the emergence of opposition to its actions by means of secrecy and deception, holding the war plan as a “compartmented concept,” restricting information even from allies like the United Kingdom, and pretending that no war plans were being reviewed by the president.

President Bush and his senior advisers were so intent on pursuing their project for war, the documents show, that they refused to be deterred by early and repeated refusals of cooperation from regional allies like Turkey, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, and Egypt; or from traditional allies such as France and Germany.

Bush administration disdain for a diplomatic solution to the issue of Iraq’s potential for developing weapons of mass destruction is further evidenced, the editors conclude, in early resistance to a multilateral solution through the United Nations (UN), in a preference to substitute direct U.S. control for a UN monitoring regime, and in the difficulty encountered by both America’s closest ally, the United Kingdom, as well as the U.S. State Department, in inducing President Bush to agree to try a UN initiative.

 


Analysis: Was There Even a Decision?
By John Prados and Christopher Ames*

Available documentary records, recollections of Bush administration officials, and the growing body of testimony and materials assembled by the British Iraq Inquiry (Chilcot Panel), support the thesis that the United States went to war in Iraq without clear consideration of whether war was a proper recourse. One of a series of electronic briefing books (EBB) re-examining several aspects of the run up to the war, this posting focuses on planning and preparations for action during 2002. (The first EBB covered the beginning of the Bush administration; the third will address a parallel effort to craft propaganda in favor of a military conflict, in the guise of intelligence reporting.)  The net effect of these activities was to foreclose diplomatic options that would have prevented war.

President George W. Bush and Prime Minister Tony Blair, the record suggests, made their real decision privately and restricted knowledge to a very few individuals. Information from participants, especially on the British side, also increasingly suggests that even between the U.S. and British governments, and within the Bush administration itself, subordinate officials were kept in ignorance of leaders’ real intentions. Evidence indicates the decision was made very early, long before ultimatums to Iraq or other diplomatic action. An alternative view, that leaders ordered up contingency plans for war and then simply implemented them without further consideration based on the mechanics of military and alliance planning, offers an equally bleak picture of the disastrous Operation Iraqi Freedom.

General Tommy Franks, commander-in-chief of the Central Command (CENTCOM), the responsible U.S. military authority, makes clear in a memoir that from December 28, 2001, when he presented President Bush with a concept for an invasion of Iraq, subsequent efforts were entirely aimed at refining the operational plan, identifying and preparing the required forces, and making the necessary supply and basing arrangements. Before and after, Franks was constantly prodded for progress by Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld. (Note 1) President Bush instructed Franks to continue elaborating his plan and told Secretary Rumsfeld and Secretary of State Colin Powell to work together to secure the support of Middle Eastern nations and enlist allies for the invasion option. (Note 2) President Bush wrapped up the meeting, a videoconference with participants all over the country, by encouraging all his senior officials to believe that Iraq could, in fact, be deprived of the weapons of mass destruction that all of them assumed were hidden there. “We should remain optimistic that a combination of diplomacy and international pressure will succeed in disarming the regime,” Bush declared, “But if this approach isn’t successful we have to have other options.” (Note 3)

Documenting the origins of the Iraq war are an increasing array of declassified documents, a public record of the time, and a growing body of reflections, recollections, and memoirs. This material sustains the narrative of a drive toward war but not one of conflict resolution. Such diplomacy as took place was designed to recruit allies for an invasion or to coerce the Saddam government into admitting international teams of weapons inspectors—not to disarm Iraq but to justify invasion.

At the very beginning of 2002 (see National Security Archive EBB No. 326) the American distaste for disarmament measures was apparent in the reception that chief United Nations (UN) weapons inspector Hans Blix received when he visited Washington early in the new year. During 2001 Secretary Powell had promoted “smart sanctions” to encourage Iraqi disarmament but the events of 9/11 had effectively killed that policy. Now a succession of Bush administration officials voiced doubts or made veiled threats. Colin Powell expected Iraq would never comply with UN measures while his undersecretary for arms control, John Bolton, remarked that any UN effort would need the help of the permanent members of the United Nations Security Council—of whom the U.S. was one. National security adviser Condoleezza Rice told Blix of her fears Saddam Hussein would use weapons of mass destruction (WMD) or give them to terrorists. Undersecretary of Defense Douglas Feith worried that UN inspectors visiting Iraq would simply learn how to conceal WMDs in their own countries. (Note 4) His colleague Paul Wolfowitz asked the CIA to investigate whether Hans Blix himself was a security risk. (The agency found no evidence of that. (Note 5)) Meanwhile, ahead of Blix’s visit, CIA chief George Tenet and senior clandestine service officers met with Vice President Richard Cheney at the White House to discuss covert operations in Iraq.

On January 29, 2002, in the first open expression of U.S. hostility toward Iraq, President Bush named that country in his State of the Union address as a member of a group he called the “Axis of Evil.” On February 1 General Franks briefed Secretary Rumsfeld on the latest version of his CENTCOM invasion plan and that same day CIA officers presented their covert action scheme—considered an integral part of CENTCOM’s proposal. Franks repeated this briefing for the President on February 7. Going through his slides the general reported that the time period from December through March or April would be best, when climate conditions were optimal for military operations, but he responded affirmatively when Rumsfeld pressed on whether CENTCOM could be ready to go sooner than that. General Franks added that he had trips scheduled to meet senior commanders in the region, “But Secretary Powell and Secretary Rumsfeld will have to orchestrate the diplomatic heavy lifting.” (Note 6)  

On February 12 Secretary of State Colin Powell told a Senate committee that regime change in Iraq was a longstanding U.S. policy and in the best interests of the Iraqi people.(Note 7) Powell hastened to add that President Bush had no invasion plan on his desk, which was accurate only because the project was not actually on his desk (Franks had presented his latest concept to Bush five days earlier). “I will reserve whatever options I have, I’ll keep them close to my vest,” President Bush said at a February 13 news conference. (Note 8) Several days later he signed a new presidential finding authorizing covert operations against Iraq, and CIA advance teams visited the Kurdish region of that country within days. During all of this no U.S. diplomatic initiative was underway to encourage the Saddam regime to show the real state of its armaments programs.

Instead American diplomacy sought to build the foundation for war. In testimony to the Iraq Inquiry (Chilcot Committee), British politicians and officials from the time were contradictory about when, exactly, the Blair government learned that U.S. policy on Iraq had changed to one of securing regime change through the use of force. Sir Peter Ricketts, political director at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, the British equivalent to the State Department, recalls: “I don’t feel that there was a particular point . . .  where it was unmistakably clear that there had been a change of US policy.” (Note 9) On the other hand, Ricketts reports, in late November 2001 “one began to hear talk of a phase two of the War on Terror from Washington.” Foreign Secretary Jack Straw, Colin Powell’s counterpart in the Blair Cabinet, testified that, “I don’t recall, in the late part of 2001 and the early part of 2002, getting much advice from ambassadors about a change of policy in respect of the Americans.” (Note 10) But Straw contradicted himself where he added that after 9/11 he learned of “sections” of the Bush administration and of the Republican Party “talking up the possibility of military action against Iraq.” (Note 11)

Both British officials also gave contradictory testimony regarding the Blair government’s response to this development. Asked whether officials were requested to project “where this might be going,” Ricketts answered, “I don’t believe so, no. We certainly never put up any advice on that, as far as I recall.” But Straw recalled a visit to Washington in early December 2001 by Sir David Manning, foreign policy adviser to Prime Minister Blair, focused on this issue. Straw reports he approved a briefing for Manning and Blair “on how we might influence this debate.” The paper, Straw noted, “reminded readers that the Joint Intelligence Committee . . . had concluded that Iraq had had no responsibility for the 11 September attacks and no significant links to Usama bin Laden . . . On WMD a number of proposals to strengthen the then-policy of containment were made; on the possibility of military action to deal with Iraq’s WMD, our advice was that a new [United Nations Security Council resolution] was almost certainly to be needed for this clearly to be lawful.” (Note 12) It appears that Britain—or the Foreign Office at least—was at this point trying to keep the focus on containment, rather than regime change. The same secretive approach the Bush administration had adopted in public it was also using privately—and effectively—with the United Kingdom, its closest ally.

Manning says he visited Washington on January 22, 2002, with British intelligence chief Sir Richard Dearlove on what appears to have been a separate trip. When Manning met with Condoleezza Rice he told her that an Iraq policy should incorporate provisions for international disarmament inspections. Rice telephoned Manning on February 14, by his account, and confirmed that a U.S. policy review was underway, “but said there was absolutely no plan at this stage.” (Note 13) In London at the end of February, Blair told his Cabinet that “we were a long way off taking decisions” and, so far as the Americans were concerned, “Bush was in charge, not Rumsfeld.” (Note 14)

The British did have their suspicions. Tony Blair’s government was very conscious of international perceptions that Iraq was a minor problem among global issues, and support for forceful action would have to be built through diplomacy leading to approval by the UN Security Council. London’s ambassador to the United States testified, “The one thing that ran all through 2002, in particular, was, if it came to war in Iraq, we would all be in much better shape for the war itself and for the aftermath if this was done within the framework of an international coalition blessed by the United Nations.” The ambassador, Christopher Meyer, went on, “You didn’t have to argue that with the State Department. You sure as hell had to argue it with the Vice President, with Rumsfeld, and, up to a point, with Condoleezza Rice.” (Note 15)

Ambassador Meyer was entirely correct. In February, with President Bush examining attack plans and issuing action orders to the CIA, the State Department held a meeting of its Middle East chiefs-of-mission, chaired by William Burns, the assistant secretary for that region. The assembled diplomats worried that a war in Iraq would last at least five years and that there would be an insurgency after two at the most. “That’s exactly why we would never go at this alone,” Burns said. Solid international backing meant going through the UN. (Note 16) The British were not the only ones who needed to argue their point with the proponents of war.

United Nations diplomacy meant international inspections of Iraq and these were important to British thinking. Inspections could establish the true status of Saddam’s arms programs, possibly complete the disarmament of Iraq, or create an international consensus that a war for disarmament against Iraq was in fact necessary. Securing UN approval for an inspection mission could become the vehicle to obtain the support London deemed necessary.

On a trip to Australia, Prime Minister Blair said on television, “Iraq is in breach of all conditions of weapons inspectors. We know they are trying to accumulate weapons of mass destruction.  How we deal with this is a matter we must discuss.” (Note 17) Jack Straw, similarly, told the Times of London in an interview published on March 5 that “Saddam was unique among the world’s tyrants in having both the ruthlessness and capability to employ weapons of mass destruction.” (Note 18)

These statements reflected certain knowledge in London that the U.S. had moved toward the use of force—plus a belief that Britain must follow. Ambassador Meyer says that in March 2002 he received a rather “chunky set of instructions” from Manning to the effect that he should no longer advocate containment because British policy favored regime change. He recalled, “I  think the attitude of Downing Street  . . . was this: it was a fact that there was such a thing as the Iraq Liberation Act. It was a fact that 9/11 had happened and it was a complete waste of time, therefore, in those circumstances, if we were going to be able to work with the Americans, to come to them and say any longer—and bang away about regime change and say, ‘We can’t support it.”

But the pace had quickened. On March 8 the Cabinet Office, the British equivalent to the National Security Council staff, promulgated the options paper which formed the basis for Prime Minister Blair’s position at the Crawford meeting. It noted that the U.S. had lost faith in containment. Alternatives ran from covert support to Iraqi opposition groups’ efforts to unseat Saddam Hussein, to an air campaign with the same purpose, to “a full-scale ground campaign,” with the conclusion that only the last would confidently result in regime change. But justification remained thin. British intelligence saw “no recent evidence of Iraqi complicity with international terrorism,” while legal experts found that with respect to authority, “none currently exists” (Document 1). The paper went through several drafts and was finally discussed with responsible officials—but not the cabinet—at a meeting held at the prime minister’s country estate of Chequers. On the British side that meant that officials who opposed resort to war, such as the minister for international development, Clare Short, were cut out of the loop. (Note 19)

Meanwhile the first major U.S. diplomatic initiative concerned war preparations. In February, Vice- President Cheney made a a speech at the U.S. Marine base at El Toro, California, where he declared the United States would never allow “terror states” or their “terrorist allies” to threaten the world with weapons of mass destruction. (Note 20) The vice president characterized Iraq as a nation that harbored terrorists. Later, on March 3, General Franks met with President Bush to show how the war plan required the cooperation of states in the region, and Bush decided to send the vice president on a mission to solicit support. (Note 21) Cheney received a CENTCOM paper outlining the support needed from each of the Middle Eastern nations. General Franks briefed Cheney on what he wanted in terms of bases and assistance from Arab states on March 6. Vice-President Cheney then made an extended tour of Middle Eastern nations and the European states the Bush administration hoped to enlist.

At the beginning of this trip Vice President Cheney stopped in London. According to Tony Blair’s chief of staff, Jonathan Powell, “Cheney was proposing to go and consult the Middle East leaders on what should be done in Iraq, to see what their tolerance would be for action.” Prime Minister Blair warned of the law of unintended consequences: “If you are going to deal with something like Iraq, you have to think ahead about what might happen . . . that you do not expect.” Powell recounts the conversations were definitely about regime change: “The action was about . . . replacing Saddam.” Toward the end, Cheney declared that a coalition “would be nice” but was “not essential.” (Note 22) The implicit threat was that the Bush administration would go it alone if necessary. The United Kingdom itself could be left out. Following the talks Cheney told the press he worried Saddam would give WMDs to terrorists. The U.S. and U.K. had the same option for war  but the Bush administration was far ahead in its determination to employ  it.

Talking points prepared for the vice president’s meetings with Jordanian leaders on this trip (Document 3) show that Washington already hoped to enlist Jordan, paying lip service to multilateral approaches toward Iraq but warning “we will have to look to other ways to protect our interests,” in which case, “we will keep in mind Jordan’s concerns and vulnerability.” But only in Qatar and London was there any support for what Mr. Cheney advocated. Despite negative responses the Bush administration forged ahead. Vice President Cheney reported favorably on his trip to President Bush at a breakfast. Cheney himself convened the National Security Council Principals Committee to hear him report on the trip, the briefing memo for which noted one of its aims as “previewing next steps toward Iraq” (Document 4).

Sir David Manning returned to Washington at this time to advance a planned April meeting between Blair and Bush at the president’s ranch in Crawford, Texas. Manning emphasized the necessity to build support through a multilateral approach and international inspections of Iraq. Manning characterized this visit as a “reconnaissance.” He had dinner with Condoleezza Rice on March 12, noting afterwards, “Condi’s enthusiasm for regime change is undimmed” (Document 5), and after a working session with Rice’s staff the next day where the Americans offered few solutions for several key problems, including persuading world public opinion, added, “I think that there is a real risk that the [Bush] Administration underestimates the difficulties.” Manning recounted this encounter to the Chilcot Committee later: “I said to Dr. Rice that if they [the U.S.] were going to construct a coalition, there were a number of issues they must think through, as far as we were concerned. One was: what role did they envisage for the UN inspectors? What were they going to do by way of explaining the threat that Saddam posed . . . . I also said that . . .the Israel/Palestine issue was critical; it was not an optional extra.” (Note 23) This last point reflected a British analysis that progress toward an Israeli-Palestinian peace was essential to rally the Arab Middle East behind a move against Saddam. London feared Bush administration obtuseness on this score. In fact, the private comment on the Cheney visit by Blair’s press chief, Alastair Campbell, was that “The Americans claimed to be conscious of the importance of the [Middle East Peace Plan] but we were not sure they really got it.” (Note 24)

Ambassador Christopher Meyer accompanied Manning to many of his meetings with the Americans. Manning brought a “chunky” set of instructions with him, among which encouraging the U.S. to follow the UN route was among the most important. The ambassador had Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz to lunch on March 18 (Document 5) and found him “viscerally hostile to the United Nations policy.” (Note 25) Meyer argued that if there were going to be an attack on Iraq the pathway to it had to be smoothed by clever actions, including UN diplomacy and also a public information policy that might feature official reports on the threat of Saddam Hussein—the first mention of what became the British and American white papers on Iraq (see EBB No. 254). The British were already preparing such a document but held off releasing it for the moment.

While the Blair government tried to induce the Bush administration to adopt a more sophisticated diplomatic posture, U.S. war preparations moved steadily ahead. According to CENTCOM deputy commander General Michael DeLong, for 18 months until the war began—that is, beginning in October 2001—each time a military exercise was held in the region the U.S. sent more troops than required, then left some behind. (Note 26) By February special operations forces were already being diverted from the Afghan war to prepare for Iraqi operations—so many that General Franks complained to a senior senator that the practice was impinging on CENTCOM’s ongoing operations in Afghanistan. (Note 27) Successive briefings on the evolving war plan have been referred to already. Among these, spy chieftain George Tenet met with Kurdish leaders that month to assure them that America was, in fact, coming to Iraq. On March 21 Franks flew to Germany for the first full staff conference of the field command that would actually conduct the war, while two days later in Washington, the Joint Chiefs of Staff began a wargame to examine the feasibility of one version of the invasion plan. The Chiefs listened to Franks’ report on his German trip at the Pentagon on March 29. Orders to the 101st Airborne Division to prepare for deployment to the combat theater were issued in April and electrified the U.S. Army. (Note 28)

On April 5, just prior to Tony Blair’s departure for the United States, President Bush gave a televised interview and rendered the judgment, “I made up my mind that Saddam needs to go.” (Note 29) The president’s subsequent assertions that he had no attack plans on his desk—repetitions of the formula Bush first used in February—are plainly misleading. This was the situation on the eve of the Crawford summit, which began on April 7. Blair has just published his memoirs, which include the first discussion by a principal of what happened at Crawford. In the book, Blair confesses that he traveled to the meeting “mob-handed”—with family—which made him lurch between being irritable and intense; in other words, not at his best. The memoir exhibits a similar tendency to lurch between strident polemic and defensive assertion. For example, the former prime minister insists that he talked to Bush throughout the year, and that “in those early and middle months of 2002” the President may have thought action at some point might become necessary, but that this did not become clear to Bush until much later.

Yet Blair’s statement is at odds with President Bush’s own public comments even before the Crawford summit.  Furthermore, Blair also affirms the United States made its decision after September 11 and that, by the time of Crawford, “I had resolved in my own mind that removing Saddam would do the world, and most particularly the Iraqi people, a service.” In short, both principals at Crawford were resolved to oust Saddam Hussein.  But Blair writes, “I knew regime change could not be our policy,” presumably due to the international legal implications of such a course. That in turn made necessary the construction of a different framework of justification—hence his determination to seek United Nations approval for action. (Note 30) Securing that approval became Blair’s overriding aim, which entailed both inducing Bush’s cooperation and generating whatever public relations spin was required to drum up the enthusiasm of the British and American people. Blair writes he was clear about two things: that the United Kingdom had to stay shoulder to shoulder with the United States, and that Saddam had to be made to conform with previous UN resolutions—a considerably different construction than the prime minister’s affirmation of his goal of getting rid of Saddam, and another example of  obfuscation in Blair’s latest presentation of these events.    

At Crawford Prime Minister Blair made it clear that UN diplomacy had to be a prerequisite of British participation in the Iraq invasion. Blair associate Jonathan Powell, who accompanied him to Crawford but was not in the room, put British aims this way: “We were trying to say to them, ‘Don’t rush into anything. Move at a deliberate pace, and, above all, build a coalition. Talk to people, go the UN route. Don’t just rush into unilateral action.” (Note 31) President Bush, anxious to craft that coalition, made compromises. So too did Blair. Two mysteries haunt the Crawford meeting: did Bush give a solid undertaking to take the UN route, and did Blair promise to actually go to war?  Blair denies making any such commitment in his memoirs, even terming the claim a “myth,” but there was no possibility at all of the British leader achieving his professed goal of relieving the Iraqi people by overthrowing Saddam without war—and absent his commitment to Bush to participate in such a war. (Note 32) Either way it seems clear from the record that the American course for war had been set. In commenting on deliberations within Blair’s government before Crawford, Jack Straw noted that the policy of the United States “as it happened, was for regime change.” (Note 33) The British foreign secretary, for one, thus appreciated that the Bush administration intended to overthrow Saddam.

The key conversations at Crawford took place between the two leaders alone. According to British journalist Con Coughlin, who interviewed Tony Blair in the early days of the war, the prime minister related that he wanted to speak mostly of Palestine while Bush relentlessly pushed for action on Iraq. Bush reportedly argued that the spring of 2003 would be the best time to attack Saddam, and showed him CIA estimates. (Note 34) Blair biographer Phillip Stevens conveys the more widely-held view that Blair agreed to the attack but insisted that an invasion had to be integrated within a broader approach that included UN diplomacy and efforts to broker a Palestinian accord. Stevens quotes an anonymous British official who maintained that “removal of the Iraqi dictator . . . had by now been ‘hardwired’ into the administration’s thinking,” and, tellingly, that “the ‘whiff of inevitability’ mingled with the smell of barbeque at the Bush ranch. (Note 35)

Officials were very tight-lipped at the time. Condoleezza Rice, the senior Bush aide at Crawford, was not in the private sessions and has rendered no account of them. British officials who accompanied Blair were not present at the crucial discussions either. It is not yet possible to say from the documentary record what exactly took place at Crawford, although the British Foreign Office reporting cable (Document 7) gives some idea of what transpired. The Blair memoir describes the talks as “nuanced,” and says that he and Bush shared their analyses of the nature of the Iraqi state, the international risks it posed, and the wider regional problem. (Note 36) Blair aide Alastair Campbell, in his published diary, speaks only of atmospherics. (Note 37) Beyond that we have the observations of British officials to the Chilcot Inquiry. David Manning told investigators that President Bush reported to the larger group at breakfast the results of his private conversation with Blair. In that brief account Bush “told us there was no war plan for Iraq, but he had set up a small cell in Central Command in Florida and he had asked Central Command to do some planning and to think through the various options.” Blair privately told Manning that Bush had conceded that Saddam might permit UN inspections and, if so, the U.S. would adjust its thinking. (Note 38) Sir Jeremy Greenstock, British ambassador to the United Nations, recalled that “Crawford . . . made me realize that the UK was facing some very difficult decisions about where it placed itself in relation to US action on Iraq.” (Note 39)

Questioned directly regarding his stance, Prime Minister Blair told the Chilcot committee that deposing Saddam was not an objective of his policy, “the absolutely key issue was the WMD issue”—a direct contradiction of the Blair memoir. According to Blair’s Chilcot testimony, “there was nothing actually decided” at Crawford and his aim there “was to get a real sense from the Americans as to what they wanted to do.” Blair saw himself as reinforcing his personal relationship with President Bush and encouraging the American leader to look at the myriad dimensions of the whole issue, including the Middle East and the UN inspections. As for President Bush, Blair recounts he expressed fear that “if we weren’t prepared to act in a really strong way, then we ran the risk of sending a disastrous signal.” Separately the prime minister observed that “the American view was regime change” (which contradicts the Blair memoirs in the opposite direction), though he also repeated David Manning’s point that Bush agreed to re-evaluate the situation if diplomatic action succeeded in implanting a new system of international inspections. (Note 40) Jonathan Powell recalls “there was no undertaking in blood to go to war on Iraq. There was no firm decision,” and recalled no discussion of military measures, but he agreed that one concrete outcome was that a British staff mission would go to CENTCOM headquarters to discuss force options. (Note 41) Blair also conceded to the Chilcot committee  that the purpose of sending a British mission to CENTCOM was precisely to discuss war plans.

Ambassador Meyer was “not entirely clear what degree of convergence was . . . signed in blood,” and recalls that despite Crawford President Bush did not accept the necessity of following the UN route until high summer, in August 2002. (Note 42) Meyer’s observation was the more complete one. At the United Nations, Secretary General Kofi Annan began talks with Iraq on renewed disarmament inspections four weeks before Crawford, with Hans Blix handling the details. Of Crawford, Blix writes, “It is tempting to think that President Bush had agreed with [Blair] that the inspection path must be tried,” (Note 43) but for many months the U.S. did nothing to further the initiative and, as noted, Bush officials remained highly suspicious of Blix himself. Looking ahead to UN conversations with Iraq that would be held at the end of May, Department of Defense memos declared that “we need to stay one step ahead of the negotiations” (Document 8). Officials asserted a clear preference that if there were to be inspections United States experts should be in charge of them, with unquestioned access and “Iraq to be informed that lack of cooperation will subject it to military action” (Document 9).

 In contrast with assertions of peaceful intent, the Americans moved ahead quickly on military preparations. Just before the Crawford summit President Bush received CENTCOM commanders once again for a briefing on war plans, and General Franks described an air campaign of four days’ duration to spearhead the invasion. Detailed operations plans by headquarters of the Third Army and the V Corps, the forces that would actually conduct the war, were in preparation from April 2002. (Note 44) On April 16 the Principals Committee of the NSC met to discuss funding combat training for Iraqi exiles prepared to act alongside the invaders (Document 10). Such a U.S. measure made no sense in the absence of an intention to topple Saddam.

From the 19th through the 26th of April, General Franks followed up on Crawford and put in place a framework for military contingencies by means of a trip which took him to Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, and the United Kingdom. Redactions in the Franks trip report suggest that the CENTCOM commander at least mentioned Iraq plans with the chief of Saudi Royal Defense Forces, and the paper explicitly notes that the American told Deputy Prime Minister (and former defense chief) Prince Sultan of the creation of a U.S. command center and major air base in Qatar, necessary due to Saudi refusal to permit certain offensive air operations from bases in their country (see below). At Camp Doha in Kuwait Franks discussed “selected compartmented programs”—a euphemism for the Iraq invasion plans—with local U.S. commanders. In the UK General Franks met at Brize Norton, a Royal Air Force base, with British Defense Minister Geoffrey Hoon who specifically asked him about U.S. plans for Iraq. Franks separately saw Admiral Sir Michael Boyce, chief of defense staff, with whom he discussed regional issues including Iraq. The British reported they had “put together a small cell” of planners for the purpose of “thinking strategically about Iraq.” Their cogitations centered upon “what courses of action are available to handle the [Saddam] regime” (Document 11).

Hoon would later tell the Chilcot Panel that his advice to Prime Minister Blair in this period had been that while Iraq was important, from the United Kingdom’s point of view developments in Iran were actually more significant. Before Crawford, he noted, the defense ministry’s concern was to get some inkling of U.S. plans, but its main expectation was that Saddam might be disarmed by UN inspectors.  Hoon made no mention of his specific conversation with General Franks. (Note 45) Admiral Boyce, who did tell the Chilcot Panel of his Iraq planning group, dated its inception to May 2002.  He also remained silent about the Franks visit, and replied “we weren’t” when asked if the British were discussing Iraq matters with the U.S. military at that time. (Note 46

But telephone contacts between Minister Hoon and Secretary Rumsfeld continued throughout. Meanwhile President Bush received new briefings on war plans at Camp David on April 20 and again on May 11. The operations plan “POLO STEP” (see National Security Archive EBB No. 214), subject of the May 11 meeting, clearly shows the concrete nature of U.S. military planning. General Franks updated the president on developments in Qatar at the second of these briefings. Department of Defense money began to flow to Qatar and Kuwait to finance the expansion of bases and airfields that would support troop deployments.

Most aggressive of all the U.S. measures would be what was done in the so-called “No-Fly Zones.” These had been established after the 1991 Gulf War to prevent Saddam from using air forces to further suppress revolts in Kurdistan and in southern Iraq. Under operations called Northern Watch (flying from Turkey) and Southern Watch (flying from Saudi Arabia and Kuwait), the U.S. and Britain, with France until 1994, patrolled Iraqi skies. When fired upon by Saddam’s air defenses they shot back. Legal justification for this aerial interdiction, weak to begin with, had eroded further with the evaporation of internal opposition to Saddam. Yet the Bush administration not only continued the aerial suppression but quietly converted it into a low intensity strategic bombing campaign, finally aiming at targets whose destruction would facilitate an invasion. The campaign, carried out from the south, would be dubbed “Southern Focus.” Military options for the campaign were developed early in 2002 and refined over a period of months. Saudi Arabia, informed of the plan, denied the use of its air bases for this purpose, necessitating a shift of U.S. strike aircraft to Qatar that was completed in May. The attacks began soon thereafter, following a hiatus of several months. By July the aircraft were attacking Iraqi communications systems, not merely air defense sites—targets that would be important to Baghdad in responding to an invasion. (Note 47)

Despite all of these concrete developments, and belying Bush’s commitments to keep his British ally in the loop, the United States continued to hold its military planning very tightly. The testimony of British officers is very illuminating here. The chief of the British defense staff, Admiral Sir Michael Boyce, recalled that “the Americans were keeping outsiders very clear.” (Note 48) General Sir John Keith was a British joint planner with a Defense Ministry unit attached to CENTCOM. He became a conduit for information to the Blair government because in the U.S. military system, where regional commands are directly responsible for operational planning, the British ministry could not get much directly from Washington. Keith never heard anything of Iraq plans from the outgoing British staff representative at CENTCOM and only finally learned of “rumors” in May 2002. (Note 49) Major General David Wilson was the British permanent representative starting in April. Wilson found “the Americans [were] doing discrete planning, compartmented, very compartmented planning for Iraq.” He could not find out anything. “Nothing,” General Wilson reported to the Chilcot Inquiry, “I didn’t find anything, because the shutters were firmly down. I and my people were in the foreign exclusion category.” (Note 50) That changed early in June, and Wilson telephoned Keith on the 4th or 5th to inform him that the Americans wanted them on board. This was two months after the Crawford summit where President Bush had promised to include the British. General Sir Anthony Pigott, the deputy chief of the defense staff, told the Chilcot Inquiry that after Crawford he set up a special team “to do some scoping work.” He insists the British military were merely considering options, “we were not talking about plans at that stage.” (Note 51) Sir Anthony visited CENTCOM at the end of June. His view was that getting rid of Iraqi WMD might require regime change; the American position was that regime change would lead to the elimination of WMDs. (Note 52) General Pigott joined Wilson. The Australian military were brought in at the same time. In July the British and Australians were asked to participate fully in a command conference on the invasion plans that would take place the following month. General Keith recalled the planning was “very dynamic,” that “it was like playing on a field where the goalposts were moving all the time but the field was changing shape as well.” (Note 53) The late enlistment of allies was a fault in the invasion planning and reflected President Bush’s reluctance to acknowledge that regime change in Iraq was his central goal.

Apart from weaknesses in the U.S. war plans—including a failure to plan for the postwar occupation of Iraq, assumptions of Saudi cooperation, and of the possibility that an invasion force could be sent through Turkey—the Bush administration miscalculated international support for the overthrow of Saddam and miscalibrated its diplomacy. Part of the political error was based on intelligence: shortly after Crawford the State Department’s Bureau of Intelligence and Research reported that polls showed European publics backed action against Iraq (Document 12). But European publics favored diplomatic and United Nations “action,” not war. Support evaporated when it became apparent that Washington intended to unleash its military. In May Bush visited France and Germany, in each country repeating his formula that “I have no war plans on my desk.” (Note 54) Yet on June 1 at West Point President Bush delivered a speech in which he asserted a right to attack pre-emptively those countries that were becoming threats through the development of weapons of mass destruction.

Around this time National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice tasked White House operatives to take soundings in Congress to ascertain legislators’ support for military action. Secretary Rumsfeld, following up on Bush’s West Point speech at a NATO meeting in Brussels, declared that “absolute proof cannot be a precondition for action.” (Note 55) Rumsfeld also ordered that a force of Iraqi exiles be recruited and trained in a third country (Hungary) for participation in an invasion. Following another CENTCOM briefing on the Iraq operation, on June 30 President Bush signed a National Security Presidential Directive ordering the Joint Chiefs of Staff to execute the deployment of U.S. forces to the Persian Gulf in readiness to invade Iraq. The Pentagon set aside $750 million to pay for bases to accommodate these troops.

On the diplomatic side the Bush administration ignored warning signs that its rosy evaluation of the spring Cheney trip had been mistaken. In late April there was another summit at Crawford, this time with President Bush meeting Saudi leaders. The Saudis wanted to talk about the Israeli-Palestinian problem. Bush seemed distracted and unfamiliar with Saudi concerns. It turned out that the Saudi position paper sent to the president in advance of the meeting had been diverted by Vice President Cheney’s office. (Note 56) Only on June 24—after his pre-emptive attack speech and just days ahead of his troop deployment order—did President Bush declare his willingness to work toward peace between Israel and the Palestinians (and it would be a full year before he advanced his “road map” plan to achieve progress in that area). By now the UN had already held several conversations with Iraqi negotiators on international inspections, and the first break had come when the Iraqi foreign minister offered to exchange inspections for security assurances, without the United States furnishing any support. In fact Secretary Rumsfeld said publicly that Iraqi concealment measures could make UN inspections useless. (Note 57) When Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz visited Turkey in July to obtain its cooperation with the U.S. invasion scheme, the Turks declined all appeals for their participation. Subsequently Eric Edelman, a senior aide to Cheney, was appointed ambassador to Turkey, but his demands were summarily rejected.

In Washington early in July, Richard N. Haass, director of Colin Powell’s policy planning staff, had a session with Condi Rice. Haass and Rice were friends and colleagues from a previous administration and periodically met privately. In a disturbing exchange, when Haass worried that Iraq would come to dominate the administration’s foreign policy, Rice replied that, “the president had made up his mind.” (Note 58) Tellingly, at a meeting of Tony Blair’s cabinet on July 23, held to consider a paper on conditions for military action (Document 13), British intelligence chief Sir Richard Dearlove remarked that the “intelligence and the facts are being fixed around the policy” in order to justify war with Iraq. Defense Minister Hoon observed that the Americans were escalating air attacks to prepare an invasion (Document 14). But the Foreign Office legal annex to the policy paper, which was considered that day, warned of the shaky basis for Southern Watch air attacks and found no justification in law for an invasion, making a UN Security Council finding mandatory.

A week later President Bush had a session with his own cabinet after leaks had appeared revealing military plans to attack Iraq.  Speaking to a closed audience, Bush was willing to acknowledge the “stated mission is regime change” and that “success is removal of Saddam,” but he complained of leaks from “level four people” who had no idea what they were talking about, and repeated his mantra that “there are no war plans on my desk.” (Note 59) In guidance sent around the beginning of August to CENTCOM for distribution to press liaisons, public diplomacy and information warfare officers,  senior Pentagon officials envisioned an ultimatum to Baghdad in due course.  But the document, described as “an update of work done months ago,” warned that “we should aim to delay Saddam’s recognition of the imminence of his downfall for as long as possible” (Document 15). The CENTCOM war plan, in what may be regarded as its final form, was incorporated into a briefing on August 4 (Document 16). A full dress review of the plan took place at the White House the next day.

By this point Washington was actively considering how to conduct an occupation of Iraq, something that would be nonsensical except given the proposition that the Bush administration intended to proceed with its invasion. On August 7 the CIA issued a study of the implications for Iraq of the post-World War II occupations of Germany and Japan (Document 17). In a yet-to-be-declassified document, the State Department matched this with an exactly parallel analysis of its own. On August 15th, when a further update of the CENTCOM operational plan was briefed, senior Bush officials were disputing the German occupation model. Officials seriously deliberated about who would lead Iraq into the post-Saddam era (Document 17). All of this was before President Bush had stepped beyond square one in exploring the diplomatic alternative of UN inspections.  

Despite Tony Blair’s contention in his memoirs that “none of this meant that war was certain,” (Note 60) the Blair government’s actions reveal its anxiety that President Bush was rushing into war. Toward the end of July Blair sent Bush a letter again insisting on progress on Middle East peace and application of UN diplomacy to put Iraq in the wrong in the world’s eye. Blair dispatched David Manning on another trip to Washington to reinforce the point, then made it directly in a telephone conversation. The British foreign secretary was also heavily involved. As Jack Straw put it in written evidence to the Chilcot Committee, “my preoccupation post-Crawford was to do everything I could to ensure that the United States agreed that central to their strategy as well as ours was a fresh mandate from the [Security Council].” (Note 61)  

On August 4, Brent Scowcroft, who had been national security adviser to the first President Bush, went on Sunday television to warn against attacking Saddam. Scowcroft’s counsel had no impact on Bush’s discussion of the war plan at the White House the next day, and Scowcroft reiterated his message in an op-ed article in the Wall Street Journal on August 15. (Note 62) Secretary of State Powell, who later thanked Scowcroft for giving him an opening, used the argument after presentation of the CENTCOM war plan to argue the United States could not afford to move ahead with a war policy without first trying the UN track. Upon the appearance of Scowcroft’s Wall Street Journal piece President Bush polled his senior officials and found widespread agreement on at least giving the appearance of trying the UN route.

At that point Richard Cheney was preparing to give a speech to the Veterans of Foreign Wars in Nashville on August 27. The vice president’s speech made many charges about Iraqi WMDs that turned out to be false and marked the beginning of a full-scale BushBlair effort to “sell” war with Iraq. Central elements in that sales campaign would be a pair of “white papers” purporting to document the Iraqi WMD threat that were issued, respectively, by the United States and British governments. The preparation of those white papers will be the subject of the Archive’s next Electronic Briefing Book.

President Bush went to the United Nations on September 12 for a speech redolent with the specter of an Iraqi threat but conceding a willingness to await the results of UN inspections of Saddam’s military industrial complex. Diplomacy began to move ahead on implanting an international inspections regime. But, less visible to the public, the Southern Watch air forces redoubled their efforts, with almost twice as many strikes on Iraq in September as previously, including an unprecedented hundred-plane raid a week before the Bush speech, an unmistakable stick behind the carrot of diplomacy. Planes of the British Royal Air Force participated alongside the American. And CENTCOM began toestablish a forward headquarters from Tampa, Florida, to Qatar in the Persian Gulf, the day of the Bush UN speech.

The evidence that is now available compels a review of the timing of the decision for war with Iraq. This choice surely originated in Washington but soon involved London also. Some Bush officials insist the war decision was made just before the March 2003 invasion. The evidence does not support that construction. Others believe no decision was ever made. Richard Armitage, deputy secretary of state under Colin Powell, observes, “Never to my knowledge, and I’m pretty sure I’m right on this, did the President ever sit around with his advisors and say, ‘Should we do this or not?’ He never did it.” (Note 63) George J. Tenet of the CIA agrees. He wrote, “There never was a serious debate that I know of within the administration about the imminence of the Iraqi threat.” And again, based on conversations with colleagues, “In none of the meetings can anyone remember a discussion of the central questions. Was it wise to go to war? Was it the right thing to do?” (Note 64)

Some former officials come down in the middle—Richard N. Haass, for example, who believed the choice had been made in July 2002: “the president had reached the conclusion that it was both necessary and desirable that Saddam should be ousted, and that he was prepared to do what was necessary to bring it about.” (Note 65) Haass retailed his observation to Tenet, who notes it as well. (Note 66) British observers working from Tony Blair’s record often argue the decision came in April at Crawford. And there are Americans who maintain President Bush was determined to overthrow Saddam Hussein from the moment he took office in January 2001.   

Within the CIA, on the first day of August 2002, the agency’s new associate deputy director of operations for policy support was first introduced to the Iraq plans. According to his executive assistant, John Kiriakou, the Iraq Operations Group official doing the briefing told them, “It’s a done deal . . . The decision’s already been made . . . . the planning’s completed, everything’s in place.” (Note 67) George Tenet polled various agency officials once he left the CIA and finds their opinions instructive: “Those involved in assembling support for the U.S. military had the sense from early in the Bush administration that war was inevitable.” (Note 68) Paul Pillar, an analyst who played a major role in the compilation of the January 2003 intelligence community assessment on Iraq warning of the possible consequences of an invasion as well as the CIA white paper on Iraqi weapons programs (the subject of the next EBB), said “It was quite apparent from—certainly from, I would say, early 2002—if not that, mid-2002—that we were going to war, that the decision had been made.” (Note 69)

In summary, we have a record of military planning which President George Bush demanded early on, pushed steadily, and repeatedly encouraged. The completion of the war plan by August 2002 and the even earlier initiation of an offensive air campaign against Iraq and preliminary force deployments to the theater do not track with the narrative that no decision had yet been made. The parallel record of Bush administration hostility to multilateral diplomacy (to verify Iraq’s status through international inspections) accords with the view that Bush was determined to move forward. The robust efforts at secrecy—extending even to allies—suggest an attempt to prevent interference with the administration’s course by limiting knowledge of its real actions. The Bush refrain that there were no war plans on his desk—repeated verbatim on occasion by Secretary Powell and security adviser Condoleezza Rice—is consistent with the interpretation that the president had already made his decision; or alternatively, with the view that this formed part of the secrecy program; or else with the deliberately narrow proposition that because the plans were at CENTCOM they were not technically “on” Bush’s desk.

George Bush’s engagement with Tony Blair at Crawford suggests that if he made a conscious choice it was at or before that date. The evidence is also congruent with a Bush decision in 2001. Administration refusal to be deterred by the negative results of the March 2002 Cheney Middle East tour carries the same implication. Bush’s delay of at least four months in fulfilling his commitment to Blair to seek UN inspections, doing so only after the onset of public protest, plus renewed pressures from Blair as well as Powell, also indicate that war, not diplomacy, was the preferred course. This intense focus on achieving the conditions for war instead of solving an international problem led to critical faults in military planning and diplomatic action that made the Iraq war the mess it became.

 


Read the Documents

Document 1
United Kingdom, Cabinet Office, Overseas and Defense Secretariat, “Iraq: Options Paper,” March 8, 2002
SOURCE: Downing Street Documents

The paper notes quite directly, “The US administration has lost faith in containment and is now considering regime change.” Options for that range are noted in the main text but, the paper adds, “are not mutually exclusive.” The paper admits, “A legal justification for invasion would be needed” and that “none currently exists.” The Cabinet Office analysts recommended a “staged approach” to establish international support, which would anyway be consonant with the requirement for a six-month interval to prepare for military action.

Document 2
Department of State, “Jordan: Talking Points for Vice-President’s Expanded Meeting with King Abdullah,” February 23, 2002
SOURCE: FOIA release to the National Security Archive

Vice  President Cheney was to discuss a variety of topics with the Jordanian king during this early 2002 visit, including actions on counterterrorism and the Middle East peace process in addition to the Iraq project. This paper, although heavily redacted, suggests Bush administration reluctance to take concrete measures on Middle East peace—it would “send [special negotiator] Zinni back when such a mission can be effective”—and its enthusiasm for action on Iraq. 

Document 3
Department of State, “Jordan: Talking Points for Restricted Meeting with King Abdullah,” February 24, 2002
SOURCE: FOIA release to the National Security Archive

Unlike in his wider meeting, at Cheney’s private meeting with King Abdullah the Iraq issue led the agenda, and with the point that “Saddam Hussein is a threat to U.S. and regional interests,” following up with the declaration that “we are determined to address that threat.” King Abdullah was to be given assurances that the United States would “keep in mind Jordan’s concerns and vulnerability.” Reflecting State Department interests that differed from Cheney’s, the talking points emphasize that the U.S. had insisted on the return of UN weapons inspectors.

Document 4
Department of State, Briefing Memorandum, William Burns-Colin Powell, “Principals’ Committee Meeting on the Vice-President’s Trip, March 26, 2002” March 25, 2002
SOURCE: FOIA release to the National Security Archive

Although this memorandum is largely opaque due to heavy redaction, it establishes that this Principals’ meeting had been called by Vice President Cheney, and that one of its purposes was “previewing the next steps toward Iraq.”

Document 5
United Kingdom Government, Prime Minister’s Office, Memorandum, David Manning-Tony Blair, March 14, 2002
SOURCE: Downing Street Documents

Here a senior adviser to Prime Minister Blair reports on a dinner conversation on “Tuesday” (March 12) with Condoleezza Rice along with discussions with the “NSC team” the following day. Manning assured the Americans that, as he told Blair, “you would not budge in your support for regime change” and that “failure was not an option.” Manning also emphasized Blair’s political problems with this course, noting the need to “manage” domestic opinion (see upcoming National Security Archive EBB No. 329). He reports Rice’s “enthusiasm” for regime change and relates that President Bush still needed to work out the value of the Iraqi exiles, ways to coordinate “a US/allied military campaign with internal opposition,” and “what happens on the morning after.” Manning provides advice to Blair on how to proceed with Bush at the Crawford meetings, estimating that the resistance to Bush’s plans by “other European leaders” would give the UK “real influence” on public relations strategy, UN weapons inspections, and the military planning.

Document 6
United Kingdom, Washington Embassy, Memorandum, Christopher Meyer-David Manning, “Iraq and Afghanistan, Conversation with Wolfowitz,” March 18, 2002
SOURCE: Downing Street Documents

Ambassador Meyer reports on a lunch the previous day with Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz, saying that he had stuck closely to the script Manning had used a few days earlier: “We backed regime change but the plan had to be clever and failure was not an option.” Meyer emphasized war would be a “tough sell” for the Blair government, which was considering putting out a white paper to make the case against Saddam. Much of Wolfowitz’s concern was about squabbles within the Bush administration over which factions of Iraqi exiles to back. On the British side (see the forthcoming National Security Archive EBB No. 329) Ambassador Meyer emphasized that “if the UK were to join with the US in any operation against Saddam, we would have to be able to take a critical mass of parliamentary and public opinion with us.”

Document 7
Foreign and Commonwealth Office, Circular Cable Diptel 73, 101727Z April 10, 2002
SOURCE: Iraq Inquiry (Chilcot Committee) release

This cable, for the general guidance of British diplomatic missions, furnished a private but not intimate version of developments at Crawford. Thus it contained material essentially for public consumption, such as the statement that “the Prime Minister came away convinced that President Bush would act in a calm, measured and sensible but firm way.” However, the message also noted agreement that “letting [Iraq’s WMD] program continue unhindered was not an option.”

Document 8
Department of Defense, Secretary of Defense, Memorandum for Vice-President, Secretary of State, and Assistant to the President for National Security Affairs, “Iraq Inspections/UN Strategy,” no date
SOURCE: waranddecision.com

In anticipation of a round of UN-Iraq negotiations about the resumption of international inspections in Iraq, Secretary Rumsfeld insists on the need to “stay one step ahead of the negotiations” and lays out his assessment. Rumsfeld declares that intrusive inspections, even over a period of years, had “missed significant parts of the Iraqi program and failed to detect an ongoing buildup.” the defense secretary wanted linkages between inspection and enforcement, unilateral intelligence capability to complement inspections, and effectively, U.S. control over the international inspections.

Document 9
Department of Defense Paper, “Dealing with Iraq WMD: The Inspection Option,” no date
SOURCE: DOD Iraq Documents release 5/08, Group 1, item 1

A factual paper supplementing the Rumsfeld memorandum (Document 8) gives additional details on rationale and on the anticipated U.S. strategy and tactics, including the point that “eliminating this WMD threat may ultimately require military action.” The paper does, however, note that “we may first want to try to put in place an inspection regime.” In a more detailed action plan than Rumsfeld had provided, the paper adds that “the only inspection regime that will come close to stopping Saddam will be an inspection team headed by an American.”
 
Document 10
DOD/OUSDP Memorandum, “Read Ahead for Secretary Rumsfeld RC Meeting, Tuesday April 16, 2002: ‘Necessity for Full Range of Training for Iraqi Opposition,’” April 12, 2002
SOURCE: http://www.waranddecision.com/doclib/20080420_Readaheadontrainingopp.pdf

A cover note from Assistant Secretary of Defense Peter W. Rodman makes clear that by April 2002 the Pentagon has already completed action on a “decision package” of materials regarding “providing a full range of military training to the Iraqi opposition,” to include combat training, and is taking that choice forward to the NSC Principals’ Committee. The Department of Defense argues that previous limitations on support to the level of “non-lethal” aid are not based upon legal restrictions, and that combat training “is a necessary first step in implementing the President’s guidance.” Such training will build trust with the Iraqi exiles, “reduces the possibility of fratricide” in a collaborative military operation, and would increase its effectiveness.

Document 11
CENTCOM, General Tommy Franks, “AOR Trip: Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and the UK, 19-26 April 2002,” April 29, 2002
SOURCE: FOIA release to the National Security Archive

In his trip report for a crucial period immediately following the Crawford summit, General Franks recounts conversations with officials in the region as well as key military contacts in the United Kingdom. Although the paper is heavily redacted there is sufficient text available to show that Iraq operations were a specific subject with American regional commanders in Kuwait and also with Saudi and British officials. An attached reporting cable records the Saudis specifically raising the possibility that the U.S. could conduct Southern Watch air operations with “other assets besides those in Saudi Arabia.” In language still deleted in the document the Saudis clearly brought the discussion around to Iraq, for “General Franks pointed out that Iraq had nothing to do with [Operation Enduring Freedom].” As for the British, subjects being considered in their military planning circle included potential courses of action: “what are regime power centers, how to exploit the no fly zones, what could be done with the Iraqi army?” These were all issues of concern only in connection with  specific intended military operations.

Document 12
Department of State, Bureau of Intelligence and Research, Intelligence Assessment, “Western Europe: Publics Support Action Against Iraq,” April 10, 2002
SOURCE: FOIA release to the National Security Archive

State Department intelligence cites opinion polls recording substantial support in Western Europe for military action against Iraq. Public opinion was strongest for action to eliminate the ability to produce weapons of mass destruction, and more mixed on action “forcibly to remove terrorists and shut down training camps.” By far the strongest public support existed in the United Kingdom and France. There was majority support in Spain, but in Germany and Italy narrow pluralities opposedaction against terrorists though majorities did favor moves against WMDs. These figures suggest reasons the Bush and Blair governments chose to rely upon weapons of mass destruction as their main justifications for action. It is notable that no similar internal reports assessing European opinion regarding war have so far emerged that cover the long period over the remainder of 2002 in which support for military action steadily eroded.

Document 13
United Kingdom, Cabinet Office Options Paper (with legal annex), “Iraq: Conditions for Military Action (A Note by Officials).” July 21, 2002
SOURCE: Printed in The Sunday Times, June 12/19, 2005; Downing Street Documents

This briefing paper confirms Blair’s agreement to military action against Iraq at the Crawford summit, “provided that certain conditions were met.” It specifies that the goal of military action will be “a stable and law-abiding Iraq,” but notes the need “to engage the US on the need to set military plans within a realistic political strategy.” Problems anticipated include preparing British military forces, identifying a post-Saddam leadership for Iraq, the overall Middle East situation, and, in the annex, the legal justification for the resort to force, plus the lack of one for the “Southern Watch” air campaign. The British also emphasized that force might be used only once “the options for action to eliminate Iraq’s WMD through the UN weapons inspectors had been exhausted.” The legal justification would in fact rely upon UN Security Council resolutions that provided for these weapons inspectors.

Document 14
United Kingdom, Matthew Rycroft, Private Secretary to the Prime Minister, Cabinet Minutes of Discussion, S 195/02, July 23, 2002
SOURCE: Printed in The Sunday Times, May 1, 2005, Downing Street Documents

These notes offer insight into the attitude of the Bush administration toward regime change, the UN route, and propaganda efforts. The document contains the now-notorious statement in which Sir Richard Dearlove, chief of British foreign intelligence (“C”), reports from his talks in Washington: “There was a perceptible change in attitude. Military action was now seen as inevitable. Bush wanted to remove Saddam, through military action, justified by the conjunction between terrorism and WMD. But the intelligence and facts were being fixed around the policy.” Dearlove also reported that the Bush “NSC has no patience with the UN route.” Admiral Sir Michael Boyce, chief of defense staff, then added a briefing on actual plans for an invasion, showing these to be far advanced at this date, before UN inspections were even accepted by all parties concerned. Foreign Secretary Jack Straw, noting “the case was thin,” argued for enlisting U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell to persuade President Bush to back UN inspections, but he warned, “It seemed clear that Bush has made up his mind to take military action.”

Document 15
DOD/OUSDP Memorandum to Commander, U.S. Central Command, no date
SOURCE: DOD Iraq documents release 5/08, Group 2, item 2

This memorandum from the office of Undersecretary of Defense for Policy Douglas Feith furnished guidance intended for CENTCOM information warfare specialists, public diplomacy officers and public affairs officials regarding “declaratory policy for Iraq” on both WMDs and other weapons. The memo discusses developing a line of argument to take were Saddam actually to use weapons of mass destruction, the possibility of an ultimatum to Baghdad, themes for propaganda, and other measures. The paper concedes that “the more difficult part is to determine what to say publicly” and expresses the wish “to portray our action as a liberation of Iraq from a tyrant.” Saddam is to be kept in ignorance of the threat for as long as possible.

Document 16
Central Command, “Compartmented Concept Update,” August 4, 2002
SOURCE: FOIA release to the National Security Archive

This set of briefing slides presents the overall concept for what would be known to military planners as the “hybrid” war plan, in which war would be launched before forces had reached their full capability, and follow-on increments would supplement the initial attack. The briefing covered such issues as the phases of conflict, ending with a “Phase IV” occupation of Iraq, the time necessary to generate the forces and complete the buildup, and an overview of the military strategy used in the invasion.

Document 17
CIA, Intelligence Analysis, “The Postwar Occupations of Germany and Japan: Implications for Iraq,” NESAF 2002-20104, August 7, 2002.
SOURCE: FOIA release to the National Security Archive

The CIA here notes that “obtaining an international mandate and regional support will be key for any US occupation of Iraq,” a situation different from that following World War II when Washington had had “both a sweeping international mandate and long-lasting support of key regional countries.” The paper proceeded with a series of comparisons along different dimensions, warning that a long (seven-year) occupation from 1945 had “only laid the groundwork for success.” In general the paper warned of many issues that would actually become central to the Iraq occupation, but its analysis fell short. For example the CIA predicted that humanitarian relief would initially be the main problem, and that reforms would encounter an entrenched Sunni power elite. The CIA believed that the German model offered the best parallel for Iraq.

Document 18
DOD/OUSDP Memorandum, Peter W. Rodman-Donald Rumsfeld, “Who Will Govern Iraq?” August 15, 2002
SOURCE: Douglas Feith, War and Decision, pp. 546-548

Assistant Secretary of Defense Peter Rodman discusses a State Department proposal for a “Transitional Civil Authority” in Iraq after conquest is completed. Rodman rejects the State Department analogy to the occupations of Japan and Germany after World War II in favor of one to postwar France, and also refers to experiences in Afghanistan, which he holds out as “the model to be followed,” although “the Iraqis are not yet ready for their Bonn process.”   The “Bonn process” is a reference to the 2003 conference that created what became the Karzai government in Afghanistan. The idea that Iraq was not yet ready for such a step would lead to establishment of the Pentagon-led Coalition Provisional Authority in Iraq. The document suggests that already by the summer of 2002 the Pentagon was taking control of policy for an occupation of Iraq.

Note on the Downing Street Documents: The various British documents cited from this source first appeared as leaks to news media. They have since been confirmed as authentic and have been explicitly discussed as true records by the Iraq Inquiry (Chilcot Committee) and other official British investigations of events in the Iraq war.

 


Notes

* Dr. John Prados is a Senior Archive Fellow, independent historian and prize-winning author of many books on U.S. foreign and national security policy, including Hoodwinked: The Documents that Reveal How Bush Sold Us a War (New York: The New Press, 2004).  He is co-director of the Archive’s Iraq Documentation Project, authoring hundreds of Freedom of Information Act requests relating to Operation Iraqi Freedom and its consequences, and director of the Archive’s Vietnam Project, which has produced two large microfiche and electronic document collections through the publisher ProQuest.  Chris Ames is a British freelance investigative journalist specializing in issues around the run-up to the Iraq war. He is the editor of the Iraq Inquiry Digest Web site, a project to monitor and comment on the ongoing Iraq Inquiry led by Sir John Chilcot, and creator of the Iraqdossier.com Web site, which tracks the drafting of the UK white paper. He has used the UK Freedom of Information Act to uncover a number of previously concealed documents relating to the British government's September 2002 white paper or "dossier" on "Iraq's Weapons of Mass Destruction."  This includes previously undisclosed drafts of the dossier written by communications officials.

1. Tommy Franks with Malcolm McConnell, American Soldier. New York: HarperCollins, 2004, pp. 346-356.

2. Bob Woodward, Plan of Attack. New York: Simon & Schuster, 2004, pp. 54-66, especially 63-65.

3. Richard B. Myers with Malcolm McConnell, Eyes on the Horizon: Serving on the Front Lines of National Security. New York: Simon & Schuster, 2009, quoted p. 223.

4. Hans Blix, Disarming Iraq. New York: Pantheon Books, 2004, p. 58.

5. Walter Pincus, “Rumsfeld Disputes Value of Iraq Arms Inspections,” Washington Post, April 16, 2002, p. A13.

6. Tommy Franks, American Soldier, quoted p. 373.

7. John Prados, Hoodwinked: The Documents That Reveal How Bush Sold Us a War. New York: New Press, 2004, p. 8.

8. Transcript, George W. Bush Press Conference, February 13, 2002.

9. Peter Ricketts Testimony to the Iraq Inquiry, December 1, 2009, p. 6.

10. Jack Straw Testimony to the Iraq Inquiry, January 21, 2010, p. 9.

11. Jack Straw testimony re “hearing talk”

12. Jack Straw, Memorandum of Evidence to the Iraq Inquiry, January 21, 2010, p. 3. Straw puts the Manning visit in December 2001 while Sir David times it in January 2002.

13. David Manning Testimony to the Iraq Inquiry, November 30, 2009, p. 11-12.

14. Alastair Campbell Diary, February 28, 2003. Alastair Campbell, The Blair Years: Extracts from the Alastair Campbell Diaries. London: Hutchinson, 2007, p.  607.

15. Christopher Meyer Testimony to the Iraq Inquiry, November 26, 2009, p. 26.

16. Robert Draper, Dead Certain: The Presidency of George W. Bush. New York: Free Press, 2007,quoted p. 176.

17. Con Coughlin, American Ally: Tony Blair and the War on Terror. New York: HarperCollins, 2006, quoted p. 215).

18. Foreign and Commonwealth Office, “Further Memorandum: Building a Case Against Iraq,” p. 2. Submitted to the House of Commons, Select Committee on Foreign Affairs and appended to its report, “The Decision to Go to War in Iraq, HC 813-1, July 3, 2003.

19. Clare Short Testimony to the Iraq Inquiry, February 2, 2010, passim.

20. Prados, Hoodwinked, quoted p. 9.

21. Michael R. Gordon and Bernard E. Trainor, Cobra II: The Inside Story of the Invasion and Occupation of Iraq. New York: Pantheon, 2006, pp. 38-43. Gordon and Trainor rate the Cheney mission as much more successful than I do. In general, proponents of the Iraq war claim that Middle Eastern states were critical in public but supportive in private. My view is that the regional states were cautionary in private, offered very limited cooperation to sustain their alliances with the United States, but that their public positions were their true ones. An index of the lack of reality in Bush administration views is the treatment of Turkey, regarding which wishful thinking led to a U.S. expectation that major ground forces would be allowed transit and support to assault northern Iraq, to the extent that the 4th Infantry Division was actually shipped to Turkey but refused admittance. At enormous cost the force had to be rerouted through the Suez Canal to the Persian Gulf and arrived only when the invasion was in its final stage. Similarly, Jordan would not permit its territory to be used as a base for attacks from the west, as was originally envisioned, and Saudi Arabian support was limited to bases already in use for air monitoring of Iraq.

22. Jonathan Powell Testimony to the Iraq Inquiry, January 18, 2010, p. 18.

23. David Manning Testimony to the Iraq Inquiry, November 30, 2009, p. 12.

24. Alastair Campbell Diary, March 11, 2003. Campbell, The Blair Years, p. 609.

25. Christopher Meyer Testimony to the Iraq Inquiry, November 26, 2009, p. 39.

26. Michael DeLong, A General Speaks Out: The Truth About the Wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. St. Paul (MN): MBI Publishing, 2007, p. 71.

27. Senator Bob Graham, Intelligence Matters. New York: Random House, 2004, p. 122-127.

28.On Point, ch 2, p. 15.

29. New York Times, April 6, 2002, p. A9.

30. Tony Blair, A Journey: My Political Life. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2010, p. 398-399.

31. Jonathan Manning Testimony to the Iraq Inquiry, op. cit., p. 22-23.

32. Tony Blair, A Journey, p. 399.

33. Jack Straw Testimony to the Iraq Inquiry, op. cit., p. 16. Straw also maintained that this policy “was off the agenda so far as the United Kingdom was concerned,” a contention which British observers still debate, given the ambiguity about exactly what Mr. Blair agreed to at this time. Straw, personally, remarked “a foreign policy of regime change, I regarded as improper and also self-evidently unlawful” (17), which is striking given his differences a few months later with British legal authorities who made that very argument. 

34. Coughlin, American Ally, pp. 219-222.

35. Philip Stevens, Tony Blair: The Making of a World Leader. New York: Viking, 2004, p. 211-2, quoted 212.

36. Tony Blair, A Journey, p. 400.

37. Alastair Cambell Diary, April 6, 2002. Campbell, The Blair Years, p. 614-5.

38. David Manning Testimony to the Iraq Inquiry, op. cit., p. 14-15.

39. Sir Jeremy Greenstock, Written Evidence to the Iraq Inquiry, “Developments at the UN,” November 27, 2009, p. 6.

40. Tony Blair Testimony to the Iraq Inquiry, January 29, 2010, pp. 25, 40-1, 42-3, 50.

41. Jonathan Powell Testimony to the Iraq Inquiry, op. cit., p. 24.

42. Christopher Meyer Testimony to the Iraq Inquiry, op. cit., p. 27, quoted p. 29.

43. Hans Blix, Disarming Iraq, op. cit., p. 61.

44. On Point, op. cit., ch. 2, chart p. 14.

45. Geoffrey Hoon Testimony to the Iraq Inquiry, January 19, 2010, pp. 13-20.

46. Michael Boyce and Kevin Tebbit Testimony to the Iraq Inquiry, December 3, 2009, p. 13.

47. New York Times, July 20, 2003, p. A1; GlobalSecurity.org papers on “Southern Watch” and “Southern Focus;” John Prados, “The War Before the War,” Tompaine.com, June 24, 2005, http://www.tompaine.com/print/the_war_before_the_war.php. In September 2002 Secretary Rumsfeld conceded to reporters he had ordered changes in the air operations “several months” previously.

48. Michael Boyce Testimony to the Iraq Inquiry, op. cit., p. 13.

49. John Keith Testimony to the Iraq Inquiry, January 15, 2010, p. 6.

50. David Wilson Testimony to the Iraq Inquiry, December 4, 2009, p. 8-9.

51. Anthony Pigott Testimony to the Iraq Inquiry, December 4, 2009, p. 17.

52. Ibid., p. 27.

53. John Keith Testimony, op. cit., p. 4.

54. Bob Woodward, Plan of Attack, op. cit., quoted p. 129.

55. Ron Suskind, The One-Percent Doctrine. New York: Simon & Schuster, 2006, quoted p. 123.

56. Ibid., pp. 104-111.

57.New York Times, August 8, 2002, p. A5.

58. Richard N. Haas, War of Necessity, War of Choice: A Memoir of Two Iraq Wars. New York: Simon & Schuster, 2009, p. 213.

59. Bob Woodward, Plan of Attack, op. cit., quoted p. 137-8.

60. Tony Blair, A Journey, p. 401.

61. Jack Straw, Memorandum of Evidence, op. cit., p. 7.

62. Brent Scowcroft, “Don’t Attack Saddam,” The Wall Street Journal, August 15, 2002, p. A15.

63. “An Interview with Richard L. Armitage,” Prism (Journal of the National Defense University), v. 1, no. 1, p. 104.

64. George J. Tenet with Bill Harlow, At the Center of the Storm: My Years at the CIA. New York: HarperCollins, 2007, pp. 305, 308.

65. Richard Haas, War of Necessity, War of Choice, op. cit., p. 216.

66. Tenet and Harlow, At the Center of the Storm, p. 309.

67. John Kiriakou, The Reluctant Spy: My Secret Life in the CIA’s War on Terror. New York: Bantam, 2009, quoted p. 148.

68. Tenet, At the Center of the Storm, p. 309.

69. Paul Pillar Interview at the Council on Foreign Relations, May 7, 2006 (Federal News Service Transcript).

 

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