This is Part 3 in my weekend series “4 years in Iraq – how we got there”. In case you missed Part 1 and/or Part 2, I have linked them here. I am doing this in response to a “challenge”/request by Dood Abides on Thursday in anticipation of the fourth anniversary of this disaster we created in Iraq.
These three parts also happen to make up the first chapter in the book I am writing about this administrations misleading and mishandling its “war on terror”. Part 1 looked at the foundation that was laid for invading Iraq prior to this administration took office. Part 2 highlighted the falsified aluminum tubes and yellowcake uranium evidence and propaganda war levied by the administration.
Part 3 will outline then-Secretary of State Colin Powell’s presentation to the UN Security Council, as well as dissect then-candidate Bush’s comments (referenced in Part 1) about when he felt it would be appropriate to use military force as it relates to Iraq.
Powell’s UN Security Council Presentation
The issues surrounding then-Secretary of State Colin Powell’s presentation to the United Nations Security Council in February 2003 are more important than the presentation itself, and just as important as the other manufactured evidence. Of all the evidence cited and all the speeches given by the Bush administration regarding Iraq’s weapons and the threat it posed to the United States, none carried more weight than Powell’s speech before the UN Security Council did in making the case for a military incursion into Iraq.
However, even Powell wasn’t too convinced about some of the information in his presentation. Even Donald Rumsfeld admitted by June 2003 that the “stockpiles” of chemical weapons that Powell talked about in his presentation may have been destroyed months earlier.
US News & World Report reported that the initial meetings to discuss Powell’s presentation had quite a bit of dissent. Libby laid out a number of charges that Powell could use that, in the words of one senior official who was in the meeting “was over the top and…[full of] unsubstantiated assertions”:
Vice President Cheney's office played a major role in the secret debates and pressed for the toughest critique of Saddam's regime, administration officials say. The first draft of Powell's speech was written by Cheney's staff and the National Security Council. Days before the team first gathered at the CIA, a group of officials assembled in the White House Situation Room to hear Cheney's chief of staff, Lewis "Scooter" Libby, lay out an indictment of the Iraqi regime--"a Chinese menu" of charges, one participant recalls, that Powell might use in his U.N. speech. Not everyone in the administration was impressed, however. "It was over the top and ran the gamut from al Qaeda to human rights to weapons of mass destruction," says a senior official. "They were unsubstantiated assertions, in my view."
After much deliberation and the elimination of a significant amount of information from the initial drafts and proposals, Powell made his presentation a few days later. Immediately after the presentation, countries were divided over the content and the course of action. While the UK stood with the US (despite the Downing Street Memo), China, France and Germany all were in favor of diplomatic acts as opposed to military action.
As it turns out, China, France and Germany were right. The following year, Powell admitted that information in his presentation may have been wrong. Specifically, Powell was referring to the mobile trailers that were indicative of Iraq’s biological weapons programs. However, this was the only piece of evidence offered by Powell with respect to such programs.
Additionally, a high level al Qaeda official was identified as giving false statements about links to Iraq as far back as 2002. The Bush administration was warned in a 2002 report that the informant was providing false information, however the administration still used such information as “proof”:
The document, an intelligence report from February 2002, said it was probable that the prisoner, Ibn al-Shaykh al-Libi, "was intentionally misleading the debriefers" in making claims about Iraqi support for Al Qaeda's work with illicit weapons.
The document provides the earliest and strongest indication of doubts voiced by American intelligence agencies about Mr. Libi's credibility. Without mentioning him by name, President Bush, Vice President Dick Cheney, Colin L. Powell, then secretary of state, and other administration officials repeatedly cited Mr. Libi's information as "credible" evidence that Iraq was training Al Qaeda members in the use of explosives and illicit weapons.
The doubts about the “mobile labs” were further confirmed by a CIA report issued in late 2004. Charles Duelfer, head of the Iraq Survey Group and the man who advised the CIA Director with respect to Iraqi’s weapons, issued a 1,200+ page report that had several startling conclusions. While it indicated that Saddam was trying to cheat the UN sanctions and had the intention to resume a weapons program once the sanctions were lifted, he knew that this was not likely to come in the short to mid term.
However, the report did indicate that Saddam did not possess stockpiles of banned weapons and was not reconstituting these programs at the time of the US invasion. It indicated that Iraq destroyed its undeclared chemical weapons stockpiles in 1991. It further indicated there was no evidence that Saddam had plans for a bio-weapons program or was conducting a bio-weapons program after 1996. Additionally, it found that there was no evidence of a reconstituted nuclear weapons program since it abandoned such program in 1991 after the first Gulf War (warning:.pdf).
The background as to the depth of deception was confirmed even further in early 2006 by Powell’s former Chief of Staff, Col. Lawrence Wilkerson. In an interview with David Brancaccio of PBS, Wilkerson blasted the administration for quashing dissent within the intelligence community, for cherry picking the intelligence that it felt supported the case for invading Iraq and for ignoring intelligence that questioned the validity of certain claims and evidence. He found it hard to believe that Vice President Cheney was not “exerting undue influence” over the CIA. He felt that he and Powell were participants in a hoax on the American people and that they were, by and large, duped by the administration and certain intelligence officials over the validity of “evidence”. And he felt that Cheney and Rumsfeld were “hijacking the intelligence decision making process”.
Bush’s comments in 2000 regarding the use of military force
Now, let’s refer back to then-candidate Bush’s comments in his debate with Al Gore, and the five criteria that would need to be present for him to use military force:
Well, if it's in our vital national interest, and that means whether our territory is threatened or people could be harmed, whether or not the alliances are -- our defense alliances are threatened, whether or not our friends in the Middle East are threatened. That would be a time to seriously consider the use of force. Secondly, whether or not the mission was clear. Whether or not it was a clear understanding as to what the mission would be. Thirdly, whether or not we were prepared and trained to win. Whether or not our forces were of high morale and high standing and well-equipped. And finally, whether or not there was an exit strategy.
Let’s break this down and see just how many (hint: the answer is none) actually did apply to Iraq:
Was it in our vital national interest and were we or our friends in the Middle East threatened by Saddam?
Well, President Bush admitted that Saddam Hussein had no connection with the September 11 attacks. We know from Ambassador Joseph Wilson’s trip to Niger and the subsequent investigation of the leak of his wife’s classified position as a covert agent that Iraq was no imminent threat.
Was the mission clear?
“Rid Saddam of WMDs”, right? But then the mission became “rid Saddam of WMDs, end his support for terrorism and free the Iraqi people”. And then, that mission was accomplished – and announced to the world on May 3, 2003:
I delivered good news to the men and women who fought in the cause of freedom: their mission is complete and major combat operations in Iraq have ended. Our coalition is now engaged in securing and reconstructing that country. The United States and our allies have prevailed.
Shortly thereafter, the mission became “to develop a free Iraq” which then became “train the Iraqi troops” which led to “a political process moving forward in Iraq and the Iraqis capable of defending themselves”. Many “missions” – all before the summer of 2005.
Prepared and trained to win.
Well, the overwhelming majority of our Armed Forces are extremely well trained and certainly were prepared for those situations and missions that they were trained for. Each branch of the military obviously has its area of specialty – whether it be the Army, Navy, Air Force or Marines. Broken down further, the National Guard is extremely well trained and would be prepared for a national incident or disaster – say a powerful hurricane that was, for days, on course to hit the Gulf Coast.
Of course, when those very National Guard units are stretched so thin due to 90% of them having served in Iraq or Afghanistan that it impacts their ability to react to national disasters, well that isn’t their fault.
High morale and high standing and well equipped?
There are many instances where the current administration’s actions had a negative impact on troop morale. Additionally, it is extremely well documented that American troops in Iraq were not well equipped (in fact, this is a large part of another chapter that I have written entitiled “Supporting the Troops”). From outdated armor and equipment to lack of tools, weapons and supplies. From “stop-loss” to multiple tours of duty to cuts in medical benefits for those who either returned with post-traumatic stress disorder or were wounded in combat to the horrific conditions at Walter Reed, the examples are numerous.
An exit strategy?
Well, considering that President Bush indicated in March 2006 that the decision to withdraw troops would be left for future presidents, I’m not really sure that qualifies either.
Like I said above – a perfect 5 for5 in terms of not fulfilling ANY of the terms and conditions that Bush himself said would be a requirement in order for him to send troops into harm’s way.
Overall conclusion – Parts 1, 2 and 3
After reading the information (in all three parts of this series) relating to the Office of Special Plans, the comments by military generals and colonels, various US and foreign intelligence agencies, the PNAC, former Bush administration officials and after taking a logical and honest look at the information provided and reported by so many different outlets (including a number of conservative publications), it is difficult to say that the Bush administration was acting in good faith. Good faith with the American people, good faith with our allies in the UK, good faith with Congress, the United Nations, and even other intelligence and governmental officials who did not share their opinions and motives.
When peeling back all of the layers, and untangling all of the threads, we are left with a picture of an administration that at a minimum, appeared to have a policy set before (or at the latest, shortly after) taking office. An administration that was going to implement this strategy regardless of what it was saying to Congress and the world community. An administration that gambled on questionable intelligence and evidence, only to lose that gamble.
Unfortunately, thousands of lives were lost and forever changed as a result of that gamble as well.
That is what we should be focusing on tomorrow, as the fourth anniversary of this unmitigated disaster will be “celebrated” by the mainstream press.