WASHINGTON -- In his new book, former Secretary of State Colin Powell provides what may be the most authoritative confirmation yet that there was never a considered debate in the George W. Bush White House about whether going to war in Iraq was really a good idea.
In a chapter discussing what he calls his “infamous” February 2003 speech to the United Nations where he authoritatively presented what was later exposed as gross misinformation about Iraqi weapons of mass destruction, Powell notes that by that time, war “was approaching.”
“By then, the President did not think war could be avoided,” Powell writes. “He had crossed the line in his own mind, even though the NSC [National Security Council] had never met -- and never would meet -- to discuss the decision.”
The National Security Council, which was at the time led by Condoleezza Rice, is the president’s foremost advisory body for national security and foreign policy.
The book, “It Worked For Me: In Life and Leadership,” which will be released May 22, is largely a series of leadership parables from Powell, who now spends a lot of time on the lecture circuit. The Huffington Post obtained an advance copy.
Bush insisted in his own 2010 memoir, "Decision Points," that the invasion was something he came to support only reluctantly and after a long period of reflection. During his book tour, he even cast himself as “a dissenting voice” in the run-up to war. “I didn't wanna use force,” he said.
But Powell supports the increasingly well-documented conclusion that there was actually no decision-making point -- or decision-making process -- during the events between the 9/11 terrorist attacks and the March 2003 invasion of Iraq, which had nothing to do with those attacks.
Former CIA Director George Tenet made an admission similar to Powell’s in his own 2007 memoir. "There was never a serious debate that I know of within the administration about the imminence of the Iraqi threat," he wrote. Nor "was there ever a significant discussion" about the possibility of containing Iraq without an invasion.
Indeed, history shows that Bush had long wanted to strike out at Saddam Hussein and was trying to link Iraq to 9/11 within a day of the terrorist attacks.
The first concrete evidence was the Downing Street Memos first published in 2005, which documented the conclusions of British officials after high-level talks in Washington in July 2002 that “[m]ilitary action was now seen as inevitable. Bush wanted to remove Saddam, through military action, justified by the conjunction of terrorism and WMD. But the intelligence and facts were being fixed around the policy.”
An analysis of the historical record by the National Security Archives in 2010 concluded that, “In contrast to an extensive record of planning for actual military operations, there is no record that President George W. Bush ever made a considered decision for war. All of the numerous White House and Pentagon meetings concerned moving the project forward, not whether a march into conflict was a proper course for the United States and its allies. Deliberations were instrumental to furthering the war project, not considerations of the basic course.”
The war, which President Barack Obama officially brought to an end Dec. 31, cost the U.S. government around $3 trilllion, left 4,487 U.S. servicemembers dead and killed more than 100,000 Iraqis. The Pentagon counts 32,226 U.S. servicemembers wounded, but the toll, including cumulative psychological and physiological damage, may be as high as half a million.
In Powell’s explanation of how he came to provide the misleading and inaccurate account of Iraq’s WMD capability at the UN, the former secretary of state points an incriminating finger at Vice President Dick Cheney’s office -- confirming previous reports such as the one by Karen DeYoung, in her Powell biography.
In the new book, Powell describes his reaction to the initial “WMD case” from the White House. “It was a disaster. It was incoherent,” he writes. “I learned later that Scooter Libby, Vice President Cheney's chief of staff, had authored the unusable presentation, not the NSC staff. And several years after that, I learned from Dr. Rice that the idea of using Libby had come from the Vice President, who had persuaded the President to have Libby, a lawyer, write the ‘case’ as a lawyer's brief and not as an intelligence assessment.”
Powell gives himself credit for rejecting continued appeals from Cheney to add “assertions that had been rejected months earlier to links between Iraq and 9/11 and other terrorist acts.”
All in all, Powell acknowledges that the speech was “one of my most momentous failures, the one with the widest-ranging impact.” But he also concludes that “every senior U.S. official would have made the exact same case,”
He adds: “I get mad when bloggers accuse me of lying -- of knowing the information was false. I didn’t.”
The lesson of all this, Powell writes, is to follow these guidelines: “Always try to get over failure quickly. Learn from it. Study how you contributed to it. If you are responsible for it, own up to it.”
But Powell didn’t exactly own up to this for years. His former chief of staff, Col. Larry Wilkerson, first went public in 2005 with details of a secret cabal led by the vice president which hijacked U.S. foreign policy and hoodwinked the president. Wilkerson also argued for years that there was never a formal decision to go to war. Powell conspicuously failed to back him up at the time.
So what does Wilkerson make of Powell’s conclusory lessons? “Powell’s rules are for everyone else,” he told HuffPost on Wednesday.