If those recently-declassified documents from the early days of the Bush administration haven't convinced Americans that Bush planned the Iraq War long before September 11, 2001, maybe Newt Gingrich can.
It was just weeks after George W. Bush took office in January, 2001, that the former Speaker of the House told me and a handful of others that the new president had confided in him his intention to send U.S. troops into Iraq.
I was employed by Fox News Channel at the time and had been assigned to produce a series of specials with Mr. Gingrich. It was during a taping session for the first of those specials, "Dangerous Places," that Gingrich casually made the revelation.
We had set up in a quiet, unused section of Fox's Washington, D.C., bureau. Throughout the morning, Mr. Gingrich interviewed a number of defense and foreign policy experts about potential hot spots around the globe where nuclear weapons might come into play. Former CIA Director Jim Woolsey and former U.S. Ambassador Morton Abramowitz were among those who appeared in the special.
We conducted the interviews one-on-one, Mr. Gingrich and a single guest discussing each of the hot spots: the Koreas, India-Pakistan, the Mideast, Iraq and several others. We would break after each interview as the subsequent guest emerged from make-up and took his or her place on the set.
During one break, Mr. Gingrich, who, as always, seemed relaxed and in his element as he spoke, held court about a recent audience he had had with the new President. He liked Mr. Bush, whom he found to be more down-to-earth, more direct, than his father, and whose time in office, Gingrich assured us, would bear no semblance to the elder Bush's presidency.
In conclusion, Gingrich declared, "We're going back (into Iraq) to finish the job his father started."
The line was delivered not as a mere impression that Gingrich had taken from his talk with the new president but, rather, with the certainty of fact: George W. Bush intended to send U.S. troops into Iraq to bring Saddam Hussein down -- the "job" that, in the view of Mr. Gingrich and other foreign-policy hawks, George H. W. Bush misguidedly had left undone ten years earlier in Desert Storm.
It was also eight months before the September eleventh attacks.
Now we learn that, just days after that remark, in one of his first policy meetings with senior administration officials, President Bush set them to the task of preparing for just such a war. No wonder the former Speaker was eager to recount the conversation. He had been one of the first people Bush let in on his plan to attack Iraq.
I wish that we had captured Mr. Gingrich's remarks on tape, but coming as they did between interviews, the camera was down. It is possible that Gingrich's lapel microphone was still hot, but there's little chance that the raw sound from that shoot still exists.
Fortunately, though, there were others present, including the camera crew we had hired for the shoot. At least one of the people listening that day tells me that he can attest to my account of what Gingrich said.
Then, of course, there is Mr. Gingrich himself. During all three of the specials we did together, he impressed me as intellectually honest: strong in his views but willing to consider and even embrace others. Just as he had assessed the newly-elected president, I found the former Speaker to be nothing less than a straight shooter.
Surely, with the release of these documents, he now sees the significance of his conversation with Mr. Bush.
So, I ask Mr. Gingrich to come forward and publicly settle this matter -- this divisive question of when George W. Bush actually decided to wage war on Iraq -- once and for all.
It would be one of the most honorable acts an American statesman ever performed for his country.