To hear supporters of George Bush now, the only reason he invaded Iraq was to introduce democracy to that country, and the reasons we are still there are to combat the terrorists who entered Iraq after we invaded and to save face. But in the weeks and months leading up to the invasion it was quite a different story. Back then the Bush Administration's pitch to the American people was: "Saddam Hussein has chemical and biological weapons and even nuclear weapons that he plans to give to Osama bin Laden and al-Qaeda who will then smuggle them into the United States and kill tens of thousands of people." Even if you knew nothing about Iraqi history and politics, this argument should have appeared dubious on the face of it. In the terrorist attacks that have taken place inside the United States, including the World Trade Center bombing of 1993, Timothy McVeigh's bombing of the Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City and the 9/11 attacks, none of the perpetrators needed to smuggle weapons into the country. Whatever they needed, they found right here inside the United States.
I believe that there were three important informal groups within the Bush Administration that were anxious to invade Iraq, although certain individuals belonged to more than one group. These groups were 1) war profiteers 2) neo-conservative ideologues and 3) supporters of Israel.
WAR PROFITEERS: It is a simple fact of life that when there is a war, there is money to be made. If the whole world was at peace, weapons makers would go out of business. But if weapons are being used in an actual war, bullets, missiles and bombs have to be built and sold to replace the ones that have been shot or detonated. Parts for tanks, fighter jets and all sorts of other equipment also have to be replaced regularly. So there is a certain class of individuals and companies that, for reasons having nothing to do with politics, roots for wars to start and then to go on as long as possible. There are also huge profits to be made in the reconstruction industry, which moves in to rebuild what war has destroyed. War is great for business...if you happen to be Halliburton or Bechtel or Boeing or the Parsons Corporation.
NEO-CONSERVATIVES: On January 27, 1998—three and a half years before the 9/11 attacks—the Project for the New American Century published an open letter in The Washington Times urging President Clinton to invade Iraq and overthrow Saddam Hussein. Among the eighteen signatories to this letter were ten people who would later join the Bush Administration. They are:
• Donald Rumsfeld: Secretary of Defense
• John Bolton: U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations
• Paul Wolfowitz: President of the World Bank and formerly Deputy Secretary of Defense
• Zalmay Khalilzad: U.S. Ambassador to Iraq
• Robert Zoellick: Deputy Secretary of State
• Elliott Abrams: Deputy National Security Advisor
• Peter Rodman: Assistant Secretary of Defense for International Security Affairs
• Paula Dobriansky: Under Secretary of State for Global Affairs
• Richard Armitage: Former Assistant Secretary of Defense
• Richard Perle: Former Chairman of the Pentagon's Defense Policy Board
Among the other founders of the Project for the New American Century were Dick Cheney, Lewis (Scooter) Libby, Jeb Bush and Dan Quayle.
In 1998, these neo-conservatives wanted to overthrow Saddam Hussein because it was "almost certain" that he would "acquire the capability to deliver weapons of mass destruction," thus putting at risk American troops, Israel, moderate Arab states "and a significant portion of the world's supply of oil." Sure enough, five years later, when the neo-conservatives got their invasion and Iraq was descending into chaos and looting, U.S. troops made a beeline to secure its oil facilities.
Before Democrats start declaring that only Republicans would send American soldiers to war to protect oil fields, it is worth noting that it was a Democratic president, Jimmy Carter, who declared in 1979, "Any assault on the Gulf will be regarded as an assault on the vital interests of the United States."
SUPPORTERS OF ISRAEL: Saddam Hussein was not involved in anti-American terrorism, but he was a supporter of anti-Israeli terrorists. He hated Jews and he wanted Israel destroyed. Even before the neo-conservative letter to The Washington Times, David Wurmser, currently Vice-President Cheney's Middle East advisor, co-authored a 1996 report, "A Clean Break: A New Strategy for Securing the Realm," that advised Israeli President Benjamin Netanyahu to overthrow Saddam Hussein and to attack Syrian military targets in Lebanon and possibly "select targets" in Syria as well. Saddam Hussein provided tens of millions of dollars to groups that committed terrorist acts in Israel, and Israel is safer with him out of power—particularly as the Israeli government and its army were able to sit back while American troops and money did the job. Some members of the Bush Administration, like Wurmser, Perle and Wolfowitz, at best miscalculated that what is good for Israel is always good for the United States.
Once the various administration supporters of invading Iraq came together, all that was necessary was to convince President Bush. I am sure that George Bush did take seriously the potpourri of reasons that his advisors presented him, but I have a feeling that, deep in his gut, the reason that pushed George Bush over the top in deciding to invade Iraq was more personal. I think that Bush, who in 1991 told Queen Elizabeth that he was "the black sheep" in his family, wanted to show his father that he could do something his father had failed to do: take out Saddam Hussein.
I know that it is currently politically incorrect to quote Bob Woodward, but in his book, Plan of Attack, Woodward tells about asking President Bush if he asked his own father for advice about going to war against Iraq. According to Woodward, Bush replied that he had not asked his father for advice because, "He is the wrong father to appeal to for advice, the wrong father to go to, to appeal to, in terms of strength. There's a higher father that I appeal to." If the President of the United States wants to appeal to God for advice and strength, that's fine with me. But bottled up in that answer is some real hostility towards his father. Ask yourself, if you were the president of the United States and you were considering invading Iraq, and a living ex-president had once done just that, wouldn't you ask that ex-president for advice? What we are talking about here is not spiritual advice, but practical advice, like how to interact with your generals and your Middle East experts, how to deal with the different ethnic and religious factions in Iraq, how to work with our traditional allies and how to win over fence sitters. George Bush chose not to consult that experienced ex-president.
It is not hard to figure out what George Bush the father would have advised his son had he been asked. In 1998, George Bush the father co-authored a book with his National Security Advisor, Brent Scowcroft, entitled A World Transformed. In chapter 19 they wrote about the first Gulf War, "Trying to eliminate Saddam, extending the ground war into an occupation of Iraq... would have incurred incalculable human and political costs. Apprehending him was probably impossible....We would have been forced to occupy Baghdad and, in effect, rule Iraq. The coalition would instantly have collapsed, the Arabs deserting it in anger and other allies pulling out as well. Under the circumstances, there was no viable 'exit strategy' we could see, violating another of our principles.... Had we gone the invasion route, the United States could conceivably still be an occupying power in a bitterly hostile land."
No kidding. The father had it right, while the son, in an attempt to prove that he was stronger and better than his father, got it wrong.
It is not unusual for sons who perceive themselves to be black sheep to try to show up their fathers. But in this case, George Bush's ill-advised attempt to outdo his father led to the deaths of thousands of Americans and tens of thousands of Iraqis, the loss of U.S. credibility around the world and the creation in Iraq of a terrorist training ground where none existed before.