The Hidden History of the Iraq War Critics

'The plan has been through the combatant commanders, it has been through the National Security Council process.  General Myers and General Pace (chairman and vice—chairman, Joint Chiefs) and others, including this individual, have seen it in a variety of iterations. When asked by the president or by me, the military officers who've reviewed it have all said they thought  it was an excellent plan.  I stand by the plan...I think it's  a brilliant plan.' 

Donald Rumsfeld on the plan for Operation Iraq Freedom, March 30, 2003 NewsHour.

We are in the midst of a spring offensive by Iraq war plan critics such as "COBRA II":http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/0375422625/qid=1145020325/sr=1—1/ref=sr_1_1/104—7510778—4232740?s=books&v=glance&n=283155 authors Michael Gordon & retired Lt. Gen.Bernard Trainor, retired Gen. Anthony Zinni, and now retired Lt. Gen. Greg Newbold.  As calls for Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld's resignation echo throughout the drive—by media, here is a little pop quiz.

Who said this?

What if Saddam fails to comply (with UN sanctions), or we take some ambiguous third route which gives him yet more time to develop this (WMD) program?  He will conclude that the international community has lost its will... [that] he can go right on  and do more to rebuild an arsenal of devastating destruction. And some day, I guarantee you, he'll use this arsenal. 

Answer: President Bill Clinton in February 1998. 

Okay then, who said this?

The United Nations believes that Saddam Hussein may have produced as much as 200 tons of VX (nerve gas)... we face a clear and present danger... terrorists who bombed the World Trade Center in New York City  had in mind the destruction and deaths of 250,000 people.... 

Answer: Clinton Defense Secretary William Cohen on November 15, 1997.  

Who said this?

The world hasn't seen, except maybe since Hitler, somebody quite as evil as Saddam Hussein.  If you don't stop a horrific dictator before he gets started too far, he can do untold damage....

Answer Clinton Secretary of State Madeline Albright on February 20, 1998. 

Just one more now. Who expressed the view that the containment of Saddam Hussein could not succeed over the long run; that 'even a contained Saddam was harmful to stability and positive change in the region'? Hint: the same person who said

'For the last eight years, American policy towards Iraq has been based on the tangible threat that Saddam poses to our security.  That threat is clear.' 

Answer:  Clinton National Security Council advisor Sandy Berger in December 1998 speech at Stanford.

War critics either downplay, skim over, or completely ignore this historical context. The prior administration's beliefs and policies towards Iraq were consistent with the threat assessment motivating our war with Saddam. They would have you think that it all began with Bush, who was driven to war by neocon zealots who hijacked US foreign policy. 

They do not tell you, for obvious reasons, that the Clinton administration in November 1997 launched a public campaign to build support for a possible war against Iraq. The do not mention that on October 31, 1998, President Clinton signed the Iraq Liberation Act, which stated that

it should be the policy of the United States to support efforts to remove the regime headed by Saddam Hussein from power.

And, that in 1998, Congress authorized President Clinton to

...use US armed forces pursuant to UN Security Council Resolution (UNSCR) 678 to achieve implementation of UNSCRs 660—667.  

Saddam was then on his way to setting the Guinness World Record for most resolutions violated. Wanting to indict President Bush, Donald Rumsfeld and senior Pentagon officers for 'an invented war,' as former top planner Lt.Gen. Newbold now puts it, they dare not admit that the Bush administration was, in fact, looking at the threat posed by Iraq in much the same way its predecessor did... the difference being that while Bill dallied, W. took on the threat. 

As President Bush said in his January 28, 2003 State of the Union speech

Some have said we must not act until the threat is imminent.  Since when have terrorists and tyrants announced their intentions, politely putting us on notice before they strike? If this threat is permitted to fully and suddenly emerge, all actions, all words,, and all recriminations would come too late.  Trusting in the sanity and restraint of Saddam Hussein is not a strategy, and it is not an option. 

In a speech the following month, the President said:

In Iraq, a dictator is building and hiding weapons that could enable him to dominate the Middle East and intimidate the civilized world — and we will not allow it.  This same tyrant has close ties to terrorist organizations and could supply them with the terrible means to strike this country — and America will not permit it...the danger must be confronted...if it does not (fully and peacefully disarm per UN resolutions), we are prepared to disarm Iraq by force.  Either way, this danger will be removed.

The critics allege that Iraq was a diversion from the real war on terror.  They refuse to acknowledge the proven links that existed between Saddam's regime and al Qaeda as documented by Stephen F. Hayes in his book The Connection and in his Weekly Standard articles on this subject. In his September 8, 2003 article 'Saddam's Al Qaeda Connection'   Hayes wrote about a letter by CIA Director George Tenet that

declassified CIA reporting on WMD and Iraq's links to Al Qaeda...  'We have solid reporting of senior level contacts between Iraq and Al Qaeda going back a decade,' Tenet wrote...  'we have solid evidence of the presence in Iraq of Al Qaeda members...we have credible reporting that Al Qaeda leaders sought contacts in Iraq who could help them acquire WMD...'  

Captured documents recently translated revealed that thousands of radical Islamists trained in camps at Samarra, Ramadi and Salman Pak four years prior to Operation Iraqi Freedom.  Those documents and others can be found here and here.  

Now let's look at some of the text of House Joint Resolution 114, passed October 12, 2002, which listed the indictments against Saddam's regime. They make a convincing argument that the Butcher of Baghdad was not being kept in his 'box' as the war plan critics allege. 

Whereas Iraq, in direct and flagrant violation of the cease—fire, attempted to thwart the efforts of weapons inspectors to identify and destroy Iraq's weapons of mass destruction stockpiles and development capabilities, which finally resulted in the withdrawal of inspectors on October 31, 1998...whereas the current Iraqi regime has demonstrated its continuing hostility toward, and willingness to attack, the United States, including by attempting in 1993 to assassinate former President Bush and by firing on thousands of occasions on United States and coalition armed forces engaged in enforcing the resolutions of the United Nations Security Council....

HJ Res. 114 contains much more, of course, including the fact that Saddam used WMD on neighboring countries and on his own people. As for WMD, both the Duelfer and Kay reports concluded that while Saddam might not have any large stockpiles, he retained, he planned for, the ability to reconstitute WMD programs as soon as all inspectors left.

Then there was the matter of Saddam's programmatic deception and concealment efforts.  As Duelfer wrote in his report:

Iraq was never able to convince us that they had stopped concealment, and in fact, we were convinced of the opposite, that they still retain weapons.

We need to remember here that Saddam began his Guinness Book UNSCR violations record right after we expelled his army from Kuwait.  He signed a cease—fire agreement in 1991 promising to destroy all his WMD. 

All of this historic context, all of these facts, are ignored by the war plan critics.  I am reminded of a comment by an Iraqi, frustrated by the WMD debate, who opined that 'Saddam Hussein himself was a weapon of mass destruction.'  Through it all, the US worked with the UN, then formed a coalition to liberate Iraq, putting the lie to charges that President Bush acted unilaterally.       

The carping critics erect a rhetorical, if not imaginary, entity so they can bash it with charges of 'not enough troops' and other hindsight insight.  The perfect war plan devised by omniscient planners has never existed.  And as Donald Rumsfeld has acknowledged on several occasions, no plan, however perfect, survives first contact with the enemy.  But since tactical flexibility was inherent in the plan, commanders on the ground adapted to changing circumstances.  And now, a little over three years later, we see the tremendous success that Coalition and Iraqi forces have achieved.  

President Bush put it this way in an April 10 speech at Johns Hopkins University:

We have learned from our mistakes.  We've adjusted our approach to meet the changing circumstances on the ground; we've adjusted depending upon the actions of the enemy.  By pursuing a clear and flexible strategy in Iraq, we helped make it possible for Iraqis to choose their leaders and begin to assume the responsibilities of self—government and self—defense.   

The most recent war plan critic is retired Lt. Gen. Greg Newbold, who, up to four months prior to the launch of OIF, was the Pentagon's top planner. He left in part due to his opposition to the plan.  He now alleges that other top Pentagon officers who opposed the plan did not speak up, that they are culpable for an 'invented war.' 

At an April 11 press conference Joint Chiefs chairman, Gen. Peter Pace answered Newbold and other like—minded critics about how the process worked building up to Iraq: 

First of all, once it became apparent that we may have to take military action, the Secretary of Defense asked Tom Franks, who was the commander of Central Command, to begin doing some planning, which he did.  Over the next two years, 50 or 60 times, Tom Franks either came to Washington or by video teleconference, sat down with the Secretary of Defense, sat down with the Joint Chiefs and went over what he was thinking, how he was planning. And as a result of those iterative opportunities and all the questions that were asked not once was Tom told, 'No, don't do that; no, don't do this; no, you can't have this; no, you can't have that.'  What happened was, in a very open roundtable discussion, questions (were raised) about what might go right, what might go wrong, what would you need, how would you handle it, and that happened with the Joint Chiefs, and it happened with the Secretary.   And before the final orders were given, the Joint Chiefs met in private with General Franks and assured ourselves that that plan was a solid plan and that the resources that he needed were going to be allocated.

That agreement on resources having been reached, the Joint Chiefs went to Rumsfeld and then to President Bush, assuring them about the plan and the necessary resources. Pres. Bush asked specific questions about whether the proper amount of resources had been allocated.

He did that with us and then again when all the combatant commanders were in from [around] the globe well before a final decision was made. 

Gen. Pace stressed the fact that there was every opportunity for anyone with qualms or disagreements to speak their minds.  He concluded:

I wanted to tell you how I believe this system works, and I wanted to tell you how I have observed it working for five years, because the [critical] articles that are out there about folks not speaking up are just flat wrong. 

There are some who choose to believe that Saddam never presented a threat to America or the Middle East, that he was safely contained in his 'box,' that he had no connections with Al Qaeda or other terrorist groups, that neocon zealots hijacked US foreign policy, that the war plan was fatally flawed due to silent top ranking officers and 'Pentagon dictator' Donald Rumsfeld, that the liberation of Iraq was an invented war, and that the Saddam—Iraq chapter of our history began with President Bush, are entitled to their opinions. 

They are refuted by the facts which they and their media allies refuse to acknowledge.

John B. Dwyer is a military historian and a frequent contributor.

'The plan has been through the combatant commanders, it has been through the National Security Council process.  General Myers and General Pace (chairman and vice—chairman, Joint Chiefs) and others, including this individual, have seen it in a variety of iterations. When asked by the president or by me, the military officers who've reviewed it have all said they thought  it was an excellent plan.  I stand by the plan...I think it's  a brilliant plan.' 

Donald Rumsfeld on the plan for Operation Iraq Freedom, March 30, 2003 NewsHour.

We are in the midst of a spring offensive by Iraq war plan critics such as "COBRA II":http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/0375422625/qid=1145020325/sr=1—1/ref=sr_1_1/104—7510778—4232740?s=books&v=glance&n=283155 authors Michael Gordon & retired Lt. Gen.Bernard Trainor, retired Gen. Anthony Zinni, and now retired Lt. Gen. Greg Newbold.  As calls for Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld's resignation echo throughout the drive—by media, here is a little pop quiz.

Who said this?

What if Saddam fails to comply (with UN sanctions), or we take some ambiguous third route which gives him yet more time to develop this (WMD) program?  He will conclude that the international community has lost its will... [that] he can go right on  and do more to rebuild an arsenal of devastating destruction. And some day, I guarantee you, he'll use this arsenal. 

Answer: President Bill Clinton in February 1998. 

Okay then, who said this?

The United Nations believes that Saddam Hussein may have produced as much as 200 tons of VX (nerve gas)... we face a clear and present danger... terrorists who bombed the World Trade Center in New York City  had in mind the destruction and deaths of 250,000 people.... 

Answer: Clinton Defense Secretary William Cohen on November 15, 1997.  

Who said this?

The world hasn't seen, except maybe since Hitler, somebody quite as evil as Saddam Hussein.  If you don't stop a horrific dictator before he gets started too far, he can do untold damage....

Answer Clinton Secretary of State Madeline Albright on February 20, 1998. 

Just one more now. Who expressed the view that the containment of Saddam Hussein could not succeed over the long run; that 'even a contained Saddam was harmful to stability and positive change in the region'? Hint: the same person who said

'For the last eight years, American policy towards Iraq has been based on the tangible threat that Saddam poses to our security.  That threat is clear.' 

Answer:  Clinton National Security Council advisor Sandy Berger in December 1998 speech at Stanford.

War critics either downplay, skim over, or completely ignore this historical context. The prior administration's beliefs and policies towards Iraq were consistent with the threat assessment motivating our war with Saddam. They would have you think that it all began with Bush, who was driven to war by neocon zealots who hijacked US foreign policy. 

They do not tell you, for obvious reasons, that the Clinton administration in November 1997 launched a public campaign to build support for a possible war against Iraq. The do not mention that on October 31, 1998, President Clinton signed the Iraq Liberation Act, which stated that

it should be the policy of the United States to support efforts to remove the regime headed by Saddam Hussein from power.

And, that in 1998, Congress authorized President Clinton to

...use US armed forces pursuant to UN Security Council Resolution (UNSCR) 678 to achieve implementation of UNSCRs 660—667.  

Saddam was then on his way to setting the Guinness World Record for most resolutions violated. Wanting to indict President Bush, Donald Rumsfeld and senior Pentagon officers for 'an invented war,' as former top planner Lt.Gen. Newbold now puts it, they dare not admit that the Bush administration was, in fact, looking at the threat posed by Iraq in much the same way its predecessor did... the difference being that while Bill dallied, W. took on the threat. 

As President Bush said in his January 28, 2003 State of the Union speech

Some have said we must not act until the threat is imminent.  Since when have terrorists and tyrants announced their intentions, politely putting us on notice before they strike? If this threat is permitted to fully and suddenly emerge, all actions, all words,, and all recriminations would come too late.  Trusting in the sanity and restraint of Saddam Hussein is not a strategy, and it is not an option. 

In a speech the following month, the President said:

In Iraq, a dictator is building and hiding weapons that could enable him to dominate the Middle East and intimidate the civilized world — and we will not allow it.  This same tyrant has close ties to terrorist organizations and could supply them with the terrible means to strike this country — and America will not permit it...the danger must be confronted...if it does not (fully and peacefully disarm per UN resolutions), we are prepared to disarm Iraq by force.  Either way, this danger will be removed.

The critics allege that Iraq was a diversion from the real war on terror.  They refuse to acknowledge the proven links that existed between Saddam's regime and al Qaeda as documented by Stephen F. Hayes in his book The Connection and in his Weekly Standard articles on this subject. In his September 8, 2003 article 'Saddam's Al Qaeda Connection'   Hayes wrote about a letter by CIA Director George Tenet that

declassified CIA reporting on WMD and Iraq's links to Al Qaeda...  'We have solid reporting of senior level contacts between Iraq and Al Qaeda going back a decade,' Tenet wrote...  'we have solid evidence of the presence in Iraq of Al Qaeda members...we have credible reporting that Al Qaeda leaders sought contacts in Iraq who could help them acquire WMD...'  

Captured documents recently translated revealed that thousands of radical Islamists trained in camps at Samarra, Ramadi and Salman Pak four years prior to Operation Iraqi Freedom.  Those documents and others can be found here and here.  

Now let's look at some of the text of House Joint Resolution 114, passed October 12, 2002, which listed the indictments against Saddam's regime. They make a convincing argument that the Butcher of Baghdad was not being kept in his 'box' as the war plan critics allege. 

Whereas Iraq, in direct and flagrant violation of the cease—fire, attempted to thwart the efforts of weapons inspectors to identify and destroy Iraq's weapons of mass destruction stockpiles and development capabilities, which finally resulted in the withdrawal of inspectors on October 31, 1998...whereas the current Iraqi regime has demonstrated its continuing hostility toward, and willingness to attack, the United States, including by attempting in 1993 to assassinate former President Bush and by firing on thousands of occasions on United States and coalition armed forces engaged in enforcing the resolutions of the United Nations Security Council....

HJ Res. 114 contains much more, of course, including the fact that Saddam used WMD on neighboring countries and on his own people. As for WMD, both the Duelfer and Kay reports concluded that while Saddam might not have any large stockpiles, he retained, he planned for, the ability to reconstitute WMD programs as soon as all inspectors left.

Then there was the matter of Saddam's programmatic deception and concealment efforts.  As Duelfer wrote in his report:

Iraq was never able to convince us that they had stopped concealment, and in fact, we were convinced of the opposite, that they still retain weapons.

We need to remember here that Saddam began his Guinness Book UNSCR violations record right after we expelled his army from Kuwait.  He signed a cease—fire agreement in 1991 promising to destroy all his WMD. 

All of this historic context, all of these facts, are ignored by the war plan critics.  I am reminded of a comment by an Iraqi, frustrated by the WMD debate, who opined that 'Saddam Hussein himself was a weapon of mass destruction.'  Through it all, the US worked with the UN, then formed a coalition to liberate Iraq, putting the lie to charges that President Bush acted unilaterally.       

The carping critics erect a rhetorical, if not imaginary, entity so they can bash it with charges of 'not enough troops' and other hindsight insight.  The perfect war plan devised by omniscient planners has never existed.  And as Donald Rumsfeld has acknowledged on several occasions, no plan, however perfect, survives first contact with the enemy.  But since tactical flexibility was inherent in the plan, commanders on the ground adapted to changing circumstances.  And now, a little over three years later, we see the tremendous success that Coalition and Iraqi forces have achieved.  

President Bush put it this way in an April 10 speech at Johns Hopkins University:

We have learned from our mistakes.  We've adjusted our approach to meet the changing circumstances on the ground; we've adjusted depending upon the actions of the enemy.  By pursuing a clear and flexible strategy in Iraq, we helped make it possible for Iraqis to choose their leaders and begin to assume the responsibilities of self—government and self—defense.   

The most recent war plan critic is retired Lt. Gen. Greg Newbold, who, up to four months prior to the launch of OIF, was the Pentagon's top planner. He left in part due to his opposition to the plan.  He now alleges that other top Pentagon officers who opposed the plan did not speak up, that they are culpable for an 'invented war.' 

At an April 11 press conference Joint Chiefs chairman, Gen. Peter Pace answered Newbold and other like—minded critics about how the process worked building up to Iraq: 

First of all, once it became apparent that we may have to take military action, the Secretary of Defense asked Tom Franks, who was the commander of Central Command, to begin doing some planning, which he did.  Over the next two years, 50 or 60 times, Tom Franks either came to Washington or by video teleconference, sat down with the Secretary of Defense, sat down with the Joint Chiefs and went over what he was thinking, how he was planning. And as a result of those iterative opportunities and all the questions that were asked not once was Tom told, 'No, don't do that; no, don't do this; no, you can't have this; no, you can't have that.'  What happened was, in a very open roundtable discussion, questions (were raised) about what might go right, what might go wrong, what would you need, how would you handle it, and that happened with the Joint Chiefs, and it happened with the Secretary.   And before the final orders were given, the Joint Chiefs met in private with General Franks and assured ourselves that that plan was a solid plan and that the resources that he needed were going to be allocated.

That agreement on resources having been reached, the Joint Chiefs went to Rumsfeld and then to President Bush, assuring them about the plan and the necessary resources. Pres. Bush asked specific questions about whether the proper amount of resources had been allocated.

He did that with us and then again when all the combatant commanders were in from [around] the globe well before a final decision was made. 

Gen. Pace stressed the fact that there was every opportunity for anyone with qualms or disagreements to speak their minds.  He concluded:

I wanted to tell you how I believe this system works, and I wanted to tell you how I have observed it working for five years, because the [critical] articles that are out there about folks not speaking up are just flat wrong. 

There are some who choose to believe that Saddam never presented a threat to America or the Middle East, that he was safely contained in his 'box,' that he had no connections with Al Qaeda or other terrorist groups, that neocon zealots hijacked US foreign policy, that the war plan was fatally flawed due to silent top ranking officers and 'Pentagon dictator' Donald Rumsfeld, that the liberation of Iraq was an invented war, and that the Saddam—Iraq chapter of our history began with President Bush, are entitled to their opinions. 

They are refuted by the facts which they and their media allies refuse to acknowledge.

John B. Dwyer is a military historian and a frequent contributor.