The Plan To Attack Iraq
The Bush administration's attack on Iraq in 2003 is probably the issue on which the 9/11 Commission has been regarded as the most critical, stating that it found no evidence of "collaborative operational relationship" between OBL and Saddam Hussein's Iraq and no evidence, in particular, "that Iraq cooperated with al Qaeda in developing or carrying out any attacks against the United States". This statement, released in a staff report about a month before the publication of the final report, created much discussion in the press. The quantity and the intensity of this discussion was increased by the fact that the president and especially the vice president reacted strongly, with the latter calling "outrageous" a front-page story in the New York Times headed "Panel Finds No Qaeda-Iraq Tie." The resulting commentary ranged from William Safire's column, in which he lashed out at the Commission's chairman and vice chairman for letting themselves be "jerked around by a manipulative staff," to a New York Times story headed "Political Uproar: 9/11 Panel Members Debate Qaeda-Iraq 'Tie,'" to Joe Conason's article entitled "9/11 Panel Becomes Cheney's Nightmare."

This commentary gave the appearance the the 9/11 Commission, perhaps especially its staff, was truly independent, telling the truth no matter how embarrassing it might be to the White House. That, of course, was mere appearance. Nevertheless, give the fact that Bush and Cheney continued to insist on the existence of ties between Iraq and al-Qaeda, the Commission did in this case report something contrary to the public position of the White House.

The Commission was furthermore, forthcoming about the extent to which certain members of the Bush administration pushed for attacking Iraq immediately after 911. It pointed out that Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld instructed General Myers to find out as much as he could about Saddam Hussein's possible responsibility for 9/11. It also cited a report according to which, at the first session at Camp David after 9/11, Rumsfeld began by asking what should be done about Iraq. The Commission even portrayed Rumsfeld's deputy, Paul Wolfowitz, as arguing that Saddam should be attacked even if there were only a 10 percent chance that he was behind the 9/11 attacks. Finally, the Commission reported Richard Clarke's statement that the president told him the day after 9/11 to see if Saddam was linked to the attacks in any way. The Commission was, therefore, quite frank about the fact that some leaders of the Bush administration were ready from the outset to attack Iraq because of its possible connections to 9/11 or at least al-Qaeda-connections for which the Commission said that it could find no credible evidence.

The Commission has, nevertheless, omitted facts about the decision to attack Iraq that should have been included in a "fullest possible account." These facts are important because their omission means that readers of The 9/11 Commission Report are shielded from evidence about how deep and long-standing the desire to attack Iraq had been among some members of the Bush administration.

Some of these omitted facts support the claim that the plan to attack Iraq had, in Chalmers Johnson's words, "been in the works for at least a decade." In pushing it back that far, Johnson is referring to the fact that after the Gulf War of 1991, several individuals in the White House and the Pentagon believed that the United States should have gone to Baghdad and taken out Saddam Hussein, as they indicated "in reports written for then Secretary of Defense Cheney." In 1996, a document entitled "A Clean Break" was produced by a study group led by Richard Perle (who would the following year become a founding member of PNAC). Recommending that Israel adopt a policy of "preemption," Perle and his colleagues suggested that Israel begin "rolling back Syria," an effort that should "focus on removing Saddam Hussein from power in Iraq." Advocating that Israel invade Lebanon and then Syria, this document included texts to be used for speeches justifying the action in a way that would win sympathy in America. Besides "drawing attention to [Syria's] weapons of mass destruction," Israel should say:

Negotiations with repressive regimes like Syria's require cautious realism...It is dangerous for Israel to deal naively with a regime murderous of its own people, openly aggressive toward its neighbors...and supportive of the most deadly terrorist organizations.

As James Bamford points out in A Pretext For War, these justifications were very similar to those that would be used in later years to justify America's attack on Iraq.

The argument for this American attack on Iraq became more visible the following year, after PNAC was formed. In December 1997, Paul Wolfowitz and Zalmay Khalilzad published an article in the Weekly Standard-which is edited by the chairman of PNAC, William Kristol-entitled "Saddam Must Go." A month later, these three and fifteen other members of PNAC-including Donald Rumsfeld, John Bolton, and Richard Perle-sent a letter to President Clinton urging him to use military force to "remov[e] Saddam Hussein and his regime from power" and thereby "to protect our vital interests in the Gulf." In May 1997, they sent a letter to New Gingrich and Trent Lott-the Speaker of the House and the Senate majority leader, respectively. Complaining that Clinton had not listened to them, these letter-writers said that the United States "should establish and maintain a strong U.S. military presence in the region, and be prepared to use that force to protect our vital interests in the Gulf-and, if necessary, to help remove Saddam from power." Finally, Rebuilding America's Defenses, published by PNAC in September 2000, emphasized that Iraq under Saddam Hussein was a treat to American interests in the region.

When the Bush administration took office in 2001, Chalmers Johnson points out, "ten of the eighteen signers of the letters to Clinton and Republican congressional leaders became members of the administration." It was no mere coincidence, therefore, that-as both Paul O'Neil and Richard Clarke have emphasized-the Bush administration was already intent on removing Saddam Hussein when it took office. And it is also not surprising to learn that immediately after the 9/11 attacks, some members of the Bush administration wanted to use those attacks as the basis for their long-desire invasion to bring about regime change in Iraq.

But the Kean-Zelikow Commission, having left out that background, provides no context for readers to understand why and how strongly some members of the Bush administration wanted to attack Iraq. Indeed, the Commission fails to make clear just how ready some of them were to go to war against Iraq even if there was no evidence of its complicity in the attacks. A crucial omission in this respect is the failure to quote notes of Rumsfeld's conversations on 9/11 that were jotted down by an aide. These notes, which were later revealed by CBS News, indicate that Rumsfeld wanted the "best info fast. Judge whether good enough hit S.H. [Saddam Hussein] at same time. Not only UBL [Usama Bin Laden]. Go massive. Sweet it all up. Things related and not." James Bamford, after quoting these notes, says: "From the notes it was clear that the attacks would be used as a pretext for war against Saddam Hussein."

The Commission, by contrast, merely tells us that notes from that day indicate that "Secretary Rumsfeld instructed Myers to obtain quickly as much information as possible" and to consider "a wide range of options and possibilities". The Commission then adds:

The secretary said his instinct was to hit Saddam Hussein at the same time-not only Bin Laden. Secretary Rumsfeld later explained that at the time, he had been considering either one of them or perhaps someone else, as the responsible party.

From the Commission's account alone, we would assume that Rumsfeld was thinking of hitting Saddam if and only if there was good evidence that he was "the responsible party." As the notes quoted by CBS and Bamford show, however, Rumsfeld wanted to use 9/11 as the basis for a "massive" response that would take care of many threats to American interests ("Sweep It Up"), especially Saddam Hussein, whether he was responsible or not ("Things related and not"). The Kean-Zelikow Commission, with its omission and distortions, hides this fact from us.

Furthermore, just as the Commission failed to point out the centrality of oil and military bases in the Bush administration's interest in Afghanistan, it does the same in relation to Iraq-even though this country has the second largest known oil reserves in the world. The Commission does say that at a National Security Council meeting on September 17, "President Bush ordered the Defense Department to be ready to deal with Iraq if Baghdad acted against U.S. interests, with plans to include possibly occupying Iraqi oil fields". But this is the sole hint in the Kean-Zelikow Report that the Bush administration might have had an interest in getting control of Iraqi oil.

Even this statement, moreover, is doubly qualified. Far from suggesting that Rumsfeld, Wolfowitz, and other members of the Bush administration were chomping at the bit to attack Iraq, as the PNAC letters reveal, the Commission suggests that the Bush administration would have thought of acting against Saddam only if he "acted against U.S. interests." And far from suggesting that getting control of Iraq's oil would be a central motivation, the Commission suggests that the plans for attack might only "possibly" include occupying Iraqi oil fields.

From other sources, however, we get quite a different pictures. Within months after 9/11, Paul O'Neill reports, the Defense Intelligence Agency, which works for Rumsfeld, had begun mapping Iraq's oil fields. It also provided a document, entitled "Foreign Suitors for Iraqi Oilfield Contracts," which suggested how Iraq's huge reserves might be divided up. The centrality of oil was also pointed out by Stephen Gowans, who wrote"

[T]he top item on the Pentagon's agenda, once it gave the order for jackboots to begin marching on Baghdad, was to secure the oil fields in southern Iraq. And when chaos broke out in Baghdad, US forces let gangs of looters and arsonists run riot through "the Ministry of Planning, the Ministry of Education, the Ministry of Irrigation, the Ministry of Trade, the Ministry of Industry, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the Ministry of Culture and the Ministry of Information."...But at the Ministry of Oil, where archives and files related to all the oil wealth Washington has been itching to get its hands on, all was calm, for ringing the Ministry was a phalanx of tanks and armored personnel carriers.

These accounts reveal the distorted picture provided by the 9/11 Commissioners, whose solitary mention of Iraq's oil suggests that US troops, if they attacked Iraq, might or might not occupy the oil fields.

A more realistic account is also given by Chalmers Johnson, who emphasizes that in relation to oil-rich regions, the US interest in oil and its interest in bases go hand in hand.

[T]he renewed interest in Central, South, and Southwest Asia included the opening of military-to-military ties with the independent Central Asian republics of Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan and support for a Taliban government in Afghanistan as a way to obtain gas and oil pipeline rights for an American-led consortium. But the jewel in the crown of this grand strategy was a plan to replace the Ba'ath regime in Iraq with a pro-American puppet government and build permanent military bases there.

Johnson's emphasis on the motivation to establish more military bases is supported by PNAC itself, which said in its 2000 document:

[T]he United States has for decades sought to play a more permanent role in Gulf regional security. While the unresolved conflict with Iraq provides the immediate justification, the need for a substantial American presense in the Gulf transcends the issue of the regime of Saddam Hussein.

If we move beyond the 9/11 Commission's simplistic and noncontextual account of the Bush administration's reasons for attacking Iraq, we can see that the stakes were immense, involving not only trillions of dollars but also global geopolitical control. (For example, even if the United States will not need Iraqi oil in the near future, East Asia and Europe will, so that the United States, by controlling their oil supply, will be able to exert strong influence over their political-economic life.) Accordingly, we can see that the desire to attack an occupy Iraq, expressed by the same people who suggested that a "new Pearl Harbor" could be helpful, might have provided a motive for facilitating the attacks of 9/11.

The 9/11 Commission Report, however, omits all the parts of the story that might lead to this thought. We receive no idea that Iraq might have been "the jewel in the crown" of the US master plan. In the world of the Kean-Zelikow Report, in fact, America has no imperialistic master plan. It is simply an altruistic nation struggling to defend itself against enemies who hate its freedoms.

End Part V