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Context of 'January 27, 2001: Confirmation of Al-Qaeda’s Role in USS Cole Bombing Triggers No Immediate US Response'

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PNAC logo.PNAC logo. [Source: Project for the New American Century]The Project for the New American Century (PNAC), an influential neoconservative think tank, publishes a letter to President Clinton urging war against Iraq and the removal of Saddam Hussein because he is a “hazard” to “a significant portion of the world’s supply of oil.” In a foretaste of what eventually happens, the letter calls for the US to go to war alone, attacks the United Nations, and says the US should not be “crippled by a misguided insistence on unanimity in the UN Security Council.” The letter is signed by many who will later lead the 2003 Iraq war. 10 of the 18 signatories later join the Bush Administration, including Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, Assistant Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz, Deputy Secretaries of State Richard Armitage and Robert Zoellick, Undersecretaries of State John Bolton and Paula Dobriansky, presidential adviser for the Middle East Elliott Abrams, Defense Policy Board chairman Richard Perle, and George W. Bush’s special Iraq envoy Zalmay Khalilzad. Other signatories include William Bennett, Jeffrey Bergner, Francis Fukuyama, Robert Kagan, William Kristol, Peter Rodman, William Schneider, Vin Weber, and James Woolsey. [Project for the New American Century, 1/26/1998; Sunday Herald (Glasgow), 3/16/2003; Unger, 2007, pp. 158] Clinton does heavily bomb Iraq in late 1998, but the bombing doesn’t last long and its long term effect is the break off of United Nations weapons inspections. [New York Times, 3/23/2003] The PNAC neoconservatives do not seriously expect Clinton to attack Iraq in any meaningful sense, author Craig Unger will observe in 2007. Instead, they are positioning themselves for the future. “This was a key moment,” one State Department official will recall. “The neocons were maneuvering to put this issue in play and box Clinton in. Now, they could draw a dichotomy. They could argue to their next candidate, ‘Clinton was weak. You must be strong.’” [Unger, 2007, pp. 158]

Entity Tags: Robert B. Zoellick, Vin Weber, William Kristol, William Jefferson (“Bill”) Clinton, Zalmay M. Khalilzad, William Schneider Jr., Richard Perle, William J. Bennett, Richard Armitage, Robert Kagan, Paula J. Dobriansky, Donald Rumsfeld, Craig Unger, Peter Rodman, Elliott Abrams, John R. Bolton, James Woolsey, Francis Fukuyama, Jeffrey T. Bergner, Paul Wolfowitz

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, Events Leading to Iraq Invasion, Neoconservative Influence

Although neoconservative Paul Wolfowitz has lost his chance of becoming director of the CIA due to his sexual entanglements with foreign nationals (see Late December 2000), he has not been entirely dismissed from consideration for high positions, and has the support of Vice President Cheney. President Bush, who has insisted that his administration’s officials comply with the highest moral standards, never learns about Wolfowitz’s infidelities. (A letter that Wolfowitz’s wife wrote to Bush about her husband’s affairs was intercepted by Cheney’s chief of staff, Lewis Libby. Wolfowitz himself unleashed a group of lawyers on his wife and forced her to sign a non-disclosure agreement to keep quiet about his affairs.) Incoming Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld chooses Wolfowitz to be his deputy, blocking incoming Secretary of State Colin Powell’s choice for the position, Richard Armitage, from taking the office (see Late December 2000 and Early January 2001). The Washington Post calls Wolfowitz’s selection “another victory for… Cheney over… Powell.” Rumsfeld knows about Wolfowitz’s sexual liaisons, as do most White House officials, and chooses to remain silent. “Rumsfeld told Wolfowitz to keep it zipped,” a State Department source later says. “He didn’t want any problems. He was basically to run the show and Wolfowitz could come on those terms.” [Unger, 2007, pp. 191-192]

Entity Tags: Donald Rumsfeld, Central Intelligence Agency, Clare Wolfowitz, Lewis (“Scooter”) Libby, Colin Powell, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, Paul Wolfowitz, US Department of Defense

Timeline Tags: US Military

The Washington Post reports that the US has confirmed the link between al-Qaeda and the October 2000 USS Cole bombing (see October 12, 2000). [Washington Post, 1/27/2001] This conclusion is stated without hedge in a February 9 briefing for Vice President Cheney. [Washington Post, 1/20/2002] In the wake of that bombing, Bush stated on the campaign trail, “I hope that we can gather enough intelligence to figure out who did the act and take the necessary action.… There must be a consequence.” [Washington Post, 1/20/2002] Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz later complains that by the time the new administration is in place, the Cole bombing was “stale.” Defense Secretary Rumsfeld concurs, stating that too much time had passed to respond. [9/11 Commission, 3/24/2004] The new Bush administration fails to resume the covert deployment of cruise missile submarines and gunships on six-hour alert near Afghanistan’s borders that had begun under President Clinton. The standby force gave Clinton the option of an immediate strike against targets in Afghanistan harboring al-Qaeda’s top leadership. This failure makes a possible assassination of bin Laden much more difficult. [Washington Post, 1/20/2002]

Entity Tags: William Jefferson (“Bill”) Clinton, Osama bin Laden, Donald Rumsfeld, Paul Wolfowitz, Al-Qaeda, Bush administration (43), Richard (“Dick”) Cheney

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

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