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At early meetings of the 9/11 commission, Commissioner Max Cleland tries to persuade the other commissioners that they should investigate the Bush administration’s reasons for invading Iraq. Cleland wants to know whether the president used 9/11 as an excuse to launch an attack he had been planning from the beginning of his presidency. Cleland also thinks that the administration’s obsession with Iraq was the reason it paid so little attention to the problem of terrorism in the spring and summer of 2001, and tells the other commissioners, “They were focused on Iraq, they were planning a war on Iraq, they were not paying attention to the business at hand.” However, the commission’s chairman and vice chairman, Tom Kean and Lee Hamilton, as well as Executive Director Philip Zelikow, are against this, as are some of the Republican commissioners, perhaps because of the popularity of the Iraq war at this point. Author Philip Shenon will say: “Even some of the Democrats [on the commission] were distancing themselves from him. Cleland knew he was quickly becoming a pariah.” Cleland will comment, “It was painfully obvious to me that there was this blanket over the commission, adding, “Anybody who spoke out or dissented, whether against George Bush, the White House, or the war against Iraq, was going to be marginalized.” [Shenon, 2008, pp. 129-130]

Entity Tags: Philip Zelikow, 9/11 Commission, Max Cleland, Thomas Kean, Lee Hamilton

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, Events Leading to Iraq Invasion, 9/11 Timeline

President Bush gives a rare interview to a television show, NBC’s Meet the Press. Bush holds the interview, conducted by Tim Russert, in the Oval Office. [CNN, 2/9/2004]
Admits Iraq Had No WMD - Bush concedes that Iraq did not possess weapons of mass destruction, but defends his decision to invade it, saying, “Saddam Hussein was dangerous, and I’m not just going to leave him in power and trust a madman.” He admits, “I expected to find the weapons.” He continues, “I’m sitting behind this desk, making a very difficult decision of war and peace, and I based my decision on the best intelligence possible, intelligence that had been gathered over the years, intelligence that not only our analysts thought was valid but analysts from other countries thought were valid.” And Iraq “had the ability to make weapons at the very minimum.” But even without proof of Iraqi WMD, Bush says the stakes were so high that “it is essential that when we see a threat, we deal with those threats before they become imminent.” Inaction in Iraq “would have emboldened Saddam Hussein. He could have developed a nuclear weapon over time.” Bush seems surprised when Russert asks if American soldiers had in fact been welcomed as “liberators” in Iraq, as some in his administration had predicted. “I think we are welcomed in Iraq,” he says. “I’m not exactly sure, given the tone of your questions, we’re not.” Resistance there is not surprising, Bush says, because “there are people who desperately want to stop the advance of freedom and democracy.” [NBC News, 2/8/2004; McClellan, 2008, pp. 202-203]
'War of Choice or War of Necessity?' - Russert continues to ask about the choice to invade Iraq, and at one point asks Bush whether it was a “war of choice or a war of necessity?” Bush responds: “That’s an interesting question. Please elaborate on that a little bit. A war of choice or a war of necessity? It’s a war of necessity. In my judgment, we had no choice, when we look at the intelligence I looked at, that says the man was a threat.” In 2008, current White House press secretary Scott McClellan will write that Bush asks him about the question after the interview, and that Bush was “puzzled” by the question. “This, too, puzzled me,” McClellan will write. “Surely this distinction between a necessary, unavoidable war and a war that the United States could have avoided but chose to wage, was an obvious one that Bush must have thought about a lot in the months before the invasion. Evidently it wasn’t obvious to the president, nor did his national security team make sure it was. He set the policy early on and then his team focused his attention on how to sell it. It strikes me today as an indication of his lack of inquisitiveness and his detrimental resistance to reflection, something his advisers needed to compensate for better than they did. Most objective observers today would say that in 2003 there was no urgent need to address the threat posed by Saddam with a large-scale invasion, and therefore the war was not necessary. But this is a question President Bush seems not to want to grapple with.” [NBC News, 2/8/2004; McClellan, 2008, pp. 202-203]
Bush Says Congress Saw Same Intelligence He Did - Asked whether Congress would have authorized the invasion (see October 10, 2002) if he had explained that, while Iraq may not have possessed WMD, Hussein should be removed because he was a threat to his people, Bush replies, “I went to Congress with the same intelligence Congress saw—the same intelligence I had, and they looked at exactly what I looked at, and they made an informed judgment based upon the information that I had.” Two of Bush’s presidential rivals dispute Bush’s assertion. Senator John Edwards (D-NC) says Bush’s statement that Congress saw the same intelligence information as he did is a “big leap.” Edwards adds: “I’m not certain that’s true. I know the president of the United States receives a different set of information than we receive on the Senate Intelligence Committee, and he receives more information, which he should.” And front-runner Senator John Kerry (D-MA) accuses Bush of backpedaling on the messages he gave Americans to justify going to war. “George Bush needs to take responsibility for his actions and set the record straight,” he says. “That’s the very least that Americans should be able to expect. Either he believed Saddam Hussein had chemical weapons, or he didn’t. Americans need to be able to trust their president, and they deserve the truth.” [New York Times, 2/8/2004; NBC News, 2/8/2004; CNN, 2/9/2004]
Confident of Winning Re-Election - Bush tells Russert that he is confident he will win re-election: “I don’t intend to lose.… I know exactly where I want to lead the country. I have shown the American people I can lead.… I want to lead this world to more peace and freedom.” [New York Times, 2/8/2004; NBC News, 2/8/2004; CNN, 2/9/2004]
Defends Economic Policies - Bush defends his economic policies, and says that even though under his watch the US has run up a $521 billion deficit and lost 2.2 million jobs, his administration’s policies are more restrained and fiscally sound than those of his predecessor. “I have been the president during a time of tremendous stress on our economy and made the decisions necessary to lead that would enhance recovery,” he says. “The stock market started to decline in March of 2000. That was the first sign that things were troubled. The recession started upon my arrival.” Conservative critics of his administration’s spending, including the Heritage Foundation and radio talk show host Rush Limbaugh, are “wrong,” he says. “If you look at the appropriations bills that were passed under my watch, in the last year of President Clinton, discretionary spending was up 15 percent, and ours have steadily declined. The other thing that I think it’s important for people who watch the expenditures side of the equation is to understand we are at war… and any time you commit your troops into harm’s way, they must have the best equipment, the best training, and the best possible pay.” [NBC News, 2/8/2004; CNN, 2/9/2004]

Entity Tags: Saddam Hussein, John Kerry, Scott McClellan, John Edwards, Tim Russert, George W. Bush

Timeline Tags: Events Leading to Iraq Invasion

Pat Roberts during a July 9, 2004 interview on PBS.Pat Roberts during a July 9, 2004 interview on PBS. [Source: PBS]The Senate Intelligence Committee releases the 511-page Senate Report on Iraqi WMD intelligence, formally titled the “Report of the Select Committee on Intelligence on the US Intelligence Community’s Prewar Intelligence Assessments on Iraq.” [US Congress, 7/7/2004; CNN, 7/9/2004] All nine Republicans and eight Democrats signed off on the report without dissent, which, as reporter Murray Waas will write, is “a rarity for any such report in Washington, especially during an election year.” [National Journal, 10/27/2005]
Report Redacted by White House - About 20 percent of the report was redacted by the White House before its release, over the objections of both Republicans and Democrats on the committee. Some of the redactions include caveats and warnings about the reliability of key CIA informants, one code-named “Red River” and another code-named “Curveball” (see Mid- and Late 2001). The source called “Red River” failed polygraph tests given to him by CIA officers to assess his reliability, but portions of the report detailing these and other caveats were redacted at the behest of Bush administration officials. [New York Times, 7/12/2004; New York Times, 7/18/2004]
Widespread Failures of US Intelligence - The report identifies multiple, widespread failures by the US intelligence community in its gathering and analysis of intelligence about Iraq WMD, which led to gross misunderstandings and misrepresentations about Iraq’s WMD programs to the American public by government officials. Committee chairman Pat Roberts (R-KS), who has previously attempted to shift blame for the intelligence misrepresentations away from the Bush administration and onto the CIA (see July 11, 2003 and After), says that intelligence used to support the invasion of Iraq was based on assessments that were “unreasonable and largely unsupported by the available intelligence.” He continues: “Before the war, the US intelligence community told the president as well as the Congress and the public that Saddam Hussein had stockpiles of chemical and biological weapons and if left unchecked would probably have a nuclear weapon during this decade. Today we know these assessments were wrong.” Senator John D. Rockefeller (D-WV), the ranking Democrat on the 18-member panel that created the report, says “bad information” was used to bolster the case for war. “We in Congress would not have authorized that war with 75 votes if we knew what we know now,” he says (see October 10, 2002). “Leading up to September 11, our government didn’t connect the dots. In Iraq, we are even more culpable because the dots themselves never existed.” Numerous assertions in an October 2002 National Intelligence Estimate (NIE—see October 1, 2002) were “overstated” or “not supported by the raw intelligence reporting,” including:
bullet Claims that Iraq was rebuilding its nuclear weapons program;
bullet Claims that Iraq had large stockpiles of chemical and biological weapons;
bullet Claims that Iraq was developing an unmanned aerial vehicle that could be used to deliver chemical and/or biological weapons payloads onto distant targets;
bullet The so-called “layering effect,” where “assessments were based on previous judgments, without considering the uncertainties of those judgments” (Roberts calls it an “assumption train”);
bullet The failure to explain adequately the uncertainties in the October 2002 NIE to White House officials and Congressional lawmakers;
bullet Reliance on claims by “Curveball,” noting that the use of those claims “demonstrated serious lapses in handling such an important source”;
bullet Use of “overstated, misleading, or incorrect” information in helping then-Secretary of State Colin Powell present the administration’s case to the United Nations in February 2003 (see February 5, 2003); and
bullet The failure of the CIA to share significant intelligence with other agencies. [CNN, 7/9/2004; Cybercast News Service, 7/9/2004; New York Times, 7/9/2004]
“One fact is now clear,” Roberts says. “Before the war, the US intelligence community told the president as well as the Congress and the public that Saddam Hussein had stockpiles of chemical and biological weapons, and if left unchecked, would probably have a nuclear weapon during this decade. Well, today we know these assessments were wrong.” [Cybercast News Service, 7/9/2004; New York Times, 7/9/2004] Rockefeller says the intelligence community failed to “accurately or adequately explain the uncertainties behind the judgments in the October 2002 National Intelligence Estimate to policymakers.” The community’s “intelligence failures” will haunt America’s national security “for generations to come,” he says. “Our credibility is diminished. Our standing in the world has never been lower,” he says. “We have fostered a deep hatred of Americans in the Muslim world, and that will grow. As a direct consequence, our nation is more vulnerable today than ever before.” [CNN, 7/9/2004; New York Times, 7/9/2004]
'Group Think' and 'Corporate Culture' - Roberts says the report finds that the “flawed” information used to send the nation to war was the result of “what we call a collective group think, which led analysts and collectors and managers to presume that Iraq had active and growing WMD programs.” He says this “group think caused the community to interpret ambiguous evidence, such as the procurement of dual-use technology, as conclusive evidence of the existence of WMD programs.” Roberts blames “group think” and a “broken corporate culture and poor management,” which “cannot be solved by simply adding funding and also personnel.” [CNN, 7/9/2004; New York Times, 7/9/2004]
Lack of Human Intelligence in Iraq - Perhaps the most troubling finding, Roberts says, is the intelligence community’s near-total lack of human intelligence in Iraq. “Most alarmingly, after 1998 and the exit of the UN inspectors, the CIA had no human intelligence sources inside Iraq who were collecting against the WMD target,” he says. [CNN, 7/9/2004; New York Times, 7/9/2004]
No Connection between Iraq, al-Qaeda - Rockefeller says that the administration’s claims of an alliance between Iraq’s Saddam Hussein and al-Qaeda had no basis in fact: “[N]o evidence existed of Iraq’s complicity or assistance in al-Qaeda’s terrorist attacks, including 9/11.” The report says that intelligence claims of connections between Iraq and some terrorist activities were accurate, though the contacts between al-Qaeda and Iraq from the 1990s “did not add up to an established formal relationship.” [CNN, 7/9/2004; New York Times, 7/9/2004]
Divided Opinion on Pressure from Bush Administration - Republicans and Democrats on the committee differ as to whether they believe the CIA and other intelligence agencies groomed or distorted their findings as a result of political pressure from the White House. “The committee found no evidence that the intelligence community’s mischaracterization or exaggeration of intelligence on Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction capabilities was the result of politics or pressure,” Roberts says. However, Rockefeller notes that the report fails to explain fully the pressures on the intelligence community “when the most senior officials in the Bush administration had already forcefully and repeatedly stated their conclusions publicly. It was clear to all of us in this room who were watching that—and to many others—that they had made up their mind that they were going to go to war.” The analysts were subjected to a “cascade of ominous statements,” Rockefeller says, that may have pushed them to slant their analyses in the direction the White House indicated it wanted. The report finds that Vice President Dick Cheney and others who repeatedly visited intelligence agencies (see 2002-Early 2003) pressured intelligence analysts or officials to present particular findings or change their views. However, the report notes repeated instances of analysts exaggerating what they knew, and leaving out, glossing over, or omitting dissenting views. According to the report, the intelligence community released a misleading public version of the October 2002 NIE (see October 4, 2002) that eliminated caveats and dissenting opinions, thus misrepresenting “their judgments to the public which did not have access to the classified National Intelligence Estimate containing the more carefully worded assessments.” [CNN, 7/9/2004; New York Times, 7/9/2004; Cybercast News Service, 7/9/2004] In an interview the evening after the report’s release, Rockefeller is asked if the report documents “a failure of a system or is this a failure of a bunch of individuals who just did their jobs poorly?” Rockefeller responds: “This is a failure of a system.… It is not fair to simply dump all of this on the Central Intelligence Agency. The Central Intelligence Agency does not make the decision, and [former Director] George Tenet does not make the decision to go to war. That decision is made at the other end of Pennsylvania Avenue.… So we went to war under false pretenses, and I think that is a very serious subject for Americans to think about for our future.” Asked “if the president had known then what he knows now, he would have still taken us to war?” Rockefeller answers: “I can’t answer that question. I just ask—the question I ask is, why isn’t he, and maybe he is, why isn’t he as angry about his decision, so to speak his vote on this, as I am about mine?” [PBS, 7/9/2004]
Supporting the Claim of Iraq's Attempt to Purchase Nigerien Uranium - The report states flatly that senior CIA case officer Valerie Plame Wilson made the decision to send her husband, former ambassador Joseph Wilson, to Niger to investigate false claims that Iraq had attempted to purchase uranium from that nation (see February 21, 2002-March 4, 2002). The CIA has demonstrated that Plame Wilson did not make that decision (see February 19, 2002). However, as well as claiming that Plame Wilson sent Wilson to Niger, it claims that Wilson’s report, far from disproving the assertion of an attempt by Iraq to purchase uranium, actually bolstered that assertion. The report states that the question of Iraq’s attempt to buy Nigerien uranium remains “open.” It also says Wilson lied to the Washington Post in June 2004 by claiming that the documents used to support the claim were forgeries (see Between Late 2000 and September 11, 2001, Late September 2001-Early October 2001, October 15, 2001, December 2001, February 5, 2002, February 12, 2002, October 9, 2002, October 15, 2002, January 2003, February 17, 2003, March 7, 2003, March 8, 2003, and 3:09 p.m. July 11, 2003). “Committee staff asked how the former ambassador could have come to the conclusion that the ‘dates were wrong and the names were wrong’ when he had never seen the CIA reports and had no knowledge of what names and dates were in the reports,” the report states. Wilson told committee members he may have been confused and may have “misspoken” to some reporters (see May 2, 2004). The committee did not examine the documents themselves. [Washington Post, 7/10/2009] The committee made similar claims a year before (see June 11, 2003 and July 11, 2003 and After). Progressive reporter and columnist Joshua Micah Marshall disputes the report’s claim that Wilson’s trip to Niger actually helped prove the assertion that Iraq tried to buy Nigerien uranium. The intelligence reports making the assertion are “fruits of the same poison tree” that produced so many other false and misleading claims, Marshall writes, and were based on the assumption that the forged documents were genuine. [Joshua Micah Marshall, 7/10/2004] In 2007, Plame Wilson will write, “What was missing from the [committee] report was just as telling as the distortions it contained. The ‘Additional Views’ section… had concluded” that she was responsible for sending Wilson to Niger. Yet that was contradicted by a senior CIA official over a year before. Plame Wilson will call the “Additional Views” section “a political smear if there ever was one,” crammed with “distortions and outright lies. Yet it continues to be cited today by Joe’s critics as proof of his lack of credibility.” The Wilsons learn months later that committee Democrats decided not to fight against the attacks on Wilson’s integrity; according to one of the senior Democratic senators on the panel, there was simply too much “incoming” from the Republicans for them to fight every issue. There were “far too many serious substantial disputes” that needed solving, and the Democrats chose to allow the attacks on Wilson to proceed without comment. [Wilson, 2007, pp. 187-190]
Portion of the Report Delayed - Roberts and other Republican majority committee members were successful in blocking Democrats’ attempts to complete the second portion of the report, which delineates the Bush administration’s use of the intelligence findings. That report will not be released until after the November 2004 presidential election. Rockefeller says he feels “genuine frustration… that virtually everything that has to do with the administration” has been “relegated to phase two” and will be discussed at another time. The second part of the committee’s investigation will focus on the “interaction or the pressure or the shaping of intelligence” by the Bush administration, Rockefeller says. “It was clear to all of us that the Bush administration had made up its mind to go to war,” he says, and he believes that such a “predetermination” influenced the intelligence community. Representative Jane Harman (D-CA), the ranking member of the House Intelligence Committee, says she hopes a similar House investigation would address some of those issues. However, she notes, she has been stymied by House Republicans in even launching that investigation. “There has not been the cooperation that there apparently has been on the Senate side,” she says. She has just now managed to wangle a meeting with House Intelligence Committee chairman Porter Goss (R-FL), who is being touted as the next director of the CIA (see September 24, 2004). Harman says, “I would hope we could address [the issues] factually and on a bipartisan basis, but at the moment I don’t have a lot of confidence in it.” [CNN, 7/9/2004; Cybercast News Service, 7/9/2004] Roberts’s spokeswoman Sarah Little later says that the committee has not yet decided whether the second portion of the report will be fully classified, declassified, or even if it will hold hearings. [National Journal, 10/27/2005]
Cheney, Roberts Colluded in Interfering with Report - Over a year later, the media will find that Roberts allowed Cheney and members of his staff to interfere with the committee’s investigation and dramatically limit its scope (see October 27, 2005). Rockefeller will say that he made three separate requests for White House documents during the committee’s investigation, but never received the documents he asked for. “The fact is,” Rockefeller will say, “that throughout the Iraq investigation any line of questioning that brought us too close to the White House was thwarted.” Rockefeller’s spokesperson, Wendy Morigi, will say that Rockefeller will “sadly come to the conclusion that the Intelligence Committee is not capable of doing the job of investigating the fundamental question as to whether the administration has misused intelligence to go to war.” [National Journal, 10/30/2005] Plame Wilson will write: “In the coming months, many reliable sources told us that before the report was issued, there was considerable collusion between the vice president’s office and… Roberts on how to craft the report and its content. So much for checks and balances and the separation of powers.” [Wilson, 2007, pp. 192]

Entity Tags: Joshua Micah Marshall, Pat Roberts, Murray Waas, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, Valerie Plame Wilson, Porter J. Goss, Joseph C. Wilson, Senate Intelligence Committee, John D. Rockefeller, Central Intelligence Agency, House Intelligence Committee, ’Curveball’, Jane Harman, Bush administration (43), Al-Qaeda, Colin Powell, Wendy Morigi, Sarah Little, George J. Tenet

Timeline Tags: Events Leading to Iraq Invasion

Joseph Cirincione.Joseph Cirincione. [Source: Carnegie Endowment for International Peace]The nonpartisan Carnegie Endowment for International Peace (CEIP) releases a comprehensive study called WMD in Iraq: Evidence and Implications, written by Joseph Cirincione, the director of CEIP’s Nonproliferation Project; Jessica Tuchman Mathews, president of CEIP; and George Perkovich, vice president for global security and economic development studies at CEIP. The study takes a critical look at the arguments used by the Bush administration to support the claim Iraq had WMDs. Former Nixon White House counsel John Dean writes: “All of their key assertions are examined in detail and found to be wanting. Established evidence is lined up in charts beside the assertions of Bush-Cheney, making the administration’s dishonesty obvious.” The study finds that the administration “systematically misrepresented the threat from Iraq’s WMD and ballistic missile program”; conflated bits of evidence of pre-1991 weapons programs into arguments that Iraq had viable and growing WMD programs; distorted intelligence findings by “routinely dropping caveats, probabilities, and expressions of uncertainty”; and “misrepresent[ed UN] inspectors’ findings in ways that turned threats from minor to dire.” Despite the study’s precision, it is all but ignored by the mainstream media. [Dean, 2004, pp. 139-140; Cirincione et al., 8/2004]

Entity Tags: Joseph Cirincione, Bush administration (43), Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, George Perkovich, John Dean, Jessica Tuchman Mathews

Timeline Tags: Events Leading to Iraq Invasion

Bob Drogin.Bob Drogin. [Source: CBS News]Reporter Bob Drogin, discussing his new book Curveball: Spies, Lies and the Con Man Who Caused a War, reflects on the opposing views surrounding the Bush administration’s decision to invade Iraq based on misinformed and sometimes fraudulent information about Iraq’s supposed WMD programs. The Bush administration has repeatedly blamed its erroneous claims of Iraqi WMDs on “bad intelligence,” and administration critics have stated that Bush officials “manipulated” and “cherry-picked” the intelligence they wanted to justify their push for war, and ignored the rest. Drogin says that both descriptions are accurate. “I don’t see that as an either-or proposition. Both happened,” he says. “The White House clearly manipulated information to make its case for war. It exaggerated the supposed link between Saddam [Hussein] and 9/11, for example, going far beyond what the CIA believed.… [T]he White House didn’t need to ‘cherry pick’ intelligence on Saddam’s WMD because the CIA stuff was all wrong. And it flowed into the White House by the truckload. Go back and read [Colin] Powell’s 2003 UN speech, or the 2002 National Intelligence Estimate on Iraq, the so-called gold standard of the US intelligence community. Virtually every sentence is wrong. That was the official view. It gave them the pretext for war.… I wanted to understand how an intelligence system that spends about $50 billion a year could produce the worst intelligence disaster in our history. The cascade of mistakes in the Curveball case is a big part of the answer.” He continues, “It was like witchcraft—the failure to find proof [of WMDs] was considered proof itself. So it became ‘not only does he have them, but look at how good he is at hiding them.’ So the threat was even greater. Our fears blinded us, I think—and the politicians used that to engender a state of national concern.” Drogin puts much of the blame, not on the media for conflating the story into a “crisis,” but on Congress for not standing up and demanding real answers and real proof. “I mean, I was in Washington and there was no debate. Democrats were running absolutely scared, running with their tails between their legs and the Republicans all lined up behind Bush. And the press can only do so much—in the end, I’m a reporter and I can’t prove a negative. I’m not going to go out and say he doesn’t have weapons, I don’t see the intelligence, I don’t know… [I]f members of Congress had fought that battle then it would have been covered and the debate would have been there. There’s only so much you can do as a reporter to create a debate.” [Alternet, 10/22/2007]

Entity Tags: ’Curveball’, Bob Drogin, Bush administration (43), George W. Bush, Colin Powell, Saddam Hussein, Los Angeles Times

Timeline Tags: Events Leading to Iraq Invasion

Reflecting on the failure of the Bush administration to make its case on Iraq and the detrimental effect it had on the Bush presidency’s popularity with the American people, former Bush communications director Dan Bartlett says: “At the end of the day I think the divisiveness of this presidency will fundamentally come down to one issue: Iraq. And Iraq only because, in my opinion, there weren’t weapons of mass destruction. I think the public’s tolerance for the difficulties we face would’ve been far different had it felt like the original threat had been proved true. That’s the fulcrum. Fundamentally, when the president gets to an approval rating of 27 percent, it’s this issue.” [Vanity Fair, 2/2009]

Entity Tags: Dan Bartlett, Bush administration (43)

Timeline Tags: Iraq under US Occupation

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