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Context of 'March 8, 2003: Foreign Policy Adviser Warns of Negative Repercussions of Bush Administration ‘Unilateralism’'

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Brent Scowcroft, the head of the Foreign Intelligence Advisory Board and a close adviser and friend of former President George H. W. Bush, is becoming increasingly marginalized in the current administration. Realizing he has little real influence in the White House, he goes public with his measured objections to a US invasion of Iraq by publishing an editorial in the Washington Post entitled “Build a Coalition.” Scowcroft reflects on the decision not to invade Baghdad in the 1991 Gulf War (see September 1998), and writes that if the US had then overthrown Saddam Hussein, “Our Arab allies… would have deserted us, creating an atmosphere of hostility to the United States [that] might have well spawned scores of Osama bin Ladens. [We] already hear voices declaring that the United States is too focused on a multilateral approach. The United States knows what needs to be done, these voices say, and we should just go ahead and do it. Coalition partners just tie our hands, and they all will exact a price for their support. Those are the same siren songs of delusion and defeat that we heard in 1990. We can no more succeed in our present campaign by acting unilaterally than we could have in 1990.” If the “war on terror” is to succeed, he writes, it will have to be “even more dependent on coalition-building than was the Gulf War.” Scowcroft finally understands, author Craig Unger will observe, that the neoconservatives are using 9/11 as an excuse to invade Iraq. “He knew they were going to try to manipulate the president into thinking there was unfinished business” in Iraq, an administration official will recall in 2007. “For [Scowcroft] to say something publicly was a watershed. This was where the roads diverged.” (Scowcroft 10/16/2001; Unger 2007, pp. 228)

Retired Lieutenant General Brent Scowcroft leads a presidential panel which proposes that control of the National Security Agency, the National Reconnaissance Office, and the National Imagery and Mapping Agency be transferred from the Department of Defense to the head of the CIA, the director of central intelligence (DCI). The plan is favored by the Congressional 9/11 joint inquiry but opposed by Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and Vice President Dick Cheney. For years experts have argued that the US intelligence community’s 13 disparate agencies—“85 percent of whose assets reside in the Defense Department”—should be consolidated under the head of the CIA. (Robinson 8/12/2002; Pincus 8/19/2004)
Intelligence Community Still Focused on Cold War Needs, Scowcroft Finds - Scowcroft, the head of the Foreign Intelligence Advisory Board and a close friend and confidant of former President George H. W. Bush, actually revises a report he began before the 9/11 attacks. The report concludes that the US intelligence apparatus had been designed to meet the needs of the Cold War era and should now be overhauled. The 9/11 attacks are evidence of this, Scowcroft believes. The attacks came from rogue Islamist terrorists, not a superpower like China or the old USSR.
Opposition from Rumsfeld, Cheney - But, as Ron Suskind will write in his 2006 book The One Percent Doctrine, Rumsfeld is “strongly opposed” to Scowcroft’s idea, presumably because, by transferring control of the NSA from the Pentagon to the CIA, it would take power away from him. Scowcroft approaches Cheney with the dilemma. Scowcroft is well aware of Cheney and Rumsfeld’s long political partnership, and gives Cheney an easy out. If his proposals are overly “disruptive,” Scowcroft says, “I’ll just fold my tent and go away. I don’t want to… but I’ll be guided by you.” Cheney now has a choice. Knowing this is a battle Scowcroft will not win, he can either call Scowcroft off now and defuse a potential political conflict within the administration, or, in author Craig Unger’s words, he can “send Scowcroft off on a fool’s errand, pitting Bush 41’s close friend, as Suskind noted, against Bush 43’s cabinet secretary [Rumsfeld], who just happened to be Bush 41’s lifelong nemesis (see September 21, 1974 and After). Cheney chose the latter.” Cheney tells Scowcroft to “go ahead, submit the report to the president.” He knows President Bush will listen to Cheney and Rumsfeld’s advice and ignore the report. Unger later notes, “Scowcroft had once been Cheney’s mentor, his patron. Now the vice president was just humoring him.” (Unger 2007, pp. 225-226)

Brent Scowcroft, still a member of the Foreign Intelligence Advisory Board even though he is virtually frozen out of any administration dialogue concerning Iraq (see October 16, 2001 and March 2002), tells the National Journal: “During the campaign, [President Bush] made some strong statements about putting more stock in [coalitions]. Clearly, that hasn’t happened.” Ultimately, Scowcroft says: “such a ‘go it alone’ doctrine is fundamentally, fatally flawed.… [I]t’s already given us an image of arrogance and unilateralism, and we’re paying a very high price for that image. If we get to the point where everyone secretly hopes the United States gets a black eye because we’re so obnoxious, then we’ll be totally hamstrung in the war on terror. We’ll be like Gulliver with the Lilliputians.” (Unger 2007, pp. 292)

Neoconservative Kenneth Adelman, a former director of the US Arms Control and Disarmament Agency who predicted that the defeat and subsequent occupation of Iraq would be a “cakewalk” (see February 13, 2002), writes in a Washington Post op-ed that it is time for the supporters of the war to celebrate. One aspect of that celebration should be to deride the war’s critics: “Administration critics should feel shock over their bellyaching about the wayward war plan. All of us feel awe over the professionalism and power of the US military. Now we know.” Adelman is quick to pick who he feels is a particularly juicy target: “Taking first prize among the many frightful forecasters was the respected former national security adviser, Brent Scowcroft” (see March 8, 2003). Vice President Cheney is so pleased with Adelman’s column that he invites Adelman to a small celebratory dinner party. The only other guests are Cheney’s chief of staff, Lewis “Scooter” Libby, and Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz. When Adelman arrives, he is so overcome with joy that he bursts into tears and hugs Cheney. They reminisce briefly about the 1991 Gulf War until Adelman interrupts: “Hold it! Hold it! Let’s talk about this Gulf War. It’s so wonderful to celebrate.… Paul and Scooter, you give advice inside and the president listens. Dick, your advice is the most important, the Cadillac.” The war is just fabulous, Adelman gushes. “So I just want to make a toast without getting too cheesy. To the president of the United States.” (Adelman 4/10/2003; Unger 2007, pp. 303)

Former ambassador Joseph Wilson pens his second op-ed for the San Jose Mercury News, titled “Seeking Honesty in US Policy.” Wilson writes that the Bush administration is dragging the country “down a rabbit hole,” a reference to Alice in Wonderland, “all the while trying to convince the American people that life in newly liberated Iraq is not as distorted as it seems.” He accuses President Bush and his top officials of attempting to “misrepresent reality—and rewrite history—to mask its mistakes” in Iraq. If the US wants to fight terrorism, as Bush claims, it needs to go elsewhere, Wilson asserts.
'Dangerous, Self-Fulfilling Prophecy' - But, Wilson writes, “[b]y trying to justify the current fight in Iraq as a fight against terrorism, the administration has done two frightening things. It has tried to divert attention from Osama bin Laden.… And the policy advanced by the speech is a major step toward creating a dangerous, self-fulfilling prophecy and reflects a fundamental misunderstanding of the facts on the ground.”
Powerful Insurgency, Growing Terrorist Presence - Wilson notes that the US is fighting an ever-growing insurgency in Iraq, largely composed of “an angry but not yet defeated Sunni Muslim population who, although a minority in Iraq, had been in power for a century.” He notes that the US is “beginning to face terrorists there, but it is our own doing. Our attack on Iraq—and our bungling of the peace—led to the guerrilla insurgency that is drawing jihadists from around the Muslim world. The ‘shock and awe’ campaign so vividly shown on our television screens (see March 19, 2003) has galvanized historic Arab envy, jealousy, and resentment of the United States into white-hot hatred of America.”
Redefining Rationale for War - Instead of correcting its mistakes and pursuing terrorists where they actually congregate, Wilson says, “the administration is trying to redefine why we went to Iraq, because we have accomplished so little of what we set out to do—and severely underestimated the commitment it would take to deal with the aftermath of war.” No longer does the administration make its claims that Iraq had WMD that pose a threat to the Middle East or even the US itself. Now it claims that we invaded Iraq because it had WMD programs (see July 9, 2003). Wilson writes, “In other words, we’re now supposed to believe that we went to war not because Saddam’s arsenal of weapons of mass destruction threatened us, but because he had scientists on his payroll.” The cost in American lives and tax dollars has been staggering and continues to rise virtually unchecked. Large sections of Iraq are in chaos.
Imposed Democracy, Security for Israel - “The truth is, the administration has never leveled with the American people on the war with Iraq,” Wilson writes. Powerful members of the administration wanted war no matter what, Wilson writes, because it was always their intention to overthrow Saddam Hussein and impose democracy on Iraq as a first step towards democratizing the entire Middle East. And at worst, some believed that even if the experiment in imposed democracy failed, Israel would be more secure because it would be surrounded by small, less powerful Arab states too busy bickering with one another to form a solid bloc in opposition to it.
Playing It Straight - Wilson concludes: “[B]efore we can hope to win back international trust or start down a truly new path in Iraq, the administration has to start playing it straight, with the American people and with the world. Recent administration statements, including the president’s speech, suggest that it still prefers to live in a fantasy world.” (Wilson 9/14/2003)
Scowcroft Won't Share Op-Ed with White House - Wilson sends the editorial to White House adviser Brent Scowcroft and asks if he will share it with administration officials; Scowcroft laughingly demurs, saying that he is in enough trouble with the administration already (see March 8, 2003). (Wilson 2004, pp. 375)

Brent Scowcroft, the foreign policy adviser who has increasingly become a figure of ridicule inside the administration (see March 8, 2003), is dismissed from the President’s Foreign Intelligence Advisory Board. Though Scowcroft is one of the most respected policy experts in Washington, and one of George H. W. Bush’s closest friends and colleagues, President Bush does not do him the courtesy of speaking to him personally about his dismissal. (Unger 2007, pp. 326)


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