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Context of 'Summer 2004: Bush Foreign Policy Dominated by Small Core of Insular, Ill-Informed Advisers'

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Ahmed Chalabi, an Iraqi exile, studies for his doctorate in math at the University of Chicago where he gets to know Albert Wohlstetter, a prominent cold-war strategist and a mentor for Paul Wolfowitz and Richard Perle. After receiving his degree, Chalabi moves to Lebanon where he works as a math teacher at the American University of Beirut. His brother, Jawad, is also living in Beirut and runs Middle East Banking Corp. (Mebco). [American Prospect, 11/18/2002; Salon, 5/5/2004; New Yorker, 6/7/2004; Christian Science Monitor, 6/15/2004]

Entity Tags: Ahmed Chalabi, Jawad Chalabi, Albert Wohlstetter

Timeline Tags: Events Leading to Iraq Invasion, Neoconservative Influence

Eminent academic, foreign policy analyst, and neoconservative Albert Wohlstetter (see 1965) introduces his proteges Richard Perle and Paul Wolfowitz to Iraqi exile Ahmed Chalabi (see 1992-1996), who is already plotting to overthrow Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein. Wolfowitz and Perle will become key players in the run-up to the US’s 2003 invasion of Iraq (see Late December 2000 and Early January 2001). [Unger, 2007, pp. 44]

Entity Tags: Albert Wohlstetter, Ahmed Chalabi, Richard Perle, Paul Wolfowitz, Saddam Hussein

Timeline Tags: Neoconservative Influence

Ahmed Chalabi, an Iraqi exile fleeing charges of embezzlement from his former bank in Jordan (see August 2, 1989 and April 9, 1992), continues forging ties with American neoconservatives (see January 30, 2001 and 1985). Chalabi forms a friendship with neoconservative academic Bernard Lewis, who asks his colleagues inside the Bush administration, including Pentagon aide Zalmay Khalilzad, to help boost Chalabi’s profile inside the administration. Chalabi also meets neoconservative General Wayne Downing while Downing is in command of the Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC) at Fort Bragg, North Carolina. [Middle East Policy Council, 6/2004]

Entity Tags: Ahmed Chalabi, Zalmay M. Khalilzad, Wayne Downing, Bernard Lewis

Timeline Tags: Neoconservative Influence

Iraqi National Congress logo.Iraqi National Congress logo. [Source: Iraqi National Congress]Over a period of four years, the CIA’s Iraq Operation Group provides the Iraqi National Congress (INC) with $100 million, which the organization uses to set up training camps and propaganda operations in Northern Iraq. [Christian Science Monitor, 6/15/2004; Ritter, 2005, pp. 128] During this time span, INC leader Ahmed Chalabi allegedly misuses a lot of the funds. “There was a lot of hanky-panky with the accounting: triple billing, things that weren’t mentioned, things inflated.… It was a nightmare,” a US intelligence official who works with Chalabi will say in 2004. [Newsweek, 4/5/2004] Chalabi refuses to share the organization’s books with other members of the INC, and even with the US government itself. According to a former CIA officer, “[T]hey argued that it would breach the secrecy of the operation.” One night, government investigators break into the INC’s offices to do an audit. They find that although the books are in order, many of the group’s expenditures are wasteful. [New Yorker, 6/7/2004] Chalabi spends much of his time in Kurdish-controlled northern Iraq. Robert Baer, a CIA officer who is also working in Iraq, later recalls: “He was like the American Ambassador to Iraq. He could get to the White House and the CIA. He would move around Iraq with five or six Land Cruisers.” Hundreds of thousands of dollars flow “to this shadowy operator—in cars, salaries—and it was just a Potemkin village. He was reporting no intel; it was total trash. The INC’s intelligence was so bad, we weren’t even sending it in.” Chalabi tries to portray Saddam Hussein’s regime as “a leaking warehouse of gas, and all we had to do was light a match,” Baer says. Chalabi, at certain points, claims to know about Iraqi troop movements and palace plans. But “there was no detail, no sourcing—you couldn’t see it on a satellite.” [New Yorker, 6/7/2004] In her 2007 book Fair Game, former CIA analyst Valerie Plame Wilson, an expert on Iraq’s WMD programs, describes Chalabi as “Machiavellian,” and blames him for sending “dozens of tantalizing but ultimately false leads into the CIA net.” [Wilson, 2007, pp. 106-107]

Entity Tags: Valerie Plame Wilson, Ahmed Chalabi, Central Intelligence Agency, Robert Baer, Iraqi National Congress

Timeline Tags: Events Leading to Iraq Invasion

Defense Secretary Dick Cheney gives a speech to the Discovery Institute in Seattle defending the Bush administration’s decision not to enter Baghdad or overthrow Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein during the 1991 Gulf War (see January 16, 1991 and After). Cheney says that because of Hussein’s “shrinking power base” in Iraq, the fact that he does not control the northern or southern portions of his country, his all-but-destroyed national economy, and the UN sanctions, “his days are numbered” as Iraq’s dictator, so there was no need to overthrow him. “I would guess if we had gone in there, I would still have forces in Baghdad today. We’d be running the country. We would not have been able to get everybody out and bring everybody home.… All of a sudden you’ve got a battle you’re fighting in a major built-up city, a lot of civilians are around, significant limitations on our ability to use our most effective technologies and techniques.… Once we had rounded him up and gotten rid of his government, then the question is what do you put in its place? You know, you then have accepted the responsibility for governing Iraq.… And the final point that I think needs to be made is this question of casualties. I don’t think you could have done all of that without significant additional US casualties. And while everybody was tremendously impressed with the low cost of the conflict, for the 146 Americans who were killed in action and for their families, it wasn’t a cheap war. And the question in my mind is how many additional American casualties is Saddam worth? And the answer is not that damned many. So, I think we got it right, both when we decided to expel him from Kuwait, but also when the president made the decision that we’d achieved our objectives and we were not going to go get bogged down in the problems of trying to take over and govern Iraq.” [Seattle Post-Intelligencer, 9/29/2004; Seattle Post-Intelligencer, 9/29/2004; Dubose and Bernstein, 2006, pp. 171-172] While Cheney publicly supports Bush’s decision not to go into Baghdad, privately he had urged Bush to invade the capital and overthrow Hussein (see February 1991-1992). According to Victor Gold, a former Bush speechwriter and coauthor of a novel with Cheney’s wife Lynne, Cheney’s private stance was far more aggressive than his public pronouncements. [Unger, 2007, pp. 182]

Entity Tags: Central Intelligence Agency, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, Bush administration (41), Saddam Hussein, Victor (“Vic”) Gold

Timeline Tags: Events Leading to Iraq Invasion

The Bush White House holds its first National Security Council meeting. The focus is on Iraq and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. [Bamford, 2004, pp. 261] This meeting sets the tone for how President Bush intends to handle foreign affairs. Counterterrorism chief Richard Clarke wants to focus on the threat from al-Qaeda and Islamist terrorism, especially in light of the recent attack on the USS Cole (see October 12, 2000). But Bush isn’t interested in terrorism. [Unger, 2007, pp. 201]
Israeli-Palestinian Conflict to be 'Tilted Back Towards Israel' - Instead, Bush channels his neoconservative advisers, particularly incoming Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz (see February 18, 1992 and April-May 1999), in taking a new approach to Middle East affairs, particularly the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Referring to President Clinton’s efforts to make peace between the Israelis and the Palestinians, Bush declares: “Clinton overreached, and it all fell apart. That’s why we’re in trouble. If the two sides don’t want peace, there’s no way we can force them. I don’t see much we can do over there at this point. I think it’s time to pull out of the situation.… We’re going to correct the imbalance of the previous administration on the Mideast conflict. We’re going to tilt it back towards Israel.” His view is that the Israeli government, currently headed by Ariel Sharon, should be left alone to deal as it sees fit with the Palestinians. “I’m not going to go by past reputations when it comes to Sharon. I’m going to take him at face value. We’ll work on a relationship based on how things go.” Justifying his position, he recalls a recent trip he took to Israel with the Republican Jewish Coalition. “We flew over the Palestinian camps. Looked real bad down there.… I don’t see much we can do over there at this point.” Secretary of State Colin Powell, surprised by Bush’s intended policy towards the 50-year old Israeli-Palestinian conflict, objects. According to Secretary of the Treasury Paul O’Neil, Powell “stresse[s] that a pullback by the United States would unleash Sharon and the Israeli army.” When Powell warns the president that the “consequences of that [policy] could be dire, especially for the Palestinians,” Bush shrugs. “Sometimes a show of strength by one side can really clarify things,” he suggests. [Bamford, 2004, pp. 265-266; Middle East Policy Council, 6/2004] In this and subsequent meetings, Bush’s National Security Adviser, Condoleezza Rice, “parrot[s]… the neocon line,” in author Craig Unger’s words, by discussing Iraq. “Iraq might be the key to reshaping the entire region,” she says, clearly alluding to regime change and overthrow in that nation (see March 8, 1992, Autumn 1992, July 8, 1996, Late Summer 1996, Late Summer 1996, 1997-1998, January 26, 1998, February 19, 1998, September 2000, Late December 2000 and Early January 2001, and Shortly after January 20, 2001). [Unger, 2007, pp. 201]
Possible WMD Sites in Iraq Spark Bush to Order Plans for Ground Assaults - The meeting then moves on to the subject of Iraq. Rice begins noting “that Iraq might be the key to reshaping the entire region.” She turns the meeting over to CIA Director George Tenet who summarizes current intelligence on Iraq. He mentions a factory that “might” be producing “either chemical or biological materials for weapons manufacture.” The evidence he provides is a picture of the factory with some truck activity, a water tower, and railroad tracks going into a building. He admits that there is “no confirming intelligence” on just what is going on at these sites. Bush orders Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman General Hugh Shelton to begin preparing options for the use of US ground forces in Iraq’s northern and southern no-fly zones in support of a native-based insurgency against the Hussein regime. [Bamford, 2004, pp. 267; Middle East Policy Council, 6/2004] Author Ron Suskind later sums up the discussion: “Meeting adjourned. Ten days in, and it was about Iraq. Rumsfeld had said little, Cheney nothing at all, though both men clearly had long entertained the idea of overthrowing Saddam.” Defense Intelligence Agency official Patrick Lang later writes: “If this was a decision meeting, it was strange. It ended in a presidential order to prepare contingency plans for war in Iraq.” [Middle East Policy Council, 6/2004]
Regime Change Intended from the Outset - US Secretary of the Treasury Paul O’Neill, later recalls: “From the very beginning, there was a conviction, that Saddam Hussein was a bad person and that he needed to go.… From the very first instance, it was about Iraq. It was about what we can do to change this regime. Day one, these things were laid and sealed.” O’Neill will say officials never questioned the logic behind this policy. No one ever asked, “Why Saddam?” and “Why now?” Instead, the issue that needed to be resolved was how this could be accomplished. “It was all about finding a way to do it,” O’Neill will explain. “That was the tone of it. The president saying ‘Go find me a way to do this.’” [CBS News, 1/10/2004; New York Times, 1/12/2004; Guardian, 1/12/2004; Vanity Fair, 5/2004, pp. 234] Another official who attends the meeting will later say that the tone of the meeting implied a policy much more aggressive than that of the previous administration. “The president told his Pentagon officials to explore the military options, including use of ground forces,” the official will tell ABC News. “That went beyond the Clinton administration’s halfhearted attempts to overthrow Hussein without force.” [ABC News, 1/13/2004] Unger later writes, “These were the policies that even the Israeli right had not dared to implement.” One senior administration official says after the meeting, “The Likudniks are really in charge now.” [Unger, 2007, pp. 201]
Funding the Iraqi National Congress - The council does more than just discuss Iraq. It makes a decision to allow the Iraqi National Congress (INC), an Iraqi opposition group, to use $4 million to fund efforts inside Iraq to compile information relating to Baghdad’s war crimes, military operations, and other internal developments. The money had been authorized by Congress in late 2004. The US has not directly funded Iraqi opposition activities inside Iraq itself since 1996. [Guardian, 2/3/2005]
White House Downplays Significance - After Paul O’Neill first provides his account of this meeting in 2004, the White House will attempt to downplay its significance. “The stated policy of my administration toward Saddam Hussein was very clear,” Bush will tell reporters during a visit to Mexico In January 2004. “Like the previous administration, we were for regime change.… And in the initial stages of the administration, as you might remember, we were dealing with desert badger or fly-overs and fly-betweens and looks, and so we were fashioning policy along those lines.” [New York Times, 1/12/2004]

Entity Tags: Richard B. Myers, Hugh Shelton, Paul O’Neill, George W. Bush, Colin Powell, Donald Rumsfeld, George J. Tenet, Condoleezza Rice, Craig Unger, Iraqi National Congress

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

White House chief of staff Andrew Card forms the White House Iraq Group, or WHIG, which aims to “educate the public” about the alleged threat from Iraq. WHIG is formed concurrently with the Office of Special Plans (see September 2002). A senior official involved with the group will later describe it as “an internal working group, like many formed for priority issues, to make sure each part of the White House was fulfilling its responsibilities.” [Washington Post, 8/10/2003] According to White House deputy press secretary Scott McClellan, the WHIG is “set up in the summer of 2002 to coordinate the marketing of the [Iraq] war,” and will continue “as a strategic communications group after the invasion had toppled Saddam [Hussein]‘s regime.” McClellan, who will become a full-fledged member of the WHIG after rising to the position of senior press secretary, will write: “Some critics have suggested that sinister plans were discussed at the WHIG meetings to deliberately mislead the public. Not so. There were plenty of discussions about how to set the agenda and influence the narrative, but there was no conspiracy to intentionally deceive. Instead, there were straightforward discussions of communications strategies and messaging grounded in the familiar tactics of the permanent campaign.” [McClellan, 2008, pp. 142] Author Craig Unger will sum up the WHIG’s purpose up more bluntly: “to sell the war.” Members of the group include White House political advisers Karl Rove, Karen Hughes, Mary Matalin, James R. Wilkinson, and Nicholas E. Calio, and policy advisers led by National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice, her deputy Stephen Hadley, and Vice President Dick Cheney’s chief of staff, Lewis “Scooter” Libby. They meet weekly in the White House Situation Room. A “strategic communications” task force under the WHIG is charged with planning speeches and writing position papers. [Washington Post, 8/10/2003; Unger, 2007, pp. 241]
Marketing Fear, Idea of Invasion as Reasonable - After Labor Day 2002—and after suitable test marketing—the group launches a full-fledged media marketing campaign. The images and storyline are simple and visceral: imminent biological or chemical attack, threats of nuclear holocaust, Saddam Hussein as a psychopathic dictator who can only be stopped by American military force. A key element of the narrative is forged documents “proving” Iraq sought uranium from Niger (see Between Late 2000 and September 11, 2001, October 15, 2001, October 18, 2001, November 20, 2001, February 5, 2002, March 1, 2002, Late April or Early May 2002-June 2002, and Late June 2002). One of the main objectives is to swing the dialogue ever farther to the right, creating the assumption in the public mind that war with Iraq is a thoughtful, moderate, well-reasoned position, and delegitimizing any opposition. To that end, Cheney stakes out the “moderate” position, with statements like “many of us are convinced that Saddam will acquire nuclear weapons fairly soon” (see August 26, 2002), and neoconservatives such as Michael Ledeen pushing the extremes ever rightward with calls to invade not only Iraq, but Iran, Syria, and Saudi Arabia (see September 20, 2001, August 6, 2002, and September 4, 2002). The real push is delayed until the second week of September. As Card reminds the group, “From a marketing point of view, you don’t introduce new products in August” (see September 6, 2002). The first anniversary of the 9/11 attacks is a perfect opportunity to launch the new campaign (see September 8, 2002). [Unger, 2007, pp. 250-251] Wilkinson, the group’s communications director, is tasked with preparing one of the group’s first public releases, a white paper that will describe the “grave and gathering danger” of Iraq’s “reconstituted” nuclear weapons program. Wilkinson will claim that Iraq “sought uranium oxide, an essential ingredient in the enrichment process, from Africa.” [CounterPunch, 11/9/2005]
'Push[ing] the Envelope' - According to an intelligence source interviewed by the New York Daily News in October 2005, the group, on “a number of occasions,” will attempt “to push the envelope on things.… The [CIA] would say, ‘We just don’t have the intelligence to substantiate that.’” [New York Daily News, 10/19/2005] In 2003, three unnamed officials will tell a Washington Post reporter that the group “wanted gripping images and stories not available in the hedged and austere language of intelligence,” what author and reporter Charlie Savage will call “a stark display of the political benefits that come with the power to control information.” [Savage, 2007, pp. 357] In 2008, McClellan will write of “the heightened rhetoric on Iraq, including unequivocal statements that made things sound more certain than was known.” [McClellan, 2008, pp. 137]
Using Friendly Media Outlets - An important part of the WHIG strategy is to feed their messages to friendly journalists, such as New York Times reporter Judith Miller. James Bamford, in his book A Pretext for War, will write: “First OSP [Office of Special Plans] supplies false or exaggerated intelligence; then members of the WHIG leak it to friendly reporters, complete with prepackaged vivid imagery; finally, when the story breaks, senior officials point to it as proof and parrot the unnamed quotes they or their colleagues previously supplied.” [Bamford, 2004, pp. 325]

Entity Tags: Stephen J. Hadley, Scott McClellan, Saddam Hussein, Nicholas E. Calio, White House Iraq Group, Lewis (“Scooter”) Libby, Condoleezza Rice, Mary Matalin, Andrew Card, Craig Unger, James Bamford, Charlie Savage, Karen Hughes, James R. Wilkinson, Karl C. Rove

Timeline Tags: Events Leading to Iraq Invasion, Domestic Propaganda, Niger Uranium and Plame Outing

Former Defense Intelligence Agency analyst Patrick Lang writes that, in his opinion, a “small group of people who think they are the ‘bearers’ of a uniquely correct view of the world… sought to dominate the foreign policy of the United States in the Bush 43 administration, and succeeded in doing so through a practice of excluding all who disagreed with them. Those they could not drive from government they bullied and undermined until they, too, had drunk from the vat.” (Lang correlates the phrase “drunk from the vat” with the common metaphor of “drinking the Kool-Aid,” a particularly nasty turn of phrase sourced from the 1978 Jonestown massacre in Guyana. The phrase now means, Lang explains, “that the person in question has given up personal integrity and has succumbed to the prevailing group-think that typifies policymaking today.”) The result is the war in Iraq, Lang argues, with steadily rising body counts and no clear end in sight.
'Walking Dead' Waiting for Retirement - Lang notes that senior military officers have said that the war’s senior strategist, General Tommy Franks, “had drunk the Kool-Aid,” and many intelligence officers have told Lang that “they too drank the Kool-Aid and as a result consider themselves to be among the ‘walking dead,’ waiting only for retirement and praying for an early release that will allow them to go away and try to forget their dishonor and the damage they have done to the intelligence services and therefore to the republic.” Lang writes that the US intelligence community has been deeply corrupted, bent on serving “specific group goals, ends, and beliefs held to the point of religious faith” and no longer fulfilling its core mission of “describing reality. The policy staffs and politicals in the government have the task of creating a new reality, more to their taste.… Without objective facts, decisions are based on subjective drivel. Wars result from such drivel. We are in the midst of one at present.”
Shutting out Regional Experts - There is little place in Bush administration policy discussions for real experts on the Middle East, Lang writes: “The Pentagon civilian bureaucracy of the Bush administration, dominated by an inner circle of think-tankers, lawyers, and former Senate staffers, virtually hung out a sign, ‘Arabic Speakers Need Not Apply.’ They effectively purged the process of Americans who might have inadvertently developed sympathies for the people of the region. Instead of including such veterans in the planning process, the Bush team opted for amateurs brought in from outside the executive branch who tended to share the views of many of President Bush’s earliest foreign policy advisors and mentors. Because of this hiring bias, the American people got a Middle East planning process dominated by ‘insider’ discourse among longtime colleagues and old friends who ate, drank, talked, worked, and planned only with each other. Most of these people already shared attitudes and concepts of how the Middle East should be handled. Their continued association only reinforced their common beliefs.” The Bush administration does not countenance dissent or open exchange and discussion of opposing beliefs. The Bush policymakers behave, Lang writes, as if they have seized power in a ‘silent coup,’ treating outsiders as political enemies and refusing to hear anything except discussion of their own narrow, mutually shared beliefs.
Using INC Information - Beginning in January 2001, the Bush administration began relying heavily on dubious intelligence provided by Ahmed Chalabi and his Iraqi National Congress (INC—see January 30, 2001). The INC began receiving State Department funds in what some White House officials called the “Information Collection Program.” While the US intelligence community had little use for Chalabi, considering him an unreliable fabricator (see 1992-1996), he had close ties with many in the administration, particularly in the office of the vice president and in the senior civilian leadership of the Pentagon (see 1960s, 1985, and 1990-1991). Lang writes that while the INC excelled in providing Iraqi defectors with lurid, usually false tales, “what the program really did was to provide a steady stream of raw information useful in challenging the collective wisdom of the intelligence community where the ‘War with Iraq’ enthusiasts disagreed with the intelligence agencies.” The office of the vice president created what Lang calls “its own intelligence office, buried in the recesses of the Pentagon, to ‘stovepipe’ raw data to the White House, to make the case for war on the basis of the testimony of self-interested emigres and exiles” (see August 2002). From working as the DIA’s senior officer for the Middle East during the 1991 Gulf War and after, Lang knows from personal experience that many neoconservative White House officials believe, as does Vice President Cheney, that it was a mistake for the US to have refrained from occupying Baghdad and toppling Saddam Hussein in 1991 (see August 1992). Lang calls some of these officials “deeply embittered” and ready to rectify what they perceive as a grave error. [Middle East Policy Council, 6/2004]

Entity Tags: Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, Defense Intelligence Agency, Bush administration (43), Ahmed Chalabi, Iraqi National Congress, Thomas Franks, Office of the Vice President, US Department of State, Patrick Lang

Timeline Tags: US International Relations

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