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Context of 'August 26, 2002: Cheney Says Hussein Has WMDs, Must Be Countered'

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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

Cheney speaking before the Veterans of Foreign Wars.Cheney speaking before the Veterans of Foreign Wars. [Source: White House]In a speech to the Nashville convention of the Veterans of Foreign Wars, Vice President Dick Cheney says Saddam Hussein will “seek domination of the entire Middle East, take control of a great portion of the world’s energy supplies, directly threaten America’s friends throughout the region, and subject the United States or any other nation to nuclear blackmail.” He also states unequivocally that Iraq has weapons of mass destruction. “Simply stated, there is no doubt that Saddam Hussein now has weapons of mass destruction. There is no doubt that he is amassing them to use against our friends, against our allies, and against us.… What he wants is time, and more time to husband his resources to invest in his ongoing chemical and biological weapons program, and to gain possession of nuclear weapons.… Deliverable weapons of mass destruction in the hands of a terror network, or a murderous dictator, or the two working together constitutes as grave a threat as can be imagined,” he says. “The risks of inaction are far greater than the risk of action.… The Iraqi regime has in fact been very busy enhancing its capabilities in the field of chemical and biological agents, and they continue to pursue the nuclear program they began so many years ago.” Therefore he argues, the answer is not weapons inspections. “Against that background, a person would be right to question any suggestion that we should just get inspectors back into Iraq, and then our worries will be over. Saddam has perfected the game of shoot and retreat, and is very skilled in the art of denial and deception. A return of inspectors would provide no assurance whatsoever of his compliance with UN resolutions.” He also says: “Regime change in Iraq would bring about a number of benefits to the region. When the gravest of threats are eliminated, the freedom-loving peoples of the region will have a chance to promote the values that can bring lasting peace.” [White House, 8/26/2002]
First White House Assertion of Iraq's Nuclear Program - Cheney’s speech marks the first major statement from the White House regarding the Bush administration’s Iraq policy following a flood of criticisms from former officials. Significantly, the speech was not cleared by the CIA or the State Department. [Newsweek, 9/9/2002] Furthermore, Cheney’s comments dismissing the need for the return of inspectors, were not cleared by President Bush, according to White House chief of staff Andrew Card. [Newsweek, 9/9/2002] The speech creates a media stir because it is the first time a senior US official has asserted Iraq has nuclear capabilities with such certainty. The CIA is astonished by the claim. CIA official Jami Miscik will later recall: “He said that Saddam was building his nuclear program. Our reaction was, ‘Where is he getting that stuff from? Does he have a source of information that we don’t know about?’” CIA analysts redouble their efforts to collect and review evidence on Iraq and nuclear weapons, but analysts know very little. [Suskind, 2006, pp. 167-169] Cheney’s assertions are contradicted by a broad base of military experts. [Dean, 2004, pp. 138]
Powell 'Blindsided' by Cheney - Three days after the speech, a State Department source tells CNN that Secretary of State Colin Powell’s view clashes with that which was presented in Cheney’s speech, explaining that the secretary of state is opposed to any military action in which the US would “go it alone… as if it doesn’t give a damn” what other nations think. The source also says that Powell and “others in the State Department were ‘blindsided’ by Cheney’s ‘time is running out’ speech… and were just as surprised as everyone else.” [CNN, 8/30/2002] Author and Washington Post reporter Bob Woodward will later describe Powell as “dumbfounded.” [Roberts, 2008, pp. 145] Cheney did, however, inform President Bush he would be speaking to the VFW. He did not provide Bush a copy of his speech. Bush merely told Cheney, “Don’t get me into trouble.” [Dubose and Bernstein, 2006, pp. 175]
'Off Script' - Current deputy press secretary Scott McClellan will later observe that it was always a tactic of the Iraq campaign strategy for Cheney to “lean a little more forward in his rhetoric than the president.” However, McClellan will go on to say that Cheney did not always “stay on message,” and will blame Cheney’s “deep-seated certitude, even arrogance” that sometimes operates “to the detriment of the president.” Cheney’s assertion to the VFW that it would be pointless to send UN inspectors back to Iraq is, McClellan will reflect, “off script.” Bush wants to continue to “show that he [is] exhausting all diplomatic options” before invading Iraq. [McClellan, 2008, pp. 138]

Entity Tags: Colin Powell, US Department of State, George W. Bush, Central Intelligence Agency, Scott McClellan, Jami Miscik, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, Bob Woodward

Timeline Tags: Events Leading to Iraq Invasion

In an interview with the BBC, Secretary of State Colin Powell states that he favors the return of UN inspectors as a necessary “first step” in dealing with Iraq. He says: “Iraq has been in violation of these many UN resolutions for most of the last 11 or so years. So as a first step, let’s see what the inspectors find, send them back in, why are they being kept out.” Regarding the decision of whether or not the use of military action would be required, he says: “The world has to be presented with the information, with the intelligence that is available. A debate is needed within the international community so that everybody can make a judgment about this.” [Independent, 9/2/2002] His comments directly contradict statements made by Vice President Dick Cheney in a speech to the Commonwealth Club of California in San Francisco on August 7 (see August 7, 2002), and another speech to the Nashville convention of the Veterans of Foreign Wars on August 26 (see August 26, 2002).
White House Insists No Conflict - Interestingly, it also comes one day after Scott McClellan, the White House deputy press secretary, told reporters: “The view of the administration is united and one in the same. We are singing from the same songbook.” [CNN, 8/30/2002] But commentators are concluding otherwise, which spurs another statement from Washington, this one from White House Press Secretary Ari Fleischer, who the next day tells reporters as they accompany him on Air Force One: “There is no difference in position between Cheney, Powell, and President Bush. It’s much ado about no difference.” [CNN, 9/3/2002]
Powell 'Shocked' at Cheney's Remarks - Privately, Powell is “shocked” by Cheney’s statements, according to his chief of staff, Larry Wilkerson. Wilkerson will later recall: “Here we were saying one thing out of one side of our mouth, and here was the vice president speaking to what you might call a semi-official military audience and he was saying the exact opposite. Undercutting every bit of diplomacy before that diplomacy actually got off the ground. And I remember Powell coming back from a principals’ meeting where he had made some remonstrance to the president about what’s going on. And the president had said something which he was wont to say about most things like this. He said, ‘Oh, that’s just Dick.’” [Dubose and Bernstein, 2006, pp. 176-177]

Entity Tags: Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, Ari Fleischer, Colin Powell, Lawrence Wilkerson, Scott McClellan

Timeline Tags: Events Leading to Iraq Invasion

Jonathan Landay, a reporter for Knight Ridder Newspapers, watches Vice President Cheney’s speech on August 26, 2002, in which Cheney argues that Iraq has weapons of mass destruction and must be confronted soon (see August 26, 2002). Landay is particularly interested in Cheney’s comment, “Many of us are convinced that Saddam Hussein will acquire nuclear weapons fairly soon.” Landay will later recall, “I looked at that and I said, ‘What is he talking about?’ Because, to develop a nuclear weapon you need specific infrastructure and in particular the way the Iraqi’s were trying to produce a nuclear weapon was through enrichment of uranium. Now, you need tens of thousands of machines called centrifuges to produce highly enriched uranium for a nuclear weapon. You’ve gotta house those in a fairly big place, and you’ve gotta provide a huge amount of power to this facility. Could [Saddam Hussein] really have done it with all of these eyes on his country?… So, when Cheney said that, I got on the phone to people, and one person said to me - somebody who watched proliferation as their job - said, ‘The Vice President is lying.’” [PBS, 4/25/2007] Around the same time, John Walcott, chief of Knight Ridder’s Washington bureau, begins hearing from other sources in the military, intelligence community, and foreign service who question the Bush administration’s claims. Most of them are career officials, not political appointees. Walcott will later comment, “These people were better informed about the details of the intelligence than the people higher up in the food chain, and they were deeply troubled by what they regarded as the administration’s deliberate misrepresentation of intelligence, ranging from overstating the case to outright fabrication.” Walcott assigns Landay and Landay’s frequent reporting partner Warren Strobel to talk with these sources. [New York Review of Books, 2/26/2004] On September 6, a story by Landay is published, entitled, “Lack of Hard Evidence of Iraqi Weapons Worries Top US Officials.” It quotes anonymous senior US officials who say that “they have detected no alarming increase in the threat that Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein poses to American security and Middle East stability.” While it is well known that Iraq is “aggressively trying to rebuild” its weapons programs, “there is no new intelligence that indicates the Iraqis have made significant advances” in doing so. [Knight Ridder, 9/6/2002] But while Knight Ridder publishes 32 newspapers in the US, it has no outlets in New York or Washington, and so it has little impact on the power elite. Additionally, its story is drowned out by a false claim in the New York Times two days later that Iraq is trying to use aluminum tubes to build a nuclear weapon (see September 8, 2002). [PBS, 4/25/2007]

Entity Tags: John Walcott, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, Jonathan Landay, Warren Strobel, Knight Ridder Newspapers

Timeline Tags: Events Leading to Iraq Invasion, Domestic Propaganda

Vice President Dick Cheney is interviewed on NBC’s Meet the Press to discuss the Bush administration’s position on Iraq and the alleged threat Iraq poses to the world. “[B]ased on intelligence that’s becoming available—some of it has been made public [referring to the recent New York Times story—see September 8, 2002 ]—… he has indeed stepped up his capacity to produce and deliver biological weapons,… he has reconstituted his nuclear program to develop a nuclear weapon,… there are efforts under way inside Iraq to significantly expand his capability.… [H]e now is trying, through his illicit procurement network, to acquire the equipment he needs to be able to enrich uranium to make the bombs.… There’s a story in The New York Times this morning… [I]t’s now public that, in fact, he has been seeking to acquire, and we have been able to intercept and prevent him from acquiring through this particular channel, the kinds of tubes that are necessary to build a centrifuge. And the centrifuge is required to take low-grade uranium and enhance it into highly enriched uranium, which is what you have to have in order to build a bomb. This is a technology he was working on back, say, before the Gulf War. And one of the reasons it’s of concern,… is… [that] we know about a particular shipment. We’ve intercepted that. We don’t know what else—what other avenues he may be taking out there, what he may have already acquired. We do know he’s had four years without any inspections at all in Iraq to develop that capability.… [W]e do know, with absolute certainty, that he [Saddam Hussein] is using his procurement system to acquire the equipment [aluminum tubes] he needs in order to enrich uranium to build a nuclear weapon.” Cheney says the US intends to work with the international community, but hints that the US is willing to confront Saddam without international support. “We are trying very hard not be unilateralist,” he says. “We are working to build support with the American people, with the Congress, as many have suggested we should. And we are also as many of us suggested we should, going to the United Nations, and the president will address this issue.… We would like to do it with the sanction of the international community. But the point in Iraq is this problem has to be dealt with one way or the other.” [Meet the Press, 9/8/2002; Washington File, 9/9/2002; Washington Post, 2/7/2003; Australian Broadcasting Corporation, 10/27/2003; New York Times, 10/3/2004] Authors Lou Dubose and Jake Bernstein will later write of Cheney’s remarks: “Taken together [with Cheney’s recent speech to the VFW—see August 26, 2002], the vice president’s warnings made a compelling case for war. They were, however, entirely untrue. Yet they reframed the terms of the Iraq debate, leading the public to the conclusion that the question should not be ‘if’ but rather ‘when’ the nation goes to war in Iraq.” [Dubose and Bernstein, 2006, pp. 176]

Entity Tags: Jake Bernstein, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, White House Iraq Group, Lou Dubose

Timeline Tags: Events Leading to Iraq Invasion, Domestic Propaganda

An article in the Boston Globe suggests that neoconservatives in the Bush administration see war in Iraq as “merely a first step” in transforming the entire Middle East. Paul Wolfowitz, Douglas Feith, John Hannah, I. Lewis Libby, and John Bolton are said to be some of the top officials pushing this view. “Iraq, [they] argue, is just the first piece of the puzzle. After an ouster of Hussein, they say, the United States will have more leverage to act against Syria and Iran, will be in a better position to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and will be able to rely less on Saudi oil.” Vice President Dick Cheney also mentioned this motive in a speech in August, saying, “When the gravest of threats are eliminated, the freedom-loving peoples of the region will have a chance to promote the values that can bring lasting peace” (see August 26, 2002). The article also says: “A powerful corollary of the strategy is that a pro-US Iraq would make the region safer for Israel and, indeed, its staunchest proponents are ardent supporters of the Israeli right-wing. Administration officials, meanwhile, have increasingly argued that the onset of an Iraq allied to the US would give the administration more sway in bringing about a settlement to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, though Cheney and others have offered few details on precisely how.” One US official says, “Maybe we do stir the pot and see what comes up.” Former CIA analyst and Iraq expert Judith Yaphe is critical, saying: “There are some people who religiously believe that Iraq is the beginning of this great new adventure of remapping the Middle East and all these countries. I think that’s a simplistic view.” Jessica T. Mathews, president of Carnegie Endownment for International Peace, a Washington policy group, is also critical. “The argument we would be starting a democratic wave in Iraq is pure blowing smoke,” Mathews says. “You have 22 Arab governments and not one has made any progress toward democracy, not one. It’s one of the great issues before us, but the very last place you’d suspect to turn the tide is Iraq. You don’t go from an authoritarian dictatorship to a democracy overnight, not even quickly.” But one anonymous senior US official says: “There are people invested in this philosophy all throughout the administration. Some of the strongest voices are in [the State Department].” [Boston Globe, 9/10/2002]

Entity Tags: Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, Paul Wolfowitz, Lewis (“Scooter”) Libby, John Hannah, Judith Yaphe, John R. Bolton, Douglas Feith, Jessica Tuchman Mathews

Timeline Tags: Events Leading to Iraq Invasion

When asked about the October 2002 National Intelligence Estimate on Iraq (see October 1, 2002) and whether Bush knew of the dissenting views among US intelligence agencies regarding the now-infamous aluminum tubes supposedly being used by Iraq to produce nuclear weapons, national security adviser Condoleezza Rice says that in preparation for his February 2003 speech to the UN (see February 5, 2003), Secretary of State Colin Powell chose to “caveat,” or mention, the dissents. “The only thing that was there in the NIE was a kind of a standard INR footnote, which is kind of 59 pages away from the bulk of the NIE. That’s the only thing that’s there. And you have footnotes all the time in CIA—I mean, in NIEs. So if there was a concern about the underlying intelligence there, the president was unaware of that concern and as was I.… Now, if there were any doubts about the underlying intelligence to that NIE, those doubts were not communicated to the president, to the vice president, or to me.” Rice is incorrect. The President’s Summary from that NIE (see Early October 2002) specifically told Bush of the dissenting views, and the much lengthier NIE went into far more detail about the dissenting views. Rice, along with Vice President Cheney and other senior White House officials, received a memo months before giving them the same material, including the dissents (see January 10, 2003). (Cheney, as a matter of course, receives essentially the same intelligence information as Bush receives.) And the NIE itself contained the following caveat: “In [the State Department’s Bureau of Intelligence and Research, or INR]‘s view, Iraq’s efforts to acquire aluminum tubes is central to the argument that Baghdad is reconstituting its nuclear weapons program, but INR is not persuaded that the tubes in question are intended for use as centrifuge rotors. INR accepts the judgment of technical experts at the US Department of Energy (DOE) who have concluded that the tubes Iraq seeks to acquire are poorly suited for use in gas centrifuges to be used for uranium enrichment and finds unpersuasive the arguments advanced by others to make the case that they are intended for that purpose. INR considers it far more likely that the tubes are intended for another purpose, most likely the production of artillery rockets.” This passage, among other sections of the NIE, will be declassified on July 18, one week from Rice’s denials.
A Pattern of Deception - There are numerous examples of Bush and Cheney citing the “imminent threat” of Saddam Hussein against the US and the Middle East. Some of those include: Cheney’s assertion that Hussein “now has weapons of mass destruction [and] is amassing them to use against our friends, against our allies, and against us” (see August 26, 2002); Bush’s assertion to the UN that Iraq has WMDs and is likely to share them with terrorists (see September 12, 2002); a farrago of assertions from Bush that includes assertions about Iraq’s fleet of manned and unmanned aerial vehicles ready to disperse chemical and biological weapons, perhaps over the US, its consorting with al-Qaeda, and more (see October 7, 2002); a State of the Union address loaded with false, misleading, and incorrect allegations (see October 7, 2002); and a speech on the eve of the Iraq invasion that asserted “[t]he danger is clear” that Iraq will “kill thousands or hundreds of thousands of innocent” Americans (see March 17, 2003). [White House, 7/11/2003; US House Committee on Government Reform, 3/16/2004; National Journal, 3/2/2006]

Entity Tags: George W. Bush, US Department of Energy, Colin Powell, Al-Qaeda, George W. Bush, Condoleezza Rice, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, Saddam Hussein, Bureau of Intelligence and Research, Central Intelligence Agency

Timeline Tags: Events Leading to Iraq Invasion

An organization called Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity (VIPS) writes an open letter to President Bush entitled “Intelligence Unglued,” where they warn that unless Bush takes immediate action, the US intelligence community “will fall apart—with grave consequences for the nation.” They say that it is clear his National Security Adviser, Condoleezza Rice, and not CIA Director George Tenet, was responsible for the now-infamous “sixteen words” in his January State of the Union address (see Mid-January 2003 and 9:01 pm January 28, 2003). “But the disingenuousness persists,” they write. “Surely Dr. Rice cannot persist in her insistence that she learned only on June 8, 2003, about former ambassador Joseph Wilson’s mission to Niger in February 2002, when he determined that the Iraq-Niger report was a con-job” (see July 6, 2003). “Rice’s denials are reminiscent of her claim in spring 2002 that there was no reporting suggesting that terrorists were planning to hijack planes and slam them into buildings (see May 16, 2002). In September, the joint Congressional committee on 9/11 came up with a dozen such reports” (see December 24, 1994 and January 6, 1995). It is not only Rice’s credibility that has suffered, they write, but Secretary of State Colin Powell’s as well, “as continued non-discoveries of weapons in Iraq heap doubt on his confident assertions to the UN” (see February 5, 2003). Ultimately, they write, it is Bush’s credibility at stake much more than that of his advisers and cabinet members. They lay the blame for the “disingenuousness” from the various members of the administration at the feet of Vice President Dick Cheney: it was Cheney’s office who sent Wilson to Niger (see (February 13, 2002)), it was Cheney who told the Veterans of Foreign Wars that Saddam Hussein was about to produce a nuclear weapon (see August 26, 2002), all with intelligence he and his staff knew to be either unreliable or outright forgeries—a “deep insult to the integrity of the intelligence process,” they write—it was Cheney and his staff who pressured CIA analysts to produce “cherry-picked” intelligence supporting their desire for war, it was Cheney and his staff who “cooked” the prewar National Intelligence Estimate on Iraq (see October 1, 2002). Bad enough that false intelligence was used to help craft Bush’s State of the Union address, they write, but that “pales in significance in comparison with how it was used to deceive Congress into voting on October 11 to authorize you to make war on Iraq” (see October 10, 2002). VIPS recommends three things for Bush to implement:
bullet Bring an immediate end to White House attempts to exculpate Cheney from what they write is his obvious guilt and ask for his resignation: “His role has been so transparent that such attempts will only erode further your own credibility. Equally pernicious, from our perspective, is the likelihood that intelligence analysts will conclude that the way to success is to acquiesce in the cooking of their judgments, since those above them will not be held accountable. We strongly recommend that you ask for Cheney’s immediate resignation.”
bullet Appoint General Brent Scowcroft, the chair of the Foreign Intelligence Advisory Board, to head “an independent investigation into the use/abuse of intelligence on Iraq.”
bullet Bring UN inspectors back into Iraq. “This would go a long way toward refurbishing your credibility. Equally important, it would help sort out the lessons learned for the intelligence community and be an invaluable help to an investigation of the kind we have suggested you direct Gen. Scowcroft to lead.” [Salon, 7/16/2003]

Entity Tags: George J. Tenet, George W. Bush, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity, Brent Scowcroft, Colin Powell, Condoleezza Rice

Timeline Tags: Niger Uranium and Plame Outing

A Wall Street Journal op-ed claims that President Bush never claimed the Iraqis posed an “imminent threat” with their putative WMD programs, and that former ambassador Joseph Wilson is unfairly “moving the goalposts” by saying that the threat posed by Iraq’s WMD never passed what they call the “imminent threat test.” As far back as September 2001, after the attacks on New York and Washington, the Bush administration began claiming that Iraq posed a serious threat to the US (see September 11, 2001-March 17, 2003, Shortly After September 11, 2001, September 14, 2001, August 2002, and September 6, 2002). Bush had apparently characterized Iraq as an “imminent threat” even before becoming president (see May 17, 2000). Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld has used the term “imminent threat” (see September 18, 2002), as have other members of the administration, such as press secretary Ari Fleischer, communications chief Dan Bartlett, and Defense Policy Board chief Richard Perle. Vice President Dick Cheney had publicly threatened Iraq with military action as far back as December 2001 (see December 11, 2001). Bush had included Iraq as one of the now-infamous “Axis of Evil” in early 2002 (see January 29, 2002). And Bush, Cheney, and top White House officials had characterized Iraq and Saddam Hussein as a threat since March 2002 (see March 24, 2002, August 15, 2002, August 20, 2002, August 26, 2002, Fall and Winter 2002, September 7, 2002, September 8, 2002, September 8, 2002, September 12, 2002, September 13, 2002, September 18, 2002, September 19, 2002, September 24, 2002, September 26, 2002, October 1, 2002, October 1, 2002, October 3, 2002, October 7, 2002, October 7, 2002, January 10, 2003, and March 6, 2003). Wilson will later observe, “While the Journal may have been technically correct that the president had not uttered those exact words, he [and his top officials] walked right up to the phrase.” He will note that Bush’s “staff and administration allies, of course, had been less concerned about splitting hairs as they promoted the invasion.” [Wilson, 2004, pp. 367-368]

Entity Tags: Donald Rumsfeld, Ari Fleischer, Dan Bartlett, Richard Perle, Wall Street Journal, Joseph C. Wilson, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, George W. Bush

Timeline Tags: Events Leading to Iraq Invasion

Conservative radio host Rush Limbaugh informs his listeners of a Harris poll showing a majority of those surveyed believe that Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction when the war began over a year before (see March 19, 2003). Limbaugh blames the misconception on the “liberal media,” not on the government officials and conservative pundits, including Limbaugh, who pushed the idea of Iraqi WMD on the public before the invasion (see July 30, 2001, Mid-September, 2001, Mid-September-October 2001, October 17, 2001, November 14, 2001, December 20, 2001, 2002, February 11, 2002, Summer 2002, July 30, 2002, August 26, 2002, September 4, 2002, September 8, 2002, September 8, 2002, September 12, 2002, September 12, 2002, September 24, 2002, September 28, 2002, October 7, 2002, December 3, 2002, December 19, 2002, January 2003, January 9, 2003, February 5, 2003, February 17, 2003, March 16-19, 2003, March 23, 2003, May 21, 2003, May 29, 2003, and June 11, 2003), and uses the incident to warn his listeners about getting their news from the “liberal media.” [Jamieson and Cappella, 2008, pp. 151]

Entity Tags: Rush Limbaugh, Saddam Hussein

Timeline Tags: Events Leading to Iraq Invasion

Outgoing Undersecretary of Defense Douglas Feith, one of the key architects of the Iraq occupation, is bemused by the fact that, despite his predictions and those of his neoconservative colleagues, Iraq is teetering on the edge of all-out civil war. He has come under fire from both political enemies and former supporters, with Senator Carl Levin (D-MI) accusing him of deceiving both the White House and Congress, and fellow neoconservative William Kristol accusing him of “being an agent of” disgraced Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld (see November 6-December 18, 2006). Feith defends the invasion of Iraq, calling it “an operation to prevent the next, as it were, 9/11,” and noting that the failure to find WMD is essentially irrelevant to the justification for the war. “There’s a certain revisionism in people looking back and identifying the main intelligence error [the assumption of stockpiles] and then saying that our entire policy was built on that error.” Feith is apparently ignoring the fact that the administration’s arguments for invading Iraq—including many of his own assertions—were built almost entirely on the “error” of the Iraqi WMD threat (see July 30, 2001, Summer 2001, September 11, 2001-March 17, 2003, Shortly After September 11, 2001, September 14, 2001, September 19-20, 2001, September 20, 2001, October 14, 2001, November 14, 2001, 2002, 2002-March 2003, February 2002, Summer 2002, August 26, 2002, September 3, 2002, September 4, 2002, September 8, 2002, September 8, 2002, September 10, 2002, September 12, 2002, Late September 2002, September 19, 2002, September 24, 2002, September 24, 2002, September 28, 2002, October 7, 2002, December 3, 2002, December 12, 2002, January 9, 2003, February 3, 2003, February 5, 2003, February 8, 2003, March 22, 2003, and March 23, 2003, among others).
Cultural Understanding Did Not Lead to Success - Feith says he is not sure why what he describes as his deep understanding of Iraqi culture did not lead to accurate predictions of the welcome the US would receive from the Iraqi people (see November 18-19, 2001, 2002-2003, September 9, 2002, and October 11, 2002). “There’s a paradox I’ve never been able to work out,” he says. “It helps to be deeply knowledgeable about an area—to know the people, to know the language, to know the history, the culture, the literature. But it is not a guarantee that you will have the right strategy or policy as a matter of statecraft for dealing with that area. You see, the great experts in certain areas sometimes get it fundamentally wrong.” Who got it right? President Bush, he says. “[E]xpertise is a very good thing, but it is not the same thing as sound judgment regarding strategy and policy. George W. Bush has more insight, because of his knowledge of human beings and his sense of history, about the motive force, the craving for freedom and participation in self-rule, than do many of the language experts and history experts and culture experts.”
'Flowers in Their Minds' - When a reporter notes that Iraqis had not, as promised, greeted American soldiers with flowers, Feith responds that they were still too intimidated by their fear of the overthrown Hussein regime to physically express their gratitude. “But,” he says, “they had flowers in their minds.” [New Yorker, 5/9/2005; Scoblic, 2008, pp. 228-229]

Entity Tags: US Department of Defense, Carl Levin, William Kristol, Douglas Feith

Timeline Tags: Iraq under US Occupation

The Senate Intelligence Committee releases its long-awaited “Phase II” report on the Bush administration’s use of intelligence in convincing the country that it was necessary to invade Iraq. According to the report, none of the claims made by the administration—particularly that Iraq had WMD and that its government had working ties with Islamist terror organizations such as al-Qaeda—were based in any intelligence reporting. The committee released “Phase I” of its report in July 2004, covering the quality of intelligence used in making the case for war; the second phase was promised “soon afterwards” by the then-Republican leadership of the committee, but nothing was done until after Democrats took over the committee in November 2006. The report is the product of what the Associated Press calls “nasty partisan fight[ing]” among Republicans and Democrats, and largely fails to reveal much information that has not earlier been reported elsewhere. [Associated Press, 6/5/2008] The report is bipartisan in that two Republican committee members, Olympia Snowe (R-ME) and Chuck Hagel (R-NE), joined the committee’s Democrats to sign the report. [Hill, 6/5/2008]
False Linkages between Iraq, Al-Qaeda - Time magazine notes that the report “doesn’t break any new ground,” but tries “to make the case that President Bush and his advisers deliberately disregarded conflicting intel and misled Americans on the severity of the Iraqi threat.” Committee chairman John D. Rockefeller (D-WV) says: “It is my belief that the Bush administration was fixated on Iraq, and used the 9/11 attacks by al-Qaeda as justification for overthrowing Saddam Hussein. To accomplish this, top administration officials made repeated statements that falsely linked Iraq and al-Qaeda as a single threat.” [Time, 6/6/2008]
Examination of Five Speeches - The report looks at the statements of current and former Bush administration officials such as President Bush, Vice President Cheney, Secretary of State Colin Powell, and Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, between October 2002 and the actual invasion of Iraq in March 2003 (see January 23, 2008), largely focusing on five speeches:
bullet Cheney’s speech to the Veterans of Foreign Wars National Convention (see August 26, 2002);
bullet Bush’s statement to the UN General Assembly (see September 12, 2002);
bullet Bush’s speech in Cincinnati (see October 7, 2002);
bullet Bush’s State of the Union speech (see 9:01 pm January 28, 2003);
bullet and Powell’s presentation to the United Nations Security Council (see February 5, 2003).
The report contrasts these speeches and statements to intelligence reports that have since then been released. The report only assesses the veracity of public comments made by Bush officials, and does not delve into any possible behind-the-scenes machinations by those officials or their surrogates. Some of the report’s conclusions:
bullet “Statements which indicated that [Saddam] Hussein was prepared to give WMDs to terrorists were inconsistent with existing intelligence at the time, as were statements that suggested a partnership between the two.”
bullet “Claims that airstrikes on their own would not be sufficient to destroy purported chemical and biological weapons in Iraq were unsubstantiated.”
bullet “Most statements that supported the theory that Hussein had access to or the capacity to build chemical, biological, or even nuclear weapons did not take into account the disagreements between intelligence agencies as to the credibility of the WMD allegations.”
'Statements beyond What the Intelligence Supported' - Rockefeller says the administration concealed information that contradicted their arguments that an invasion was necessary. “We might have avoided this catastrophe,” he says. The report finds that while many of the administration’s claims were supported by at least some intelligence findings, the administration routinely refused to mention dissents or uncertainties expressed by intelligence analysts about the information being presented. The committee’s five Republicans assail the report as little more than election-year partisanship, and accuse Democrats of using the report to cover for their own members, including Rockefeller and Carl Levin (D-MI), who supported the administration’s push for war at the time. [Senate Intelligence Committee, 6/5/2008 pdf file; Associated Press, 6/5/2008; Time, 6/6/2008] Rockefeller answers the Republican charges by saying, “[T]here is a fundamental difference between relying on incorrect intelligence and deliberately painting a picture to the American people that you know is not fully accurate.” Committee member Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) writes in a note attached to the report: “Even though the intelligence before the war supported inaccurate statements, this administration distorted the intelligence in order to build its case to go to war. The executive branch released only those findings that supported the argument, did not relay uncertainties, and at times made statements beyond what the intelligence supported.” [Huffington Post, 6/5/2008]

Entity Tags: Chuck Hagel, John D. Rockefeller, Colin Powell, Dianne Feinstein, Donald Rumsfeld, Bush administration (43), Carl Levin, Olympia Snowe, Al-Qaeda, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, George W. Bush, Senate Intelligence Committee, Saddam Hussein

Timeline Tags: Events Leading to Iraq Invasion

According to a poll just released by Dartmouth professor Benjamin Valentino, 63 percent of self-identified Republicans still believe that Iraq under Saddam Hussein possessed weapons of mass destruction when the US invaded in March 2003 (see March 19, 2003). Twenty-seven percent of self-identified independents and 15 percent of self-identified Democrats hold that view. The question was: “Do you believe that the following statement is true or not true? ‘Iraq had weapons of mass destruction when the United States invaded in 2003.’” Reporter Dan Froomkin, commenting on the poll results, writes: “The Bush administration’s insistence that the Iraqi government had weapons of mass destruction and might give them to terrorists was a key selling point in its campaign to take the country to war (see September 30, 2001, 2002-2003, July 30, 2002, August 26, 2002, September 4, 2002, September 8, 2002, September 8, 2002, September 12, 2002, September 12, 2002, October 7, 2002, December 12, 2002, January 2003, January 9, 2003, 9:01 pm January 28, 2003, February 5, 2003, February 8, 2003, March 16-19, 2003, March 21, 2003, March 22, 2003, March 22, 2003, March 23, 2003, March 24, 2003, March 30, 2003, Late March 2003 and After, April 10, 2003, April 20, 2003, Between April 20, 2003 and April 30, 2003, May 28, 2003, May 29, 2003, June 2003, June 1, 2003, June 3, 2003, June 9, 2003, June 11, 2003, July 31, 2003, September 14, 2003, January 22, 2004, and March 24, 2004). It turned out to be untrue.… There is no reality-based argument that Iraq actually had WMD, after extensive searches found none (see 2002-March 2003, 2002, Mid-January 2002, March 22, 2002, May 2002-September 2002, September 2002, Late September 2002, September 24, 2002, September 28, 2002, Before October 7, 2002, December 2002, End of December 2002, December 3, 2002, January 9, 2003, January 28-29, 2003, February 20, 2003, March 7, 2003, March 8, 2003, May 4, 2003, May 25, 2003, May 30, 2003, June 2003, Early June 2003-Mid-June 2003, Between June 3, 2003 and June 17, 2003, Mid-June 2003, Early July 2003, July 11, 2003, July 20, 2003, July 29, 2003, July 30, 2003, August 16, 2003, October 2, 2003, October 2003, November 2, 2003, December 2003, December 2003, December 17, 2003, Mid-January 2004, January 20, 2004, January 23, 2004, January 27, 2004, January 28, 2004, February 8, 2004, and July 9, 2004), but this is hardly the first time many Americans have been certain of something that simply wasn’t true” (see May 14, 2003-May 18, 2003). The 65-question poll was conducted by YouGov from April 26 through May 2, 2012, and surveyed 1,056 respondents. It has a margin of error of plus/minus 3.18 percent. [Valentino, 6/20/2012 pdf file; Jim Lobe, 6/20/2012; Huffington Post, 6/21/2012]

Entity Tags: Dan Froomkin, Saddam Hussein, Benjamin Valentino

Timeline Tags: Iraq under US Occupation

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