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Context of 'September 12, 2001: Iraq Attack Possibility Is Raised in Meeting Led by President Bush'

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Two sections from Rumsfeld’s notes, dictated to Stephen Cambone.Two sections from Rumsfeld’s notes, dictated to Stephen Cambone. [Source: Defense Department]Defense Secretary Rumsfeld aide Stephen Cambone is taking notes on behalf of Rumsfeld in the National Military Command Center. These notes will be leaked to the media nearly a year later. According to the notes, although Rumsfeld has already been given information indicating the 9/11 attacks were done by al-Qaeda (see 12:05 p.m. September 11, 2001) and he has been given no evidence so far indicating any Iraqi involvement, he is more interested in blaming the attacks on Iraq. According to his aide’s notes, Rumsfeld wants the “best info fast. Judge whether good enough hit S.H. [Saddam Hussein] at same time. Not only UBL [Osama bin Laden].… Need to move swiftly.… Go massive. Sweep it all up. Things related and not.” [CBS News, 9/4/2002; Bamford, 2004, pp. 285] In a 2004 book, author James Moore will write, “Unless Rumsfeld had an inspired moment while the rest of the nation was in shock, the notes are irrefutable proof that the Bush administration had designs on Iraq and Hussein well before the president raised his hand to take the oath of office.” [Moore, 3/15/2004, pp. 18]

Entity Tags: Stephen A. Cambone, Osama bin Laden, Saddam Hussein, Central Intelligence Agency, National Military Command Center, Donald Rumsfeld, Al-Qaeda

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

Bush addresses the nation from the White House.
Bush addresses the nation from the White House. [Source: White House]From the White House Oval Office, President Bush gives a seven-minute address to the nation on live television. [CNN, 9/11/2001; CNN, 9/12/2001; Woodward, 2002, pp. 31] He says, “I’ve directed the full resources of our intelligence and law enforcement communities to find those responsible and to bring them to justice.” In what will later be called the Bush Doctrine, he states, “We will make no distinction between the terrorists who committed these acts and those who harbor them.” [US President, 9/17/2001; Washington Post, 1/27/2002] Washington Post reporter Dan Balz will later comment that this “those who harbor them” statement “set the tone for where the administration was going both with Afghanistan and, I think, with Iraq.” Bush’s speechwriter at the time, David Frum, will later say: “When he laid down those principles, I don’t know whether he foresaw all of their implications, how far they would take him. I don’t know if he understood fully and foresaw fully the true radicalism of what he had just said.” Neoconservatives see hope that the words could lead to an invasion of Iraq. Author and former National Security Council staffer Kenneth Pollack will comment, “It does seem very clear that after September 11th, this group seized upon the events of September 11th to resurrect their policy of trying to go after Saddam Hussein and a regime change in Iraq.” [PBS Frontline, 2/20/2003] Secretary of State Colin Powell arrived back from Peru too late to influence the content of this pivotal speech (see (Between 7:40 p.m. and 8:40 p.m.) September 11, 2001).

Entity Tags: Dan Balz, Colin Powell, Kenneth Pollack, David Frum, George W. Bush

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

President Bush (below television screen) meeting with the National Security Council in a bunker below the White House. In the far row from left to right, are Attorney General Ashcroft, President Bush, Chief of Staff Card, CIA Director Tenet, and counterterrorism “tsar” Ckarke. In the near row, Secretary of State Powell can be seen waving his hand, and National Security Advisor Rice sits to his right.President Bush (below television screen) meeting with the National Security Council in a bunker below the White House. In the far row from left to right, are Attorney General Ashcroft, President Bush, Chief of Staff Card, CIA Director Tenet, and counterterrorism “tsar” Ckarke. In the near row, Secretary of State Powell can be seen waving his hand, and National Security Advisor Rice sits to his right. [Source: Eric Draper/ White House]President Bush meets with his full National Security Council. According to journalist Bob Woodward, this meeting turns out to be “unwieldy.” So at 9:30 p.m., Bush follows it with a meeting with a smaller group of his most senior principal national security advisers in the Presidential Emergency Operations Center (PEOC) beneath the White House. Bush and his advisers have already decided bin Laden is behind the attacks. As the president later recalls, in these meetings, “That’s when we first got the indication… we’ve identified, we think it’s al-Qaeda.” He says the FBI now thinks that “it’s al-Qaeda, and we start to develop our plans to get them. I mean, there wasn’t any hesitation. We’re starting the process of coalition-building and how to get ‘em.” (According to other accounts, though, the CIA had informed Bush hours earlier that it was virtually certain al-Qaeda was to blame for the attacks (see (3:15 p.m.) September 11, 2001).) CIA Director George Tenet says that al-Qaeda and the Taliban in Afghanistan are essentially one and the same. Tenet says, “Tell the Taliban we’re finished with them.” [Sammon, 2002, pp. 133; Woodward, 2002, pp. 31-33; Washington Post, 1/27/2002] The president says, “I want you all to understand that we are at war and we will stay at war until this is done. Nothing else matters. Everything is available for the pursuit of this war. Any barriers in your way, they’re gone. Any money you need, you have it. This is our only agenda.” When, later in the discussion, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld points out that international law only allows force to prevent future attacks and not for retribution, Bush yells, “No. I don’t care what the international lawyers say, we are going to kick some ass.” [Clarke, 2004, pp. 23-24] Bush will subsequently announce a new US doctrine of preemptive attack the following June (see June 1, 2002). [Time, 6/23/2002] During the meeting, the president refers to the present political situation as a “great opportunity” (see (Between 9:30 p.m. and 10:00 p.m.) September 11, 2001). By the time the meeting ends, it is after 10 p.m. [Sammon, 2002, pp. 133]

Entity Tags: Osama bin Laden, Taliban, National Security Council, Richard A. Clarke, George W. Bush, Donald Rumsfeld, Al-Qaeda, George J. Tenet, Condoleezza Rice

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

After a meeting with the full National Security Council from 9:00 to 10:00 p.m. (see (9:00 p.m.-10:00 p.m.) September 11, 2001), President Bush continues meeting with a smaller group of advisers. During this meeting, Bush says the US will punish not just the perpetrators of the 9/11 attacks, but also those who harbored them (this closely echoes the rhetoric he used in a speech that evening (see 8:30 p.m. September 11, 2001)). Secretary of State Colin Powell suggests the US needs to build a coalition of other nations. But according to the 9/11 Commission, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld urges Bush to “think broadly about who might have harbored the attackers, including Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya, Sudan, and Iran. He wonder[s] aloud how much evidence the United States would need in order to deal with these countries, pointing out that major strikes could take up to 60 days to assemble.” [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 330] According to journalist Bob Woodward, at this meeting, “Rumsfeld actually puts Iraq on the table and says, ‘Part of our response maybe should be attacking Iraq. It’s an opportunity.’” [PBS Frontline, 6/20/2006] Earlier in the day, notes by a Rumsfeld aide indicate Rumsfeld was aware that evidence was already suggesting al-Qaeda was behind the 9/11 attacks, but he wanted to use 9/11 as an excuse to attack Iraq as well (see (2:40 p.m.) September 11, 2001).

Entity Tags: Colin Powell, George W. Bush, Bob Woodward, Donald Rumsfeld

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

White House counterterrorism “tsar” Richard Clarke meets with Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, President Bush, and Secretary of State Colin Powell. Rumsfeld suggests that the US should bomb Iraq in retaliation for the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. “Rumsfeld was saying we needed to bomb Iraq,” Clarke will later recall in his book, Against All Enemies. “We all said, ‘But no, no. Al-Qaeda is in Afghanistan,’ and Rumsfeld said, ‘There aren’t any good targets in Afghanistan and there are lots of good targets in Iraq.’” [Clarke, 2004; Reuters, 3/19/2004; Associated Press, 3/20/2004; CBS News, 3/21/2004; Washington Post, 3/22/2004] Powell agrees with Clarke that the immediate focus should be al-Qaeda. However, Powell also says, “Public opinion has to be prepared before a move against Iraq is possible.” Clarke complains to him, “Having been attacked by al-Qaeda, for us now to go bombing Iraq in response would be like our invading Mexico after the Japanese attacked us at Pearl Harbor.” President Bush notes the goal should be replacing the Iraqi government, not just bombing it, but the military warns an invasion would need a large force and many months to assemble. [Clarke, 2004] Rumsfeld’s view is said to be closely aligned with that of his deputy, Paul Wolfowitz, who believes Saddam, not Osama bin Laden or al-Qaeda, should be the principal target of the “war on terrorism.” [Woodward, 2002, pp. 49] Commenting on his feelings after the meeting, Clarke will later write: “At first I was incredulous that we were talking about something other than getting al-Qaeda. I realized with almost a sharp physical pain that (Defense Secretary Donald) Rumsfeld and Wolfowitz were going to try to take advantage of this national tragedy to promote their agenda about Iraq.” [Associated Press, 3/22/2004; Washington Post, 3/22/2004; New York Times, 3/28/2004] “They were talking about Iraq on 9/11. They were talking about it on 9/12.” [Clarke, 2004; Reuters, 3/19/2004; Associated Press, 3/20/2004]

Entity Tags: Colin Powell, Paul Wolfowitz, Richard A. Clarke, George W. Bush, Donald Rumsfeld

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

A Defense Department paper for a Camp David meeting with top Bush administration officials to take place the next day (see September 15, 2001) specifies three priority targets for initial action in response to the 9/11 attacks: al-Qaeda, the Taliban, and Iraq. It argues that of the three, al-Qaeda and Iraq pose a strategic threat to the US. Iraq’s alleged long-standing involvement in terrorism is cited, along with its interest in WMDs. [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 335, 559]

Entity Tags: US Department of Defense

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

George Tenet pointing at a map and describing CIA operations in Afghanistan on September 30, 2001. Also at the table are George Bush, Condoleezza Rice, and Andrew Card.George Tenet pointing at a map and describing CIA operations in Afghanistan on September 30, 2001. Also at the table are George Bush, Condoleezza Rice, and Andrew Card. [Source: White House]President Bush and his top advisers meet at Camp David to discuss how to respond to the 9/11 attacks. Attendees include: CIA Director George Tenet, Vice President Dick Cheney, Secretary of State Colin Powell, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, Treasury Secretary Paul O’Neill, National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice, FBI Director Robert Mueller, and Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz. [Washington Post, 1/31/2002; Vanity Fair, 5/2004, pp. 232] There is discussion on a paper submitted by the Defense Department submitted the day before depicting Iraq, the Taliban, and al-Qaeda as priority targets (see September 14, 2001).
Push to Attack Iraq - Rumsfeld has already suggested that the US should use 9/11 as an excuse to attack Iraq (see 10:00 p.m. September 11, 2001 and September 12, 2001). Now Wolfowitz pushes for regime change in Iraq, claiming that there is a 10 to 50 percent chance that Iraq was involved in the attacks. [Woodward, 2002, pp. 83; Vanity Fair, 5/2004; Washington Post, 7/23/2004] Attacking Afghanistan is uncertain at best, Wolfowitz argues, with the likelihood that US troops will get mired in mountain fighting. In contrast, Iraq is, in author Bob Woodward’s words, “a brittle, oppressive regime that might break easily. It was doable.” According to Woodward, chief of staff Andrew Card believes that Wolfowitz is doing nothing more than “banging a drum” and is “not providing additional information or new arguments.” [Woodward, 2002, pp. 83; American Conservative, 3/24/2003] Powell will later recall that Wolfowitz argues that Iraq should be attacked because it is ultimately the source of the terrorist problem. Wolfowitz “was always of the view that Iraq was a problem that had to be dealt with. And he saw this as one way of using this event as a way to deal with the Iraq problem.” [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 335] Deputy CIA Director John McLaughlin will later recall that the discussion about possible Iraqi involvement in 9/11 “went back and forth, back and forth, back and forth. The [CIA] argued that that was not appropriate, not the right conclusion to draw at this point.” Secretary of State Colin Powell supports the CIA on this. Then, according to McLaughlin: “At the end of all this deliberation, the president says, ‘Thank you all very much. This has been a very good discussion. I’m going to think about all of this on Sunday, and I’ll call you together Monday [September 17] and tell you what I’ve concluded.” [PBS Frontline, 6/20/2006]
Focus on Afghanistan First - Bush will later tell reporter Bob Woodward that, in his own mind, he made the decision not to immediately attack Iraq in the morning on this day. He wants to focus on Afghanistan first. [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 335] Wolfowitz will later recall in an interview with Vanity Fair: “On the surface of the debate it at least appeared to be about not whether but when. There seemed to be a kind of agreement that yes it should be, but the disagreement was whether it should be in the immediate response or whether you should concentrate simply on Afghanistan first. To the extent it was a debate about tactics and timing, the president clearly came down on the side of Afghanistan first. To the extent it was a debate about strategy and what the larger goal was, it is at least clear with 20/20 hindsight that the president came down on the side of the larger goal.” [Vanity Fair, 5/9/2003] In his 2002 book Bush at War, Woodward will write, “Bush’s advisers wondered if they would ever find a way to end the talking and pull the trigger.” [Roberts, 2008, pp. 106]

Entity Tags: Paul O’Neill, George J. Tenet, George W. Bush, Robert S. Mueller III, Donald Rumsfeld, John E. McLaughlin, Colin Powell, Condoleezza Rice, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, Paul Wolfowitz

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

President Bush tells National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice that while the US is going to focus on attacking Afghanistan first, he also wants to do something about Saddam Hussein. Journalist Bob Woodward will later paraphrase what Bush told him: “There’s some pressure to go after Saddam Hussein. Don Rumsfeld has said, ‘This is an opportunity to take out Saddam Hussein, perhaps. We should consider it.’ And the president says to Condi Rice meeting head to head, ‘We won’t do Iraq now. But it is a question we’re gonna have to return to.’” [CBS News, 4/18/2004; 9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 335] Bush will later claim he made the decision to invade Afghanistan and then go after Iraq one day earlier (see September 15, 2001).

Entity Tags: Condoleezza Rice, George W. Bush

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

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

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

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