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The following excerpts come from pages 261-269 of Bamford's 'A Pretext for War' book*:
"Then Bush addressed the sole items on the agenda for his first high level national security meeting. The topics were not terrorism--a subject he barely mentioned during the campaign --or nervousness over China or Russia, but Israel and Iraq. From the very first moment, the Bush foreign policy would focus on three key objectives: get rid of Saddam, end American involvement in the Israeli-Palestinian peace process, and rearrange the dominoes in the Middle East. A key to the policy shift would be the concept of pre-emption.
The blueprint for the new Bush policy had actually been drawn up five years earlier by three of his top national security advisors. Soon to be appointed to senior administration positions, they were Richard Perle, Douglas Feith, and David Wurmser. Ironically the plan was orginally intended not for Bush but for another world leader, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
At the time, the three officials were out of government and working for conservative pro-Israel think tanks. Perle and Feith had previously served in high level Pentagon positions during the presidency of Ronald Reagan. In a very unusual move, the former--and future--senior American officials were acting as a sort of American privy council to the new Israeli Prime Minister. The Perle task force to advise Netanyahu was set up by the Jerusalem based Institute for Advanced Stategic and Political Studies, where Wurmser was working. A key part of the plan was to get the United States to pull out of peace negotiations and simply let Israel take care of the Palestinians as it saw fit. "Israel," said the report, "can manage it's own affairs. Such self-reliance will grant Israel greater freedom of action and remove a significant lever of pressure used against it in the past."
But the centerpiece of the recommendations was the removal of Saddam Hussein as the first step in remaking the Middle East into a region friendly, instead of hostile, to Israel. Their plan "A Clean Break: A New Strategy for Securing the Realm," also signaled a radical departure from the peace-oriented policies of former Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin, who was assassinated by a member of an extreme right-wing Israeli group.
As part of their "grand strategy" they recommended that once Iraq was conquered and Saddam Hussein overthrown, he should be replaced by a puppet leader friendly to Israel. Whoever inherits Iraq, they wrote, dominates the entire Levant strategically. Then they suggested that Syria would be the next country to be invaded. Israel can shape it's strategic environment, they said.
This would be done, they recommended to Netanyahu, by re-establishing the principle of pre-emption and by rolling back it's Arab neighbors. From then on, the principle would be to strike first and expand, a dangerous and provocative change in philosophy. They recommended launching a major unprovoked regional war in the Middle East, attacking Lebanon and Syria and ousting Iraq's Saddam Hussein. Then, to gain the support of the American government and public, a phony pretext would be used as the reason for the original invasion.
The recommendation of Feith, Perle and Wurmser was for Israel to once again invade Lebanon with air strikes. But this time to counter potentially hostile reactions from the American government and public, they suggested using a pretext. They would claim that the purpose of the invasion was to halt Syria's drug-money and counterfeiting infrastructure located there. They were subjects in which Israel had virtually no interest, but they were ones, they said, with which America can sympathize.
Another way to win American support for a pre-emptive war against Syria, they suggested, was by drawing attention to its weapons of mass destruction program. This claim would be that Israel's war was really all about protecting Americans from drugs, counterfeit bills, and WMD--nuclear, chemical, and biological weapons.
It was rather extraordinary for a trio of former, and potentially future, high-ranking American government officials to become advisors to a foreign government. More unsettling still was a fact that they were recommending acts of war in which Americans could be killed, and also ways to masquerade the true purpose of the attacks from the American public.
Once inside Lebanon, Israel could let loose--to begin engaging Hizballah, Syria and Iran, as the principle agents of aggression in Lebanon. Then they would widen the war even further by using proxy forces--Lebanese militia fighters acting on Israel's behalf (as Ariel Sharon had done in the 80's)--to invade Syria from Lebanon. Thus, they noted, they could invade Syria by establishing the precedent that Syrian territory is not immune to attacks emanating from Lebanon by Israeli proxy forces.
As soon as that fighting started, they advised, Israel could begin "striking Syrian military targets in Lebanon, and should that prove insufficient, striking at select targets in Syria proper [emphasis in original]."
The Perle task force even supplied Nentanyahu with some text for a television address, using the suggested pretext to justify the war. Years later, it would closely resemble speeches to justify their own Middle East wars; Iraq would simply replace Syria and the United States would replace Israel:
Negotiations with repressive regimes like Syria's require cautious realism. One cannot sensibly assume the other side's good faith. It is dangerous for Israel to deal naively with a regime murderous of its own people, openly aggressive towards its neighbors, criminally involved with international drug traffickers and counterfeiters, and supportive of the most deadly terrorist organizations.The task force then suggested that Israel open a second front in its expanding war, with a focus on removing Saddam Hussein from power in Iraq--an important Israeli strategic objective in its own right--as a means of foiling Syria's regional ambitions.
For years the killing of Saddam Hussein had been among the highest, and most secret, priorities of the Israeli government. In one stroke it would pay Saddam Hussein back for launching Scud missiles against Israel, killing several people, during the Gulf War. Redrawing the map of the Middle East would also help isolate Syria, Iraq's ally and Israel's archenemy along its northern border. Thus, in the early 1990's, after the US-led war in the Gulf, a small elite team of Israeli commandos was given the order to train in absolute secrecy for an assassination mission to bring down the Baghdad ruler.
The plan, code-named Bramble Bush, was to first kill a close friend of the Iraqi leader outside the country, someone from Hussein's hometown of Tikrit. Then, after learning the date and time of the funeral to be held in the town, a funeral Hussein was certain to attend, they would have time to covertly infiltrate a team of commandos into the country to carry out the assassination. The murder weapons were to be specially modified "smart" missiles that would be fired at Hussein as he stood in a crowd at the funeral.
But, the plan was finally abandoned after five members of the team were accidently killed during a dry run of the operation. Nevertheless, removing Saddam and converting Iraq from threat to ally had long been at the top of Israel's wish list.
Now Perle, Feith, and Wurmser were suggesting something far more daring--not just an assassination but a bloody war that would get rid of Saddam Hussein and also change the face of Syria and Lebanon. Perle felt their "Clean Break" recommendations were so important that he personally hand-carried the report to Netanyahu.
Wisely, Netanyahu rejected the task force' plan. But now, with the election of a receptive George W. Bush, they dusted off their pre-emptive war strategy and began getting ready to put it to use.
The new Bush policy was an aggressive agenda for any president, but especially for someone who had previously shown little interest in international affairs. We're going to correct the imbalances of the previous administration on the Mideast conflict, Bush told his freshly assembled senior national security team in the Situation Room on January 30, 2001. We're going to tilt it back toward Israel. . . .Anybody here ever met Ariel Sharon? Only Colin Powell raised his hand.
Bush was going to reverse the Clinton policy, which was heavily weighted toward bringing the bloody conflict between Israel and the Palestinians to a peaceful conclusion. There would be no more US interference; he would let Sharon resolve the dispute however he saw fit, with little or no regard for the situation of the Palestinians. The policy change was exactly as recommended by the Perle task force's "Clean Break" report.
I'm not going to go by past reputations when it comes to Sharon, Bush told his newly gathered national security team. I'm going to take him at face value. We'll work on a relationship based on how things go. Then he mentioned a trip he had taken with the Republican Jewish Coalition to Israel. We flew over the Palestinian camps. Looked real bad down there, he said with a frown. Then he said it was time to end America's efforts in the region. I don't see much we can do over there at this point, he said.
Colin Powell, Secretary of State for only a few days, was taken by surprise. The idea that such a complex problem, in which America had long been heavily involved, could be simply brushed away with the sweep of a hand made little sense. Fearing Israeli-led aggression, he quickly objected.
He stressed that a pullback by the United States would unleash Sharon and the Israeli army, recalled Paul O'Neill, who had be sworn in as Secretary of the Treasury by Bush only hours before and seated at the table. Powell told Bush, the consequences of that could be be dire, especially for the Palestinians. But Bush just shrugged. Sometimes a show of strength by one side can really clarify things, he said. Powell seemed startled, said O'Neill.
Over the following months, to the concern of Powell, the Bush-Sharon relationship became extremely tight. This is the best administration for Israel since Harry Truman, said Thomas Neuman, executive director of the Jewish Institute for National Security Affairs "JINSA" a pro-Israel advocacy group. In an article in the Washington Post titled "Bush and Sharon Nearly Identical on Middle East Policy," Robert G. Kaiser noted the dramatic shift in policy.
For the First time, wrote Kaiser, a US administration and a Likud government in Israel are pursuing nearly identical policies. Earlier US administrations, from Jimmy Carter through Bill Clinton's, held Likud and Sharon at arm's length, distancing the United States from Likud's traditionally tough approach to the Palestinians. Using the Yiddish term for supporters of Sharon's political party to the new relationship between Bush and Sharon, a senior US government official told Kaiser, "The Likudniks are really in charge now."
With America's long struggle to bring peace to the region quickly terminated, George W. Bush could turn his attention to the prime focus of his first National Security Council meeting; ridding Iraq of Saddam Hussein. Condoleezza Rice led off the discussion. But rather than mention anything about threats to the United States or weapons of mass destruction, she noted only that Iraq might be the key to reshaping the entire region. The words were practically lifted from the "Clean Break" report, which had the rather imperial-sounding subtitles: "A New Strategy for Securing the Realm."
Then Rice turned the meeting over to CIA Director George Tenet, who offered a grainy overhead picture of a factory that he said "might" be a plant "that produced either chemical or biological materials for weapons manufacture." There were no missiles or weapons of any kind, just some railroad tracks going to a building; truck activity; and a water tower--things that can be found in virtually any city in the US. Nor were there any human intelligence or signals intelligence reports. There was no confirming intelligence, Tenet said.
It was little more than a shell game. Other photo and charts showed US air activity over the "no fly-zone," but Tenet offered no more intelligence. Nevertheless, in a matter of minutes the talk switched from a discussion about very speculative intelligence to which targets to begin bombing in Iraq.
By the time the meeting was over, Treasury Secretary O'Neill was convinced that "getting Hussein was now the administration's focus, that much was already clear," But, O'Neill believed, the real destabilizing factor in the Middle East was not Saddam Hussein but the Israeli-Palestinian conflict--the issue Bush had just turned his back on. Ten years after the Gulf War, said O'Neill, "Hussein seemed caged and defanged. Clearly, there were many forces destabilizing the region, which we were now abandoning."
The war summit must also have seemed surreal to Colin Powell, who said little during the meeting and had long believed that Iraq had not posed a threat to the United States. As he would tell German Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer just a few weeks later, "What we and other allies have been doing in the region, have succeeded in containing Saddam Hussein and his ambitions. . . .Containment has been a successful policy."
In addition to the "Clean Break" recommendations, David Wurmser only weeks before the NSC meeting had further elaborated on the way the United States might go about launching a pre-emptive war throughout the Middle East. America's and Israel's responses must be regional not local, he said. Israel and the United Staes should adopt a coordinated strategy, to regain the initiative and reverse their region-wide strategic retreat. They should broaden the conflict to strike fatally, not merely disarm, the center of radicalism in the region--the regimes of Damascus, Baghdad, Tehran, Tripoli, and Gaza. That would re-establish the recognition that fighting with either the US or Israel is suicidal. Many in the Middle East will then understand the merits of being an American ally and of making peace with Israel.
In the weeks and months following the NSC meeting, Perle, Feith and Wurmser began taking their places in the Bush administration. Perle became chairman of the reinvigorated and powerful Defence Policy Board, packing it with like-minded neoconservative super-hawks anxious for battle. Feith was appointed to the highest policy position in the Pentagon, Undersecretary of Defense for Policy. And Wurmser moved into a top policy position in the State Department before later becoming Cheney's top Middle East expert.
With the Pentagon now under Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld and his deputy, Paul Wolfowitz--both of whom had also long believed that Saddam Hussein should have been toppled during the first Gulf War--the war planners were given free reign. What was needed, however, was a pretext--perhaps a major crisis. Crisis can be opportunities, wrote Wurmser im his paper calling for an American-Israeli pre-emptive war throughout the Middle East.
Seeing little reason, or intelligence justification, for war at the close of the inaugural National Security Council meeting, Treasury Secretary Paul O'Neill was perplexed. Who, exactly, was pushing this foreign policy? He wondered to himself. And "why Saddam, why now, and why [was] this central to US interests?"
The following excerpts come from pages 318-322 of Bamford's 'A Pretext for War' book*:
"Hadley and Libby were part of another secret office that had been set up within the White House. Known as the White House Iraq Group (WHIG), it was established in August 2002 by Chief of Staff Andrew H. Card, Jr., at the same time the OSP (Office of Special Plans) was established in Feith's office. Made up of high-level administration officials, its job was to sell the war to the general public, largely through televised addresses and by selectively leaking the intelligence to the media.
In June 2002, a leaked computer disk containing a presentation by chief Bush strategist Karl Rove revealed a White House political plan to use the war as a way to "maintain a positive issue environment." But the real pro-war media blitz was scheduled for the fall and the start of the election season "because from a marketing point of view, you don't introduce new products in August," said Card.
At least once a week they would gather around the blonde conference table downstairs in the Situation Room, the same place the war was born on January 30, 2001, ten days into the Bush presidency. Although real intelligence had improved very little in the intervening nineteen months, the manufacturing of it had increased tremendously. In addition to Hadley and Libby, those frequently attending the WHIG meetings included Karl Rove, Condoleezza Rice, communications gurus Karen Hughes, Mary Matalin and James R. Wilkinson; and legislative liaison Nicholas E. Calio.
In addition to ties between Hussein and 9/11, among the most important products the group was looking to sell as Labor Day 2002 approached were frightening images of mushroom clouds, mobile biological weapons labs, and A-bomb plants, all in the hands of a certified "madman." A key piece of evidence that Hussein was building a nuclear weapon turned out to be the discredited Italian documents purchased on a street corner from a con man.
The WHIG began priming its audience in August when Vice President Cheney, on three occasions, sounded a shrill alarm over Saddam Hussein's nuclear threat. There "is no doubt," he declared, that Saddam Hussein "has weapons of mass destruction." Again and again, he hit the same chord. "What we know now, from various sources, is that he . . . continues to pursue a nuclear weapon." And again: "We do know, with absolute certainty, that he is using his procurement system to acquire the equipment he needs in order to enrich uranium to build a nuclear weapon."
Facing network television cameras, Cheney warned, "We now know that Saddam has resumed his efforts to acquire nuclear weapons. . . . Among other sources, we've gotten this from firsthand testimony from defectors, including Saddam's own son-in-law." The relative was Hussein Kamel, who defected to Jordan in 1995 with a great deal of inside information on Iraq's special weapons programs, which he managed. He was later convinced by Saddam to return to Iraq, but executed by the ruler soon after his arrival.
But what Kamel told his interrogators was the exact opposite of what Cheney was claiming he said. After numerous debriefings by officials from the United States, the UN, and Jordan, he said on August 22, 1995, that Saddam had ended all uranium-enrichment programs at the beginning of the Gulf War in 1991 and never restarted them. He also made clear that "all weapons --biological, chemical, missile, nuclear--were destroyed." Investigators were convinced that Kamel was telling the truth, since he supplied them with a great deal of stolen raw data and was later murdered by his father-in-law as a result. But that was not the story Feith's OSP, Bush's WHIG, or Cheney wanted the American public to hear.
At the same time that Cheney began his media blitz, Ariel Sharon's office in Israel, as if perfectly coordinated, began issuing similar dire warnings concerning Hussein and pressing the Bush administration to go to war with Iraq. Like those from Cheney, pronouncements from Sharon's top aide, Ranaan Gissin, included frightening "evidence" --- equally phony --- of nuclear, as well as biological and chemical, threats.
"As evidence of Iraq's weapons building activities, " said an Associated Press report on the briefing, "Israel points to an order Saddam gave to Iraq's Atomic Energy Commission last week to speed up its work, said Sharon aide Ranaan Gissin. 'Saddam's going to be able to reach a point where these weapons will be operational,' he said. . . . Israeli intelligence officials have gathered evidence that Iraq is speeding up efforts to produce biological and chemical weapons, Gissin said."
It was clear, based on the postwar reviews done in Israel, that Israeli intelligence had no such evidence. Instead, the "evidence" was likely cooked up in Sharon's own Office of Special Plans unit, which was coordinating its activities with the Feith/Wurmser/Shulsky Office of Special Plans. The joint get-Saddam media blitz would also explain the many highly secret visits by the Israeli generals to Feith's office during the summer..
"Israel is urging U.S. officials not to delay a military strike against Iraq's Saddam Hussein, an aide to Prime Minister Ariel Minister said Friday," the AP report continued. " "Any postponement of an attack on Iraq at this stage with serve no purpose,' Gissin told the Associated Press. 'It will only give him [Saddam] more of an opportunity to accelerate his program of weapons of mass destruction.'"
As expected. Sharon's callw as widely publicized and increased pressure on Congress, which often bows to Israel's wishes, to vote in favor of the Bush war resolution. "Israel To U.S.: Don't Delay Iraq Attack," said a CBS News headline. "Israel is urging U.S. officials not to delay a military strike against Iraq's Saddam Hussein, an aide to Prime Minister Ariel Sharon said Friday," said the report.
The story also made the news in London, where the Guardian newspaper ran the headline: "Israel Puts Pressure on US to Strike Iraq." It went on, "With foreign policy experts in Washington becoming increasingly critical of the wisdom of a military strike, and European governments showing no willingness to support an attack, the Israeli prime minister, Ariel Sharon, wants to make it clear that he is the US president's most reliable ally."
It was as if the Feith-Wurmser-Perle "Clean Break" plan come full circle. Their plan for Israel to overthrow Saddam Hussein and put a pro-Israel regime in his place had been rejected by former Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Now Bush, with Sharon's support, was about to put it into effect.
Across the Atlantic, British Prime Minister Tony Blair also contributed to the war fever by releasing a much-hyped report that reinforced the White House theme that Iraq was an imminent threat not only to the United States but also to Britain. In addition to including a reference to the bogus Iraq-Niger uranium deal, the report -- later dubbed the "doggie dossier"--made another frightening claim. It warned that Iraq could launch a deadly biological or chemical attack with long-range ballistic missiles on British tourists and servicemen in Cyprus with just forty-five minute's notice.
Only after the war would it be publicly revealed that the reference was not to a strategic weapon that could reach Cyprus, but simply to a short-range battlefield weapon that could not come anywhere close to Cyprus. And because all the missiles were disassembled, even to fire on them on the battlefield would take not forty-five minutes but days of assembly and preparation. At least three times prior to the war, Blair was warned by intelligence officials that the report was inaccurate, but he made no public mention of it.. "
* The paperback edition of A Pretext for War includes new Afterword