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The Hidden History of the Iraq War Critics


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The American Thinker

April 14th, 2006

 

“The plan has been through the combatant commanders, it has been through the National Security Council process. General Myers and General Pace (chairman and vice-chairman, Joint Chiefs) and others, including this individual, have seen it in a variety of iterations. When asked by the president or by me, the military officers who’ve reviewed it have all said they thought it was an excellent plan. I stand by the plan…I think it’s a brilliant plan.”

 

Donald Rumsfeld on the plan for Operation Iraq Freedom, March 30, 2003 NewsHour.

 

We are in the midst of a spring offensive by Iraq war plan critics such as COBRA II authors Michael Gordon & retired Lt. Gen.Bernard Trainor, retired Gen. Anthony Zinni, and now retired Lt. Gen. Greg Newbold. As calls for Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld’s resignation echo throughout the drive-by media, here is a little pop quiz.

 

Who said this?

 

What if Saddam fails to comply (with UN sanctions), or we take some ambiguous third route which gives him yet more time to develop this (WMD) program? He will conclude that the international community has lost its will… [that] he can go right on and do more to rebuild an arsenal of devastating destruction. And some day, I guarantee you, he’ll use this arsenal.

 

Answer: President Bill Clinton in February 1998.

 

Okay then, who said this?

 

The United Nations believes that Saddam Hussein may have produced as much as 200 tons of VX (nerve gas)… we face a clear and present danger… terrorists who bombed the World Trade Center in New York City had in mind the destruction and deaths of 250,000 people….

 

Answer: Clinton Defense Secretary William Cohen on November 15, 1997.

 

Who said this?

 

The world hasn’t seen, except maybe since Hitler, somebody quite as evil as Saddam Hussein. If you don’t stop a horrific dictator before he gets started too far, he can do untold damage….

 

Answer Clinton Secretary of State Madeline Albright on February 20, 1998.

 

Just one more now. Who expressed the view that the containment of Saddam Hussein could not succeed over the long run; that “even a contained Saddam was harmful to stability and positive change in the region”? Hint: the same person who said

 

“For the last eight years, American policy towards Iraq has been based on the tangible threat that Saddam poses to our security. That threat is clear.”

 

Answer: Clinton National Security Council advisor Sandy Berger in December 1998 speech at Stanford.

 

War critics either downplay, skim over, or completely ignore this historical context. The prior administration’s beliefs and policies towards Iraq were consistent with the threat assessment motivating our war with Saddam. They would have you think that it all began with Bush, who was driven to war by neocon zealots who hijacked US foreign policy.

 

They do not tell you, for obvious reasons, that the Clinton administration in November 1997 launched a public campaign to build support for a possible war against Iraq. The do not mention that on October 31, 1998, President Clinton signed the Iraq Liberation Act, which stated that

 

it should be the policy of the United States to support efforts to remove the regime headed by Saddam Hussein from power.

 

And, that in 1998, Congress authorized President Clinton to

 

…use US armed forces pursuant to UN Security Council Resolution (UNSCR) 678 to achieve implementation of UNSCRs 660-667.

 

Saddam was then on his way to setting the Guinness World Record for most resolutions violated. Wanting to indict President Bush, Donald Rumsfeld and senior Pentagon officers for “an invented war,” as former top planner Lt.Gen. Newbold now puts it, they dare not admit that the Bush administration was, in fact, looking at the threat posed by Iraq in much the same way its predecessor did… the difference being that while Bill dallied, W. took on the threat.

 

As President Bush said in his January 28, 2003 State of the Union speech:

 

Some have said we must not act until the threat is imminent. Since when have terrorists and tyrants announced their intentions, politely putting us on notice before they strike? If this threat is permitted to fully and suddenly emerge, all actions, all words,, and all recriminations would come too late. Trusting in the sanity and restraint of Saddam Hussein is not a strategy, and it is not an option.

 

In a speech the following month, the President said:

 

In Iraq, a dictator is building and hiding weapons that could enable him to dominate the Middle East and intimidate the civilized world – and we will not allow it. This same tyrant has close ties to terrorist organizations and could supply them with the terrible means to strike this country – and America will not permit it…the danger must be confronted…if it does not (fully and peacefully disarm per UN resolutions), we are prepared to disarm Iraq by force. Either way, this danger will be removed.

 

The critics allege that Iraq was a diversion from the real war on terror. They refuse to acknowledge the proven links that existed between Saddam’s regime and al Qaeda as documented by Stephen F. Hayes in his book The Connection and in his Weekly Standard articles on this subject. In his September 8, 2003 article “Saddam’s Al Qaeda Connection” Hayes wrote about a letter by CIA Director George Tenet that

 

declassified CIA reporting on WMD and Iraq’s links to Al Qaeda… “We have solid reporting of senior level contacts between Iraq and Al Qaeda going back a decade,” Tenet wrote… “we have solid evidence of the presence in Iraq of Al Qaeda members…we have credible reporting that Al Qaeda leaders sought contacts in Iraq who could help them acquire WMD…”

 

Captured documents recently translated revealed that thousands of radical Islamists trained in camps at Samarra, Ramadi and Salman Pak four years prior to Operation Iraqi Freedom. Those documents and others can be found here and here.

 

Now let’s look at some of the text of House Joint Resolution 114, passed October 12, 2002, which listed the indictments against Saddam’s regime. They make a convincing argument that the Butcher of Baghdad was not being kept in his “box” as the war plan critics allege.

 

Whereas Iraq, in direct and flagrant violation of the cease-fire, attempted to thwart the efforts of weapons inspectors to identify and destroy Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction stockpiles and development capabilities, which finally resulted in the withdrawal of inspectors on October 31, 1998…whereas the current Iraqi regime has demonstrated its continuing hostility toward, and willingness to attack, the United States, including by attempting in 1993 to assassinate former President Bush and by firing on thousands of occasions on United States and coalition armed forces engaged in enforcing the resolutions of the United Nations Security Council….

 

HJ Res. 114 contains much more, of course, including the fact that Saddam used WMD on neighboring countries and on his own people. As for WMD, both the Duelfer and Kay reports concluded that while Saddam might not have any large stockpiles, he retained, he planned for, the ability to reconstitute WMD programs as soon as all inspectors left.

 

Then there was the matter of Saddam’s programmatic deception and concealment efforts. As Duelfer wrote in his report:

 

Iraq was never able to convince us that they had stopped concealment, and in fact, we were convinced of the opposite, that they still retain weapons.

 

We need to remember here that Saddam began his Guinness Book UNSCR violations record right after we expelled his army from Kuwait. He signed a cease-fire agreement in 1991 promising to destroy all his WMD.

 

All of this historic context, all of these facts, are ignored by the war plan critics. I am reminded of a comment by an Iraqi, frustrated by the WMD debate, who opined that “Saddam Hussein himself was a weapon of mass destruction.” Through it all, the US worked with the UN, then formed a coalition to liberate Iraq, putting the lie to charges that President Bush acted unilaterally.

 

The carping critics erect a rhetorical, if not imaginary, entity so they can bash it with charges of “not enough troops” and other hindsight insight. The perfect war plan devised by omniscient planners has never existed. And as Donald Rumsfeld has acknowledged on several occasions, no plan, however perfect, survives first contact with the enemy. But since tactical flexibility was inherent in the plan, commanders on the ground adapted to changing circumstances. And now, a little over three years later, we see the tremendous success that Coalition and Iraqi forces have achieved.

 

President Bush put it this way in an April 10 speech at Johns Hopkins University:

 

We have learned from our mistakes. We’ve adjusted our approach to meet the changing circumstances on the ground; we’ve adjusted depending upon the actions of the enemy. By pursuing a clear and flexible strategy in Iraq, we helped make it possible for Iraqis to choose their leaders and begin to assume the responsibilities of self-government and self-defense.

 

The most recent war plan critic is retired Lt. Gen. Greg Newbold, who, up to four months prior to the launch of OIF, was the Pentagon’s top planner. He left in part due to his opposition to the plan. He now alleges that other top Pentagon officers who opposed the plan did not speak up, that they are culpable for an “invented war.”

 

At an April 11 press conference Joint Chiefs chairman, Gen. Peter Pace answered Newbold and other like-minded critics about how the process worked building up to Iraq:

 

First of all, once it became apparent that we may have to take military action, the Secretary of Defense asked Tom Franks, who was the commander of Central Command, to begin doing some planning, which he did. Over the next two years, 50 or 60 times, Tom Franks either came to Washington or by video teleconference, sat down with the Secretary of Defense, sat down with the Joint Chiefs and went over what he was thinking, how he was planning. And as a result of those iterative opportunities and all the questions that were asked not once was Tom told, “No, don’t do that; no, don’t do this; no, you can’t have this; no, you can’t have that.” What happened was, in a very open roundtable discussion, questions (were raised) about what might go right, what might go wrong, what would you need, how would you handle it, and that happened with the Joint Chiefs, and it happened with the Secretary. And before the final orders were given, the Joint Chiefs met in private with General Franks and assured ourselves that that plan was a solid plan and that the resources that he needed were going to be allocated.

 

That agreement on resources having been reached, the Joint Chiefs went to Rumsfeld and then to President Bush, assuring them about the plan and the necessary resources. Pres. Bush asked specific questions about whether the proper amount of resources had been allocated.

 

He did that with us and then again when all the combatant commanders were in from [around] the globe well before a final decision was made.

 

Gen. Pace stressed the fact that there was every opportunity for anyone with qualms or disagreements to speak their minds. He concluded:

 

I wanted to tell you how I believe this system works, and I wanted to tell you how I have observed it working for five years, because the [critical] articles that are out there about folks not speaking up are just flat wrong.

 

There are some who choose to believe that Saddam never presented a threat to America or the Middle East, that he was safely contained in his “box,” that he had no connections with Al Qaeda or other terrorist groups, that neocon zealots hijacked US foreign policy, that the war plan was fatally flawed due to silent top ranking officers and “Pentagon dictator” Donald Rumsfeld, that the liberation of Iraq was an invented war, and that the Saddam-Iraq chapter of our history began with President Bush, are entitled to their opinions.

 

They are refuted by the facts which they and their media allies refuse to acknowledge.

 

John B. Dwyer is a military historian and a frequent contributor.

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The American Thinker

April 14th, 2006

 

Former CENTCOM commander General Anthony Zinni recently added his two cents worth to retired Army Maj. Gen. Paul Eaton’s call for the resignation of Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld, over his alleged incompetent leadership in conducting the Iraq War. Zinni resurrected the old complaints that there was a lack of “credible planning” for Iraq and that the US had acted unilaterally by “not adhering to the advice that was being given to us by others.”

 

These criticisms are nothing new. Zinni long ago joined the ranks of retired flag officers who voiced opposition to a war that they felt was based on intelligence manipulated by the administration. In addition, Zinni and Cold War-era techno-military author Tom Clancy expanded on this notion of flawed pre-war intelligence to proclaim that there was no casus belli for war with Iraq. General Zinni has even said that the current administration focuses on blind loyalty rather than emphasizing results:

 

…integrity, honesty and performance and competence have to outweigh, in this business, loyalty.

 

Zinni is absolutely correct on the principles espoused in his assertion. So, let’s look at his own pre-war threat evaluation, and just as important, his own loyalties to the players in the Central Region in light of these noble principles.

 

General Zinni assumed command of CENTCOM in August of 1997, and, as a highly credentialed soldier-statesman, embarked upon a program of “engagement” with the various corrupt, medieval rulers in the Middle East and Central Asia. Later, Gen. Tommy Franks would describe engagement as “establishing a personal rapport with the region’s government and military leaders.” Supposedly, this was one of the necessary evils to gain information about adversaries in the Central Region since CENTCOM had no permanent large-scale troop presence and no established intelligence apparatus in the area.

 

Nevertheless, in February of 2000, long before President Bush assumed office, Zinni felt confident enough to provide a strikingly familiar threat assessment on Iraq to the Senate Armed Services Committee:

 

• Iraq remains the most significant near-term threat to U.S. interests in the Arabian Gulf region. This is primarily due to its large conventional military force, pursuit of WMD [emphasis mine], oppressive treatment of Iraqi citizens, refusal to comply with United Nations Security Council Resolutions (UNSCR) …

 

• Despite claims that WMD efforts have ceased, Iraq probably is continuing clandestine nuclear research, retains stocks of chemical and biological munitions, … Even if Baghdad reversed its course and surrendered all WMD capabilities, it retains the scientific, technical, and industrial infrastructure to replace agents and munitions within weeks or months. [Emphasis mine]

 

• The Iraqi regime’s high regard for WMD and long-range missiles is our best indicator that a peaceful regime under Saddam Hussein is unlikely.

 

• … extremists may turn to WMD in an effort to …overcome improved U.S. defenses against conventional attack. Detecting plans for a specific WMD attack is extremely difficult, making it likely such an event would occur without warning. [Emphasis mine]

 

• Extremists like Usama bin Laden …benefit from the global nature of communications that permits recruitment, fund raising, and direct connections to sub-elements worldwide. Terrorists are seeking more lethal weaponry to include chemical, biological, radiological, and even nuclear components with which to perpetrate more sensational attacks. [Emphasis mine]

 

• Three (Iraq, Iran and Sudan) of the seven recognized state-sponsors of terrorism [emphasis mine] are within this potentially volatile area [CENTCOM], and the Taliban regime in Afghanistan has been sanctioned by the UN Security Council for its harboring of Usama bin Laden.

 

Also read the sections on Iran in Zinni’s testimony for a horrifying intelligence picture concerning the mullahs. Given current circumstances, his view of Iran is proving very prescient. For example: [iran] continues to assemble an indigenous nuclear infrastructure. But I digress.

 

Yet, the value of intelligence gained over a decade of engagement operations by Zinni and his predecessors would later prove problematic (as Zinni now claims) when Gen. Franks was formulating plans for his campaigns in Afghanistan and Iraq as part of the War on Terror. One would think that Zinni’s conclusions on Saddam’s capabilities were based on a multitude of classified bits and pieces that were analyzed and ordered into a sound threat evaluation. But in response to a question from incoming commander Gen. Tommy Franks about enemy threats in the AOR [Area of Responsibility], Zinni said,

 

“I wish I could tell you.” Tony spread his hands in resignation. “You’ll find our intelligence picture for this region is pretty sad. That’s another reason engagement is so important. We need friends out there who can give us the true picture. I’d like to know a lot more about what’s happening in Iraq, and with Osama bin Laden and AQ [al Qaeda]. But the fact is I do not.”[emphasis mine]

 

So, what changed between Zinni’s Senate testimony and his handover briefing to Gen. Franks? Why had he been so confident of the enemy situation in February of 2000 and a short while later, complained of a woeful intelligence picture? In reality, Zinni had been right all along. Yet, the charge of a lack of a casus belli persists even with the release of the tens of thousands of documents seized in the aftermath of Operation Iraqi Freedom. These recordings and papers actually confirm Zinni’s earlier warnings about Saddam and his relationship with Al-Qaeda and Iraq’s pursuit of WMD.

 

Zinni was right, then; but years later, the President’s rationale for going to war was wrong. Why?

 

The policy of engagement was supposed to substitute for a lack of intelligence assets on the ground, but this also meant being buddies with leaders who the next day might turn around and slit our throat. Pre-9-11, Zinni and other previous CENTCOM commanders publicly viewed the CENTCOM AOR as being the most dangerous area on the planet. But it’s clear that Zinni and many of his his current top brass anti-war cohorts held to the school of thought that the flawed concepts of engagement and containment could keep a lid on the Islamo-fascist cauldron.

 

If engagement and establishing rapport with the region’s rulers gave CENTCOM’s leaders valuable information, we cannot be so naïve as to forget that loyalty flows both ways in this part of the world. Information and favors are granted, but much is expected in return on the part of the powerbrokers in the kingdoms of the Central Region. The benefits of being taken in by legendary Middle East “hospitality” and admittance to their exclusive club of friends often include lucrative career opportunities upon retirement from military service.

 

In his 2000 testimony, Zinni cited the promotion of democratic values in the CENTCOM AOR as being one of the critical aspects in securing the interests of the US and providing stability to this volatile region. Now that President Bush and his national security team have actually had the courage and will to do just that, the General still slams the administration for implementing a key concept in his own operational plan.

 

And the influence of his Central Region buddies is evident in his parroting of the “we did this all for Israel” criticism. His anti-Israel stance is also reflected in his subtle anti-Semitic complaints against people in the administration who did the heavy lifting to deal with the very real threats he spoke about over six years ago.

 

When the history of the Global War on Terror is written, perhaps decades from now, the lesson for the American people should be that we need to pay attention to what our political and military leaders say, versus how they actually conduct their business. Prior to 9-11, we were lulled into a false sense of security based on canned, formulaic assessments of our national security posture, or we ignored the truth of our enemies’ capabilities when it was right before our eyes while we depended on phony reassurances from leaders with questionable motives.

 

As one of those leaders during the Clinton years of bread and circuses, it’s obvious that Zinni’s two years of continual carping and troubleshooting about our war effort now rings hollow.

 

The good General needs to jump on the bandwagon to win this thing, or he should take the advice of a more distinguished military leader and just fade away.

 

Douglas Hanson is the national security correspondent of The American Thinker. Ed Lasky, news editor of the American Thinker, contributed research assistance for this article

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