Blind into Baghdad
James Fallows on the origins of the US invasion of Iraq:
...I was in Washington on the morning of September 11, 2001. When the telephones started working again that afternoon, I called my children and parents, and my then-editors at The Atlantic, Michael Kelly and Cullen Murphy. After that, the very next call I made was to a friend who was working inside the Pentagon when it was hit, and had already been mobilized into a team planning the U.S. strategic response. “We don’t know exactly where the attack came from,” he told me that afternoon. “But I can tell you where the response will be: in Iraq.” I wrote about this in The Atlantic not long afterwards, and later in my book. My friend was being honest in expressing his own preferences: He viewed Saddam Hussein as the basic source of instability in the region. But he made clear that even if he personally had felt otherwise, Iraq was where things were already headed.
Four days after the 9/11 attacks, President Bush held a meeting of his advisors at Camp David. Soon after that meeting, rumors emerged of what is by now settled historical fact: that Paul Wolfowitz, with the apparent backing of Donald Rumsfeld, spoke strongly for invading Iraq along with, or instead of, fighting in Afghanistan. (For an academic paper involving the meeting, see this.) The principals voted against moving into Iraq immediately. But from that point on it was a matter of how and when the Iraq front would open up, not whether.
Anyone who was paying attention to military or political trends knew for certain by the end of 2001 that the administration and the military were gearing up to invade Iraq. If you want a timeline, again I refer you to my book—or to this review of Bob Woodward’s Plan of Attack, which describes Bush’s meetings with General Tommy Franks in December, 2001, to draw up invasion plans. By late 2001 forces, weapons, and emphasis were already being diverted from Afghanistan in preparation for the Iraq war, even though there had not yet been any national “debate” over launching that war.
Want some proof that we, at The Atlantic, took seriously the fact that the Iraq decision had already been made? By late February, 2002, our editors were basing our coverage plans on the certainty of the coming war. That month I started doing interviews for the article that ran in the November, 2002, issue of the print magazine but which we actually put online in August. It was called “The Fifty-First State” and its premise was: The U.S. is going to war, it will “win” in the short term, but God knows what it will then unleash.
All this was a year before the invasion, seven months before Condoleezza Rice’s scare interview (“We don't want the smoking gun to be a mushroom cloud”), also seven months before Rumsfeld’s “trained ape” quote (“There's no debate in the world as to whether they have these weapons. We all know that. A trained ape knows that”), and six months before Dick Cheney’s big VFW scare speech (“Simply stated, there is no doubt that Saddam Hussein now has weapons of mass destruction”). It was long before the United States supposedly “decided” to go to war.
In the late summer of 2002, the public began hearing about the mounting WMD menace as the reason we had to invade Iraq. But that was not the reason. Plans for the invasion had already been underway for months. The war was already coming; the “reason” for war just had to catch up...