Was the invasion of Iraq in 2003 a mistake based on false intelligence gathered post 9/11? Well for some that might be a reasonable excuse, say for the Senators who voted for the 2002 AUMF – the Authorization for the Use of Military Force against Iraq. Even they would have some things to explain and ask forgiveness for, because after all a lot of that supposed intelligence was known to be bunk at that time, and probably some of them knew that and all of them SHOULD have known that. Still there were reasonable (if cowardly) political calculations that suggested that standing in the way of those who were bound and determined to go to war come what may was a bad idea for politicians with future ambitions. Say certain Senators whose names were Kerry and Clinton, but of course not only them.
So we should not give the Signatories of the AUMF a pass. On the other hand there is a clear difference in culpability between being an accomplice after the fact and a conspirator before the fact. And the ‘fact’ in question is when the decision to go to war on Iraq was decided and by whom. And on examination that decision had little to do with intelligence gathered between 2001 and 2003, it had little to nothing to do with aluminum tubes or yellowcake or Curveball, those were instead convenient trigger points for a decision made years before. By a group that came known as the Vulcans, which overlapped almost entirely with those who signed on to the Project for a New American Century – PNAC.
Who were the Vulcans? Well the easiest test is those who either signed the Statement of Principles of the Project for a New American Century in June 1997 or those who signed the follow-up Jan 1998 Letter to President Clinton on Iraq or as in many cases both. These names and explanations for who they are can be seen at this openly anti-PNAC site, so feel free to fact check: Sourcewatch: Project for a New American Century. An examination of those names and the express goals of the PNAC and how the inclusion of Jeb Bush among the former implicates him in the latter below the fold.
Lets start with the Signatories to the Statement (emphasis mine):
Elliott Abrams, Gary Bauer, William J. Bennett, Jeb Bush, Dick Cheney, Eliot A. Cohen, Midge Decter, Paula Dobriansky, Steve Forbes, Aaron Friedberg, Francis Fukuyama, Frank Gaffney, Fred C. Ikle, Donald Kagan, Zalmay Khalilzad, I. Lewis (Scooter) Libby, Norman Podhoretz, Dan Quayle, Peter W. Rodman, Stephen P. Rosen, Henry S. Rowen, Donald Rumsfeld, Vin Weber, George Weigel, Paul Wolfowitz
and then add the names of the Signatories to the Letter (note the overlaps, emphasis again mine)
Elliott Abrams, Richard L. Armitage, William J. Bennett, Jeffrey Bergner, John Bolton, Paula Dobriansky, Francis Fukuyama, Robert Kagan, Zalmay Khalilzad, William Kristol, Richard Perle, Peter W. Rodman, Donald Rumsfeld, William Schneider, Jr., Vin Weber, Paul Wolfowitz, R. James Woolsey, Robert B. Zoellick
Which leads to my first claim: I am going to take it as read that the joint origin of these as PNAC products and the cross-signings make these in effect a single production explicitly endorsed by the signatories of either or both. That is anything damning in the Letter reflects back on the Signatories to the Statement and vice versa. Anyone who would like to take a logical razor to this can lay out their case in Comments.
Now to the Statement and Letter. Both should be read in full but let me isolate some passages, first a sort of question asked and answered in the Statement:
As the 20th century draws to a close, the United States stands as the world’s preeminent power. Having led the West to victory in the Cold War, America faces an opportunity and a challenge: Does the United States have the vision to build upon the achievements of past decades? Does the United States have the resolve to shape a new century favorable to American principles and interests?
Note the active sense of ‘shape’. Now the answer as to what will do the ‘shaping’:
We seem to have forgotten the essential elements of the Reagan Administration’s success: a military that is strong and ready to meet both present and future challenges; a foreign policy that boldly and purposefully promotes American principles abroad; and national leadership that accepts the United States’ global responsibilities.
It is not I think any kind of rhetorical reach to describe the Project as one to establish a Pax Americana and one that is as self-consciously in support of the economic and political interests of the U.S. as the Pax Romana was to Rome. This is plainly and purely a proposal to use the U.S. military in a unilateral and continual effort to establish a New Century on American terms. And Jeb Bush signed on. In June 1997.
What then was the first step for the Project? Well that is outlined quite clearly in the subsequent Letter:
We are writing you because we are convinced that current American policy toward Iraq is not succeeding, and that we may soon face a threat in the Middle East more serious than any we have known since the end of the Cold War. In your upcoming State of the Union Address, you have an opportunity to chart a clear and determined course for meeting this threat. We urge you to seize that opportunity, and to enunciate a new strategy that would secure the interests of the U.S. and our friends and allies around the world. That strategy should aim, above all, at the removal of Saddam Hussein’s regime from power. We stand ready to offer our full support in this difficult but necessary endeavor.
What then is the threat? Well to be fair to the Vulcans they make it clear that the fundamental threat is the deployment of WMD. But they make it equally clear that the solution to that threat cannot be and should not be sustained attempts at disarmament of the regime through diplomatic means. No indeed, instead:
Given the magnitude of the threat, the current policy, which depends for its success upon the steadfastness of our coalition partners and upon the cooperation of Saddam Hussein, is dangerously inadequate. The only acceptable strategy is one that eliminates the possibility that Iraq will be able to use or threaten to use weapons of mass destruction. In the near term, this means a willingness to undertake military action as diplomacy is clearly failing. In the long term, it means removing Saddam Hussein and his regime from power. That now needs to become the aim of American foreign policy.
We urge you to articulate this aim, and to turn your Administration’s attention to implementing a strategy for removing Saddam’s regime from power.
I don’t think I need to belabor the point. It was the stated starting point for the Project for a New American Century to use military force to remove Saddam Hussein and his entire regime from power. The Signatories to the Statement and the Letter which jointly set out this starting point were signed by the key advocates for the Iraq War in the post 9/11 Bush Administration making it frankly absurd to claim that their motivations for starting that war were in any sense FORMED by the events of 9/11 or intelligence gathered after but at best were REINFORCED. As far as Dick Cheney and the other Vulcans were concerned the proper time to launch a war predicated on eliminating the Saddam Hussein regime was 1998. Or sooner. And Jeb Bush was firmly among the Vulcans.
(In passing it is worth noting that George W Bush was NOT a Signatory and his campaign pledges not to be the World’s Policeman might have been sincere. Before Cheney and Wolfowitz and others used 9/11 to drag him to support a PRE-EXISTING PROJECT. War on Iraq was a case of ‘when’ and not ‘if’.)