NOTE: The author is donating all of his book revenues to charitable organizations serving U.S. veterans and their families

Misconception 1

Did President Bush and his advisers come into office intent on launching a war in Iraq?

  • IN FACT:  The question of how to deal with Iraq was a key national security issue inherited from the Clinton administration.

The collapse of the weapons inspections; the corruption, circumvention, and undermining of the economic and import controls; and the challenge to the no-fly-zone patrolsall tended to undo the Security Council’s containment policy for Iraq, the most important UN peacekeeping initiative of the 1990s. Governments and observers around the world debated how to respondbut few argued that the Iraqi regime’s threat to peace and order was insignificant. Saddam was far from a spent force. And he was acting as if time were on his side. By the time the Bush Administration was preparing to take office, the incoming officials knew they would soon have to shore up the Clinton Administration’s policy of containment, or replace it.  (p. 198)

Members of the National Security Council and other senior officials spent many hours evaluating and debating options for dealing with Iraq. Our understanding was that President Bush wanted his advisers to devise every sensible way to resolve our Iraq problems short of war. At the Deputies level, we had grappled for months with whether regime change in Iraq was a necessary goal of U.S. policy and, if so, whether it might be achievable without war.  (p. 221)

The goals of regime change and avoiding war were not necessarily inconsistent. They were reconciled in the Administration’s “ultimatum strategy,” which called for a coalition military buildup to persuade Saddam that he had only two options: Face a war with us that would result in his death or imprisonment, or avert war by leaving Iraq with his sons and a small number of his top lieutenants to enjoy amnesty in permanent exile. It never seemed likely that Saddam would bow to the ultimatum, but President Bush took seriously his duty to exhaust all reasonable means short of war. The Defense Department also took this responsibility seriously: As late as March 2003, my office was working on an “action plan” for the ultimatum strategy, including a list of the candidate countries for asylum and a draft UN resolution. (pp. 303-4)

Related documents:

Rumsfeld Memo on Iraq

Ultimatum Strategy