The path to war
Deep roots of Bush's hatred for Saddam
The determination in Washington to confront Saddam goes back more than a decade. The men who are now President Bush's key advisers have long advocated regime change in Iraq. This is how their beliefs became the driving force behind the administration
Sunday March 16, 2003
Twelve years ago, in the aftermath of the first Gulf war, the two men who would become the key players in driving the US towards a second war against Iraq sat down to collect their thoughts. They were Dick Cheney, now Vice-President of the United States, and Paul Wolfowitz, presently Deputy Secretary for Defence.
What they wrote would form the basis of US policy today. Serving as Secretary of Defence, Cheney was even then a political veteran. He had been chief of staff to President Gerald Ford, and a friend of George Bush Snr for 20 years, a quiet mover in the shadows who knew the mechanics of Washington and almost everyone in the capital as well as anyone. Wolfowitz was a more mercurial, less conventional figure.
Born to an immigrant Jewish family and son of a mathematician, Wolfowitz had abandoned an academic career to move to Washington and pursue a career in politics, taking a job with the Arms Control and Disarmament Agency during the waning days of Ronald Reagan.
In Cheney the young Wolfowitz found his mentor. Both greed that in the aftermath of the Cold War, a new vision was required for the US. What they argued in that memo was that America should have no rival on the planet - neither among friends nor enemies - and should use military might to enforce such a new order.
The paper's initial concern was raw power. Formally a draft for the Pentagon's 'Defence Planning Guidance' for the years 1994-1999, the document's first stated objective was to 'establish and protect a new order' and 'to prevent the re-emergence of a new rival' to the US.
Crucially, it would include a second innovation: a doctrine of the use of pre-emptive military force that should include the right and ability to strike first against any threat from chemical or biological weapons, and 'punishment' of any such threat 'through a variety of means', including attacks on military bases or missile silos.
The two men had not finished there. In a rebuff to the multilateralism of the UN, they argued that the US should expect future alliances to be 'ad-hoc assemblies, often not lasting beyond the crisis being confronted'. In Europe, Germany was singled out as a possible rival to US power, on the Pacific Rim Japan. 'We must seek to prevent the emergence of European-only security arrangements,' said the document.
They were deeply controversial ideas and when the document was leaked it was dismissed at once as the work of an idealistic staffer. Red-faced, the Pentagon put up a spokesman to say it had been no more than a 'low-level' document, and that Secretary Cheney had not even seen it. But with Bill Clinton's election, Cheney finally came clean, as he and Wolfowitz defiantly released their own final version of the blueprint of their ideas in the last hours of the Bush administration arguing that the US must 'act independently, if necessary'.
The Clinton years would be hard for ideologues such as Cheney and Wolfowitz, but the ideas they developed in the administration of Bush Snr were never far away. For while Cheney accrued a fortune working with Halliburton, the oil and defence company, and Wolfowitz returned to Chicago university, they joined a class of Republicans who felt the White House to be occupied illegitimately by Clinton, no more so than in military foreign policy, which had shifted from global dominance to globalism. Where Clinton wanted in, Wolfowitz wanted out and vice-versa.
Wolfowitz assailed the sending of troops into the Somalian debacle, 'where there is no significant US interest', and derided the restoration of Bertrand Aristide to Haiti as 'engaging American military prestige' in a place 'of little or no importance'.
Over Bosnia, Wolfowitz attacked the Clinton administration for its failure to 'develop an effective course of action'. It was during these years that the neo-conservative Right formed under Reagan and the elder Bush converged around the issue of the Middle East as the crucible of the new doctrine - with Israel the key to the region where the exercise of US power was most urgent. Others gravitated to their view, most prominently Richard Perle, Reagan's Assistant Secretary of State for Defence.
In the mid-Nineties they began to share a vision for where foreign policy should be going - a hawkish support for Israel that increasingly rejected the Oslo peace process and flagged up a test case for the failures of the UN and the Clinton administration. That test case was Iraq, regarded by many on the Republican Right as unfinished business.
By the spring of 1997 a hard core of activists from the neo-conservative wing of the Republican Party had begun pushing hard for a new policy on Iraq. Many were men such as Wolfowitz who had enjoyed positions in the first Bush administration and their efforts were coalescing around a new think-tank. Donald Rumsfeld, Cheney and others had formed the Project for the New American Century, whose vision included the enactment of Cheney and Wolfowitz's dream of unilateral US power. Soon they would begin lobbying for regime change in Iraq.
The line taken by Wolfowitz and his allies was heavily finessed. They defended the decision of Bush Snr not to go on to Baghdad in 1991 and remove Saddam because of the impact it would have had in the Arab world and the potential that after securing Saddam's defeat so easily, any further advance risked being seen in the region as 'piling it on'. But the same men criticised Clinton for allowing the Iraqi leader to grow stronger than when Bush Snr was in office.
In early 1998 these contradictions erupted in an open letter to Clinton - and a second letter later in the year to Congress. It was signed by Wolfowitz and fellow advisers to Bush Jnr's campaign, including Richard Armitage, Dov S. Zakheim and Perle, who urged the administration to recognise a provisional government of Iraq headed by the opposition Iraqi National Congress, led by Ahmad Chalabi, who hawks believed had been disgracefully treated by the Clinton administration cutting its funds.
The group called for 'the removal of Saddam's regime from power', insisting that the US 'should establish and maintain a strong US military presence in the region, and be prepared to use that force to protect our vital interests in the [Persian] Gulf - and, if necessary, to help remove Saddam from power.'
What they wanted was an old-fashioned campaign to oust Saddam by financing the opposition groups, calling on Clinton to expand areas under opposition control in northern and southern Iraq and 'by assisting the provisional government's offensive against Saddam Hussein's regime logistically and through other means'. In the autumn of 1998, Wolfowitz was pushing again, this time addressing the House National Security Committee, and criticising the Clinton administration for not having the sense of purpose to 'liberate ourselves, our friends and allies in the region, and the Iraqi people themselves, from the menace of Saddam Hussein'. While the administration may have not wanted to listen to the message that Saddam be removed by force, there were others who would and who were being groomed for office. Most prominent was George Bush's son - George W. Bush.
A reformed alcoholic and born-again Christian, Bush had courted the fundamentalist Christian Right and been tutored by them politically and spiritually. Billy Graham had ushered him into the faith; the firebrand Christian radio host Rush Limbaugh was his guest of honour at important baseball games.
He lists 'renewing my faith' above 'getting married' and 'having children' among the 'defining moments' of his life. His time as Governor of Texas had been one long experiment in 'faith-based' politics. And in seeking their deliverance from exile from the White House, the gritty Christian Right from Texas and the South, who loath anything over-learned, forged an alliance with the super-intellectual East Coast Zionist movement around Wolfowitz and Perle. And soon George W. Bush would be talking the same bellicose language about Iraq.
· Observer reporting team: Peter Beaumont in Amman, Paul
Harris in Kuwait, Ed Vulliamy in New York, James Meek in Kuwait, Jason Burke in
Northern Ireland, Paul Webster in Paris, Burhan Wazir in Kuwait and Kamal Ahmed
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