How else does one explain that at one point 60 percent of Americans believed the palpably fraudulent nonsense that Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein was behind Sept. 11? A gullible, manipulated public also became convinced that Iraq was a mortal danger to the United States at a time when two no-fly zones over northern and southern Iraq, at a cost of $11 billion a year, kept Saddam confined to his dirty little sandbox. None of his neighbors was afraid of him. Nor were our European allies. But the neocons kept beating the drums of war on U.S. television networks with the fiction we were locked in an existential struggle with Iraq.
As for the invasion of Iraq being the biggest strategic blunder in U.S. history, as McClellan belatedly states, the same judgment was rendered years ago by many prominent foreign policy experts, both Republican and Democrat, namely John Whitehead, a Republican and former deputy secretary of state; Zbigniew Brzezinski, national security adviser to President Carter; Brent Scowcroft, national security adviser to Presidents Ford and Bush 41; and even former Secretary of State Colin Powell, who had been hoodwinked by fatally flawed intelligence provided by a pseudo Iraqi intelligence operative who would only talk to Germans.
Codenamed "Curveball," he was distrusted by German interrogators when he told them about Saddam's WMD capabilities. When the intelligence was passed on to U.S. counterparts, they shared German skepticism. But it was handed to Powell by the CIA director, who had not read the addendum on Curveball's dubious credentials. Thus, what was described as "incontrovertible evidence" became the piece de resistance in Powell's infamous U.N. speech of Feb. 5, 2003, six weeks before the invasion.
This reporter first heard about the inevitability of war a year before the invasion at a party given by Dick Cheney -- "the magic man," writes McClellan -- and his wife, Lynne, to celebrate the publication of Chief of Staff Scooter Libby's paperback edition of his book "The Apprentice."
The capital's top neocons were on hand and convinced dubious listeners war with Iraq was now inevitable. They were persuasive when they corrected me for saying, "If there is a war … " The decision had been made for a shock-and-awe blitz against Saddam's Republican Guard divisions, they said. "What about the U.N.?" I asked. That, I was told, was the obligatory charade we had to go through for world public opinion.
So McClellan is correct when he writes senior administration officials began a campaign in 2002 to "aggressively sell the war," even as he and other officials insisted all options were on the table. Of course, it was a war of choice, not of necessity, as he writes. The Bush administration's main motive for invading Iraq was to introduce "coercive democracy."
This motive originated in a controversial 1996 White Paper titled "A Clean Break: A New Strategy for Securing the Realm," which referred to Israel. It advised incoming Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu to repeal the Oslo agreements for a Palestinian solution, keep Gaza and the West Bank under Israeli control, and establish democracy in Iraq by overthrowing Saddam Hussein. Democracy in Iraq, said "Clean Break," would be followed by similar regime changes in Syria and Iran. Thus, Israel could begin to relax and look forward to real security for the indefinite future.
Among its principal authors were neocon theoreticians Richard Perle, soon to be chairman of the Defense Policy Board; Douglas Feith, who became undersecretary of defense for policy and was also in charge of post-Iraq invasion planning; ad David Wurmser, who later joined Feith's Pentagon team before his elevation to deputy assistant to Dick Cheney for national security -- all superhawks on Iran as well.
Feith also had a big bone to pick with President Bush. His recently published memoir -- "War and Decision: Inside the Pentagon at the Dawn of the War on Terrorism" -- charges Bush with confusing and conflicting signals following the embarrassment of not finding any weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. Bush then focused "almost exclusively on the larger aim of promoting democracy." This new pitch, says Feith in a Wall Street Journal op-ed adaptation of his book, "compounded the damage to the president's credibility, (as he was seen) distancing himself from the case he had made for removing (Saddam) from power."
Feith points out that, beginning with his first major Iraq speech before the United Nations on Sept. 12, 2002, Bush delivered nine major Iraq talks with 14 paragraphs per speech on Saddam's record as an enemy, aggressor, tyrant and imminent danger, and only three paragraphs on promoting Iraqi democracy. But from September 2003 to September 2004, Feith says Bush gave 15 major speeches with an average of 11 paragraphs per talk on democracy.
"The stunning change," Feith added, "appeared to confirm his critics' argument that the security rationale for the war was at best an error, and at worst a lie."
Scott McClellan's former White House colleagues feigned sadness rather than anger on the tube and asked why he didn't speak up when he was still on the government payroll. This lament studiously ignored the fact that McClellan was not a policymaker and was in no position to question what he was told to say at the daily White House press briefing. His job was to take orders, not question them.