This is a guest post by Lawrence B. Wilkerson exclusive to The Washington Note. Wilkerson is the former Chief of Staff at the Department of State during the tenure of Secretary of State Colin Powell, for whom Wilkerson was a 16 year aide. Wilkerson is a member of the Director’s Council of the New America Foundation/American Strategy Program.
David Corn (in Mother Jones, “Rove Protects the Rear“) has already responded to Karl Rove’s comments reported this week in several places and coming from his new book, Courage and Consequence: My Life as a Conservative in the Fight. Corn takes Rove to task, as well he should.
The taking-to-task is over Rove’s cavalier contention that President Bush likely would not have gone to war in Iraq if he had known that there were no weapons of mass destruction in Iraq.
“Would the Iraq War have occurred without W.M.D.? I doubt it”, Rove writes. Rove then goes on to say that “Congress was very unlikely to have supported the use-of-force resolution without the W.M.D. threat.”
According to Karl Rove, then, the intelligence about Iraq’s WMD that was cherry-picked, manipulated -“fixed around the policy”, as the Downing Street Memo recorded – and otherwise tampered with was thus treated so that Congress would support the war.
Yet I agree with Rove that the President did not lie outright. He, like the vast majority of the members of the U.S. intelligence community led by the cock-sure Director of Central Intelligence George Tenet, actually believed Iraq had WMD. As a result, any cherry-picking of, manipulation of, or tampering with the evidence (as Undersecretary of Defense Douglas Feith’s office did daily), was acceptable because once the invasion occurred, WMD would be found. There was simply no doubt about that among this majority or among the President’s team.
In fact, there was no doubt about it among the several intelligence communities around the world with whom the U.S. regularly did business, including those of Israel, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, France, Germany, and Britain. This, as in the case with France, despite the contrarian rumblings of certain of their political authorities.
I was at the CIA’s headquarters at Langley, Virginia, for five days and nights sequestered with Mr. Tenet and his gang of analysts and had an earful of these different but unanimous intelligence entities around the globe, as well as Mr. Tenet himself and his “WMD experts”. After these deliberations, I too believed that Saddam Hussein had WMD.
So the administration – led by Cheney and Rumsfeld – had worldwide support in twisting the truth, exaggerating the findings, and pushing bits and pieces of them without any context.
Today I am even quite certain that, under Vice President Cheney’s expert guidance, certain members of agencies of the US Government, or contractors working therefor, tortured people at Guantánamo Bay and elsewhere in an attempt to reinforce the already twisted intelligence message with the smoking gun of high-level al-Qai’da testimony that connected Baghdad and the tragedy of 9/11.
And the torture worked – in the only way torture ever works. They got confessions. They got their smoking gun. Of course, like the confessions that torture produces for draconian regimes all over the world, it was all false information.
But it didn’t matter then because everyone knew that Saddam Hussein had WMD – Rumsfeld told us that several times and Cheney was utterly dogmatic about it – so what did it matter if the intelligence were manipulated a bit because, in the end, we would invade and find the WMD and all would be right with the world.
It was the same with al-Qa’ida: there just had to be a connection with Baghdad. The expert Cheney knew it. The fact that for the moment the administration had, through torture and otherwise, largely invented such a connection was thus irrelevant; the real connection would be discovered after the invasion.
There are, of course, several problems with this sort of leadership from Washington.
First, as a soldier, I have to object to the cavalier manner in which Mr. Rove dismisses the fact that we went to war for a purpose that was false, whether his boss intentionally made it so or not.
How do we relay this message to the families of the 4,380 dead Americans and the more than 31,000 wounded Americans, some of them horribly scarred for life? How do we convey this message to the families of the allied soldiers who have met similar fates? How do we square this with the deaths of a quarter million Iraqis who have perished and the millions of Iraqi refugees in Syria, Jordan, and elsewhere?
How to couch that message? “You would not have lost your son, daughter, brother, sister, wife, husband – if the intelligence had been right.” How terribly comforting!
“You would not be in Jordan now, having expended your life’s savings and with no place to go – and be destabilizing Jordan by your presence – if the intelligence had been right.”
Mr. Tenet, wherever he is hiding, must feel the burden of nearly all the evil done in the world in the last decade resting upon his shoulders. Mr. Rove has indirectly characterized it so.
This is what happens when the President, and the men and women who advise him, are utterly disconnected from the realities accompanying their fateful decisions to send young men and young women into harm’s way for state purposes.
And Mr. Rove wants to burnish his former boss’s legacy on such a note?
Second, how do we reconcile Mr. Rove’s message with the certain knowledge that the critical national security decisions in the first Bush administration were not being made by the President but by the Vice President?
Cheney’s reason for invading Iraq was oil, plain and simple. Yes, he believed there were WMD. Yes, he believed it was time for Saddam to go. But he had believed that for years without advocating an invasion of Iraq by US armed forces.
Cheney changed his mind because of his work with the President’s Energy Task Force early-on in the administration. Cheney knew where the price of oil was headed; he knew the growing doubts about Saudi Arabia’s ability to continue to do America’s work with regard to these oil prices; and Cheney knew how much oil was in Iraq – in proven reserves and in potential. It was oil, and all its many manifestations – to include the many political and financial supporters of Bush and Cheney in the oil community – that drove Cheney to reverse himself and push for Baghdad.
It is clear from just the excerpts of Rove’s book that have been revealed that Mr. Rove believes he put Bush in the Oval Office in the election of 2000. And indeed he did – for superficial purposes.
Because the man who was really making the decisions that counted was Cheney.
And it is quite clear that Cheney lied. Not about WMD. Not about connections with al-Qa’ida. These things he only cherry-picked, twisted and manipulated, fully expecting to be vindicated after the invasion, not in the particulars but in the overall picture. Cheney actually believed these things to be true.
What Cheney did lie about was the real reason he decided to invade: oil.
To this day no national security decision document that records President Bush’s decision to go to war with Iraq has been found.
That’s because there isn’t one. He did not make the decision.
— Lawrence Wilkerson