The Self Made Pundit

I'm just the guy that can't stand cant. ___________

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Friday, April 16, 2004

Bob Woodward’s new blockbuster on President Bush’s secret decision soon after the 9/11 attacks to plan for war with Iraq reveals that one of America’s biggest obstacles to winning the war on terror is Bush himself.

Woodward’s new book – “Plan of Attack” – reveals that Bush ordered aides to develop a secret war plan for Iraq in November 2001, at a time when he was neglecting to commit sufficient military forces to crush Al Qaeda and capture or kill Osama bin Laden in Afghanistan.

Faced with an opportunity to devastate the terrorist group that had murdered some 3,000 people on American soil, Bush got distracted and used the opportunity to settle old scores with Saddam Hussein, a boxed-in and defeated enemy of America. As the Associated Press reports:

President Bush secretly ordered a war plan drawn up against Iraq less than two months after U.S. forces attacked Afghanistan and was so worried the decision would cause a furor he did not tell everyone on his national security team, says a new book on his Iraq policy.

Bush feared that if news got out about the Iraq plan as U.S. forces were fighting another conflict, people would think he was too eager for war, journalist Bob Woodward writes in “Plan of Attack,” a behind-the-scenes account of the 16 months leading to the Iraq invasion.


“I knew what would happen if people thought we were developing a potential war plan for Iraq,” Bush is quoted as telling Woodward. “It was such a high-stakes moment and ... it would look like that I was anxious to go to war. And I'm not anxious to go to war.”

Bush and his aides have denied accusations they were preoccupied with Iraq at the cost of paying attention to the al-Qaida terrorist threat before the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks. A commission investigating the attacks just concluded several weeks of extraordinary public testimony from high-ranking government officials. One of them, former counterterrorism chief Richard Clarke, charged the Bush administration's determination to invade Iraq undermined the war on terror.

Woodward's account fleshes out the degree to which some members of the administration, particularly Vice President Dick Cheney, were focused on Saddam Hussein from the onset of Bush's presidency and even after the terrorist attacks made the destruction of al-Qaida the top priority.

Woodward says Bush pulled Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld aside Nov. 21, 2001 – when U.S. forces and allies were in control of about half of Afghanistan – and asked him what kind of war plan he had on Iraq. When Rumsfeld said it was outdated, Bush told him to get started on a fresh one.

The book says Bush told Rumsfeld to keep quiet about it and when the defense secretary asked to bring CIA Director George Tenet into the planning at some point, the president said not to do so yet.

Even Bush's national security adviser, Condoleezza Rice, was apparently not fully briefed. Woodward said Bush told her that morning he was having Rumsfeld work on Iraq but did not give details.

Bush’s decision to begin preparations for war with Iraq in November 2001 help explain why at that time he did not commit sufficient forces in Afghanistan to crush Al Qaeda and capture or kill bin Laden.

Soon after Bush ordered Rumsfeld to prepare a fresh plan for war with Iraq, America learned in December 2001 that its Afghan allies were fighting Al Qaeda forces – including bin Laden – in the mountains of Tora Bora. Rather than commit sufficient American forces for a decisive victory over Al Qaeda, Bush was content to rely on the local Afghan forces to confront bin Laden and his troops. The result was bin Laden and most of his forces slipped away through the mountains.

It appears that Bush was more concerned with settling old scores in Iraq than in eradicating the Al Qaeda threat slipping away in Afghanistan. Bush may have feared that committing sufficient forces to Afghanistan to finish off Al Qaeda would threaten his desired war with Iraq. Bush’s secret plan for war with Iraq became the enemy to an effective war on terror.

Now, I suppose some people might criticize Bush for deciding to march into a war of choice – not necessity – without first engaging in a national debate about whether such an elective war was in our national interests.

Some people are probably going to criticize Bush for making such decisions without involving his own national security adviser and the director of the CIA in the analysis of whether a war with Iraq was wise.

And there are certainly going to be people criticizing Bush for neglecting to finish off Al Qaeda before tying American forces down in an elective war in Iraq.

But, while I believe Bush has been a miserable failure in the war on terror (not to imply that he has not been a miserable failure in any other area), as an open-minded pundit, I must admit that an argument can be made that such criticisms are unfair.

Perhaps it is unfair to criticize Bush for failing to engage in a national debate on whether to go to war with Iraq. After all, as Bush told Woodward, “I knew what would happen if people thought we were developing a potential war plan for Iraq .... [I]t would look like that I was anxious to go to war. And I'm not anxious to go to war.” So Bush was more interested in his image than in democracy. Is that such a big deal?

It probably is unfair to criticize Bush for not involving the Director of the CIA and his own national security adviser in the analysis of whether a war with Iraq was wise. As the Bush administration’s disastrous and bumbling job in trying to pacify Iraq for the past year demonstrates, Bush never engaged in any lengthy analysis before launching his Iraq adventure. Thus, Tenet and Rice weren’t really excluded from much.

And it is certainly unfair to hold Bush to standards – such as wisdom or even minimal competence – that he could never meet. Bush is an incurious, ignorant ideologue who is incapable of thinking strategically or even considering the likely consequences of his acts.

As Bush himself acknowledged in one of his rambling and evasive responses towards the end of Tuesday night’s presidential press conference, “maybe I’m not as quick on my feet as I should be ....”

I guess Bush must have been on his feet when he decided it was more important to invade a marginalized Iraq than to crush the greatest terrorist threat to America.

Thanks to his secret plan, Bush got his war against Iraq, even if it was at the expense of the war on terror.