WASHINGTON --Amid growing concerns that hawks in the administration of President George W. Bush may have misled the U.S. public about the war in Iraq, a prominent U.S. arms-control group has called for Pentagon chief Donald Rumsfeld and his chief deputy, Paul Wolfowitz, to be "summarily fired."
The Washington-based Council for a Livable World (CLW), which has long charged that administration officials exaggerated the threat posed by Iraq to the United States and its allies, said the Pentagon's senior leadership had also failed to anticipate and plan adequately for post-war Iraq and the problems faced by U.S. troops there.
"Rumsfeld and Wolfowitz should be summarily fired," the group said Thursday. "The Bush admininstration needs to be held accountable for its mistakes."
CLW's appeal follows similar calls by a number of leading Democrats in Congress for those responsible for the rush to war to step down.
Earlier this month, Rep. David Obey, the ranking member of the Foreign Operations Subcommittee of the House Appropriations Committee, also singled out Rumsfeld and Wolfowitz in a letter to Bush.
"Whether one concludes that the invasion of Iraq was strategically in the best interests of the United States or not, it is impossible at this point to conclude that the unilateral way in which it was handled was in our national interest or that the planning for the post-conflict portion of the operation was anything other than a disaster," he wrote.
Earlier this week, Rep. John Murtha, the hawkish ranking member of the powerful Appropriations Defense Subcommittee, and a decorated Vietnam veteran who strongly supported the war, also called for high-level resignations in light of what he called both the misrepresentations by the administration that led to the war and the situation in its aftermath.
Murtha said he accepted blame for believing what the administration told him before the war. "I am part of it. I admit the mistake."
"Some bureaucrat in Washington has to start paying the price," Murtha said. "We cannot allow these bureaucrats to get off when these young people are paying such a price."
Murtha absolved Rumsfeld and pointed the finger more at the White House, where Bush's national security adviser, Condoleezza Rice, has come under strong criticism for failing to control the pro-war hawks--centered primarily in the offices of Rumsfeld and Vice President Dick Cheney--in the run-up to the war. But he declined to name names.
Murtha was joined by Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, who agreed that someone's "head should roll," although she said it was up to the President to decide whose.
"It is clear that whatever plan may have existed for dealing with postwar Iraq, that plan has failed," she said. "That failure is the result of miscalculations and faulty assumptions by the administration."
For its part, CLW insisted that Rumsfeld and Wolfowitz bear most of the responsibility.
"Blinded by their own arrogant assumptions, they elbowed the State Department out of the planning process and refused to permit UN weapons inspectors or humanitarian experts to take a major role in Iraq," the group wrote.
"Rumsfeld and Wolfowitz have made a series of misstatements and miscalculations that have cost the United States lives, its reputation and billions of dollars," it charged, adding that the administration's recent request for an additional US$87 billion for Iraq and Afghanistan in the coming year as well as Bush's decision to ask for more international support through the United Nations "are tacit acknowledgment that the post-war situation is a disaster."
Both of the men targeted have strongly defended themselves in recent public appearances. Wolfowitz, in particular, has said many of the problems that occupation forces have had to deal with, including a persistent and apparently growing resistance that has killed more U.S. troops than were slain during the war itself, could not possibly have been anticipated.
The Washington Post, however, disclosed last week that the Central Intelligence Agency, whose pre-war assessments were ignored or downplayed by the hawks in Rumsfeld's and Cheney's offices, had predicted such a scenario well before Washington launched the invasion in mid-March.
In addition to the rosy post-war scenarios painted by the hawks, they have also found themselves increasingly on the defensive for allegedly exaggerating or distorting the intelligence about Iraq's weapons of mass destruction programs and its ties to al Qaeda, the two major administration justifications for going to war.
After two months of work, a 1,200-person team headed by former UN weapons inspector David Kay has reportedly found no evidence that Baghdad had any weapons of mass destruction in its possession at the beginning of the war, while Bush himself admitted for the first time this week that Washington had "no evidence" that Saddam Hussein had any role at all in al Qaeda's Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks on New York and the Pentagon.
While Bush continued to insist that Hussein and Al Qaeda did have contacts through the 1990s, his statement about the Sept. 11 attacks contrasted with previous assertions by both Cheney, Wolfowitz, and several other lower-ranking officials.
In an interview on NBC's 'Meet the Press' last Sunday, Cheney revived a story he has cited several times before--the last time was on the eve of the mid-March invasion--that one of the Sept. 11 hijackers, Mohammed Atta, had met with a senior Iraqi intelligence official in Prague in April, 2001.
Asked why more than two-thirds of the public believes that Saddam Hussein had some role in the attacks, Cheney said, "I think it's not surprising that people make that connection." It was in that context that he raised the Atta story, adding, "We've never been able to develop any more of that yet, either in terms of confirming it or discrediting it," he said. "We just don't know."
Bush's assertion that there was "no evidence" of that tie--as well as the fact that U.S. interrogators have had the person with whom Atta is alleged to have met in Prague since early July--would appear to undercut Cheney's uncertainty about the event.
In a related development this week, the cyber-anti-war group MoveOn launched a new website and email service at http://www.misleader.org that will track controversial statements by Bush in the run-up to the 2004 elections.
In a full-page ad that appeared in the New York Times, the group, which claims almost two million members who contributed some $6.5 million dollars in campaign funding during a drive earlier this year, said, said, "The President says things that are misleading or just plain wrong every day, but most of these statements are never challenged."
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