May 15, 2004
According to Bob Woodward's book Plan of Attack, President Bush did not give much thought to the consequences of going to war in Iraq.
If Woodward is on target, Bush shut his ears when advisors tried to explain that governing Iraq might be more than we could handle. Bush didn't consult, other than to get answers to back his own predilections.
With recent polls showing widespread skepticism over Bush's handling of post-invasion Iraq, Plan of Attack has the potential of hurting the president in November.
By Woodward's account, Bush kept Secretary of State Colin Powell out of the loop as he made the final decision to invade. Powell enjoys as much public respect as any member of the Bush entourage. He has some passing experience with military action in the Persian Gulf. He was skeptical that we could govern Iraq peacefully. Excluding Powell from the decision-making process gains Bush no points with the electorate.
As casualties in Iraq mount, we are living with the consequence both of Bush's decision to invade, and of his decision to invade without sufficient planning for what might follow. Bush listened to Iraqi exiles who gave us phony information, not only about weapons of mass destruction but also about the mood of the people.
What Bush ignored is the distrust Iraqis have of the United States as a result of our prior involvement there and elsewhere in the Middle East. Iraqis have suffered since 1991, as Iraq has been under U.N. economic sanctions. Iraqis know that it has been the United States that promoted the use of these sanctions.
They know that we bombed Iraq, both during the 1991 war and later in the decade, with missiles tipped with highly toxic depleted uranium. Iraqis have been dying of cancer at a high rate since 1991, and many specialists attribute the deaths to depleted uranium. We see the enmity we have generated when Iraqi schoolchildren spontaneously gather to rejoice over the killing of a U.S. soldier. We have even united the Sunni and the Shia by serving as a common enemy.
Iraqis see us as motivated by a desire to ensure access to oil. They know of our prior efforts at manipulating politics in the region.
Seeds of disaster
We engineered the overthrow in 1953 of the government of neighboring Iran, when it threatened to nationalize oil. In Lebanon, we funneled money to pro-Western candidates in parliamentary elections in 1957, leading to civil war, and then to an intervention by U.S. Marines to keep the pro-Western government in power. We championed Israel as a pro-Western force that would help keep anti-U.S. elements in check.
Fundamentalist Islam is a product of our military and political intervention. In Islamic theology, suicide is impermissible. An exception for committing suicide in defense of Islam appeared only in the 1960s, invented in Iran by clerics who opposed our interference.
Woodward's book is not the first hint that President Bush was shooting from the hip. We already had a book by former Treasury Secretary Paul O'Neill, who said that Bush focused on invading Iraq as soon as he took office. Retired Marine Gen. Anthony Zinnia warned publicly in the run-up to the invasion that the Iraqis would hold us responsible for bad economic conditions if we took over the country.
Plan of Attack hurts the president precisely because Woodward is no voice in the wilderness. The author provides detail for what was already known: Bush had little idea what governing Iraq would be.
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