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.
The Associated Press obtained a copy of the book, which will be available in book stores next week.
“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 Qaeda terrorist threat before the September 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 November 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 When Rumsfeld said it was outdated, Bush told him to get started on a fresh one.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.
In an interview two years later, Bush told Woodward that if the news had leaked, it would have caused “enormous international angst and domestic speculation.”
The Bush administration’s drive toward war with Iraq raised an international furor anyway, alienating long-time allies who did not believe the White House had made a sufficient case against Saddam. Saddam was toppled a year ago and taken into custody last December. But the central figure of al Qaeda, Osama bin Laden, remains at large and a threat to the west.
The book says Gen. Tommy Franks, who was in charge of the Afghan war as head of Central Command, uttered a string of obscenities when the Pentagon told him to come up with an Iraq war plan in the midst of fighting another conflict.
Cheney allegedly influential
Woodward, a Washington Post journalist who wrote an earlier book on Bush’s anti-terrorism campaign and broke the Watergate scandal with Carl Bernstein, says Cheney’s well-known hawkish attitudes are crazy.