Behind the Scenes
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SPENCER MICHELS: When President Bush determined in January of 2003 that he had no choice but to go to war in Iraq, the last key member of his cabinet he informed of that decision was Secretary of State Colin Powell, that’s according to journalist and author Bob Woodward in his new book, “Plan of Attack.”
Woodward interviewed the president and about 75 of his aides about the war. During an interview with “60 Minutes” last night, Woodward told CBS correspondent Mike Wallace that the president did not inform Powell of his decision to go to war until days after he told three other top advisors.
BOB WOODWARD on “60 Minutes”: So he told Condi Rice, he told Rumsfeld, he knew Cheney wanted to do this and they realized they hadn’t told Colin Powell, the secretary of State. So Condi Rice says to the president…
MIKE WALLACE: Are you serious?
BOB WOODWARD: …I’m serious, and so Condi Rice says, “You better call Colin in and tell him.” So I think probably one of the most interesting meetings in this whole story — he calls Colin Powell in alone, sitting in those two famous chairs in the Oval Office — and the president said, “Looks like war.” Then Powell directly says, “You know, you’re going to be owning this place.” And the president says, “I understand that.”
The president knows that Powell is the one who doesn’t want to go to war. The president knows that Powell is the one who doesn’t want to go to war. He says, “Will you be with me?” And Powell, the soldier, 35 years in the Army, president has decided, and he says, “I’ll do my best, Mr. President, I’ll be with you.” And then the president says, “Time to put your war uniform on.”
SPENCER MICHELS: The president’s national security advisor, Condoleezza Rice, had a different account of Powell’s involvement. She appeared on several television programs yesterday. This is what she said on CBS “Face the Nation.”
CONDOLEEZZA RICE on “Face the Nation”: Colin Powell was not in Texas at the time. And Colin Powell had been privy to all of the national security meetings, to conversations with the president. The only thing that I was saying is that “Mr. President, if you’re beginning to think that the diplomacy is not working, it’s probably time to have a conversation with the secretary of State.” I’m sure he would have in any case. But I just wanted to be understood. That was not a decision to go to war. The decision to go to war is in March. The president is saying in that conversation I think the chances are that this is not going to work out any other way. We’re going to have to go to war.
SPENCER MICHELS: Two days before the president’s conversation with Powell, a key ambassador was briefed about U.S. plans, Saudi Prince Bandar bin Sultan of Saudi Arabia.
BOB WOODWARD: Saturday, Jan. 11, with the president’s permission, Cheney and Rumsfeld called Bandar to Cheney’s west wing office. And the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs General Myers is there with a top secret map of the war plan. And it says, “top secret — no foreign.” “No foreign” means no foreigners are supposed to see this. They describe in detail the war plan for Bandar. And so Bandar who’s skeptical because he knows in the first Gulf War we didn’t get Saddam out — so he says to Cheney and Rumsfeld, “So Saddam this time is going to be out, period.” And Cheney, who has said nothing, says the following: “Prince Bandar, once we start, Saddam is toast.”
SPENCER MICHELS: The vice president had pushed for war, according to Woodward.
BOB WOODWARD: Powell told colleagues that “Cheney has a fever. It’s an absolute fever. It’s almost as if nothing else exists.”
SPENCER MICHELS: The difference of opinion over Iraq led to a strained relationship between the secretary of State and the vice president, so much so that the two “were barely on speaking terms,” said Woodward. But national security adviser Rice disputed that on Fox News yesterday.
CONDOLEEZZA RICE on Fox News: But I can tell you, I’ve had lunch on a number of occasions with Vice President Cheney and with Colin Powell, and they are more than on speaking terms. They’re friendly. They’re very friendly.
SPENCER MICHELS: Secretary Powell today denied Woodward’s report that he was out of the loop. He spoke in an interview with Associated Press Television News.
COLIN POWELL: I was included in all the military planning preparations, I was briefed on regular basis and if you read whole book you’ll see that Mr. Woodward makes frequent reference to that I was in the briefings. The question that has arisen seems to be that Prince Bandar received a briefing on the plan and there was some suggestion that I hadn’t. Of course, I had, I was intimately familiar with the plan. I was aware that Bandar was briefed, aware that when Cheney briefed Bandar on plan, the decision had been made.
I may also say that the suggestion is that when the Vice President Cheney and Secretary Rumsfeld and General Myers briefed Prince Bandar on the plan, they conveyed it in a way that the decision had been made to execute that plan. That is not accurate. And when I saw the president two days later on the 13th of January, two days after Prince Bandar was briefed, the president and I talked with the strategy and the president expressed concern that it might not be panning out and might not be panning out in a timely manner. And that it might have to take military action, but he did not convey to me a decision on that day either. He send me back to do my diplomatic work.
SPENCER MICHELS: Powell was asked if he knew as much about the plans as the vice president and the secretary of Defense.
COLIN POWELL: We all sat together regularly and discussed the plan, commented on the plan, and reviewed the plan. With respect to my support for it what the president did, it is complete. Remember, I have to take you back to August of 2002, when I recommended to the president that he take this issue to the United Nations General Assembly in September of 2002.
The president accepted that recommendation and all members of his national security council supported that recommendation. The president took it to the United Nations. We knew then, though, that when we went down the United Nations path, a fork in the road might be reached and if you went to the left that meant the United Nations had found a peaceful diplomatic solution. But if that road was blocked because of Iraqi intransigence or Iraqi poor behavior or wasn’t going to work, the president was fully prepared to go down the fork to the right and take military action. And he was preparing U.S. forces and coalition forces for that purpose. We were building up, which is why the vice president went to brief Prince Bandar and when we went down that road the president decided that we had to go down the road of military action, it was a road I knew was there all along.
SPENCER MICHELS: The secretary added that his relationship with the vice president is excellent.