The War Behind Closed
Produced and directed by Michael Kirk
Co-Producer Jim Gilmore
Written by Michael Kirk
GEORGE W. BUSH: [January 28, 2003]
Trusting in the sanity and restraint of Saddam Hussein is not a
strategy, and it is not an option!
Last month, a group of close advisers were waiting to see how Congress
and the world would respond to the president's case for war.
GEORGE W. BUSH: If Saddam Hussein does not fully
disarm, for the safety of our people and for the peace of the world, we will
lead a coalition to disarm him.
Over two decades, they had served three presidents and argued for one
big idea: that the United States must project its power and influence
throughout the world. This is the
story of how they set out to change American foreign policy in the days
immediately after the tragedy of September 11th.
POLLACK, Former National Security Council Staff:
And it does seem very clear that this group seized upon the events of
September 11th to resurrect their policy of trying to go after Saddam Hussein
and a regime change in Iraq.
And what happened behind closed doors to convince the president.
DeYOUNG, "The Washington Post": Condi Rice describes it almost as a
lightbulb going off inside the president's head. "Oh, Iraq. Now
it's time to turn back to Iraq."
Tonight on FRONTLINE, the inside story of why the president of the
United States seems so determined to go to war with Iraq.
The president and his cabinet have gathered for a war council at Camp
David. It is four days after
September 11th. There are strong
opinions in the room. They will
vie for the command-in-chief's attention and his approval.
GEORGE W. BUSH: I've asked the highest levels of our
government to come to discuss the current tragedy that has so deeply affected
They all want to even the score with Usama bin Laden.
But some of them had another immediate target: Saddam Hussein.
POLLACK, Former National Security Council Staff:
From the first moments after September 11th, there was a group of people
both inside the administration and out who believed that the war on terrorism
should target Iraq-- in fact, should target Iraq first. They made Saddam Hussein out to be the
greatest threat to the United States and the source of all evil, if not in the
world, then certainly in the Middle East.
And they were pushing very early on to make Iraq the first stop in the
war on terrorism.
But from the beginning, they would face strong opposition from the
secretary of state, Colin Powell.
From Vietnam to the top military job at the Pentagon and in a number of
powerful posts at the highest levels of government, Powell represents the
establishment's abiding belief in containing foreign enemies.
City College of NY BS
Vietnam -- two tours
National Security Adviser
Chairman, Joint Chiefs of Staff
Secretary of State
SCIOLINO, "The New York Times": In simple terms, it's Secretary of
State Colin Powell on one side and a group in the Pentagon, basically led by
the deputy defense secretary, Paul Wolfowitz, on the other side.
Ambassador to Indonesia
Undersecretary of Defense
Deputy Secretary of Defense
Paul Wolfowitz built a career as a smart and tough hard-liner at the
State and Defense Departments.
Wolfowitz champions the idea of preemption: striking first to defend
America and to project its values.
Asst. Managing Editor, "Newsweek" Within the Bush administration, there's
arguably only one strategic thinker, and it's not the secretary of state. It's not Colin Powell. The one strategic thinker is Paul
Wolfowitz, who's the number two man at defense. He thinks, the way Kissinger does, in geo-global strategic
terms. And the way-- and he's
pretty hawkish, and in his book, if you don't deal with Iraq, you can have
coalitions until you're blue in the face, but they're not going to do you any
SCIOLINO: Colin Powell has said over the years
that Saddam Hussein is like a toothache, and it recurs from time to time and
you just have to live with it. At
other times, he's compared Saddam Hussein to a kidney stone that will
eventually pass. But he has never
said you have to operate and take out the kidney stone.
They'd crossed swords before, beginning in the Reagan administration,
where they'd served as aides to the secretaries of defense and state. At that time, they clashed about the
extent and reach of American military power. By the time America faced off against Saddam Hussein in
1991, Powell was the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and Wolfowitz was
the third-highest-ranking civilian in Secretary Dick Cheney's Defense
Powell and Wolfowitz would clash.
It all began on the day the Gulf war ended.
COLIN POWELL, Chairman, Joint Chiefs of Staff:
 I went over to the White House. I took the president through the
situation on the ground. I pointed
out that within the next 24 hours, I would be bringing a recommendation with
respect to the cessation of hostilities. The president then said, "Well, if that's the case, we're
within the window. Why not end it
Powell had been reluctant to commit American troops to the Gulf in the
first place and now was instrumental in stopping the war. But inside the Bush administration,
there was an angry group of staffers less than enthusiastic about the way the
war ended. They called themselves
"neo-Reaganites," but were willing to answer to neo-conservatives or hawks. Paul Wolfowitz was generally considered
the brains of the outfit.
PERLE, American Enterprise Institute: Paul Wolfowitz believed then that it
was a mistake to end the war as we did under the circumstances that we
did. They underestimated the way
in which Saddam was able to cling to power and the means he would use to remain
in power. That was the mistake.
But back then, President Bush and his top aides, including Defense
Secretary Dick Cheney and Colin Powell, believed Saddam's hold on Iraq was
KRISTOL, V.P. Chief of Staff '89-'92: You know, the president had urged
Iraqis to rise up. There was a
huge rebellion. We had helicopters
right there, forces right there, obviously.
And within days, Saddam had lost control of southern Iraq, where Shi'a
Muslims took up arms. They were
winning, but it wouldn't last.
They were soon to be overwhelmed by Saddam's helicopter gunships.
KRISTOL: We allowed Saddam to suppress the
rebellion as our forces stood by.
American troops could see the fighting from their positions, but they
were ordered not to intervene by President Bush. There are estimate that thousands of Shi'ites were killed.
AZIZ, Deputy Prime Minister, Iraq: 
The Americans did not interfere.
Therefore, it took us only a few days to recover from the surprise, to
reorganize our troops, reorganize our resources and impose peace and order and
the southern governors. It took us
two weeks to do that.
It was a defining moment for the hawks.
KRISTOL: That, I think, was a key moment. I know that Paul Wolfowitz was very
unhappy at that moment, had argued that we should intervene. It was more that we-- more than that we
hadn't removed Saddam, is that we had-- we had stood by and watched people we
had encouraged to rise up against Saddam-- we stood by and watched them get
Twelve years later, the former national security adviser, Brent
Scowcroft, talked about those decisions with FRONTLINE reporter Lowell Bergman.
BERGMAN, FRONTLINE: Wasn't there an uprising?
SCOWCROFT, Former National Security Adviser: Of course.
SCOWCROFT: Because-- OK, because-- first of all, one
of our objectives was not to have Iraq split up into constituent parts because
it's our-- it's a fundamental interest of the United States to keep a balance in
BERGMAN: --part of the reason not-- to not go after
his army, at that point, was to make sure there was a unified country, whether
SCOWCROFT: Well, partly. But suppose we-- suppose we went in and intervened and the
Kurds declare independence and the Shi'ites declare independence. Then do we go to war against them to
keep a unified Iraq?
BERGMAN: Well, why would we care, at that
point? Our-- our interest, I
BERGMAN: I thought we had two interests. One was to evict the Iraqi army from
Kuwait, but the other really was to get Saddam out--
SCOWCROFT: No, it wasn't.
BERGMAN: Well, either covertly or overtly.
SCOWCROFT: No. No, it wasn't.
That was never-- you can't find that anywhere as an objective, either in
the U.N. mandate for what we did or in our declarations, that our goal was to
get rid of Saddam Hussein.
POLLACK, Former National Security Council Staff:
The problem for the Bush administration at that point in time is that
their whole policy toward Iraq was predicated on a false assumption, on the
assumption Saddam wouldn't be in power.
And so at that point in time, people within the administration have to
start picking up the pieces of the failed policy, the assumption that Saddam
would fall automatically, to try to find some other way to deal with this. And the policy that they effectively
come up with is one of containment.
But containing Saddam would prove to be a big job, creating no-fly
zones, economic sanctions, U.N. inspections. There were attempts to overthrow him and later even kill
him. Nevertheless, Saddam would
survive and was always challenging containment.
Right after the
Gulf war, Paul Wolfowitz began to work on a new policy for dealing with Saddam--
and the rest of the world.
Wolfowitz believed containment was an old idea, a relic of the cold war. America should talk loudly and carry a
big stick and use it before weapons of mass destruction could be used. And if America had to act alone, so be
busy writing it all down in a top-secret set of military guidelines when a
draft was leaked to the press.
GELLMAN, "The Washington Post": Inside the U.S. defense planning
establishment, there were people who thought this thing was nuts, and they
wanted a public debate about it, and that's why they talked to me and that's
why they talked to "The New York Times."
Well, it was
very controversial in Congress, and it was an election year. The first draft said that the United
States would be prepared to preempt the use of nuclear, biological or chemical
weapons by any other nation, even, the document said, where our interests are
otherwise not engaged. That is to
say, in a war somewhere else that's not about us.
It spoke of
punishing or retaliating for that use, but it also said preempt. This is the first time.
Dir., Policy Planning, State Dept. '89-'93: The term is
"preemption," but in fact, the right term is "prevention." You preempt when there's an imminent
attack, and you preempt before you can be struck. "Prevention" is looking at longer-term threats and saying,
"I'm not going to wait until they materialize." And so I think this was suggesting that we were lowering the
threshold to military action in a way that wouldn't be understood
The document outlined seven scenarios in potential trouble spots. The primary case studies were Iraq and
LEWIS GADDIS, Political Science, Yale Univ.: Wolfowitz
basically authored a doctrine of American hegemony, a doctrine in which the
United States would seek to maintain the position that it came out of the cold
war with, in which there were no obvious or plausible challengers to the United
States. That was considered quite
shocking in 1992, so shocking, in fact, that the Bush administration at that
time -- that Bush administration -- disavowed it.
KRISTOL, V.P. Chief of Staff '89-'92: And I remember the day that appeared on
the front page because I was Dan Quayle's chief of staff. I went to the White House senior staff
meeting, as I usually did, at 7:30 in the morning. Brent Scowcroft, the national security adviser, attended
that meeting. And though he was
always very close-lipped and taciturn about his thoughts, it was clear there
was unhappiness at the highest levels of the White House about this document.
The White House ordered Defense Secretary Cheney to rewrite Wolfowitz's
draft. Those who know the story
aren't sure how much of a role Cheney played in the original Wolfowitz
document, but he personally took a role in rewriting it. The new, sanitized document reiterated
the nation's reliance on containment and coalitions before taking action. Wolfowitz's notion of preemption and
America's willingness to act alone was cut.
More on the Wolfowitz document]
KRISTOL: Wolfowitz was ahead of his time and
really beginning to try to think through the post-cold war era. But it was not a conclusion that most
of the Bush administration was comfortable with.
As George H.W. Bush left office, Wolfowitz's draft plan went into the
bottom drawer, but it would not be forgotten. One day there would be a more receptive president and
beginning, it became obvious to the hawks that Bill Clinton wasn't going to be
that president. He'd inherited the
problem of containing Saddam Hussein, and it seemed that every time his
administration ventured near the issue, they were burned.
[February 18, 1998] --in Columbus and central Ohio and all
over America will not send messages with the blood of Iraqi men, women and
children! If we want to deal with
Saddam, we deal with Saddam, not the Iraqi people!
Saddam Hussein kept pushing the containment envelope.
POLLACK: By about 1994, Saddam began to do
things to try to destroy the entire U.N. system of containment. Saddam began to focus his attention on
the inspectors, thinking that the inspectors were the weak point that he could
use to start to erode the containment regime.
After four years of increasing tension with Saddam, it looked like
containment wasn't working. In
1998, Wolfowitz and the hawks wrote an open letter to President Clinton. Containment has been eroding. Impossible to monitor chemical and
biological weapons production. The
president is encouraged to undertake military action and urged to act decisively.
SCIOLINO, "The New York Times": A number of leading military policy
makers wrote a letter, basically arguing that Saddam Hussein had to be
overthrown. Paul Wolfowitz was one
of the signatories. The current
secretary of defense, Donald Rumsfeld, signed the letter. The leading lights of the conservative
wing of the Republican Party signed the letter.
PERLE, American Enterprise Institute: One of the results of that letter was a
meeting at the White House with Sandy Berger. And I remember walking out of that meeting with Don Rumsfeld
and Paul Wolfowitz, and Done Rumsfeld observing-- and these were his words. He said, "Did you notice that with
respect to every argument we made, Sandy Berger's response had to do with how
it would look and not with what it meant for our security," totally preoccupied
with the political perceptions of administration policy and practically
indifferent to the situation we were in and the danger that we faced.
Former national security adviser Sandy Berger declined FRONTLINE's
request for an interview. However,
one of Berger's aides remembers that Clinton also wanted to take down Saddam,
but the U.N. and the allies were unwilling.
POLLACK: The Iraqis increasingly challenged the
inspectors, prevented them from doing what they wanted, in some cases
threatened their physical safety, did everything that they could to harm the
inspectors and to create multiple crises--
OFFICIAL: I'm afraid you'll have to because you--
I will not let you leave until you turn over the films.
POLLACK: --recognizing that each crisis convinced
the world that Saddam Hussein was just a big pain in the butt and needed to be
INSPECTOR: Last night was unacceptable, but this
is more unacceptable. We gave you
back the documents. I got people--
POLLACK: --and increasingly divided the United
States from our other allies in the Security Council.
The inspectors said they had evidence that Saddam's appetite for weapons
of mass destruction had created thousands of tons of chemical and biological
agents and that he was hard at work on a nuclear device.
OFFICIAL: So what is your justification, then?
POLLACK: By 1998, Saddam had gotten to the point
where the United States really couldn't do anything about it. We went to the United Nations and said,
"Saddam is not complying. He is
not doing anything that he is supposed to as a result of the U.N. resolutions,"
and the rest of the world simply said, "We don't care anymore."
Then, in November of 1998, an exasperated President Clinton ordered a
bombing campaign, but at the last minute, turned the planes around.
KRISTOL: Kofi Annan worked out a deal, a
face-saving deal, and Clinton decided -- and this was, of course, in the middle
of Monica -- that he would take the face-saving deal and backed away from the
use of force. So there's a kind of
wishfulness, I think, to Clinton's world view. He hoped these multilateral agreements or bilateral
agreements could replace the exertion of U.S. force, and I don't think they do.
Finally, the U.S. responded with Operation Desert Fox. But the bombardment of Baghdad and key
military installations only lasted four days.
POLLACK: And Saddam had effectively triumphed,
at that point in time. He had
figured out a strategy of hiding his weapons of mass destruction, preventing
the U.N. inspectors from finding any, and simultaneously going back and
challenging the inspections and the sanctions in clever ways that made it
difficult for the United States to rally international support to mount some
kind of a-- of a strong response.
The weapons inspectors had left in 1998 and were never to return. To the hard-liners, Saddam had won.
time, a group of foreign policy wisemen known as "the Vulcans" were descending
on Austin, Texas, to prepare the eventual Republican nominee for the White
House. At the governor's mansion,
the hawks, the moderates and all varieties of Republicans came to bring the
young governor of Texas up to speed about the world.
Asst. Managing Editor, "Newsweek": When George Bush was running for
president, he essentially went to school.
And various great and worthy men trooped down to Austin to teach George
Bush about the world. And by and
large, they told him that Iraq was unfinished, basically, but they had to be a
little careful about it because, of course, George Bush's father was the one
who hadn't finished the business.
And if George W. Bush was elected president, he may end up having to do
what his father didn't do or couldn't do, and that is killing off Saddam
In Bush, Wolfowitz saw a chance to get his ideas about a tougher
American stance in the world implemented.
But W, as he was known, was also being advised by Colin Powell. And during the campaign, neither side
really knew where they stood with the candidate.
KRISTOL, V.P. Chief of Staff '89-'92: I wouldn't say that if you read
Wolfowitz's defense policy guidance from 1992 and read most of Bush's campaign
speeches and his statements in the debates, you would say, "Hey, Bush has
really adopted Wolfowitz's world view."
GEORGE W. BUSH (R-TX), Presidential Candidate:
[September 23, 1999] I will work hard to find political
solutions that allow an orderly and timely withdrawal from places like Kosovo
and Bosnia. We will encourage our
allies to take a broader role. We
will not be hasty, but we will not be permanent peacekeepers dividing warring parties.
KRISTOL: And if you read Condi Rice's article in
Foreign Affairs in
1999 or 2000, and she was clearly the main adviser to Governor Bush, she was
skeptical about a lot of these claims that the U.S. really had to shape a new
world order, that we had to engage in nation-building, that we might have to
intervene in several places at once.
I mean, she was much more, I think, then of a cautious realist than she
As George W. Bush took the presidency, both sides presented the new
president with their nominations for the most powerful posts in his
government. He had chosen his
father's secretary of defense, Dick Cheney, as his vice president and put him
in charge of the transition.
KRISTOL: Cheney is a complicated figure and,
obviously, a very cautious and reticent figure, so hard to know what he thinks
in his heart of hearts. I think he
had beaten both camps, so to speak.
But the hawks got three important jobs. Louis "Scooter" Libby would be Cheney's chief of staff,
Wolfowitz would be number two at the Pentagon, and his boss would be Donald
KRISTOL: Presumably, his helping of Wolfowitz to
get the deputy defense secretary job, his selection of Scooter Libby as his
chief of staff, that suggested at least an openness to a neo-Reaganite point of
view. And I think, incidentally,
the selection of Rumsfeld as secretary of defense was obviously, in retrospect,
a very important one.
Most of the hawks set up camp with Rumsfeld at the Pentagon.
"The New Yorker": If you can identify two strains in this
administration, one of which would be the Reaganites-- that is, officials who
take a somewhat ideological and almost evangelical view of the world-- they
would be officials who descend from Ronald Reagan's "evil empire" speech, the
notion that American power should be used to change the world, not simply to
At the State Department, Colin Powell was a formidable counterweight to
The other group would be officials who really follow in the path of Bush
1, of the president's father.
These are pragmatists.
These are so-called realists.
They believe that foreign policy is the patient management of alliances,
competitions and, to some extent, conflict.
But the skirmishes between the State Department and the Pentagon's hawks
hardly captured the new president's attention during that first year in
office. Adrift, his foreign policy
apparatus stalled between the two competing forces.
KRISTOL: You had bureaucratic gridlock, no big
increase in the defense budget, no change in Clinton's China policy, a lot of
talk about pulling troops back from around the world, no evident change in Iraq
policy. I think you could make a case that on
September 10th, 2001, that it's not clear that George W. Bush was in any
fundamental way going in our direction on foreign policy.
White House Speechwriter '01-'02: Television is a very unkind thing to
presidents. The cameras were there
on 9/11, and so people saw President Bush on 9/11, and they saw him stagger, as
we were all staggered. We didn't
know what to do about this. We had
been picked up and pitched forward into a new world.
"The Washington Post": His first comments that morning down in
Florida were not particularly effective.
His short speech from Barkesdale mid-day didn't look particularly good--
--wasn't a very strong statement.
He stumbled over a little bit of it.
The president wanted to get back to Washington as fast as possible, to
go on television to the nation. In
the Situation Room at the White House, the vice president and the senior White
House staff were locked down. By
late afternoon, they were trying to focus on the words the president would say
to the American people.
Bush talked several times to Don Rumsfeld, but Colin Powell was on an
airplane and basically out of communication most of the time, coming back from
Then the presidential helicopter appeared in the Washington sky. Then another and another and another,
six in all, swooping and feinting toward the White House. Finally, the chopper carrying the
president made its move to the South Lawn.
When Bush finally got back to the White House at about 7:00 o'clock that
night, there was a draft of the speech available.
The president wanted to include a tough new passage about punishing
those who harbor terrorists, words that would be seen as widening the U.S.
response enough to put Iraq on the agenda.
And he had a short meeting that included Condoleezza Rice, the national
security adviser. And she said to
him, "Do you want to say this tonight?"
And he said to her, "What do you think?" She said, "First moments matter most. I think we ought to keep it in."
W. BUSH: We will make no distinction between the
terrorists who committed these acts and those who harbor them.
It set the tone for where the administration was going both with
Afghanistan and, I think, with Iraq.
PERLE, American Enterprise Institute: The president made what I think is
probably the most important statement in all the statements that have been made
by him and others, and that was that we would not distinguish between the
terrorists and the countries that harbor them.
When he laid down those principles, I don't know whether he foresaw all
of their implications, how far they would take him. I don't know if he understood fully and foresaw fully the
true radicalism of what he had just said.
GEORGE W. BUSH: --we go forward to defend freedom and
all that is good and just in our world--
The hawks welcomed the president's phrase, "those who harbor" terrorism.
POLLACK, Former National Security Council Staff:
It does seem very clear that after September 11th, this group seized
upon the events of September 11th to resurrect their policy of trying to go
after Saddam Hussein and a regime change in Iraq.
The next day and the day after, the president began to find his footing
and the rhetoric of response.
GEORGE W. BUSH: The deliberate and deadly attacks which
were carried out yesterday against our country were more than acts of terror,
they were acts of war.
White House Speechwriter '01-'02: Within 48 hours, he had made the two
key decisions that have defined the war on terror. First, this is a war, not a crime. And second, this war is not going to be limited to just the
authors of the 9/11 attack but to anyone who assisted them and helped them and
made their work possible, including states. And that is a dramatic, dramatic event. And that defines everything.
And on September 13th, Wolfowitz expanded on the president's definition.
The president has said that the United States intends to find those who
were responsible for these attacks and hold them accountable. How should we look at that?
WOLFOWITZ, Deputy Secretary of Defense: Well, I think
the president's words are pretty good, so let me say these people try to hide,
but they won't be able to hide forever.
They think their harbors are safe, but they won't be safe forever. I think one has to say it's not just
simply a matter of capturing people and holding them accountable but removing
the sanctuaries, removing the support systems, ending states who sponsor
terrorism. And that's why it has
to be a broad and sustained campaign.
It's not just--
"The Washington Post": And that was taken by everybody to be a
sign that he felt that, at this point, we should go after Iraq. And it alarmed Powell and the people in
the State Department, who again felt it was inflaming the situation, taking
their eye off the real ball, which was to go after al Qaeda and Afghanistan.
Are we really after ending regimes, or are we simply going to try to change--
POWELL, Secretary of State: We're after ending terrorism, and if
there are states and regimes, nations that support terrorism, we hope to
persuade them that it is in their interests to stop doing that. But I think ending terrorism is where I
would like to leave it, and let-- let Mr. Wolfowitz speak for himself.
That afternoon, there's another meeting of the National Security
Council, or the war cabinet, and General Shelton, who was then the chairman of
the Joint Chiefs of Staff, was there.
And Powell sidled up to him and said to General Shelton, you know,
"You've got to keep these guys in a box.
I don't know what's going on over there, but this whole-- all of this
Iraq stuff is a problem." And
General Shelton had a similar view, that to go after Iraq, at that point, was
not the smart thing to do.
So by the time the war cabinet gathered at Camp David on that first
Saturday, four days after September 11th, the war about the war was well under
way. Wolfowitz and Rumsfeld knew
the president had committed himself to using force even against states, maybe
even against Iraq. But Colin
Powell, General Shelton and others were determined to rein in the hawks.
Powell was always very skeptical of this. Powell's reaction was that Wolfowitz was fixated on Iraq,
that they were looking for kind of any excuse to bring Iraq into this. And his view was we will never get
international support if we make Iraq a primary target in this first round.
Powell told the president a big coalition would only come together to
get al Qaeda and the Taliban in Afghanistan. For now, the senior war cabinet voted with Powell. Rumsfeld abstained.
As the president
returned to the White House, he weighed Powell's tactics versus Wolfowitz's
strategy. The insiders were
betting on Powell and his allies, at least in the short run.
Asst. Managing Editor, "Newsweek": So far, they had the president's ear,
but I understand from people on the inside Bush listens to Wolfowitz, partly
for political reasons. He's got to
be careful about his right flank, so sheerly for political reasons, he's paying
attention. And I think he knows in
his heart of hearts that in this long, long war, eventually, the needle's going
to point back to Saddam. He may
have to finish the business that his father began.
Privately, the president signaled he had decided to prosecute the war in
phases. Afghanistan was first, but
Iraq wasn't far behind. By then,
White House speech writers and foreign policy thinkers, including Wolfowitz,
were already mulling ideas designed to articulate the new way the president was
feeling about America's place in the world. A "Bush doctrine" was in the works. Preemption, not containment, had by now
become a staple of the president's rhetoric and formed the cornerstone of the
GEORGE W. BUSH: We will pursue nations that provide aid
or safe haven to terrorism. Every
nation in every region now has a decision to make. Either you're with us, or you are with the terrorists.
"The New Yorker": Terrorism has become the new
communism. You can hear echoes
again and again in President Bush's speeches of a vision of the world that is
very familiar to American ears.
That is, there is-- there is us, and there is them. There is good, and there is evil.
Indeed, it's very reminiscent of President Truman's "Truman doctrine"
speech in 1947, that there are two systems in the world today, there is ours --
free elections, free rights of assembly, and so on, free press -- and there is
theirs-- government by repression.
Read the full interview]
GEORGE W. BUSH: Freedom and fear, justice and cruelty
have always been at war, and we know that God is not neutral between them.
It was an all-embracing, evangelical policy of American power in the
world. American power would be
used to support ideas, the ideas of freedom, everywhere where they were
GEORGE W. BUSH: In all that lies before us, may God
grant us wisdom and may he watch over the United States of America. Thank you.
DeYOUNG, "The Washington Post": I remember writing a story saying,
"Hey, there's a doctrine. This is
a doctrine. And they see it as the
new paradigm for American foreign policy on the same level as the Truman
So armed with a doctrine and a developing road map of the future,
President Bush approved phase one, Afghanistan. Within weeks, the Taliban had fallen and al Qaeda had
dispersed. Now it was time for
Dir., Policy Planning, State Dept. '89-'93: In the
aftermath of dealing with the Taliban and dealing in Afghanistan, the focus was
on, "All right, what is the next phase in this war?" Well, on one level, it's going to continue going on around
the world, but the really big target is the state sponsors of terror, and
here's Iraq, and so let's deal with Iraq.
KRISTOL, V.P. Chief of Staff '89-'92: The conventional wisdom, in Washington,
at least, in December of 2001 was that Wolfowitz had lost, that Powell had
mostly won, that we had done Afghanistan, and we would take a fresh look at
Iraq policy and at other things, but it wasn't at all clear that the-- that
Cheney and Rice swung over as decisively as they had. And it wasn't at all clear that Bush had swung over as
decisively as he had.
DeYOUNG: Condi Rice describes it almost as a
lightbulb going off inside the president's head. "Oh, Iraq. Now
it's time to turn back to Iraq."
The first public sign of this came at the beginning of the year, with
the president's State of the Union address, in which he announced the idea of
the "axis of evil," which was the beginning of the public case to attack Iraq.
But months earlier at the White House, speechwriter David Frum had been
instructed to research and write extensive passages about Iraq. One of Frum's phrases was a line about
an "axis of hatred."
White House Speechwriter '01-'02: The president likes to use moral and
religious language, and in the editing process, it got-- it got upgraded to
"axis of evil." And the president loved
it, and the president repeated it.
And it certainly caught the attention of the world, which is what it was
meant to do.
GEORGE W. BUSH: States like these and their terrorist
allies constitute an axis of evil, arming to threaten the peace of the world!
POLLACK: He does believe that there is evil in
the world, and he looks for strategies and policies that allow him moral
clarity, so that resonated very deeply with the American people, the idea that
no longer was the United States going to simply sit back and wait for these bad
guys to come and attack us, but we were going to go out into the world, shape
the international environment, root out the evildoers, as the president always
likes to call them, and take action to prevent them from doing anything before
they could come and hurt us.
GEORGE W. BUSH: I will not wait on events while dangers
gather. I will not stand by as
peril draws closer and closer. The
United States of America will not permit the world's most dangerous regimes to
threaten us with the world's most destructive weapons!
KRISTOL: And I wrote a piece in The Post two days after the State of the Union,
saying, "We've just been present at a very unusual moment, the creation of a
new American foreign policy."
The president was on board.
Phase two was under way.
Preemption would get its test case. Saddam Hussein's regime would be changed. But the veterans of the war behind
closed doors knew the inside struggle wasn't over. Colin Powell was about to weigh in.
Powell's-- he's the best bureaucratic knife fighter in the
administration. When it comes to
close-in bureaucratic combat, he's always the guy who's left standing. He's skilled. He's-- he's effective.
He's a powerful personal presence.
I mean, he's just a-- I mean, he's a commanding man. And he has the prestige of this
extraordinary military career he has had.
Powell does not lose many fights.
As spring, 2002, turned into summer, preparations for the war on Iraq
began to drag. Powell said he was
having trouble with the allies. He
thought the United Nations should be consulted.
"The Washington Post": A lot of conservatives have always been
suspicious of Powell, not just because of his role in the Gulf war but just in
general, that their feeling about him is that he's more given to
multilateralism than to, you know, the robust, singular use of American
force. So that made him a target
for the hawks on the right, who felt that in one way or another, Powell would
always try to kind of gum things up, to make them less precise, less clear, you
know, less focused on what the United States needed to do.
If Powell's actions meant complications, the vice president emerged as
the voice for direct action.
Pres. RICHARD CHENEY: Regime change in Iraq would bring about
a number of benefits to the region.
When the gravest of threats are eliminated, the freedom-loving peoples
of the region will have a chance to promote the values that can bring lasting
Now the vice president had openly signed up with the hawks. Access is power in the West Wing, and
Cheney and other hawks often saw the president several times a day.
DeYOUNG: Through late July, early August, you
really had a crescendo of statements, of advice saying, "Forget the United
Nations. Forget inspections. That's yesterday's solution. It didn't work. We need to take aggressive action. We need to move against-- against Iraq."
Then a routine White House publication known as the National Security
Strategy suddenly took on new significance. In the months after September 11th, with the war on terror
apparently expanding to Iraq and beyond, this was the first time the "Bush
doctrine" had been formally written down.
But when the press and public read it, they would find inside these
pages much that reflected that controversial document written by Paul Wolfowitz
back in 1992.
GELLMAN, "The Washington Post": I see a very strong overlap between the
national security policy, as expressed today, and the first and very muscular
draft of the 1992 policy. You have
many of the same players, who are in primary positions of influence, and you
simply have to lay the documents side by side and you'll see huge areas in
which they're the same and, frankly, very few in which there are striking
The new document relies on preemption, on a muscular American posture in
the world. It elaborates
justification for military action, like the war with Iraq. It outlines the game plan for new
American interventions. And some
see hidden between the lines a design to democratize the world, beginning with
the Middle East.
"The New Yorker": The policy is breathtakingly ambitious
because it talks about transforming regimes that have been in place and have
been harsh and dictatorial for decades.
The notion of making democracies out of many of these states is a
terribly ambitious one.
PERLE, American Enterprise Institute: There is tremendous potential to
transform the region. If a tyrant
like Saddam Hussein can be brought down, others are going to begin to think--
they're already thinking. They may
begin to act to bring down the tyrants who are afflicting them in pretty much
the same way.
I also think
some autocratic regimes in the region will accelerate whatever efforts they
might make anyway to reform themselves internally and to open their political
process. And finally, if Iraq
moves from the column of opponents of the peace process between Israelis and
Palestinians into the column of proponents, that could have an important major
impact on whatever prospect there is for a negotiated settlement to that very
More on the long-term strategy]
POLLACK, Former National Security Council Staff:
I think it's one thing to suggest that the United States should go to
war with Iraq, but it's a very different thing to suggest that Iraq should then
become a model for the United States to be taken and transplanted elsewhere
around the world -- in other words, that we would go to war with a whole variety
of other countries -- Syria, Iran, Sudan, Libya, Cuba, North Korea -- to remake
their societies and their parts of the world.
LEWIS GADDIS, Political Science, Yale Univ.: This is a
strategy that's ultimately targeted at the Saudis and at the Egyptians and at
the Pakistanis, at these authoritarian regimes that, in fact, have been the
biggest breeders of terrorism in recent years. Iraq has not been.
The exercise of power is one thing. The fulcrum is how much you have to depend upon others and
how you produce others' participation.
One side of the administration believes that if the U.S. is very clear
about its purposes, its red lines, its willingness to exercise power, others
will come with us. The other side
of the administration says, "Look, it's not going to work that way." You know, "You're going to end up
creating a coalition of the unwilling against us. And so you need to be able to massage, you need to be able
to work with those who might be your putative partners."
In August, 2002, with the hawks and the president saying America was
prepared to go it alone, moderate Republicans -- the so-called realists that had
surrounded the president's father -- started to weigh in. Brent Scowcroft, his father's national
security adviser, wrote an op-ed piece in The Washington Post.
You saw an article by Brent Scowcroft that was seized to be a kind of
indicator that, look, there's an important establishment out there, including
the Republican establishment, that thinks this isn't necessarily the way to
go. The Scowcroft article suddenly
created a kind of momentum behind those who were saying, "We don't understand
where you're going. And you look
like you're going without having made a case. And you look like you're going on your own. Where's the international
support?" And suddenly, the
administration was on the defensive.
They call each other "41" and "43." 41 is thought to be the realists' most formidable force
against the hawks. Around the
capital, insiders took to comparing the way each man has approached going to
war with Saddam.
I mean, that's one of the distinctions I see, is the public presentation
is different. There truly was a
readiness in 41 to do what it took, even if no one else was going to join
us. But if you go back and you
take a look at the public presentation, it was very different. From the beginning, there was a focus
on getting a series of Security Council resolutions to cloak what we were doing
in a kind of broader legitimacy, even though the president said four days after
the invasion, "This won't stand."
But he said, "This won't stand."
He didn't say, "We will go ahead and we will take care of this, whether
anybody's prepared to join us or not."
And the image, I think, was such that we were prepared to work with
others, and as a result, it made it a little bit easier.
Scowcroft and the other realists had put diplomacy back in play. Powell, desperate, seized the
moment. He lobbied for a private
dinner with the president.
DeYOUNG, "The Washington Post": It was a Monday night, August 5th, at
the White House. It was President
Bush, Colin Powell and Condi Rice alone.
Powell had requested the meeting.
He had a notepad on which he had written down the arguments that he
wanted to make, and it was the Bush would look like a bully, like he didn't
care, like the administration was only interested in getting its own way, was
not interested in what the rest of the world had to say, was rejecting this
international institution which, for all of its flaws, was basically all the
world had as a venue for resolving these kinds of issues, and that without the
United States as a strong presence in the United Nations, the United Nations
pretty much might as well not exist.
Bush left about
a week later to go to Crawford and, at that point, according to the-- to other
people who were at the dinner, had decided that, yes, he would go to the United
Nations. And a process started in
Washington in his absence of figuring out what he would say, what approach he
Now open warfare broke out in Washington, as Powell tried to get the
president to seek a resolution at the United Nations. On the day the president went to New York to speak before
the U.N., the internal fight about whether to ask for a resolution had just
barely been resolved.
DeYOUNG: And that was a decision that was fought
out to the very last, and in fact, was not made until the night before the
speech. That was a point where it
was a bit of a panic for Powell when the-- when the final draft of the speech
was circulated and they read it and said, "Well, where's-- where's the
punchline? Where's the call for a
new resolution?" And it wasn't
there. And Powell called Condi
Rice, and the decision that she recommended to the president, which was not
what the vice president and a lot of other people wanted, but certainly was
what Powell wanted, was that the speech had to contain that punchline.
GEORGE W. BUSH: We will work with the U.N. Security
Council for the necessary resolutions, but the purposes of the United States
should not be doubted. The
Security Council resolutions will be enforced.
The pundits and the press believed the president's asking for a
resolution represented a victory for Powell. The hawks didn't think so.
KRISTOL: I think Powell wins a lot of tactical
arguments because he's the one that talks to all the allies, and you've got to
care about those, if you're president of the United States. But I would still say it's ultimately
Powell's tactics in the service of Bush's and Cheney's and Rumsfeld's and
It took eight long weeks for the U.N. to approve the resolution Powell
championed, and weeks more for U.N. inspectors to enter Iraq. Fall turned to winter. More than 150,000 troops moved into the
region. Five aircraft carrier
battle groups sailed into position.
And the president wanted action.
GEORGE W. BUSH: After September the 11th, the doctrine
of containment just doesn't hold any water, as far as I'm concerned. I told you the strategic vision of our
country shifted dramatically and it shifted dramatically because we now
recognize that oceans no longer protect us, that we're vulnerable to attack.
So while Powell got the president to sign off on getting a U.N.
resolution, the president by now had lost patience with the United Nations
process. So after all the
arguments behind closed doors, it would be Powell who would confront the U.N.
with the president's argument that the inspections were not working.
POWELL: Less than a teaspoonful of dry anthrax
in an envelope shut down the United States Senate--
Dir., Policy Planning, State Dept. '89-'93: Getting a
Security Council resolution, I think, was obviously where he exerted enormous
POWELL: And Saddam Hussein has not verifiably
accounted for even one teaspoonful of this deadly material.
I think now feeling somewhat trapped by the inspection regime, he now
takes the lead in terms of trying to, in a sense, convey the message that, "Look, we don't have forever."
But in the end, only one man's decision will really matter. The next days will be a time of testing
for George W. Bush. The men
closest to his father are warning about the consequences. Waging war is always uncertain. Getting bogged down in Baghdad would be
a disaster. Long-time allies are
leaving America's side.
But the insiders
who helped define the "Bush doctrine" are determined to set a course that will
remake America's role in the world.
They believe the removal of Saddam Hussein is the first and necessary
act of that new era. And that
fateful decision to take the nation to war now rests with the president of the
WAR BEHIND CLOSED DOORS
PRODUCED AND DIRECTED BY
Erin Martin Kane
Louis Wiley Jr.
Co-Production with Kirk Documentary Group, Ltd.
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