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The War Behind Closed Doors
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The War Behind Closed Doors

Produced and directed by Michael Kirk
Co-Producer Jim Gilmore
Written by Michael Kirk

    Pres. 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!

ANNOUNCER: 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.

    Pres. 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.

ANNOUNCER: 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.

    KENNETH 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.

ANNOUNCER: And what happened behind closed doors to convince the president.

    KAREN 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."

ANNOUNCER: Tonight on FRONTLINE, the inside story of why the president of the United States seems so determined to go to war with Iraq.

NARRATOR: 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.

    Pres. GEORGE W. BUSH: I've asked the highest levels of our government to come to discuss the current tragedy that has so deeply affected our nation.

NARRATOR: They all want to even the score with Usama bin Laden.

    Pres. GEORGE W. BUSH: There is no question he is what we would call a prime suspect.

NARRATOR: But some of them had another immediate target: Saddam Hussein.

KENNETH 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.

NARRATOR: 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.

    Colin Powell

    1958 City College of NY BS
    1962 Vietnam -- two tours
    1988 National Security Adviser
    1989 Chairman, Joint Chiefs of Staff
    2001 Secretary of State

ELAINE 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.

    Paul Wolfowitz

    1965 Cornell BA
    1970 Yale Faculty
    1977 Defense Department
    1981 State Department
    1986 Ambassador to Indonesia
    1989 Undersecretary of Defense
    2001 Deputy Secretary of Defense

NARRATOR: 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.

EVAN THOMAS, 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 good.

ELAINE 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.

NARRATOR: 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 Department.

Once again, Powell and Wolfowitz would clash. It all began on the day the Gulf war ended.

    Gen. COLIN POWELL, Chairman, Joint Chiefs of Staff: [1995] 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 now?"

NARRATOR: 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.

RICHARD 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.

NARRATOR: But back then, President Bush and his top aides, including Defense Secretary Dick Cheney and Colin Powell, believed Saddam's hold on Iraq was tenuous.

WILLIAM 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.

NARRATOR: 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.

WILLIAM KRISTOL: We allowed Saddam to suppress the rebellion as our forces stood by.

NARRATOR: 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.

    TARIQ AZIZ, Deputy Prime Minister, Iraq: [1995] 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.

NARRATOR: It was a defining moment for the hawks.

WILLIAM 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 slaughtered.

NARRATOR: Twelve years later, the former national security adviser, Brent Scowcroft, talked about those decisions with FRONTLINE reporter Lowell Bergman.

    [October 2001]

    LOWELL BERGMAN, FRONTLINE: Wasn't there an uprising?

    BRENT SCOWCROFT, Former National Security Adviser: Of course.

    LOWELL BERGMAN: Didn't we see their military killing people?


    LOWELL BERGMAN: And we didn't intervene.

    BRENT SCOWCROFT: Of course not.

    LOWELL BERGMAN: Not from the air.

    BRENT SCOWCROFT: No. Of course not.

    LOWELL BERGMAN: We didn't cut off their gasoline supplies.

    BRENT 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 that area--


    BRENT SCOWCROFT: --between Iraq and Iran.

    LOWELL 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 or not--


    LOWELL BERGMAN: --it was ruled by Saddam.

    BRENT 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?

    LOWELL BERGMAN: Well, why would we care, at that point? Our-- our interest, I thought, was--

    BRENT SCOWCROFT: We care a lot.

    LOWELL 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--


    LOWELL BERGMAN: --of power.

    BRENT SCOWCROFT: No, it wasn't.

    LOWELL BERGMAN: Well, either covertly or overtly.

    BRENT 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.

KENNETH 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.

NARRATOR: 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 it.

Wolfowitz was busy writing it all down in a top-secret set of military guidelines when a draft was leaked to the press.

BARTON 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.

DENNIS ROSS, 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 internationally.

NARRATOR: The document outlined seven scenarios in potential trouble spots. The primary case studies were Iraq and North Korea.

Prof. JOHN 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.

WILLIAM 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.

NARRATOR: 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]

WILLIAM 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.

NARRATOR: 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 another opportunity.

From the 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.

    PROTESTER: [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!

NARRATOR: Saddam Hussein kept pushing the containment envelope.

KENNETH 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.

NARRATOR: 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.

ELAINE 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.

RICHARD 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.

NARRATOR: 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.

KENNETH 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--

    WEAPONS INSPECTOR: And I'm not prepared to turn over films--

    IRAQI OFFICIAL: I'm afraid you'll have to because you-- I will not let you leave until you turn over the films.

KENNETH POLLACK: --recognizing that each crisis convinced the world that Saddam Hussein was just a big pain in the butt and needed to be let alone--

    WEAPONS INSPECTOR: Last night was unacceptable, but this is more unacceptable. We gave you back the documents. I got people--

KENNETH POLLACK: --and increasingly divided the United States from our other allies in the Security Council.

    WEAPONS INSPECTOR: We are inspectors! We want out!

NARRATOR: 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.

    WEAPONS INSPECTOR: I want to conduct an inspection!

    IRAQI OFFICIAL: So what is your justification, then?

KENNETH 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."

NARRATOR: Then, in November of 1998, an exasperated President Clinton ordered a bombing campaign, but at the last minute, turned the planes around.

WILLIAM 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.

NARRATOR: Finally, the U.S. responded with Operation Desert Fox. But the bombardment of Baghdad and key military installations only lasted four days.

KENNETH 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.

NARRATOR: The weapons inspectors had left in 1998 and were never to return. To the hard-liners, Saddam had won.

Around this 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.

EVAN THOMAS, 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 Hussein.

NARRATOR: 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.

WILLIAM 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."

    Gov. 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.

WILLIAM 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 is today.

NARRATOR: 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.

WILLIAM 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.

NARRATOR: 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 Rumsfeld.

WILLIAM 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.

NARRATOR: Most of the hawks set up camp with Rumsfeld at the Pentagon.

MARK DANNER, "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 manage it.

NARRATOR: At the State Department, Colin Powell was a formidable counterweight to Rumsfeld's forces.

MARK DANNER: 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.

NARRATOR: 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.

WILLIAM 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.

DAVID FRUM, 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.

DAN BALZ, "The Washington Post": His first comments that morning down in Florida were not particularly effective.

    Pres. GEORGE W. BUSH: --to hunt down and to find those folks who committed this act.

DAN BALZ: His short speech from Barkesdale mid-day didn't look particularly good--

    Pres. GEORGE W. BUSH: We have taken all appropriate security precautions--

DAN BALZ: --wasn't a very strong statement. He stumbled over a little bit of it.

    Pres. GEORGE W. BUSH: We will show the world that we will pass this test. God bless.

NARRATOR: 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.

DAN BALZ: 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 South America.

NARRATOR: 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.

DAN BALZ: 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.

NARRATOR: 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.

DAN BALZ: 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."

    Pres. GEORGE W. BUSH: We will make no distinction between the terrorists who committed these acts and those who harbor them.

DAN BALZ: It set the tone for where the administration was going both with Afghanistan and, I think, with Iraq.

RICHARD 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.

DAVID FRUM: 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.

    Pres. GEORGE W. BUSH: --we go forward to defend freedom and all that is good and just in our world--

NARRATOR: The hawks welcomed the president's phrase, "those who harbor" terrorism.

    Pres. GEORGE W. BUSH: And God bless America.

KENNETH 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.

NARRATOR: The next day and the day after, the president began to find his footing and the rhetoric of response.

    Pres. 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.

DAVID FRUM, 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.

NARRATOR: And on September 13th, Wolfowitz expanded on the president's definition.

    REPORTER: 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?

    PAUL 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--

DAN BALZ, "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.

    REPORTER: Are we really after ending regimes, or are we simply going to try to change--

    COLIN 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.

DAN BALZ: 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.

NARRATOR: 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.

DAN BALZ: 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.

NARRATOR: 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.

EVAN THOMAS, 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.

NARRATOR: 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 emerging doctrine.

    Pres. 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.

MARK DANNER, "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.

    Pres. GEORGE W. BUSH: Freedom and fear are at war.

MARK DANNER: 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]

    Pres. GEORGE W. BUSH: Freedom and fear, justice and cruelty have always been at war, and we know that God is not neutral between them.

MARK DANNER: 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 threatened.

    Pres. 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.

KAREN 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 doctrine."

NARRATOR: 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 phase two.

DENNIS ROSS, 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.

WILLIAM 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.

KAREN 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."

MARK DANNER: 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.

NARRATOR: 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."

DAVID FRUM, 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.

    Pres. GEORGE W. BUSH: States like these and their terrorist allies constitute an axis of evil, arming to threaten the peace of the world!

KENNETH 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.

    Pres. 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!

WILLIAM 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."

NARRATOR: 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.

DAVID FRUM: 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.

NARRATOR: 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.

DAN BALZ, "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.

NARRATOR: If Powell's actions meant complications, the vice president emerged as the voice for direct action.

    Vice 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 peace.

NARRATOR: 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.

KAREN 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."

NARRATOR: 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.

BARTON 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 differences.

NARRATOR: 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.

MARK DANNER, "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.

RICHARD 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 difficult conflict.

[ More on the long-term strategy]

KENNETH 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.

Prof. JOHN 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.

DENNIS ROSS: 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."

NARRATOR: 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.

DENNIS ROSS: 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.

NARRATOR: 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.

DENNIS ROSS: 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.

NARRATOR: 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.

KAREN 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 would take.

NARRATOR: 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.

KAREN 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.

    Pres. 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.

NARRATOR: The pundits and the press believed the president's asking for a resolution represented a victory for Powell. The hawks didn't think so.

WILLIAM 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 Wolfowitz's ends.

NARRATOR: 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.

    Pres. 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.

NARRATOR: 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.

    COLIN POWELL: Less than a teaspoonful of dry anthrax in an envelope shut down the United States Senate--

DENNIS ROSS, Dir., Policy Planning, State Dept. '89-'93: Getting a Security Council resolution, I think, was obviously where he exerted enormous efforts.

    COLIN POWELL: And Saddam Hussein has not verifiably accounted for even one teaspoonful of this deadly material.

DENNIS ROSS: 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."

    COLIN POWELL: Saddam Hussein and his regime will stop at nothing until something stops him.

NARRATOR: 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 United States.


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