All of us knew it but couldn't prove it. Now we can prove it. Newly declassified documents published at the National Security Archive prove beyond all reasonable doubt that the Bush administration planned to topple Saddam Hussein and invade Iraq as early as January, 2001, and were making strategic plans and resource allocations as early as November, 2001.
January 30, 2001 – Bush administration principals (agency heads) meet for the
first time and discuss the Middle East, including Bush’s intention to disengage from the Israel-Palestine peace process and “How Iraq is destabilizing the region.” Bush directs Rumsfeld and JCS chairman Hugh Shelton to examine military options for Iraq; CIA director George Tenet is directed to improve intelligence on the country. Treasury Secretary Paul O’Neill and counterterrorism coordinator Richard Clarke are both struck by the emphasis on confronting Iraq, an aim consistent with Rumsfeld’s hiring of Wolfowitz and later Feith, well known for their bellicosity on the issue, for high-level Pentagon
positions. (Source: EBB/Franks Timeline (PDF))
When did we invade Afghanistan? Oh, that's right...it was October 7, 2001.
Walking through these documents makes it clear that the Bush Administration -- from Day One -- intended to invade Iraq at some point in their reign of terror. Here is a memo (PDF) dated January 23, 2001 outlining the "Origins of the Iraq Regime Change Policy". This was requested by Vice President-elect Dick Cheney before taking office, presumably as a way to justify policy formation around aggressive US efforts for "regime change" in Iraq.
This memo (PDF) written on November 27, 2001 should send cold chills up and down your spine. It is a list of talking points from Rumsfeld to Franks about how to handle a run-up to a full-scale Iraq invasion. November 27th, 51 days after Afghanistan was invaded. And check this talking point:
Afghanistan was never, ever a priority for the Bush Administration. It was always about Iraq. To line up support for the plan, they were marshalling the Catholics and anyone else they could get to start forming arguments for "just wars". An internal memo from Robert Andrews, Dep. Assistant Secretary of Defense on December 17, 2001 touted this:
A prominent Catholic theologian outlines the moral justification for a pre-emptive strike against Iraq.
[...a list of reasons why it was so important follows]
- Introduces the concept of "regime factor,"
- illustrates the concept using the Iraq situation
- demonstrates how pre-emptive action against Iraq fits into the just-war tradition
That memo made its way to Douglas Feith, neocon extraordinaire, who left his approval in the margin:
George is a brilliant guy and a gentleman. Thanks for sending this along. DJF
Speaking strictly for me, the idea of Catholic aides to the Pope pushing wars as "just" to our government smacks of intervention not of the divine kind. The article itself pushes along the lie about WMD, too, reinforcing what we now know was nothing more than fantasy in the black hearts of Cheney and his neocon brigade. But it added to the political cover the Bush administration needed to push the Iraq effort forward.
Iraq, for Cheney, Bush and the crew, was a way to increase prestige and power. Nothing speaks to that louder than the oft-repeated words in this memo from Donald Rumsfeld on July 27, 2001 where he says this at least twice:
If Saddam's regime were ousted, we would have a much-improved position in the region and elsewhere.
The first time he mentions this, it's with some regret that we're not better friends with Iran. The second time he mentions it, it's in his closing argument for why toppling Saddam Hussein will strengthen US Arab-Israeli policy. It's like a talisman for Rumsfeld, this idea of improving our "US credibility and influence throughout the region".
Here's the punchline, courtesy of the National Security Archive summary:
At this point, the weight of evidence supports an observation made in April 2002 by members of the covert Iraq Operations Group – Iraq “regime change” was already on Bush’s agenda when he took office in January 2001. (Note 33) September 11 was not the motivation for the U.S. invasion of Iraq – it was a distraction from it.
Now, at least, our instinct about Iraq being the one true goal is confirmed. For whatever that's worth, anyway.