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Document Friday: Joint Chiefs of Staff “History” Brief of the Iraq War Gets it Dead Wrong.

October 22, 2010

A recently declassified Joint Chiefs of Staff Operation Iraqi Freedom (OIF) History Brief gets it dead wrong.  According to the JCS, the United States military did not begin planning for the 2003 invasion of Iraq until 9 July 2002, less than two months before President George W. Bush “approv[ed] overthrow of Saddam Hussein” on 29 August 2002.  The Pentagon’s propagation of such an untrue history further underlines the importance of the National Security Archive’s recent three-part, document-supported expose –written by Joyce Battle, John Prados, and Christopher Ames– on the run-up to the 2003 Iraq war.

That's June 2002. Wrong.

The Joint Chiefs of Staff (JCS) PowerPoint slideshow excludes important historical decisions from its pithy account of the war.  As Joyce Battle’s EBB (Electronic Briefing Book) shows, the JCS–under instructions from Bush and his Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld– actually began drafting Iraq war plans more than one and a half years earlier, in September 2001. 

According to the 9/11 Commission Report (pg 334), Bush “immediately” assumed Saddam Hussein was involved on the attacks on the World Trade Center and Pentagon.  The same day of the attack, Rumsfeld instructed instructed his deputy –Paul Wolfowitz– to find “support” for a link between Iraq and Osama Bin Laden.

On 29 September 2001 (before the war in Afganistan had even begun!), Rumsfeld instructed JCS to prepare an Iraq war plan that would take one or two months and utilize 250,000 troops to accomplish two objectives: Find WMD, and enact “regime change.” (See Douglas Feith, War and Decision, pg. 218).

On 27 November 2001, Rumsfeld met with General Tommy Franks, the Commander in Chief of US Central Command.  Battle –citing Rumsfeld’s talking points— writes that the SecDef instructed the General to:

“find a rationale to start a war with Iraq –that is, in response to a move by Saddam Hussein against the Kurds, or a US discovery of an Iraqi connection to 9/11 or to recent anthrax attacks, or a dispute over WMD inspecitons.”  The talking points also called for the creation of an “influence campaign” to smooth the way to war.

The Joint Chiefs of Staff, 5 May 2003.

In April 2002 Bush was briefed by CENTCOM commanders on war plans (page 44).  Later that month, the principals committee of the National Security Counsel discussed how to fund the combat training of Iraqi exiles.  War was imminent long before 9 July 2002.

So why does this 13 May JCS History exclude the above key dates from its history of “Operation Iraqi Freedom Strategic Steps– Key Dates? (The JCS history also fails to mention the long running British and American military and intelligence collusion –which Prados’s and Ames’s EBB dates to early 2002– and whitewashes other key incidents as the Jessica Lynch “rescue” and the “toppling” of a Saddam Hussein statue.)

A possible explanation could be that the JCS were cut out of the loop by the Bush administration.  In November 2001, Bush instructed Rumsfeld to keep the Iraq war plans secret (see Bob Woodward, Plan of Attack, pg. 1-5, 30, 35).  British Major General David Wilson –who served as the British Staff representative to CENTCOM– stated that, “the Americans [were] doing discrete, compartmented, very compartmented planning for Iraq… The shutters were firmly down (pg. 9).”

"Not on my desk."

The Bush administration acted secretly duplicity toward the American people as well.  Secretary of State Colin Powell told the Senate Budget Committee on 12 February 2002 that the president had no war plans “on his desk.”  Bush had in fact reviewed the war plans with Franks just five days earlier; they were just not literally on his desk. National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice later repeated this Rovian phrase, “on his desk” verbatim.  In May 2002, Bush told his German and French allies, “I have no war plans on my desk.”  (See Woodward, Plan  of Attack, pg. 129.)  While perhaps not technically lies, the statements of Bush and his cabinet members clearly illustrate their willingness to obfuscate their decision to launch a war against Iraq.

But it’s unlikely that the Bush administration hoodwinked the JCS into marching to war as easily as it did the American people.  The JCS are defined by Federal statute as “military advisers to the President, the National Security Council, the Homeland Security Council, and the Secretary of Defense.”  For them to serve in this role and be unaware of two years of military planning for the Iraq War would be a dereliction of duty.

Most likely, the JCS “History” is simply an attempt to frame an ill-conceived, secretly-planned war which did not complete its objectives as a tidy case study of responding to good intelligence of a credible threat, exhausting the diplomatic power of the United Nations, forming a strong and credible alliance, and –as a last resort– acquiescing to the President’s order to go to war.

Fortunately, historians can review the documents with their own eyes and write their own histories.

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