Almost three years to the day the war started, a new book takes a look at the inside story of the invasion and occupation of Iraq. "Cobra II," by co-authors Michael Gordon, the chief military correspondent for The New York Times, and retired Marine general Bernard Trainor, the book is based on interviews with a wide range of officials as well as a classified report based on interrogations of more than 110 Iraqi officials and officers and 600 Iraqi documents. [includes rush transcript]
This weekend marks the third anniversary of the launch of the Iraq invasion. On March 19, 2003, the United States began dropping bombs on Iraq, while thousands of U.S. and British forces began pouring across the country’s borders.
Three years later the occupation continues–with no end in sight. The U.S. military announced Thursday it launched its biggest air offensive in Iraq since the 2003 invasion. Over 130,000 U.S. troops remain deployed with no clear plan for withdrawal. The country is wracked by daily bloodshed and violence and the prospect of an all out civil war is more real than ever.
Now, almost three years to the day after the war started, a new book titled "Cobra II" details the inside story of the invasion and occupation of Iraq. The book is written by Michael Gordon, chief military correspondent for The New York Times, and retired Marine general Bernard Trainor.
Gordon was in the war room with Tommy Franks, Donald Rumsfeld, and various field generals during the planning and execution of the invasion. The book combines this firsthand experience with classified military documents, interviews with a wide range of officials as well as findings from a classified report on Iraqi views on the war prepared by the U.S. military’s Joint Forces Command. The report is based on interrogations of more than 110 Iraqi officials and officers as well as over 600 Iraqi documents.
Among what Gordon and Trainor found was that Saddam Hussein was convinced President George W Bush, like his father, would not go to Baghdad and they lay out how the Iraqi leader escaped from the capital.
The book also finds that Britain’s top envoy in Iraq, John Sawers, expressed major concerns about how the U.S. was handling the occupation of Iraq as early as May 2003, just four days after arriving in Baghdad.
And "Cobra II" exposes that the tapes that then-Secretary of State Colin Powel played within his speech before the UN of recordings of Iraqi military officers in which one said, "I’m worried you could have something left" was not referring to WMDs as Powell alleged.
- Michael Gordon, chief military correspondent for The New York Times. He is co-author of the book "Cobra II: The Inside Story of the Invasion and Occupation of Iraq." Gordon has covered conflicts spanning Iraq, Afghanistan, Kosovo, Chechnya and Panama.
- Gen. Bernard Trainor (Ret.), a retired Marine Corps lieutenant general. He is co-author of the book "Cobra II: The Inside Story of the Invasion and Occupation of Iraq." He was a military correspondent for The New York Times from 1986 to 1990 and director of the National Security program at Harvard University from 1990 to 1996. He is currently a military analyst for NBC.
AMY GOODMAN: Today, we’re joined by both authors of Cobra II, Michael Gordon of The New York Times and Bernard Trainor, retired Marine general and former military correspondent for the Times. They join us in the studio in Washington, D.C. We welcome you both to Democracy Now!
GEN. BERNARD TRAINOR: Good morning.
MICHAEL GORDON: Good morning.
AMY GOODMAN: It’s good to have you both with us. If you, General Bernard Trainor, can lay out what you think were the five problems with the invasion, as you lay them out in the book.
GEN. BERNARD TRAINOR: Well, these — I think it can be generally stated that there were erroneous assumptions made upon which the planning floundered. The ground attack went to Baghdad in record time. However, along the way they ran into the sort of resistance that they had not expected. But if you’re looking for the weak link in the process, it wasn’t the operation itself, the invasion itself. It was the plan for the end of the invasion. And I use the term "plan," because a lot of people say that there wasn’t any plan after Saddam’s regime fell.
But there was a plan. And the plan was for the United States military to get out of Iraq as quickly as possible, turn Iraq over to a U.S.-supported Iraqi government, on the assumption that the infrastructure, both the political and economic infrastructure, would be largely intact, and that the international community, the U.N. and others, would get involved in the post-Saddam period. That was a fatally flawed assumption, and as a result, a fatally flawed plan.
So, if you’re looking for the problem that emerged with the insurgency, that would be kind of the fundamental principle. There were lots of other little mistakes that went through it, which turned out to be very large mistakes: disbanding the Iraqi army, not having sufficient American forces to follow on the invasion — as a matter of fact, cutting back on the forces that were involved in the invasion — and all of these things closed a window of opportunity of reasonable stability that existed immediately after the fall of Baghdad. But that window of opportunity only stayed open for a short period of time, and it slammed shut, and the insurgency emerged.
AMY GOODMAN: Michael Gordon, do you think the invasion itself was a mistake?
MICHAEL GORDON: Well, that’s a policy judgment and a political judgment that’s really beyond the scope of our book. Our book is not about whether we should or should not have gone to war. The book is about how we went to war. And one thing that our analysis and reporting shows, as General Trainor said, is in the summer of 2003 — and I was embedded throughout this period in Baghdad then — I think most of the U.S. military commanders there thought that there was a chance to put Iraq on a better course had we done some things differently, had we had more troops, had we had effective nation-building policies, had we not disbanded the army. And it was the combination of these errors that created an environment which allowed the insurgency to gain some traction.
JUAN GONZALEZ: Michael Gordon, your book is especially critical throughout of the role of Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld. You talk about a variety of ways in which he directly participated in the planning and even when troops would be deployed, micromanaged the military at a level unprecedented. Could you talk a little bit about that and why you were so critical of Secretary Rumsfeld?
MICHAEL GORDON: Well, you know, in our book, General Trainor and I, we didn’t set out to do an investigation of Secretary Rumsfeld or General Franks. We just laid out the facts, and we had a lot of documents and a lot of interviews. And what the facts show is that Secretary Rumsfeld came to the Defense Department with an agenda. The agenda was to transform the American military. There’s some good in that. We’re not saying that’s all bad by any means. But he wanted to create a force that could be basically lean and mean and carry out operations that were far smaller than, let’s say, an invasion force that Colin Powell would put together. I think the force that he put together — and he didn’t actually order the generals to do it this way or that way, but he guided them, through suasion, as one of his aides put it, by asking the appropriate questions, by demanding certain briefings, by sending down papers that he wanted the generals to read.
But basically, the force that he essentially established for the invasion was adequate for the task of taking Baghdad and getting there, although there were a few hairy moments along the way, but utterly inadequate for what followed, you know, the so-called — what the military called "Phase IV" or really the post-war operations. He was really a dominating presence. But, you know, General Franks, I’d say, was very much on the same wavelength, and the two, you know, basically collaborated to put together the plan. You know, one very interesting thing is that the joint chiefs of staff were largely marginalized in this process, and in certain respects, the National Security Advisor, Condoleezza Rice, and Secretary of State Powell were pretty much cut out of it, too.
AMY GOODMAN: General Trainor, you talk about the troika — President Bush, Vice President Cheney and Rumsfeld — making the decisions?
GEN. BERNARD TRAINOR: That’s correct. That’s a correct — the three of them were joined at the hip, if I can use that expression. They all thought basically the same way, and their perceptions became reality. I think the President, I would describe it as the man who presided over the troika. I think Vice President Cheney was very influential in terms of the policy. And certainly, Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld was a man in charge of the execution of the policy. Everybody else was what I would describe as in the outer circle. The National Security Advisor, Condoleezza Rice, the Secretary of State, Colin Powell, and even the neo-cons, which gained so much blame for things going wrong. But those people were — they were in the outside of the private sanctum of the President, Vice President and Secretary of Defense. Those three thought alike and acted in unison.
JUAN GONZALEZ: But interestingly, in terms of Secretary Powell, while he wasn’t as much in the loop, according to your book, it wasn’t so much that he opposed going into Iraq. According to some of your, I guess, interviews with Richard Armitage, the secretary’s thoughts were the invasion of Iraq should wait until President Bush’s second term, after he had built more international support, and that he saw it as totally — something totally acceptable perhaps in the second term.
GEN. BERNARD TRAINOR: Well, I think you have to step back and look at the situation as it existed. The international community, all the intelligence agencies were all convinced that Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction. And this administration saw that as a threat that required preemptive action, because — not that Saddam Hussein was going to pop a nuclear weapon or chemical weapon here in the United States — but he saw that after 9/11, the threat of amorphous terrorism, with terrorists getting chemical, biological weapons and ultimately nuclear weapons without any national fingerprint on it. And how do you deal with something like that?
So the policy was, we have legitimate right to defend the United States. We have the responsibility to defend the United States. And in this instance, we have to preempt the Iraqis from providing the wherewithal to terrorists. And so, that convinced a lot of people. It convinced the Congress. And it convinced the average man on the street that this was something that should be done. Obviously, there were certain people that did not agree. But the fact is, the Congress supported the whole thing.
The Secretary of State’s position wasn’t quite as crude as you describe it, as waiting for a second election. He wanted to give diplomacy a chance. It wasn’t that he was opposed to going into Iraq. It was a matter of timing. And that’s what he was insisting on. See if we can’t build up a coalition, whereas the troika felt that they could pretty much act independently and a coalition would follow after the defeat of Saddam Hussein.
AMY GOODMAN: We’re talking to General Bernard Trainor, who used to the write for the Times, now is an NBC military analyst. And we’re talking to Michael Gordon, chief military correspondent for The New York Times. They have written a new book. It’s called Cobra II: The Inside Story of the Invasion and Occupation of Iraq. We’ll come back to them in a minute.
AMY GOODMAN: We continue our conversation with the authors of Cobra II: The Inside Story of the Invasion and Occupation of Iraq, Michael Gordon, of the New York Times and General Bernard Trainor, who was with the New York Times, now an NBC analyst. You have a piece in this past Sunday’s New York Times, where you talk about what Saddam Hussein understood before the invasion. I want to ask Michael Gordon this question. What was the understanding before the U.S. invaded? How did Saddam Hussein prepare for it? And then, the first attack of the United States on Iraq, being a site where the U.S. had hoped they were taking out Saddam Hussein.
MICHAEL GORDON: Well, you know, one thing that’s really fascinating is the extent to which each side misread the other. I mean, Saddam and his regime utterly misread the United States’ political and military strategy, and vice-versa, as we now know. So these two sides, which miscalculated so greatly, kind of produced an outcome neither side anticipated. But Saddam was the ultimate survivor, and his primary concern was internal security.
He was afraid of a Shia uprising with some cause. There had been a Shia uprising right after the end of the Gulf War, and he wanted to keep a lid on that. That was his major worry, and he took a whole — a number of measures to try to keep the Shia in line, which actually turned out to be completely counter-productive when the Americans invaded. For example, under penalty of death, he didn’t allow his military commanders to destroy bridges in southern Iraq, without his explicit permission. Why? Because he wanted to use these bridges to put down the Shia. This was very convenient for the Americans, because they used the bridges to go to Baghdad.
And to extent he was focusing on an external enemy, he was worried about, somewhat ironically, the same enemy that President Bush highlighted in his recent national security strategy: Iran. I mean, Iraq had fought Iran in eight years. Each side had used chemical weapons against each other. They had fired missiles at each other’s cities. They were worried about Tehran. That was really their principal thing, and the Americans, for the Iraqi regime, were really kind of a third-order threat. They certainly expected that there would be air strikes; they thought the Americans might invade the south, maybe sit on the Ramallah oilfields, but what they really didn’t anticipate, we now know from debriefs of the inner circle, Saddam’s inner circle by the U.S. military, they didn’t anticipate the U.S. was going to drive all the way to Baghdad.
AMY GOODMAN: And then, the U.S. attack and what happened, that first attack?
MICHAEL GORDON: Yeah, that’s really, again, a fascinating episode, and you know, apart from all the policy stuff that we have in this book, really a large part of the book is just a group of very interesting stories and accounts of what actually happened that we don’t really know, because in large measure this war was widely covered, but not well understood. Well, on March 19, George Tenet, the Director of Central Intelligence, came to the administration, to the White House, and he said, "The C.I.A. is 99.9% sure they’ve got Saddam and his sons located at a site outside Baghdad called 'Dora Farms.' This is the minute to strike," and so the President had to make the call. You remember, there was a 48-hour ultimatum for Saddam Hussein to get out of dodge, so to speak. Hadn’t quite yet expired. They were waiting for it to expire, and so the White House was very interested in striking at Saddam, what they would call a "decapitation strike" to kill Saddam and, they thought, end the war in one blow.
Well, the White House decides to do this. The F-117 pilots at al-Udeid scrambled to carry out this short-order mission, in a matter of hours, to carry out a mission you normally plan for for days, and they got to the site near Baghdad. It was a bit of a hazardous mission, because dawn was beginning to break, and these stealth fighters, they’re low-observable on radar, but they’re not invisible in the sky. And they hit the exact place they were supposed to strike, you know, on the button. And they got back. Everybody thought, "Hooray! We got Saddam! The war is over." And then, about a couple hours later, this mysterious figure emerged on Iraqi television, wearing these thick pair of glasses, reading some kind of speech.
You know, in the United States — I was in the theater then — but in the United States, people thought and the C.I.A. thought and the Bush administration thought, well, this is probably a double. It doesn’t look like Saddam. Saddam was obviously killed or wounded in the attack, and that was what the American government thought for a while. Well, we now know, because Saddam’s personal secretary was captured and interrogated, that it actually was Saddam. He was nowhere near Dora Farms at the time of the attack. In fact, hadn’t been there for years, and then he went to his personal secretary’s house. He wanted to prepare a speech to the Iraqi people. He wrote it himself. There was no teleprompter, no cue cards, no printer. So he had to read it in his own hand, which he didn’t normally do. He stuck on his pair of glasses, and so that actually was Saddam, very much alive and nowhere near the point of impact when those bombs fell. In fact, not only was Saddam not there, when Americans troops later got to the site and dug it up to investigate it, there was not even a bunker there. There was nothing there.
AMY GOODMAN: Who died?
MICHAEL GORDON: Well, if you bomb an empty field, the results probably aren’t very satisfying from a military perspective. They did totally obliterate the site with cruise missiles. I don’t know who would have been there at the time, but if they were there, they undoubtedly didn’t survive.
JUAN GONZALEZ: Well, one of the things that you raise in the book, I’d like to ask General Trainor about this, is that there was a decision in terms of a willingness of General Franks to accept collateral damage or civilian casualties, but that the rule was that if the expected casualties were greater than 30 civilians, that it required the approval of Secretary Rumsfeld himself?
GEN. BERNARD TRAINOR: Yes, Juan. You know, this really isn’t unusual. When you draw up a target list, you have to prioritize it and put a value on it, and you have to match that value of the target against other circumstances, which include collateral damage in terms of both structural damage and human loss of life, and you then make a decision on whatever metrics you want to use and established in this instance, they used the 30 civilian casualty metric for very high-value targets, and then you apply it with judgment at a specific time.
This is not — this is not unusual, and let’s — I mean, just for the purpose of taking out of the context of a disputed war, going back, and say we had a high-value target named Adolf Hitler, and we knew he was going to be at junction x at a certain date and a certain time, and there were going to be a lot of school children there waving swastikas at him. A decision would have to have been made by the president, President Roosevelt or Winston Churchill, as to whether or not the — getting assured destruction of Adolf Hitler was worth the life of the innocents. This is a judgment call that only policy-makers and their conscience have to make. So the set-up for high-value targets in Iraq has to be seen in that sort of light.
JUAN GONZALEZ: And what about the whole issue of Paul Bremer’s role and the provisional authority, the decision to dismantle the Iraqi armed forces? To what degree — and to purge all the Baathists. To what degree was that Bremer’s policy? Was that fully supported by the White House or President Bush?
MICHAEL GORDON: Is this for me?
JUAN GONZALEZ: This is for General Trainor, sorry.
GEN. BERNARD TRAINOR: I’m sorry. I thought it was over to Michael. Yeah, the basic policy was to make use of the political, but non-Baathist infrastructure, the civil service in Iraq, the police and the army. Police to maintain stability and security in the country, the civil service to keep things operating, the military to protect and defend the sovereignty at the borders of Iraq and also assist the police in stability and security. This was all part of the thinking of the U.S. military when they went in there, and indeed, also part of the administration’s thinking. But then the decision was made by Paul Bremer, with kind of the amorphous approval of the Secretary of Defense, and I’m not — we’re not even — there’s no indication that the President and he ever signed a piece of paper for the disbandment of the army.
The administration says, in effect, that the army disappeared itself, that it dissolved, there was no army. So the business of getting rid of the army was simply putting a cap on what already existed, and to a certain degree, that was true. You know, the troops went AWOL, deserted when they saw the war was over. But they could easily have been called back.
As a matter of fact, they didn’t even have to be called back. They returned for their paychecks, and they didn’t get their paychecks, and they were pretty disgruntled. So now you have 300,000-plus, with AK-47s out on the street, unemployed and pretty angry about things. It was a bad move, but it was done with the idea of eliminating the Baathist influence within the emerging post-Saddam government. And it turns out that with — after the studies of the makeup of the military at the time of the collapse, that there were relatively very few hard-line Baathists that were in the chain of command, and they were clearly at the top and had been eliminated.
So that was — it was a terrible mistake, one of the major mistakes that went along with the others that upset the apple cart and prevented stability and security and services being restored, restored in Iraq. And the invincibility of the Americans who could get to Baghdad in a couple of weeks against Saddam Hussein’s army, could put a man on the moon, now could not prevent looting and could not restore services like electricity and the flow of clean water or protect national treasures. This was seen as a chink in the armor of the invincible Americans, that they were not invincible, in fact, and prompted the growth of the insurgency, and a lot of people who were either in support of the Americans when they first arrived and liberated them from Saddam Hussein or were sitting on the fence to see which way it went, they were greatly influenced by the ineffectiveness of the Americans, largely because of the ineffective post-war planning policies, including the dissolution of the Iraqi army.
AMY GOODMAN: You talk about some of the mistakes, and I wanted to go now to some of the reporting by the media, which was certainly part and parcel of the whole lead-up to the invasion, and I wanted to go to Michael Gordon and ask you about that September 8 piece that you wrote with Judith Miller, the article that was on the front page of the New York Times, that was cited by Dick Cheney, when he went on "Meet The Press," where you wrote from the beginning — you said, "More than a decade after Saddam Hussein agreed to give up weapons of mass destruction, Iraq has stepped up its quest for nuclear weapons and has embarked on a worldwide hunt for materials to make an atomic bomb, Bush administrations officials said today. In the last 14 months, Iraq has sought to buy thousands of specially designed aluminum tubes, which American officials believe were intended as components of centrifuges to enrich uranium. American officials said several efforts to arrange the shipment of the aluminum tubes were blocked or intercepted, but declined to say, citing the sensitivity of the intelligence, where they came from or how they were stopped." Can you talk about this really seminal piece that was cited by the administration, by senators and congress members, deeply concerned about the possibility of, well, as they kept repeating, of a mushroom cloud? Your thoughts on your piece today?
MICHAEL GORDON: Yeah, I’m glad you asked about that, because that’s an important episode, and I’ve obviously thought a lot about it. By the way, that wasn’t the only piece I wrote on the subject. I also wrote two other articles quoting the head of the International Atomic Energy Agency, Mohamed ElBaradei, saying that, in fact, there was no evidence, from his point of view, that the tubes were intended for nuclear purposes, and these articles appeared well before the war, as did ElBaradei’s comments, but if you give me a minute or two, I’ll explain the issue, because it’s an important one.
The C.I.A. came to the view, which we now know to be erroneous, that the centrifuges had been intercepted, that they believed they were intended only for nuclear purposes. They had — and remember, this is not a defector; this is not a photograph of something that’s happening on the ground that we don’t quite fully understand. They physically had these centrifuges. They had intercepted them in Jordan, taken them someplace to analyze.
We’re the nation that invented nuclear weapons. So, you know, it’s a fair assumption that you would think that if we physically have the evidence, we have certainly nuclear expertise in this country, you know, they would be able to diagnose what they were intended for. Anyway, the C.I.A. took a very strong view on this, as did some of their allies in the intelligence community, and this was reflected as one of the key judgments in the National Intelligence Estimate that went to congress. So you know, if you took aside the — whatever the New York Times wrote or others wrote, this is the heart of the National Intelligence Estimate that goes to the Congress, goes to the President, and in this, you know, what we now — what I now better understand, is that while this was the kind of dominant view and certainly the institutional view of the C.I.A., there were a few other views within the intelligence community.
The Defense — the Energy Department did not agree that these centrifuges were intended for nuclear purposes. However, they didn’t really take a clear stand on this, because they also agreed, the same Energy Department that said the centrifuges were not for nuclear purposes, took the view that Saddam was trying to revive his nuclear program for other reasons. So the Energy Department sort of had a foot in each camp. The State Department experts in the Bureau of Intelligence and Research, they’re the only part of the American government that completely challenged the view that Saddam was trying to revive his nuclear program. The Energy Department didn’t do it.
By the way, here’s an interesting footnote. The British government, in a public report, more or less a few weeks later, challenged the notion that the centrifuges were for nuclear purposes, but then also asserted for other reasons, that Saddam was reviving its nuclear program. So it was a kind of a complicated picture.
There was no agency in the American government that said Saddam was not involved in W.M.D. You know, the State Department, although it’s turned out to be correct, certainly on the nuclear issue, did not turn out to be —- you know, didn’t challenge the biological case, the chemical case, and I’m going to offer you this last thought, and I’m happy to respond to any questions you have, but you know, there are a number of complicated W.M.D. issues -—
AMY GOODMAN: Let me just ask something on that. Are you sorry you did the piece? Are you sorry that this piece —
MICHAEL GORDON: No, I’m not. I mean, what — I don’t know if you understand how journalism works, but the way journalism works is you write what you know, and what you know at the time you try to convey as best you can, but then you don’t stop reporting.
AMY GOODMAN: Well, let me, let me —
MICHAEL GORDON: Can I answer your question, since you asked me a question?
AMY GOODMAN: Well, no, I wanted to get —
MICHAEL GORDON: No, wait a second, if you ask me a question — I’m happy to answer all your questions, but what I’m trying to explain to you is one thing. That was what I knew at the time. It’s true that it was the key judgment. It’s the same information they presented to Colin Powell, by the way, and it’s what persuaded him to go to the United Nations and make the case on the nuclear tubes. I wrote the contrary case, giving the IAEA equal time. They disputed it. I don’t have a dog in this fight. I didn’t know what was the ultimate truth. When the IAEA came out in January and disputed it, I reported it.
AMY GOODMAN: Michael Gordon, let me just respond. We don’t —- we have limited time in the program, but I just -—
MICHAEL GORDON: Well, then you should let me answer your questions.
AMY GOODMAN: I did.
MICHAEL GORDON: No, you haven’t let me answer your question.
AMY GOODMAN: Are you sorry then, that the New York Times was sorry that this piece appeared as it did on the front page of the New York Times.
MICHAEL GORDON: I don’t think "sorry" is the word the New York Times used.
AMY GOODMAN: Well, let me quote the Times. In their piece that they wrote to the readers, that said, "From the Editors, the Times in Iraq," that many referred to as the mea culpa of the Times, they said, "On September 8, 2002, the lead article of the paper was headlined, 'U.S. Says Hussein Intensified Quest for A-Bomb Parts.' That report concerned the aluminum tubes that the administration advertised insistently as components for the manufacture of nuclear weapons fuel. The claim came not from defectors but from the best intelligence sources available at the time. Still, it should have been presented more cautiously. There were hints that the usefulness of the tubes in making nuclear fuel was not a sure thing, but the hints were buried deep, 1,700 words into a 3,600-word article, administration officials were allowed to hold forth at length on why this evidence of Iraq’s nuclear intentions demanded that Saddam Hussein be dislodged from power. 'The first signs of a smoking gun,' they argue, 'may be a mushroom cloud.' Five days later, the Times reporters learned the tubes were in fact a subject of debate among intelligence agencies, the misgivings appeared deep in an article on page A-13, under a headline that gave no inkling that we were revising our earlier view. The headline was, 'White House Lists Iraq's Steps to Build Banned Weapons.’ The Times gave voice to skeptics of the tubes on January 9, when the key piece of evidence was challenged by the International Atomic Energy Agency. That challenge was reported on page A-10. It might well have belonged on A-1."
MICHAEL GORDON: Can I answer your question?
AMY GOODMAN: Yes.
MICHAEL GORDON: Okay. I’m the person that wrote the IAEA story when they challenged it. I’m the person that suggested the New York Times cover it. I wrote it twice. The second time I wrote it with a reporter named Jim Risen, who you may have heard of. So I’ve worked with a lot of different people. This issue, this debate as to whether these tubes were intended for nuclear purposes, was presented in a public forum in the United Nations well before the invasion, so everybody knew, the Congress, the American public, anyone who paid any attention to this, knew there was a debate.
In fact, Colin Powell, in his presentation, acknowledged there was a debate within — among experts about the utility of the tube. The uranium is a very different issue. That’s something that emerged after the war. Anybody who didn’t know that there was a debate about the utility of the tubes, whether they were for nuclear purposes or for merely rockets, simply wasn’t paying attention to the debate. This was all ventilated before the war.
Had I had perfect information, and had I had — many of these experts who have now, after the war, like Joe Wilson, decided to share their reservations with us. Had they shared all of this with us at the time, I would have happily put in more caveats and dissenting views, but the dissenters were not dissenting to the New York Times at the time. But as soon as the IAEA went public with its assessment, I covered it, and by the way, if you know how newspapers work, I actually don’t decide what goes on the front page of the New York Times, and I think the New York Times did its best, you know, and had no agenda certainly in this issue, in trying to cover this issue.
AMY GOODMAN: The dissenters themselves disagree, and they say they did contact the New York Times. For example —
MICHAEL GORDON: No, I’m sorry, that’s not true.
AMY GOODMAN: Let me make my point, and then you can answer it.
MICHAEL GORDON: Okay.
AMY GOODMAN: For example, David Albright, who is the U.N. weapons inspector, and I am quoting from Michael Massing’s letter to the editor, responding to your objection to his piece in the New York Review of Books. Albright writing that the _Times_’ September 13 story, which you also co-authored with Judith Miller, was heavily slanted to the C.I.A.'s position, and the views of the other side were trivialized. Albright says — and this is the man who contacted the Times. Let me just quote for our audience, this is Albright saying, "An administration official was quoted as saying that the best technical experts and nuclear scientists at laboratories like Oak Ridge supported the C.I.A. assessment. These inaccuracies made their way into the story, despite several discussions that I had with Miller on the day before the story appeared, some well into the night. In the end, nobody was quoted questioning the C.I.A.'s position, as I would have expected. He says.
MICHAEL GORDON: Are you going to let me talk now?
AMY GOODMAN: If you could respond to that, please.
MICHAEL GORDON: Yeah. You’re not well-informed on this issue, because — I don’t have any, you know, criticism of you as an individual, but you’re not very well informed on this, because if you were well-informed on this — I’m friends with David Albright. I think David Albright’s an upstanding person who is doing very good work. I’m actually not Judy Miller, so I’m not the person he had the conversation with, but David certainly took the view early on, and he deserves a lot of credit for this, that the aluminum tubes were not intended for nuclear purposes. That’s absolutely true, and as a person outside government, he did that analysis.
However, and this is a very important point for you and your viewers to keep in mind, David Albright, at the very same time he made this analysis, believed Iraq was probably pursuing nuclear weapons, and at the very same time that David Albright challenged the tubes, he published a paper on his website, saying there was a suspect site at Al-Khaim in western Iraq, that could possibly be involved in the processing of uranium for nuclear weapons purposes. And I’ve talked to David about this.
David’s view is an interesting view, and it was a technical view. David believes Saddam was interested in nuclear weapons, and he might very well be pursuing them. However, David did not believe that the aluminum tubes were for that purpose. That’s David Albright’s view, and what people like Michael Massing and, unfortunately, you have done now is you’ve cherry-picked David Albright’s view to make it look like it was clear to him that Saddam was not involved in nuclear purposes. David’s view is very much like the British government. The British government believes the tubes were not for nuclear purposes. But they took the position that Saddam was reviving his nuclear weapons program. So it was a complicated series of events to be sure, and — but it’s important to — a lot of people in hindsight reflect on — see their position as different than it was at the time.
AMY GOODMAN: But the tubes were key, and what was so important too was the timing. Vice President Cheney, of course, having The New York Times in front of him, saying: "If you don’t believe what I say, refer to The New York Timestoday." But going on with Massing’s piece, referring to Albright, who did not believe that the tubes were being used for this, though the Times did assert this, Albright goes on to note that he wrote a series of reports criticizing the administration’s claims about the tubes and its misuse of information to build a case for war and that these became the basis for an article in The Washington Post on September 19th, 2002, that disclosed the —
MICHAEL GORDON: Inside the paper.
AMY GOODMAN: — doubts some experts had about the tubes’ suitability for use in centrifuges. As Albright goes on to note, the _Times_’s September 13th article, by carrying the categorical dismissal by senior officials of the dissenters’ views, made these dissenters nervous about discussing the issue further. By contrast, reporters at Knight Ridder newspapers, after writing about the dissent in the intelligence community, began receiving calls from sources eager to talk. Thus the Times heavy reliance on official sources and its dismissal of other sources may have discouraged potential dissenters from discussing their views with its reporters.
MICHAEL GORDON: Do you want me to say something?
AMY GOODMAN: Your response, please.
MICHAEL GORDON: Yeah, I don’t agree with that. And I actually — in the months of, you know, November, December, I actually wasn’t in the United States, I was out in — spent most of time actually in the, you know, Arabian Peninsula area covering military developments, so I wasn’t always present when all these things were unfolding. I don’t agree that this discouraged them. I think these people never came forward. They came forward after — you know, at both after the war, the Washington Post did an excellent job and so did The New York Timesof unraveling the tubes issue in great detail, talking to people who weren’t making themselves available at the time.
But I’m going to make just one — and I think you can beat this dead horse forever, but I think I’m going to make one point. I, the same guy that wrote that story, wrote an article — two articles in early 2003, that said Mohamed ElBaradei, the State Department’s Bureau of Intelligence, the British Government, and the Energy Department, all disagreed with the dominant view of the C.I.A. that the tubes were for that purpose. And I wrote that on one occasion, under my own name, and another occasion, in a co-authored piece with Jim Risen. And these articles, if memory serves, appeared in the January-February timeframe. So, I mean, you can go check it on the public record, and it’s all there.
AMY GOODMAN: The public record often shows this, but what isn’t emphasized is where it appears in the paper. That was on page A9, page 10 — much shorter article. And in fact, let me make a point, on that weekend that your first piece appeared on September 8th, that was the weekend that British Prime Minister Tony Blair and President Bush were at Camp David, and they talked about an IAEA report that showed new information about the concern of Saddam Hussein getting weapons of mass destruction, particularly nuclear weapons. In fact, President Bush said, "I don’t know what more evidence we need." Well, actually, any evidence would have helped. There was no such IAEA report, but few mainstream American journalists, including the Times at the time, questioned the leaders’ outright lies.
MICHAEL GORDON: Can I — I never wrote the IAEA —- I wrote the exact opposite. I wrote that the IAEA challenged it, I didn’t say the IAEA supported it. But I wanted -—
AMY GOODMAN: Many months later. That’s January, I’m talking September at the time of your piece coming out.
MICHAEL GORDON: Excuse me, I let you talk, you should let me talk. I wrote the IAEA assessment when — as soon as the IAEA made its public assessment. You know, I couldn’t write what the IAEA’s assessment was before they made it.
AMY GOODMAN: But you could have challenged President Bush at the White House —
MICHAEL GORDON: I wasn’t at the White House, I’m sorry, I wasn’t at the —- can I -—
AMY GOODMAN: The article, the Times could have challenged President Bush and Tony Blair, saying that a new IAEA report had showed that Iraq was six months away from building nuclear weapons, when in fact it didn’t come out with such a report. And instead, the Times came out with a front-page piece that very weekend, which was yours, talking about Saddam Hussein getting nuclear weapons, the aluminum tubes.
MICHAEL GORDON: I have an interesting thought for you to ponder, along with the information I’ve introduced to you to on David Albright. Larry Wilkerson, who I think — you probably have interviewed him. He’s a quite well-known figure. He was Colin Powell’s chief of staff, right? You may have encountered him. Anyway, he’s a very vocal person, and he’s highly critical of the neo-cons and of the Cheney staff, and I’ve interviewed him anyway for my book, if you haven’t. And he’s also spoken publicly in press conferences. He’s no friend of the administration, to be sure.
Well, Larry Wilkerson went with Colin Powell to the C.I.A. when they got briefed before Secretary Powell went to the United Nations to make his presentation. And Larry Wilkerson has publicly talked about this in press conferences, before liberal groups in Washington and also to myself. Larry Wilkerson believed that the tube evidence was persuasive after he got briefed by John McLaughlin and other people at the C.I.A., and Colin Powell — right? — who did have reservations about going to war, also believed the information was persuasive after he was briefed at the C.I.A., even though his own experts in the Bureau of Intelligence and Research were challenging it.
So, all I can tell you is that there was a very strong view in the American government, in the C.I.A., that persuaded Colin Powell and Colin Powell’s chief of staff, the man who said a "cabal" was running our government, if you remember that comment he made some months ago. That same individual believed Iraq had W.M.D. based on the briefings he got at the C.I.A. Now, I didn’t create these briefings, I’ve never — they don’t call me to the C.I.A. to give them to me; I haven’t, you know, participated in any of that. But, you know, all I can tell you is that there was a, you know, a lot of confusion within the American intelligence community about what was happening in Iraq, but that the principal policy makers, including the man most skeptical about the reason to go to war, was ultimately persuaded about this and argued with ElBaradei and the Security Council about it.
JUAN GONZALEZ: Michael —
MICHAEL GORDON: But I believe it’s now — but I agree with you to the extent that I now believe, whether the C.I.A. has retracted this or not, I think over time, based on what we now know, because we’re in Iraq, we’ve debriefed the scientists, you know, we’ve — we actually know a lot more than we knew before the war. We now — I believe that the C.I.A. analysis is wrong.
And I’m going to throw out one last fact for you to ponder. Saddam Hussein wanted the world to think he had W.M.D. We also know that. Saddam’s concern was Iran. Saddam — he had fought a bloody war with Iran for eight years. Both sides used chemical weapons. Saddam wanted to comply with the letter of the U.N. inspections but he had a policy called "deterrence by doubt." He didn’t want the Iranians to know his cupboard was bare, because he was concerned that would make him vulnerable to some sort of Iranian action. So he was walking a very fine line, and I understand what his political strategy was from Iran’s point of view, but it certainly was misinterpreted back here in Washington.
JUAN GONZALEZ: Michael Gordon, to change the topic off of the aluminum tubes, in your book you talk about how General Franks and his preparations, his yearlong preparation for the war, talked about — discussed a lot the need to go after command and communications facilities, and that he actually referred to them as "media targets."
MICHAEL GORDON: Mm-hmm.
JUAN GONZALEZ: There was, of course, the bombing of Iraqi television that occurred in the early days of the war. And you were actually on CNN where you were quoted as saying, "Personally, I think that the television, based on what I’ve seen of Iraqi television, with Saddam Hussein presenting propaganda, that I think it was an appropriate target." And your, in retrospect, on that, that was condemned by many journalism organizations around the world, the attacking of Iraqi television. Your thoughts on it?
MICHAEL GORDON: Well, I think when — you know, I don’t know what was in General Franks’ mind when he meant "media targets." I think General Franks has an odd way of talking, if you’re familiar, if you’ve listened to him a lot or are familiar with him, and he’s not always — I don’t want to cast any aspersions on him, but he’s not always precise in his language. I think by "media targets" in that context, really what he meant was command-control communications.
But here was the issue: in the first war, they knocked Iraqi TV off the air. I’m not calling, and I shouldn’t be interpreted as calling on the United States to bomb, you know, TV technicians — some of my best friends are TV technicians; I don’t care if they’re American or Iraqi. I don’t want people to bomb TV stations per se, but I think that one of the problems they were had was keeping Iraqi television off the air, either through electronic jamming or by, you know, if you could hit an antenna, or, you know, hit a some sort of, you know, cable, or, you know, if there was some way of doing it.
And the reason this became a big problem was because the Americans were invading Iraq, they were hoping that the Shia would help them and support them. And yet, Saddam was on the TV all the time, telling his public that, in fact, the Americans were losing and he was winning, and so when the American intelligence experts were trying to say "well how come in the cities they’re not rising up?" well, they weren’t rising up for two reasons. One, he had the Fedayeen in these cities to kill anybody who rose up. That was a very — you know, that discouraged a lot of people from rebelling. And two, Saddam was on the air all the time. So, what I believe is it would have been better if we had some way of knocking out that broadcasting capability, not through killing people in a television studio, but through electronic jamming or if you could hit an antenna somewhere, you know, the kind of stuff they managed to do in the first Gulf War.
JUAN GONZALEZ: And, General Trainor, finally, I’d like to ask you one quick question. In terms of the resistance, your understanding how the resistance now in Iraq, is it largely a resistance of foreign fighters, or is it a domestic resistance to the occupation?
AMY GOODMAN: And we have ten seconds.
GEN. BERNARD TRAINOR: No, I think the foreign fighters have always been there, but I think they have been a small percentage. It’s people that are probably mostly Sunni, who want to — it’s a power struggle as to who’s going to rule Iraq at the end of the day, and in a certain sense, the United States forces at this point are incidental to that power struggle.
AMY GOODMAN: And we have to leave it there. But Michael Gordon, quick question, and that is, do you think with the Times was wrong to have printed their mea culpa and single out your piece as one that was less than rigorous and they were sorry about?
MICHAEL GORDON: You have a one-track mind. I thought we were going to talk about the Iraq war. But, no, I think the Times was right to go back and look at the issue, and I think that, you know, with the advantages of hindsight —
AMY GOODMAN: We’ll have to leave it there. I’m Amy Goodman with Juan Gonzalez, we want to thank you both for being with us.