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Financial Times: The Bush Administration Planned to Invade Iraq as Early as December

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In the buildup to the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq, White House officials told the American people up until March that that the president had not decided to use military force and would only consider it as a last resort. The Financial Times reported yesterday that the decision to invade Iraq came much earlier.

A senior aide to President Bush said the critical “internal moment” in the White House came in the second week of December, when the president was briefed on Iraq’s weapons declaration. The president was told that the Iraqi regime appeared to have made a decision not to cooperate with the U.N. process.

One person who worked closely with the National Security Council during the time said, “A tinpot dictator was mocking the president. It provoked a sense of anger in the White House. After that point, there was no prospect of a diplomatic solution.”

France concluded in early January that the U.S. had abandoned the diplomatic path and was already determined to overthrow Saddam Hussein using military force. Bush administration officials indicated that the French assessment was justified.

The Financial Times report is the first in a three-part series.

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This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: We wrap up today’s show with a Financial Times investigation. In the buildup to the U.S. invasion of Iraq, White House officials told the American people up until March that the president had not decided to use military force and would only consider it as a last resort. Well, a new report in the Financial Times reveals France had concluded in early January that the U.S. had abandoned the diplomatic path and was already determined to overthrow Saddam Hussein using military force. The conclusion, confirmed to the Financial Times by the French Foreign Minister Dominique de Villepin, lay at the heart of the confrontation between U.S. and Britain and the antiwar camp of France, Germany and Russia. Bush administration officials indicated that the French assessment was justified.

We turn right now to the author of the piece, James Harding, who is stationed in Washington, D.C.

Welcome to Democracy Now!


AMY GOODMAN: Well, can you talk further about the sources that you had that talked about when the U.S. decided to invade Iraq?

JAMES HARDING: Well, I think, as you said, I mean, what we’ve written is that the French calculation was in the middle of January that the U.S. was certainly going to war and that the diplomatic option had no real chance. And that seems as though that was well founded.

You speak to people in the White House, and they say there was an internal moment for Mr. Bush. The president had a briefing with the likes of Condi Rice, his national security adviser, and others, Bob Joseph, also on the National Security Council, and Colin Powell, after the declaration of — the weapons declaration presented by Saddam Hussein was reviewed by them. And their view was that Mr. Hussein had taken a “strategic decision,” in their words, that he was not going to cooperate.

And I guess if you look back over the last couple of years, the view would be that there was a willingness to, quote-unquote, “do Iraq” by this administration from the moment they arrived in office. Over the summer — after September the 11th, obviously, that willingness hardened into a determination. Over the summer of 2002, there was a decision to press ahead. It was always most likely to be resolved in a military fashion, but they were leaving open a diplomatic solution. And I guess what we’re finding is that by December — so, well in advance of the presentations by Blix and well in advance of the long U.N. process — there was pretty much a determination that this was going to have to be military force. And it explains also the increase in troop deployments in the Gulf at that time.

AMY GOODMAN: And what was the understanding of Russia and Germany?

JAMES HARDING: Well, I think, I mean, obviously, you have take each one separately. The president has had a good relationship with Vladimir Putin. They had a good discussion when Mr. Bush and Mr. Putin saw each other in St. Petersburg towards the end of last year. Obviously, Mr. Putin had a bunch of different interests and a different bunch of different pressures when it came to Iraq, although the view from the White House is those were always communicated pretty clearly.

When it comes to Germany, Mr. Bush has had a famously bad relationship with Mr. Schröder. The view was that in a private conversation between the president and the chancellor of Germany, Schröder gave a sense to the U.S. president that he would support or he would — he would not stand in the way of the U.S. as it pursued its agenda on Iraq. And Mr. Bush felt as though Mr. Schröder had not kept his word. And that has led to a real souring of relations right at the top. In some ways, the irony is that, actually, diplomatic relations between Germany and the U.S. have been good on the official level, on the working level, but right right at the top, they’re lousy.

AMY GOODMAN: We’re talking to James Harding, who’s a reporter for the Financial Times stationed in Washington, D.C. Big piece, “War in Iraq: How the Die Was Cast Before Transatlantic Diplomacy Failed.” So, I mean, now people look back and say, “Oh, whatever. The U.S., you know, planned to do this, yes.” But at the time, it’s very significant, the timing, when you talk about back in December, the U.S. deciding, making a decision, after Iraq put in its declaration. And then, certainly, it was February — wasn’t it? — when Colin Powell went to the United Nations Security Council to make his case for war. But you’re saying, you know, more than a month before that the die had been cast.

JAMES HARDING: Yeah, and I suppose if you look at it also — that’s looking at it from the Iraq point of view. If you look at it from the European point of view, there was also another really fundamental casualty of the whole Iraq crisis, which was the sense of unity and solidarity within Europe. Just after the period at which the French decided that the U.S. was going to go to war, divisions started to emerge within Europe. And they’re very important right now. The president is just headed off to Poland later this week, and on to Russia and then to France for the G8 summit. And the relentless question will be: What does the transatlantic relationship now mean to the Bush administration? Clearly, it is a different relationship. It has different significance from the one that they thought it had — I was going to say two years ago — even six months ago. There was a sense that the transatlantic relationship should be used for good, but at certain times the U.S. is going to seek to act over the heads of its transatlantic allies.

AMY GOODMAN: And you talk about MGM, French President Jacques Chirac’s personal diplomatic adviser, Maurice Gourdault-Montagne.

JAMES HARDING: Yes. Well, this was — I suppose there were a few key moments, from the French point of view, when they really determined that the U.S. was going to take military action to get rid of Saddam Hussein.

And I should say that this says something not only about U.S. determination, but, to a certain extent, about French naivety. How the French could not have seen what Dick Cheney’s speech in August last year was saying — I mean, he was very clear that inaction is not an option — how the French could have misread what Mr. Bush was trying to do when he went to the U.N. on September the 12th and said, “We’re going to do Iraq anyway,” is a big question. I mean, to a certain extent, I think the French, if their accounts are true, and if this is not them trying to rewrite history and explain how they suddenly woke up in the middle of January and started agitating against military action — if their accounts are true, then it shows a real naivety on their part.

But the key moment in terms of, I think, Chirac, if there was an internal moment for Bush, which was seeing this declaration or getting briefed on this declaration, then there was an internal moment for Chirac, which was, he sent his chief policy adviser, the equivalent of Condi Rice —

AMY GOODMAN: We have five seconds.

JAMES HARDING: — to the White House. They had lunch. It was clear there was going to be war.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, I want to thank you very much, James Harding, for being with us, of the Financial Times.

And that does it for the show. If you want to get a copy, you can call 1-800-881-2359, 1-800-881-2359. Democracy Now! produced by Kris Abrams, Mike Burke, Angie Karran, Sharif Abdel Kouddous, Ana Nogueira, Elizabeth Press, with help from Noah Reibel, Mike Di Filippo, our engineer. I’m Amy Goodman.

[End of Hour 1]

AMY GOODMAN: From Pacifica Radio, this is Democracy Now!

HOWARD ZINN: Governments are artificial creations. Governments are set up by the people to ensure certain rights, equality, life, liberty, the pursuit of happiness. When governments become destructive of those ends — I’m now quoting the Declaration of Independence — when governments become — if it doesn’t mind, when governments become destructive of those ends, it is the right of the people to alter or abolish the government, you see.

AMY GOODMAN: Today, a conversation between acclaimed people’s historian Howard Zinn and the Booker Prize-winning author Arundhati Roy.

ARUNDHATI ROY: I’m actually not a nationalist of any kind. You know, I believe that we — I think it’s very important to stop, allow — you know, stop our minds coming up short against these artificial boundaries. And I think nationalism really does lie at the root of a lot of the troubles of this century and the last one, and we really need to question that.

AMY GOODMAN: Arundhati Roy and Howard Zinn. But first, over 100 cities have passed resolutions condemning the USA PATRIOT Act, but a small city in California has gone a step further: They’ve made it illegal for their local authorities to comply. And the Supreme Court has refused to hear an appeal on the hundreds of secret deportation hearings of foreigners detained after September 11th.

NANCY CHANG: Secrecy has absolutely no place when it comes to depriving individuals of their most fundamental right to liberty.

AMY GOODMAN: All that and more, coming up.

Welcome to Democracy Now!, The War and Peace Report. I’m Amy Goodman.

Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld yesterday suggested publicly for the first time that Iraq may have destroyed its weapons of mass destruction before the U.S. invaded. Rumsfeld has repeatedly said it’s just a matter of time before the weapons of mass destruction will be found in Iraq. The BBC reports this is the closest the Bush administration has ever come to admitting they may never find such weapons in Iraq.

Meanwhile, The Guardian of London reports, the good news for the Pentagon that: Its investigators have finally unearthed evidence of weapons of mass destruction, including 100 vials of anthrax and other dangerous bacteria. The bad news? The stash was found not in Iraq, but fewer than 50 miles from Washington, near Fort Detrick, Maryland. The anthrax is a nonvirulent strain, and the discoveries are apparently remnants of an abandoned germ warfare program. Interestingly, there is no documentation about the biological agents disposed of at the U.S. Biodefense Center at Fort Detrick. In the run-up to the invasion of Iraq, U.S. officials said Iraq’s failure to come up with paperwork proving the destruction of its biological arsenal is evidence of deception.

The London Guardian is reporting in the months before the U.S. invasion of Iraq, the Pentagon ignored repeated warnings that it would need a substantial military police force immediately after the invasion to provide law and order, this according to U.S. government advisers. Some 4,000 U.S. military police are now being deployed to Baghdad, but only after most Iraqi government services have been crippled by a wave of looting and arson. According to The Guardian, the anarchy in the streets was predicted by several panels of former ambassadors, soldiers and peacekeeping experts who advised the Pentagon and the White House while the invasion was being planned. They urged that lessons be learned from previous U.S.-led military interventions and a post-conflict police force be established before the war. Most U.S. military police are reservists who are given just one day’s instruction in dealing with civilian crowds. And the U.S. Army Peacekeeping Institute is being closed in September.

Saudi Arabian officials have arrested five men suspected of involvement in the suicide attacks on residential compounds in Riyadh. An unnamed source told Reuters that the officials believe one of the suspects was the mastermind behind the attacks. The source also said the arrests were made in the Muslim holy city of Medina. On May 12th, bombers hit three residential compounds known to house Westerners. Thirty-four people were killed.

Meanwhile, the editor of a liberal Saudi newspaper was sacked yesterday after his paper dared to criticize Saudi Arabia’s puritanical Wahhabi sect of Islam as contributing to extremism. According to the Financial Times, the Al-Watan paper turned into a forum for self-criticism after the recent suicide bombings in Riyadh. Columnists slammed the education system as breeding extremists, disapproved of religious police and questioned some of Wahhabi sect’s most historic figures. The sacking is seen as a victory for the conservative religious establishment. The newspaper is majority-owned by a Saudi prince. The fired editor was Jamal Khashoggi.

The U.S. Supreme Court yesterday ruled 6 to 3 state workers can sue their employers for violating the Family and Medical Leave Act. The law entitles the workers to take up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave for work for several reasons, including birth, adoption or a family emergency. The court extended the protections of the federal law to almost 5 million state employees. The ruling breaks with the court’s recent tradition of siding with states against the federal government involving the extension of federal anti-discrimination laws. Women’s rights groups have hailed the ruling.

However, the Supreme Court yesterday refused to hear an appeal of a federal court decision that upheld Bush administration policy of holding secret deportation hearings for hundreds of foreign nationals detained after September 11th. We’ll have more on that story in a minute.

Also yesterday, the Supreme Court ruled a police sergeant did not violate the rights of a seriously injured farmworker by interrogating him at the hospital without reading him his Miranda rights. In 1997, Oxnard, California, police shot Oliverio Martinez five times and then subjected him to a lengthy interrogation while he was awaiting medical treatment. According to a transcript of the interview, Martinez told the police officer, quote, “I am choking. I am dying. Please.” The officer replied, “If you’re going to die, tell me what happened.” Martinez was left blind and paralyzed. Dissenting Justice John Paul Stevens compared the interrogation to, quote, “an attempt to obtain an involuntary confession from a prisoner by torturous methods.” The Miranda warnings begin with “You have the right to remain silent.” This ruling means police officers cannot be sued for failing to read someone these rights. Martinez may still be allowed to collect damages on the grounds that his constitutional due process rights were violated.

The Archbishop of Canterbury and other Anglican Church leaders said yesterday they cannot support ceremonies blessing gay partnerships. Issuing a statement from a meeting in Brazil, the church leaders said the issue is divisive, and there is no theological consensus on the issue. The controversy intensified recently when a bishop in Vancouver approved blessing rituals for gay men and lesbians.

And more than 100 nongovernmental organizations from around the world have issued an Evian water challenge to leaders of the Group of 8 major industrial nations that will meet next week in Evian, France. The challenge demands that the G8 nations stop pressuring developing countries to privatize their water resources. The European Union has been especially aggressive in this effort. The EU is demanding 72 countries open their water sectors to foreign private investment in the world trade negotiations. This would greatly benefit the six major multinational corporations, which account for virtually all private investment in water utilities in developing countries. They include the France’s Suez and Vivendi Environnement corporations, as well as Bechtel. Bechtel is the U.S. corporation that won the first major reconstruction contract in Iraq.

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