Paul Oneill Controversy Smith On Iraq

The Paul O’Neill Controversy: Smith on the Iraq War Planning and the PNAC

The allegation by Paul O’Neill that Bush wanted people to get him a

justification for an Iraq war already in January of 2001 has provoked a

lot of controversy about the origins of the war. (“?It was all about

finding a way to do it. That was the tone of it . . . The President saying, ?

Go find me a way to do this.? ) Bush denies he determined

to go to war so early, though note that as late as November of 2002 he was

saying he had not made up his mind on whether to go to war, which was

an out-and-out lie. So if he was lying then, we can’t be sure he isn’t lying


My friend and colleague Charles Smith, a Mideast expert and historian at

the University of Arizona, recently sent out what I think is a remarkably clear

account of the main figures involved in getting up the Iraq war, and he

graciously allowed me to share it, below.


“It is not clear just what the Clinton administration actually intended for

Iraq beyond the intensified air strikes from late 1998, but I can

contribute to the record for what subsequent administration appointees

intended from the same period.

First we can recall

“Clean Break” and its vision of Saddam’s overthrow as

the precursor to ensuring Israel’s strategic dominance in the region,

coupled with the undermining of the Oslo process – all discussed here

previously. Then there were two letters sent to Clinton, in February and

May 1998 (in advance of his stepped-up military approach to Saddam). Both

called for an attack on Iraq and Saddam’s overthrow. Both referred to the

dangers of Saddam’s Weapons of Mass Destruction.

I want to mention each letter and list the signatories in order to suggest

that Paul O’Neill may be right about plans being underway to go after

Saddam very soon after Bush took office. To put it another way, if such

plans didn’t really start until after 9/11, what were some of these people

doing for nine months after Bush took office?

1. The first letter, 2/19/98, was an “Open Letter to the President.” It

mentions the Iraq National Congress and calls for a “comprehensive

political and military strategy for bringing down Saddam and his regime”

as in “the vital national interests of our country.”

Richard Perle, author of “Clean Break,” co-authored the first letter

with former congresman Stephen Solarz.. Signatories were, as listed,

Elliott Abrams, Richard V. Allen, Richard Armitage, Jeffrey Bergner, John

Bolton, Stephen Bryen, Richard Burt, Frank Carlucci, William Clark, Paula

Dobriansky, Douglas Feith (Clean Break signer), Frank Gaffney, Jeffrey

Gedmin, Fred Ikle, Robert Kagan (Project for New American Century), Zalmay

Khalilzad, Sven Kramer, William Kristol, Michael Ledeen, Bernard Lewis

(more on him later), Rear Admiral retired Frederick Lewis, Maj General

Jarvis Lynch, retired, Robert McFarlane, Joshua Muravchik, Robert Pastor,

Martin Peretz, Roger Robinson, Peter Rodman, Peter Rosenblatt, Donald

Rumsfeld (**), Gary Schmitt (Project for New American Century), Max

Singer, Helmut Sonnenfeldt (ID’d as tied to Perle on suspicion of spying

in 1970s by Seymour Hersh), Casper Weinberger, Leon Wienseltier, Paul

Wolfowitz(**), David Wurmser (Clean Break signer and author of second memo

to Netanyahu in 1996), and Dov Zakheim.

Bernard Lewis’s presence here causes me to wonder if his book “What Went

Wrong” which has gained so much attention might have been written with

some eye to the view of many of his co-signers on this list to be the ones

to make things right in the Middle East.

2. The second letter, 5/29/98, was addressed to Newt Gingrich and Trent

Lott as Speaker of the House and Senate Majority Leader respectively. It

repeated the arguments of the first letter but stressed that failure to

overthrow Saddam would greatly harm U.S. leadership and credibility

because we would have failed to limit the spread of weapons of mass

destruction. This in turn could “make Saddam the driving force of Middle

East politics, including on such important matters as the Middle East

peace process.” (This statement is very interesting in light of the goals

of “Clean Break”). The signers called on Gingrich and Lott to insist that

the U.S. make the removal of Saddam’s regime and its replacement by a

“peaceful and democratic Iraq” an “explicit goal.” There is no indication

of authorship as in the February letter but the signers as listed are:

Elliott Abrams, William J. Bennett, Jeffrey Bergner, John Bolton, Paula

Dobriansky, Francis Fukuyama (I thought the “end of history” had already

happened!), Robert Kagan, Zalmay Khalilzad, William Kristol, Peter Rodman,

Donald Rumsfeld, William Schneider, Jr., Vin Weber, Paul Wolfowitz, R.

James Woolsey, Robert Zoellick.

There are many notable repeats here from the first letter, Abrams,

Bolton, Perle, Dobransky, Kagan, Khalilzad, Kristol, Rodman, Rumsfeld, and

Wolfowitz. Quite a lineup of those high up in DoD (Rumsfeld, Wolfowitz,

and Feith from first letter make up the top three posts), State Dept

(Bolton, and Armitage from first letter), NSC Middle East head (Abrams),

Defense Policy Board (Perle and Woolsey), plus the pundits such as


So do we think these people twiddled their thumbs about Iraq until 9/11

woke them up? Or does O’Neill’s statement seem more plausible?”

Charles Smith

University of Arizona

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