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Bush Feared 'Looking Weak' on Iraq

By Robert Parry
October 15, 2005

Less than two months before invading Iraq, George W. Bush fretted that his war plans could be disrupted if United Nations weapons inspectors succeeded in gaining Saddam Hussein’s full cooperation, possibly leaving Bush “looking weak,” according to notes written by a secretary to British Prime Minister Tony Blair.

The notes, taken by Blair’s personal secretary Matthew Rycroft, were included in a new edition of Lawless World, a book by University College professor Philippe Sands. The notes on the Jan. 30, 2003, phone call between Bush and Blair were reviewed by the New York Times, which said they were marked secret and personal. [NYT, Oct. 14, 2005]

At the time, Blair wanted Bush to seek a second resolution from the U.N. Security Council that would have judged Iraq to be in violation of U.N. disarmament demands and would have authorized military action. According to the notes, Bush agreed that “it made sense to try for a second resolution, which he would love to have.”

But Bush’s deeper worry was that chief U.N. arms inspector Hans Blix would conclude that Hussein’s government was cooperating in the search for weapons of mass destruction, thus delaying or blocking U.S.-led military action. Bush’s “biggest concern was looking weak,” the British document said.

Blix indeed did judge that Iraq was cooperating with the inspectors, who weren’t finding any WMD even at sites pinpointed by U.S. intelligence.

With the U.N. inspectors coming up empty and other U.S. claims about Iraq’s WMD falling apart, Bush ditched the idea of seeking a second U.N. resolution authorizing use of military force. Instead, Bush began to pressure the U.N. inspectors to leave Iraq and Blix’s team prepared to withdraw.

“Although the inspection organization was now operating at full strength and Iraq seemed determined to give it prompt access everywhere, the United States appeared as determined to replace our inspection force with an invasion army,” Blix wrote in his memoir, Disarming Iraq.

War Rationales

On March 19, 2003, Bush launched the invasion. After three weeks of fighting, U.S.-led forces toppled Hussein’s government and Bush’s popularity ratings soared.

For weeks, the U.S. triumphalism over the Iraq victory trumped any lingering questions about the invasion. Even the failure to find WMD didn’t dampen the enthusiasm much. But as Iraq slid into chaos and insurgents began to kill American soldiers, Bush moved to shore up his justifications for war by reconstructing the pre-war history.

On July 14, 2003, less than four months after the invasion, Bush said about Hussein, “we gave him a chance to allow the inspectors in, and he wouldn’t let them in. And, therefore, after a reasonable request, we decided to remove him from power.”

In the following months, Bush repeated this claim in slightly varied forms. On Jan. 27, 2004, Bush said, “We went to the United Nations, of course, and got an overwhelming resolution – 1441 – unanimous resolution, that said to Saddam, you must disclose and destroy your weapons programs, which obviously meant the world felt he had such programs. He chose defiance. It was his choice to make, and he did not let us in.”

Though American journalists had witnessed the U.N.’s search of Iraq’s WMD, no one in the national press corps challenged Bush’s historical revisionism. Meanwhile, some of Bush’s defenders argued that the absence of WMD didn’t mean that Bush was a liar, only that he was misled by faulty intelligence.

At Consortiumnews.com, we began citing Bush’s post-invasion falsehoods about Iraq not letting the U.N. inspectors in as proof that Bush had no qualms about lying. Indeed, the evidence pointed to a long-term Bush strategy of preventing any serious investigation of Iraq’s alleged WMD stockpiles so as not to remove this central rationale for war. [For details, see Consortiumnews.com’s “President Bush, With the Candlestick.”]

British Papers

In that sense, the newly disclosed British notes – like the earlier Downing Street Memo showing that Bush wanted the intelligence to be “fixed” around his Iraq policy – simply add more weight to the already strong case on Bush’s duplicity.

Far from not knowing that Hussein had let the U.N. inspectors in, Bush expressed fears in the Jan. 30, 2003, conversation that the inspectors would secure full cooperation from the Iraqi government – and that might frustrate his invasion plans. Bush was aware, too, that Blair believed that a second U.N. resolution was needed to authorize military action.

Bush’s Iraq War deceptions also continue to the present, including during Bush’s Oct. 6 speech in which he exaggerated both al-Qaeda’s capabilities and its goals in a new effort to scare the American people into supporting his policies. [See Consortiumnews.com’s “’Al-Qaeda Letter’ Belies Bush’s Iraq Claims.”]

One constant throughout this troubled chapter of American history seems to be that Bush puts above all other concerns his avoidance of  “looking weak” or being proved wrong. But, arguably, the cause of helping Bush avoid accountability and making him look tough has cost the lives of nearly 2,000 U.S. soldiers and tens of thousands of Iraqis.


Robert Parry broke many of the Iran-Contra stories in the 1980s for the Associated Press and Newsweek. His latest book, Secrecy & Privilege: Rise of the Bush Dynasty from Watergate to Iraq, can be ordered at secrecyandprivilege.com. It's also available at Amazon.com, as is his 1999 book, Lost History: Contras, Cocaine, the Press & 'Project Truth.'

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