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Context of '(March 2002): Bush: ‘F__k Saddam. We’re Taking Him Out’'

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One of the many air strikes launched against Iraqi targets during Operation Desert Storm.One of the many air strikes launched against Iraqi targets during Operation Desert Storm. [Source: US Air Force]The US launches a massive air assault against Iraq in retaliation for that country’s invasion of Kuwait (see August 2, 1990). The air assault begins the day after a UN deadline for Iraq’s withdrawal from Kuwait expires (see November 29, 1990). F-117 Stealth bombers hit Baghdad with an array of high-tech bombs and missiles; many of the explosions are televised live, or on briefly delayed feeds, on CNN, which launches virtually 24-hour coverage of the air strikes. In the first 48 hours of the war, 2,107 combat missions drop more than 5,000 tons of bombs on Baghdad alone, nearly twice the amount that incinerated Dresden in World War II.
'Thunder and Lightning of Desert Storm' - US Army General Norman Schwarzkopf, chief of the US Central Command (CENTCOM), announces the beginning of hostilities by transmitting the following: “Soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines of the United States Central Command, this morning at 0300, we launched Operation Desert Storm, an offensive campaign that will enforce the United Nation’s resolutions that Iraq must cease its rape and pillage of its weaker neighbor and withdraw its forces from Kuwait. My confidence in you is total. Our cause is just! Now you must be the thunder and lightning of Desert Storm. May God be with you, your loved ones at home, and our country.” [US Navy, 9/17/1997]
Initial Attacks Obliterate Iraqi Navy, Much of Air Force, Many Ground Installations - The attack begins with an assault of over 100 Tomahawk land attack missiles (TLAMs) launched from US naval vessels in the Persian Gulf and Red Sea, and attack helicopter strikes on Iraqi radar installations near the Iraq-Saudi Arabian border. The assaults destroy much of Iraq’s air defense and command-and-control capabilities. The missile assault is quickly followed by fighter, bomber, and assault helicopter strikes which continue pounding at Iraqi government buildings, power stations, dams, military sites, radio and television stations, and several of Saddam Hussein’s palaces. The strikes essentially obliterate the Iraqi Navy, and drastically cripple the Iraqi Air Force. (Between 115 and 140 aircraft and crews of the Iraqi Air Force flees to Iran over the course of the war, a move that surprises US commanders, who expected the aircraft and their crews to attempt to flee to Jordan, not Iran. The Iranians will never give Iraq back its aircraft, and will not release Iraqi air crews for years to come.) A US Navy review later calls the combined Navy-Marine air campaign, conducted in concert with US Air Force strikes, “successful beyond the most optimistic expectations.” The Navy later reports that “allied air forces dropped over 88,500 tons of ordnance on the battlefield.” [US Navy, 9/17/1997; NationMaster, 12/23/2007] Iraqi anti-aircraft counterattacks are surprisingly effective, downing around 75 US and British aircraft in the first hours of attacks. The US media does not widely report these downings, nor does it give much attention to the dozens of pilots and air crew captured as POWs. [NationMaster, 12/23/2007]
'The Mother of All Battles' - Five hours after the first attacks, Baghdad state radio broadcasts a voice identified as Saddam Hussein. Hussein tells his people that “The great duel, the mother of all battles has begun. The dawn of victory nears as this great showdown begins.” [NationMaster, 12/23/2007]
US Embassy Helped Locate Targets for Air Strikes - Deputy Chief of Mission Joseph Wilson, the last American to leave Baghdad (see January 12, 1991), and his staff provided critical assistance to the US battle planners in choosing their initial targets. Over the months, Wilson and his staff developed a “hostage tracking system,” monitoring and recording the movements of the American hostages as they were transferred from site to site to be used as human shields in the event of a US strike (see August 4, 1990 and August 8, 1990). Wilson and his staff were able to identify some 55 sites that were being used around the country, presumably some of the most critical military and infrastructure sites in Iraq. Wilson gave that information to the Pentagon. He will later write, “I was gratified when several months later, on the first night of Desert Storm, long after the hostages had been released, many of those sites were ones hit by American bombs.” [Wilson, 2004, pp. 141]

Entity Tags: US Department of the Navy, United Nations, US Department of the Marines, US Department of the Air Force, US Department of the Army, CNN, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, Norman Schwarzkopf, Joseph C. Wilson, US Department of Defense, US Department of State, Saddam Hussein

Timeline Tags: Events Leading to Iraq Invasion

Many experts consider President Bush’s decision not to invade Baghdad and overthrow Saddam Hussein (see January 16, 1991 and After) as wise and prudent, avoiding putting the US in the position of becoming a hostile occupying force and, thusly, avoiding the alienation of allies around the world as well as upholding the UN mandate overseeing the conflict. However, many of the neoconservatives in Defense Secretary Dick Cheney’s office have different views. Paul Wolfowitz, Lewis “Scooter” Libby, and Zalmay Khalilzad are among those who view the “failure” to overthrow Hussein as what author Craig Unger will call “a disastrous lost opportunity.” Unger will reflect, “Interestingly, in what critics later termed ‘Chickenhawk Groupthink,’ the moderate, pragmatic, somewhat dovish policies implemented by men with genuinely stellar [military] records—George H. W. Bush, Brent Scowcroft, and Colin Powell—were under fire by men who had managed to avoid military service—Cheney, Wolfowitz, Libby, and Khalilzad.” (Secretary of State James Baker tells Powell to watch out for the “kooks” working for Cheney.) In some ways, the criticism and counterproposals from Cheney and his followers amounts to another “Team B” experience similar to that of 16 years before (see Early 1976, November 1976 and November 1976). Wolfowitz, with Libby and Khalilzad, will soon write their own set of recommendations, the Defense Planning Guide (DPG) (see February 18, 1992) memo, sometimes called the “Wolfowitz doctrine.” [Unger, 2007, pp. 115-117]

Entity Tags: Paul Wolfowitz, Brent Scowcroft, Colin Powell, Craig Unger, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, Saddam Hussein, Zalmay M. Khalilzad, Lewis (“Scooter”) Libby, George Herbert Walker Bush

Timeline Tags: Events Leading to Iraq Invasion

Vice President Dick Cheney makes an unusually personal plea to President Bush to redirect the US war on terror to focus on Iraq and Saddam Hussein. Several of Bush’s senior aides have argued the point before, but until now the US strategy has been to root out al-Qaeda from Afghanistan. Cheney argues that in 1991 he was part of the team that created what he now believes to be a flawed policy—leaving Hussein in power after the Gulf War—and now Bush can correct that error (see February 1991-1992). Cheney’s argument is very successful. “The reason that Cheney was able to sell Bush the policy is that he was able to say, ‘I’ve changed,’” a senior administration official will say. “‘I used to have the same position as [James] Baker, [Brent] Scowcroft, and your father—and here’s why it’s wrong.’” By late February or early March of 2002, Bush has swung to the position Cheney advocates, so much so that he interrupts a meeting between National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice and three senators to boast: “F_ck Saddam. We’re taking him out” (see (March 2002)). [New Republic, 11/20/2003] According to his 2008 book What Happened, deputy press secretary Scott McClellan isn’t sure why Cheney is so determined to invade Iraq. McClellan will state flatly that “some, like Cheney, [Defense Secretary Donald] Rumsfeld, and [Deputy Defense Secretary Paul] Wolfowitz were evidently pursuing their own agendas,” and will note that “[t]he most significant of their personal agendas was probably Cheney’s, given his closeness to the president and his influence over him.” Because of “Cheney’s personality and his penchant for secrecy,” McClellan believes his agenda “is the most likely to remain unknown.” Whether Cheney was driven to “finish the job he started as defense secretary in 1991,” when the US invaded Iraq but did not topple the Hussein regime (see January 16, 1991 and After), or whether he sought to “give America more influence over Iraq’s oil reserves,” McClellan is unsure. McClellan will write that Condoleezza Rice, President Bush’s top foreign policy adviser, should have stood up to the “forceful personalities” of Cheney, Rumsfeld, and Wolfowitz, “rather than deferring to them.” But, he will write, “my later experiences with Condi led me to believe that she was more interested in figuring out where the president stood and just carrying out his wishes while expending only cursory effort on helping him understand all the considerations and potential consequences” of an invasion. Bush, McClellan will observe, is “intellectually incurious” and prone to make decisions based on instinct rather than “deep intellectual debate.” McClellan believes that Bush’s mistakes “could have been prevented had his beliefs been properly vetted and challenged by his top advisers. Bush’s top advisers, especially those on his national security team, allowed the president to be put in the position he is in today. His credibility has been shattered and his public standing seemingly irreparably damaged.” [McClellan, 2008, pp. 145-146]

Entity Tags: George W. Bush, Scott McClellan, Saddam Hussein, Donald Rumsfeld, Paul Wolfowitz, Condoleezza Rice, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney

Timeline Tags: Events Leading to Iraq Invasion

During a meeting at the White House attended by Condoleezza Rice and a group of Republican and Democratic senators, President Bush, who is not scheduled to be at the meeting, shows up. At some point, the discussion drifts to Iraq and the president says, “F__k Saddam. We’re taking him out.” The same Time magazine article that reports this also comments, “From the moment he took office, Bush has made noises about finishing the job his father started. Sept. 11 may have diverted his attention, but Iraq has never been far from his mind.” [Time, 5/5/2002]

Entity Tags: George W. Bush, Condoleezza Rice

Timeline Tags: Events Leading to Iraq Invasion

The House and Senate draft a joint resolution authorizing the president to use military force against Iraq. The House bill is sponsored by Democrat Richard Gephardt (D-MI), who meets with the president in the morning to discuss the compromise bill. Bush concedes on a few of Gephardt’s requests. The resulting joint resolutions—HJ Res. 114 in the House and SJ Res. 46, in the Senate—is considered a win for President Bush, effectively derailing the bipartisan Biden-Lugar initiative (see October 1, 2002) which would have explicitly restricted the authorization of military force to Iraq only. Gephardt’s resolution angers many fellow Democrats. The general feeling is that Gephardt conceded so much to Bush because he didn’t want it to become an issue in the November elections (see also September 3, 2002). [US Congress, 10/2/2002; New York Times, 10/3/2002; Isikoff and Corn, 2006, pp. 127]
bullet The document alleges, among other things, that Iraq is harboring al-Qaeda operatives, is actively seeking and preparing to use weapons of mass destruction, had gassed its own people, had attempted to assassinate the president’s father, and was in violation of past UN resolutions. [US Congress, 10/2/2002]
bullet The document authorizes the president to use military force to “defend the national security of the United States against the continuing threat posed by Iraq; and… enforce all relevant United Nations Security Council resolutions regarding Iraq.” [US Congress, 10/2/2002]
bullet The document requires that the president, within 48 hours of exercising the use of military force, provide Congress with an explanation as to why diplomacy was insufficient to protect the United States or enforce United Nations resolutions. The resolution also requires the president to report to Congress every 60 days during the entire duration of the conflict. [US Congress, 10/2/2002]

Entity Tags: US Congress, Richard Gephardt, George W. Bush

Timeline Tags: Events Leading to Iraq Invasion

The House votes to give President Bush sweeping authorization to use military force against Iraq, on an overwhelming 296-133 vote. One hundred and twenty-six Democrats vote against the bill even though House Minority Leader Richard Gephardt (D-MO) co-authored it. House Majority Leader Dick Armey (R-TX) issues a veiled warning to the president to use his newly granted powers judiciously: “Mr. President, we are about to give you a great trust.” After the bill passes the House, Bush says, “The days of Iraq acting as an outlaw state are coming to an end… [t]he gathering threat of Iraq must be confronted fully and finally.” One of the opponents of the House bill, John Spratt (D-SC), says that without an international diplomatic approach, “this will be the United States versus Iraq and in some quarters the US versus the Arab and the Muslim world.” Commenting on the passing of the resolution, the Washington Post reports: “Yesterday’s debate often lacked the passion and unpredictability of the 1991 affair, when members sat late into the night listening attentively to a war of words. By contrast, the House chamber was largely empty most of yesterday: the arguments familiar, the outcome certain, the conclusion anticlimactic.” [White House, 10/2/2002; PBS, 10/10/2002; Washington Post, 10/11/2002] Bush calls on the Senate to pass the bill (see October 11, 2002) so it can be signed into law as soon as possible (see October 16, 2002). The Senate overwhelmingly approves the resolution the next day. [PBS, 10/10/2002; US Senate, 10/11/2002] The AUMF contains a caveat in the authorization that conditions Congress’s authorization of military force on a formal determination by Bush that Iraq poses a threat to the US that cannot be contained diplomatically, and that any military action against Iraq must be consistent with the war against those who attacked the US on 9/11 (see March 18, 2003). The US media virtually ignores this condition, and therefore the Bush administration does not feel particularly bound by it. Congress asks for the formal declaration either before launching an attack or within 48 hours of the attack, and insists that the declaration contain solid evidence of the impossibility of further diplomacy, and of Iraq’s connection to the 9/11 terrorists. [Dean, 2004, pp. 143-148]

Entity Tags: Richard Gephardt, John Spratt, Bush administration (43), Dick Armey, George W. Bush, Washington Post

Timeline Tags: Events Leading to Iraq Invasion

US senators vote 77 to 23 in favor of SJ Res. 46 (see October 2, 2002) authorizing the president to use military force against Iraq, despite significant opposition from their constituencies. [US Congress, 10/2/2002; Washington Post, 10/11/2002] Democratic senators Carl Levin (D-MI), Richard Durbin (D-IL), Barbara Boxer (D-CA), Robert Byrd (D-WV), and Mark Dayton (D-MN) attempt to come up with an alternative, SJ Res. 45, but discussion on it is postponed indefinitely by a 75 to 25 vote. [US Congress, 9/26/2002]
Sen. Carl Levin. SJ Res. 45 with Amendments 4858-62 (Rejected) - “To authorize the use of the United States Armed Forces, pursuant to a new resolution of the United Nations Security Council, to destroy, remove, or render harmless Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction, nuclear weapons-usable material, long-range ballistic missiles, and related facilities, and for other purposes.” [US Congress, 10/10/2002]
Sen. Richard Durbin. SJ Res. 45 with Amendments 4865 (Rejected) - To amend the authorization for the use of the Armed Forces to cover an imminent threat posed by Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction rather than the continuing threat posed by Iraq.
Sen. Barbara Boxer. SJ Res. 45 with Amendments 4866-67 (Not Voted On) - “In families with minor children where both parents serve on active duty in the Armed Forces or where both parents are members of the National Guard or Reserves, the secretary of defense shall make every effort to ensure that not more than one of the parents is deployed in combat.”
Sen. Robert Byrd. SJ Res. 45 with Amendments 4868 (Rejected) - To provide statutory construction that constitutional authorities remain unaffected and that no additional grant of authority is made to the president not directly related to the existing threat posed by Iraq. [US Congress, 10/10/2002]
Sen. Robert Byrd. SJ Res. 45 with Amendments 4869 (Rejected) - To provide a termination date for the authorization of the use of the Armed Forces of the United States, together with procedures for the extension of such date unless Congress disapproves the extension. [US Congress, 10/10/2002]
Sen. Mark Dayton. SJ Res. 45 with Amendments 4870 (Rejected) - Allows the president to prepare for the deployment—not use—of the US Armed Forces. If he determines that the use of force is necessary to protect the US from an imminent threat posed by Iraq, he may request a declaration of war to be voted upon by Congress. [US Congress, 10/10/2002]
Many Opponents Believe Iraq a Threat - Even some of the most ardent opponents of the war believe the allegations about Iraq’s WMD: Senator Russ Feingold (D-WI) says, “I believe that Iraq presents a genuine threat, especially in the form of weapons of mass destruction: chemical, biological, and potentially nuclear weapons.” [Unger, 2007, pp. 266]
Senators Lack Key Information for Informed Vote - Virtually none of the senators, for or against the use of force, bothered to read the National Intelligence Estimate on Iraq to help them ascertain the reality behind the administration’s insistence on the necessity for military action (see October 1, 2002). Almost all of them relied instead on briefings from administration officials. They were not told of the doubts about the Niger documents (see October 9, 2002), or the doubts surrounding the intelligence source dubbed “Curveball” (see Mid- and Late 2001). Nor are they aware that the CIA has “turned” Iraqi Foreign Minister Naji Sabri, who says that Iraq has long since terminated its WMD programs (see Late September 2002). [Unger, 2007, pp. 265]
Senate Leadership 'Caved in,' Former Ambassador Says - Former ambassador Joseph Wilson will write in 2004 that while a number of Senate Democrats opposed giving Bush a “blank check” to use military force as he sees fit, the efforts fail because “the Democratic leadership essentially caved in. The combination of threats of defeat at the polls with presidential promises that the congressional resolution would provide him the ammunition he needed to negotiate a strong UN resolution on disarmament proved to be too much for careerist politicians.” [Wilson, 2004, pp. 328]
Former Senator Says Electoral Politics Were Key to Vote - In 2009, Senator Bob Graham (D-FL), the chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, will reflect: “Unlike the first George Bush, who had purposefully put off the vote on the Persian Gulf War until after the elections of 1990—we voted in January of 1991 (see January 9-13, 1991)—here they put the vote in October of 2002, three weeks before a congressional election. I think there were people who were up for election who didn’t want, within a few days of meeting the voters, to be at such stark opposition with the president.” [Vanity Fair, 2/2009]

Entity Tags: Daniel Robert (“Bob”) Graham, Barbara Boxer, Mark Dayton, Carl Levin, Richard (“Dick”) Durbin, Robert C. Byrd

Timeline Tags: Events Leading to Iraq Invasion

President Bush signs the congressional resolution (see October 2, 2002 and October 11, 2002) authorizing him to use military force against Iraq. He continues to maintain that he wants to avoid war if at all possible (see (March 2002)). “I have not ordered the use of force,” he says. “I hope the use of force will not become necessary,” he says shortly before signing the document. “Hopefully this can be done peacefully. Hopefully we can do this without any military action.” He says he has “carefully weighed the human cost of every option before us” and that he will only send troops “as a last resort.” [US President, 10/21/2002; Unger, 2007, pp. 267]

Entity Tags: George W. Bush

Timeline Tags: Events Leading to Iraq Invasion

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