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September 12, 2001: Iraq Attack Possibility Is Raised in Meeting Led by President Bush

White House counterterrorism “tsar” Richard Clarke meets with Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, President Bush, and Secretary of State Colin Powell. Rumsfeld suggests that the US should bomb Iraq in retaliation for the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. “Rumsfeld was saying we needed to bomb Iraq,” Clarke will later recall in his book, Against All Enemies. “We all said, ‘But no, no. Al-Qaeda is in Afghanistan,’ and Rumsfeld said, ‘There aren’t any good targets in Afghanistan and there are lots of good targets in Iraq.’” (Clarke 2004; Reuters 3/19/2004; Bridis 3/20/2004; CBS News 3/21/2004; Gellman 3/22/2004) Powell agrees with Clarke that the immediate focus should be al-Qaeda. However, Powell also says, “Public opinion has to be prepared before a move against Iraq is possible.” Clarke complains to him, “Having been attacked by al-Qaeda, for us now to go bombing Iraq in response would be like our invading Mexico after the Japanese attacked us at Pearl Harbor.” President Bush notes the goal should be replacing the Iraqi government, not just bombing it, but the military warns an invasion would need a large force and many months to assemble. (Clarke 2004) Rumsfeld’s view is said to be closely aligned with that of his deputy, Paul Wolfowitz, who believes Saddam, not Osama bin Laden or al-Qaeda, should be the principal target of the “war on terrorism.” (Woodward 2002, pp. 49) Commenting on his feelings after the meeting, Clarke will later write: “At first I was incredulous that we were talking about something other than getting al-Qaeda. I realized with almost a sharp physical pain that (Defense Secretary Donald) Rumsfeld and Wolfowitz were going to try to take advantage of this national tragedy to promote their agenda about Iraq.” (Raum 3/22/2004; Gellman 3/22/2004; Clarke 3/28/2004) “They were talking about Iraq on 9/11. They were talking about it on 9/12.” (Clarke 2004; Reuters 3/19/2004; Bridis 3/20/2004)


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