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Context of 'December 11, 2002: Rumsfeld Asks Bush to Give Planners Access to Nuclear Weapons Options'

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President-elect George W. Bush meets with Donald Rumsfeld in Washington, and offers him the position of secretary of defense. Insiders are amazed that Bush would even consider Rumsfeld, the chief of staff for former President Ford (see September 21, 1974 and After), after Rumsfeld’s open contempt and enmity towards the elder Bush, the “Team B” onslaught against the elder Bush’s CIA (see Late November 1976 and Late November, 1976), and his attempts to keep Bush off the presidential tickets in 1976 and 1980 (see Before November 4, 1975). “Real bitterness there,” a close friend of the Bush family later says. “Makes you wonder what was going through Bush 43’s head when he made [Rumsfeld] secretary of defense.” The Bush family’s great friend and fixer, James Baker, even tries to dissuade Bush from choosing Rumsfeld, telling him, “All I’m going to say is, you know what he did to your daddy.” But Bush chooses Rumsfeld anyway. Not only does Rumsfeld have a long and fruitful relationship with Vice President Cheney (see 1969), but Rumsfeld, described as always an ingratiating courtier by author Craig Unger, plays on Bush’s insecurity about his lack of experience and his desire to be an effective commander in chief. Rumsfeld is also a key element of Cheney’s long-term plan to unify power in the executive branch (see 1981-1992), to the detriment of Congress and the judiciary. (Unger 2007, pp. 186-187)

US Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld sends President Bush a memo requesting authority to appoint US Strategic Command (STRATCOM) commander Adm. James O. Ellis Jr. in charge of all of the United States’ “strategic” warfare options to combat terrorist states and organizations. By giving STRATCOM warplanners jurisdiction over the full range of the country’s warfare options, the president would effectively remove a decades-old firewall between conventional and nuclear weapons which had served to prevent nuclear arms from being anything but a weapon of last resort. According to William Arkin, a columnist for the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, the request, if approved, would remove “nuclear weapons out of their long-established special category and [lump] them in with all the other military options.” Bush approves the request early the following month (see Early January 2003). (Arkin 1/26/2003 Sources: Unnamed senior military officials at US Central Command, Memo obtained by the LA Times)

The Bush administration prepares a “Theater Nuclear Planning Document” for Iraq which includes the possible use of nuclear weapons. According to multiple sources interviewed by columnist and reporter William Arkin, nuclear weapons are being considered for use in an attack against Iraqi facilities located deep underground or to preempt the use of weapons of mass destruction. The planning is being carried out at “STRATCOM’s Omaha headquarters, among small teams in Washington and at Vice President Dick Cheney’s ‘undisclosed location’ in Pennsylvania,” the Los Angeles Times reports. (Arkin 1/26/2003 Sources: Unnamed senior military officials at US Central Command)


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