Next on Bush’s ‘Hit List’

They won’t admit it, but four years ago practically everyone in Congress knew that President Bush intended to invade Iraq irrespective of what Saddam had done, was doing, or intended to do.

Senator Robert Byrd (D, WV) was one of the few who tried to stop Bush In the Senate on February 12, 2003, Byrd had this to say :

“This nation is about to embark upon the first test of a revolutionary doctrine applied in an extraordinary way at an unfortunate time.

“The doctrine of preemption – the idea that the United States or any other nation can legitimately attack a nation that is not imminently threatening but may be threatening in the future – is a radical new twist on the traditional idea of self-defense.

“It appears to be in contravention of international law and the UN Charter.

“And it is being tested at a time of worldwide terrorism, making many countries around the globe wonder if they will soon be on our – or some other nation’s – hit list.”

On September 14, 2001, Bush had issued a “Declaration of National Emergency by Reason of Certain Terrorist Attacks,” on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, and “the continuing and immediate threat of further attacks on the United States.”

The day before Bush had presented draft legislation to Congress that would have given him

“[T]he authority to use all necessary and appropriate force a) against those nations, organizations, or persons he determines planned, authorized, committed or aided the attacks against the United States that occurred on September 11, 2001; and b) to deter and prevent any future acts of terrorism against the United States.”

But Congress refused to give Bush the blanket authority he sought to use force “to deter and prevent” future acts of terrorism. The use of force had to be 9/11 related.

Nevertheless, in his 2002 State of the Union Address, Bush charged that Iraq, Iran and North Korea

“[C]onstitute an axis of evil, arming to threaten the peace of the world. By seeking weapons of mass destruction, these regimes pose a grave and growing danger. They could provide these arms to terrorists, giving them the means to match their hatred.

“I will not wait on events, while dangers gather. I will not stand by, as peril draws closer and closer. The United States of America will not permit the world’s most dangerous regimes to threaten us with the world’s most destructive weapons.”

Now, the only true “weapons of mass destruction” are uncontrolled chain-reaction nuclear-fission devices (aka nukes) like the ones we dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

But, at the time Bush leveled his charge, Iraq, Iran and North Korea were non-nuclear-weapon state (NNWS) signatories to the Treaty on Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons. Hence, all their NPT-proscribed nuclear materials and activities had long been subject to a Safeguards Agreement with the International Atomic Energy Agency. The IAEA had accepted the responsibility for assuring all other NPT signatories that no NNWS had diverted safeguarded materials to a military purpose.

In particular, as Bush spoke, an IAEA team was just completing its annual Safeguards verification that none of Iraq’s remaining NPT-proscribed materials – low-enriched, natural and depleted uranium-oxides (yellowcake) – had been diverted to a military purpose.

(All other NPT-proscribed materials had long ago been removed from Iraq and all facilities capable of modifying the physical or chemical states of NPT-proscribed materials had been destroyed, under IAEA supervision, pursuant to UN Security Council Gulf War resolutions.)

So, with respect to Iraq, what was Bush talking about?

Well, in late 2001, the Italian Military Intelligence and Security Service had informed the CIA that the Iraqi ambassador to the Vatican had reportedly attempted on a visit to Niger to arrange the purchase of “yellowcake.”

Vice President Cheney had immediately asked the CIA to substantiate the report.

So, in February 2002, the CIA sent former Ambassador Joseph Wilson to Niger to look into it. Wilson’s oral report to CIA officials upon his return resulted in the CIA characterization of the Italian report as being “of questionable credibility.”

That was also the conclusion of the State Department’s independent assessment of March 1, 2002, entitled “Niger: Sale of Uranium to Iraq is Unlikely [.pdf].”

Nevertheless, that intelligence “of questionable credibility” found its way into the 2002 National Intelligence Estimate of Iraq’s WMD programs, hurriedly constructed during the summer of 2002 to provide a fig leaf for those Congresspersons inclined to authorize Bush’s intended invasion of Iraq.

Bush even included that and other intelligence “of questionable credibility” in his 2003 State of the Union message.

Now, four years ago, practically everyone in Congress knew that President Bush intended to invade Iraq irrespective of what Saddam had done, was doing, or intended to do.

Senator Robert Byrd was one of the few who tried to stop Bush.

Well, it’s four years later, and practically everyone in the rest of the world – if not Congress – knows what country is next on Bush’s hit list.

And while most Congresspersons busy themselves debating Bush’s intended escalation of the war in Iraq, Senator Byrd has once again risen to the occasion [.pdf].

“In the State of the Union Address last night, the President called out Iran no less than seven times.

Was this speech the first step in an effort to blame all that has gone wrong in the Middle East on Iran? Was the focus on Iran during the President’s address an attempt to link Iran to the war on terrorism, and by extension, start building a case that our response to the 9/11 attacks must include dealing with Iran?

“I fear that the machinery may have already been set in motion which may ultimately lead to a military attack inside Iran, or perhaps Syria, despite the opposition of the American people, many in Congress, and even some within his Administration.

“Today I am introducing a resolution that clearly states that it is Congress, not the President, that is vested with the ultimate decision on whether to take this country to war against another country. This resolution is a rejection of the bankrupt, dangerous, and unconstitutional doctrine of preemption, which proposes that the President may strike another country before it threatens us.

“If there exists a reckless determination for a new war in the Middle East, I fear that the attorneys of the Executive Branch are already seeking ways to tie this war to the use of force resolution for Iraq, or the resolution passed in response to 9/11.

“But the American people need only be reminded about the untruths of Iraq’s supposed ties to the 9/11 attacks so see how far the truth can be stretched in order to achieve the desired outcome.

“If the Executive Branch were to try to prod, stretch, or rewrite the 9/11 or the Iraq use of force resolutions in an outrageous attempt to apply them to an attack on Iran, Syria, or anywhere else, this resolution is clear: the Constitution says that Congress, not the President, must make the decision for war or peace.

“The power to declare war resides in Congress, and it is we – the elected representatives of the people – who are the “deciders.”

Author: Gordon Prather

Physicist James Gordon Prather has served as a policy implementing official for national security-related technical matters in the Federal Energy Agency, the Energy Research and Development Administration, the Department of Energy, the Office of the Secretary of Defense and the Department of the Army. Dr. Prather also served as legislative assistant for national security affairs to U.S. Sen. Henry Bellmon, R-Okla. -- ranking member of the Senate Budget Committee and member of the Senate Energy Committee and Appropriations Committee. Dr. Prather had earlier worked as a nuclear weapons physicist at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory in California and Sandia National Laboratory in New Mexico.