6 January 2006
March 10, 2003 — Years before George W. Bush entered the White House, and years before the Sept. 11 attacks set the direction of his presidency, a group of influential neo-conservatives hatched a plan to get Saddam Hussein out of power.
The group, the Project for the New American Century, or PNAC, was founded in 1997. Among its supporters were three Republican former officials who were sitting out the Democratic presidency of Bill Clinton: Donald Rumsfeld, Dick Cheney and Paul Wolfowitz.
In open letters to Clinton and GOP congressional leaders the next year, the group called for “the removal of Saddam Hussein’s regime from power” and a shift toward a more assertive U.S. policy in the Middle East, including the use of force if necessary to unseat Saddam.
And in a report just before the 2000 election that would bring Bush to power, the group predicted that the shift would come about slowly, unless there were “some catastrophic and catalyzing event, like a new Pearl Harbor.”
That event came on Sept. 11, 2001. By that time, Cheney was vice president, Rumsfeld was secretary of defense, and Wolfowitz his deputy at the Pentagon.
The next morning — before it was even clear who was behind the attacks — Rumsfeld insisted at a Cabinet meeting that Saddam’s Iraq should be “a principal target of the first round of terrorism,” according to Bob Woodward’s book Bush At War.
What started as a theory in 1997 was now on its way to becoming official U.S. foreign policy.
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