Tuesday, March 28, 2006

"To Assume I Wanted War is Flat Wrong, Helen...My Attitude About This Country Changed on 9/11"

ZAIN VERJEE, CNN INTERNATIONAL ANCHOR: For analysis now on the top stories of CNN, joining us now from Washington is a man with some insights into the questions raised by Bob Woodward's book, "Plan of Attack," former U.S. Defense Secretary William Cohen. Good to see you, Mr. Cohen.

WILLIAM COHEN, FORMER DEFENSE SECRETARY: Good to see you, Zain.

VERJEE: You met with Vice President Dick Cheney before President Bush's inauguration in January [2001], and the discussion, much of it, centering on Iraq. What exactly was discussed with you then?

COHEN: Well, I received a call from the vice president's office, and he indicated he wanted a briefing to be given to the president. When the president came to -- president-elect, he has not been sworn in, but when he came to the Pentagon, along with his full team, Secretary Powell, Condoleezza Rice, vice president and Secretary Rumsfeld, all were at the Pentagon, and my office initially, and then into the so-called tank, where the chairman of the joint chiefs and the other joint chiefs were present.

It was indicated to me that Mr. Cheney wanted me to focus on the briefing, primarily about Iraq, and what our policy was toward Iraq, what our military analysis was, security analysis was, of Saddam Hussein at that time, and not to give a so-called around the world briefing, which is standard operating procedure for incoming presidents.

VERJEE: You had a war plan for Iraq too, though, when you were secretary of defense. What was your plan and why did Rumsfeld have to update it?

COHEN: Well, there are always plans in place. Initial plan was made back in the mid-'90s. It was updated at least once while I was at the Pentagon, and it had as many as 13 I think different options to use military force, depending upon what the circumstances were.

I should say that during the Clinton administration, there was no plan to attack Saddam Hussein in the absence of a provocation by him. In other words, containment was the policy, with the hope that he could be overthrown from within, that there could be regime change but coming from within, through revolution or an internal revolt, as opposed to an external war plan by the United States.

Had he moved against the neighbors, Kuwait or others, had he been successful in attacking U.S. warplanes, then there were plans to move immediately, very aggressively, against Saddam Hussein.

What President Bush obviously wanted was something more aggressive, namely in the absence of anything taking place on the part of Saddam towards his neighbors or against us, he wanted the plan updated so there could be a rather significant military operation conducted against him to remove him, and that's where the change was made.

-- CNN's Your World Today, 4/20/04


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At their [Jan, 2003] meeting, Mr. Bush and Mr. Blair candidly expressed their doubts that chemical, biological or nuclear weapons would be found in Iraq in the coming weeks, the memo said. The president spoke as if an invasion was unavoidable. The two leaders discussed a timetable for the war, details of the military campaign and plans for the aftermath of the war.

Without much elaboration, the memo also says the president raised three possible ways of provoking a confrontation. Since they were first reported last month, neither the White House nor the British government has discussed them.

The U.S. was thinking of flying U2 reconnaissance aircraft with fighter cover over Iraq, painted in U.N. colours," the memo says, attributing the idea to Mr. Bush. "If Saddam fired on them, he would be in breach."

It also described the president as saying, "The U.S. might be able to bring out a defector who could give a public presentation about Saddam's W.M.D," referring to weapons of mass destruction.

A brief clause in the memo refers to a third possibility, mentioned by Mr. Bush, a proposal to assassinate Saddam Hussein. The memo does not indicate how Mr. Blair responded to the idea.

-- New York Times, "Bush Was Set On Path To War, British Memo Says"

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