By prof Juan Cole
I made two claims about the transcript published by El Pais of Bush's conversations with Spanish leader Jose Maria Aznar on 22 February, 2003, at Crawford, Texas.
The first is that the transcript shows that Bush intended to disregard a negative outcome in his quest for a UN Security Council resolution authorizing a war against Iraq. Bush wanted such a resolution. He expressed a willingness to use threats and economic coercion to secure it. But he makes it perfectly clear that he will not wait for the UNSC to act beyond mid-March. He also explicitly says that if any of the permanent members of the UNSC uses its veto, “we will go.” That is, failure to secure the resolution would trigger the war.
Uh, that is the opposite of the way it is supposed to work. If you can’t get a UNSC resolution, and you haven’t been attacked by the state against whom you want to go to war, then you are supposed to stand down.
Both because he set a deadline beyond which his “patience” would not stretch (the poor thing had already waited four months; I mean, is he a toddler that he lacks elementary patience?), and because he specified a UNSC veto as a signal for his launching of the war, Bush made it very clear that he was willing to trash the charter of the United Nations and to take the world back to the 1930s,to an era of mass politics when powerful states launched wars of choice at will on the basis of fevered rhetoric and fits of pique.
The second claim that I made was that Bush was aware of, and rejected, an offer by Saddam Hussein to flee Iraq, probably for Saudi Arabia, presuming he could take out with him a billion dollars and some documents on Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction programs. Both provisions were intended by Saddam to protect him from later retaliation. The money would buy him protection from extradition, and the documents presumably showed that the Reagan and Bush senior administrations had secretly authorized his chemical and biological weapons programs. With these documents in his possession, it was unlikely that Bush would come after him, since he could ruin the reputation of the Bush family if he did. The destruction of these documents was presumably Bush’s goal when he had Rumsfeld order US military personnel not to interfere with the looting and burning of government offices after the fall of Saddam. The looting, which set off the guerrilla war, also functioned as a vast shredding party, destroying incriminating evidence about the complicity of the Bushes and Rumsfeld in Iraq’s war crimes.
The claims by some pundits that Saddam’s reported desire to take documents on his WMD programs out of the country proves he had such programs in 2003 or that he wanted to somehow retain specialized knowledge involved in them, are silly. Saddam had destroyed his chemical, nuclear and biological programs and stockpiles, which we know from the most extensive postwar inspections in the history of mammal life. Almost certainly, he wanted to keep with him the documents that showed precisely that– that he was in fact in compliance with UN resolutions (which he was) and so could not on those grounds be subject to extraordinary rendition and delivered to the Hague. Also, as I say, he may well have wanted to keep with him documents with which to blackmail the Bush family, which in the 1980s had been involved in winking at and enabling his WMD capabilities.
(The objections of some observers that Saddam could have avoided the war by just admitting he had destroyed his WMD and providing the documentation ignore what we have since found out– that Saddam was afraid that if the world knew he had no chemical weapons left, the Shiites, Kurds and Iranians would finish him off in no time. He could not hope to stay in power if he came clean on this matter, but once he left power he knew that his actions of the 1980s could get him convicted at the Hague and so he needed to keep with him documentation on his Reagan/ Bush partners in crime as a hedge.)
Aznar asked Bush if he would grant Saddam these guarantees, and Bush roared back that he would not. (That is the answer to those who want to know where in the text Bush declines Saddam’s offer to flee. Nobody in his right mind would flee without guarantees; by declining them, Bush scotched the deal.)
By refusing to allow Saddam to flee with guarantees, Bush ensured that a land war would have to be fought. This is one of the greatest crimes any US president ever committed, and it is all the more contemptible for being rooted in mere pride and petulance.
Note that even General Pervez Musharraf allowed Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif to go to Saudi Arabia with similar guarantees, even though Sharif was alleged to have attempted to cause Musharraf’s death. A tinpot Pakistani general had more devotion to the good of his country, and more good sense, than did George W. Bush.
The passage in which Bush agrees with Aznar that it would be better if Baghdad fell without a fight refers to the possibility that the Iraqi officer corps would assassinate Saddam and decline to put up a fight. Bush would very much have liked such a fantasy to come true.
But he did not need to fantasize. He had a real offer in the hand, of Saddam’s flight. He rejected it. By rejecting it, he will have killed at least a million persons and became one of the more monstrous figures in recent world history.
I have done a translation of the transcript, with some dictionary work. I would be glad of any corrections, but I think it is good enough for government work. No one can read it without recognizing that Bush was champing at the bit to go to war; that he only wanted the UNSC as a fig leaf and was determined to ignore it if it did not authorize the war; and that he had a deal on the table from Saddam but absolutely refused to pursue it, preferring instead either a sanguinary conflict or his adolescent fantasy of Baghdad falling without a shot.