Book: Bush Had Secret War Plan

Plan of Attck Woodward Cheney Powell Rumsfeld
Investigative reporter Bob Woodward of The Washington Post reveals, in his new book "Plan of Attack," how plans for the Iraq war began, in secret, shortly after the Sept. 11 attacks.

for this Sunday's "60 Minutes." [CBS and Simon & Schuster, the publisher of Woodward's book, are both owned by Viacom.]

The Woodward book is packed with hitherto secret stories out of the mouth of the president and his top aides in the year preceding the president's final decision to go to war against Saddam Hussein.

Among them:

  • Just 72 days after 9/11, President Bush ordered Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld to come up with a secret war plan to get Saddam. Rumsfeld passed the order on to Gen. Tommy Franks and gave Franks a blank check worth hundreds of millions of dollars. But the Congress was kept in the dark about it.
  • It was Vice President Dick Cheney who Woodward describes as the powerful, steamrolling force who had developed what his colleagues called a "fever" to take down Saddam by armed attack.
  • Cheney and Secretary of State Colin Powell, who was dead set against going to war against Iraq, barely speak to each other. Their relationship remains hostile.
  • President Bush worried that his friend British Prime Minister Tony Blair's government might fall because the British public overwhelmingly opposed the war. So, on the eve of battle, Mr. Bush gave Blair the option of withholding British troops from combat. But Blair stuck with the president, confirming Mr. Bush's admiration of what he called Blair's "cojones."

    But most interesting of all perhaps, is Woodward's account of a White House meeting on Dec. 21, 2002, attended by CIA Director George Tenet and his top deputy John McLaughlin, who briefed the president and the vice president assuring them that Saddam Hussein definitely possessed weapons of mass destruction.

    "McLaughlin has access to all the satellite photos, and he goes in and he has flip charts in the Oval Office," Woodward tells Wallace. "The president listens to all of this and McLaughlin's done. And and the president kind of, as he's inclined to do, says, 'Nice try,' but that isn't going to sell Joe Public. That isn't going to convince Joe Public."

    Woodward writes in his book, "The presentation was a flop. The photos were not gripping. The intercepts were less than compelling. And then George Bush turns to George Tenet and says, 'this is the best we've got?'"

    Says Woodward: "George Tenet's sitting on the couch, stands up, and says, 'Don't worry, it's a slam dunk case." And the president challenges him again and Tenet says, 'the case it's a slam dunk.'"

    And that reassured the president?

    "I asked the president about this and he said it was very important to have the CIA director, 'slam-dunk' is as I interpreted it, a sure thing, guaranteed."

    Wallace tells Woodward this is an extraordinary statement to come from Tenet.

    "It's a mistake," says Woodward. "Now the significance of that mistake, that was the key rationale for war."

    According to the Associated Press, which obtained a copy of the book, Mr. Bush told Woodward in an interview, he feared that if news had gotten out about his Iraq plan, that would cause "enormous international angst and domestic speculation."

    "I knew what would happen if people thought we were developing a potential war plan for Iraq," Mr. Bush is quoted as saying. "It was such a high-stakes moment and ... it would look like that I was anxious to go to war. And I'm not anxious to go to war."

    Asked Friday about that Nov. 21, 2001, meeting with Rumsfeld, the president said, "I can't remember dates that far back" but emphasized "it was Afghanistan that was on my mind and I didn't really start focusing on Iraq 'til later on."

    The White House later confirmed the discussion with Rumsfeld but said it did not mean Mr. Bush was set on a course of attacking Iraq at that point.

    Mr. Bush and his aides have denied they were preoccupied with Iraq at the cost of paying attention to the al Qaeda terrorist threat before the Sept. 11 attacks. A commission investigating the attacks just concluded several weeks of extraordinary public testimony, during which former counterterrorism chief Richard Clarke contended the Bush administration's determination to invade Iraq undermined the war on terror.

    Woodward's account indicates some members of the administration, particularly Cheney, were focused on Saddam from the outset of Mr. Bush's presidency and even after the terrorist attacks made the destruction of al Qaeda the top priority.

    Without quoting them directly on the subject, Woodward portrays Cheney and Powell as barely on speaking terms — the vice president being the chief advocate for a war that the secretary of state was not sure needed to be fought.

    He recounts the vice president and a defense official making remarks to others about Powell bragging about his popularity, and Powell saying Cheney was preoccupied with an Iraq-al Qaeda link.

    "Powell thought Cheney had the fever," Woodward writes. "He saw in Cheney a sad transformation. ... Cheney now had an unhealthy fixation."

    On the war's origins, the book describes Mr. Bush pulling Rumsfeld into a cubbyhole office adjacent to the Situation Room for that November 2001 meeting and asking him what shape the Iraq war plan was in. When Rumsfeld said it was outdated, Mr. Bush ordered a fresh one.

    The book says Bush told Rumsfeld to keep quiet about their planning and when the defense secretary asked to bring Tenet into it at some point, the president said not to do so yet.

    Even Mr. Bush's national security adviser, Condoleezza Rice, was apparently not fully briefed. Woodward said Mr. Bush told her that morning he was having Rumsfeld work on Iraq but did not give details.

    Woodward, a Washington Post journalist who wrote an earlier book on Mr. Bush's anti-terrorism campaign, broke the Watergate scandal with Carl Bernstein.