How the Iraq War Was Sold

Exclusive: As George Bush and his national security team marched the U.S. off to war in Iraq, they were aided by key news outlets, especially the neocon-dominated Washington Post. Now a decade later, the Post still won’t take a hard, honest look at what was done, writes ex-CIA analyst Melvin A. Goodman.

By Melvin A. Goodman

The Washington Post continues to allow former members of the Bush administration, including President George W. Bush, to distort the case for going to war against Iraq in 2003 and to blame the intelligence from the Central Intelligence Agency for the decision to use force.

In the “Outlook” section on Feb. 3 (“Still Fighting over a flawed case for war”), the Post cites memoirs from six key decision-makers, who are unwilling to acknowledge that the Iraq War was a deadly undertaking paved by lies and deceit.

President George W. Bush announcing the launching of the Iraq invasion on March 19, 2003. (White House photo)

It was never a case of whether the White House distorted the intelligence it received on Iraq or whether the Central Intelligence Agency provided bad intelligence to the White House. In fact, both the White House and the CIA had a hand in the distortion of intelligence and both contributed to making the phony case for war to the Congress and the American people.

The article revolves around former Secretary of State Colin Powell’s anger with CIA officials who failed to inform him that his speech to the United Nations in February 2003 included unsupported claims and with himself for failing to “sniff out” the weaknesses of the CIA intelligence case for war.  [Powell’s It Worked for Me: In Life and Leadership]

Powell fails to mention that the director of the State Department’s Bureau of Intelligence and Research did his best to stop the Secretary of State from relying on CIA intelligence for his UN speech, let along spending four days and nights at CIA headquarters in drafting the speech, and alerted him to the phony National Intelligence Estimate of October 2002 that was used to craft Powell’s speech.

Similarly, Powell paid no attention to the numerous authoritative CIA sources that denied the presence of weapons of mass destruction in Iraqi inventories, and ignored the warning of the former director of IAEA, Hans Blix, who charged “Never before has a nation had 100 percent confidence about its intelligence with 0 percent information.”

Former CIA director George Tenet acknowledges that “flawed information” made its way into Powell’s speech because the CIA had spent too much time “getting the garbage out of a White House draft” for the Secretary’s UN speech. [Tenet’s At the Center of the Storm: the CIA During America’s Time of Crisis]

In fact, the White House draft was prepared by Lewis “Scooter” Libby and Steve Hadley, and Secretary of State Powell instantly pronounced, “I’m not reading this.  This is bullshit.” No time was lost at the CIA dealing with Libby’s fatuous draft.

Former Vice President Dick Cheney is critical of Powell for rejecting the White House draft prepared by Libby and Hadley, particularly for discarding the information on Saddam Hussein’s ties to terrorism, which included “charges that would stand the test of time.” [Cheney’s In My Time: A Personal and Political Memoir]

In fact, the primary source for intelligence linking Iraq to training in chemical and biological weapons to al Qaeda was a fabricator, which was known to the Defense Intelligence Agency a full year before Powell gave his speech. Another source was rendered by the United States and tortured by the Egyptians; he recanted his claims in February 2004, seven years before Cheney produced his memoir.

The “Outlook” account does not include former Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld’s order to military commanders several hours after the 9/11 attacks to “judge whether [intelligence] good enough [to] hit S.H. [Saddam Hussein] @ same time–not only UBL [Osama bin Laden].” [Rumsfeld’s Known and Unknown: A Memoir]

A military aide conceded that it was “hard to get a good case,” but the Pentagon would “sweep it all up. Things related and not.” (This is reminiscent of CIA Director Tenet’s exclamation to President Bush that it would be a “slam dunk” to provide intelligence to the American people to make the case for war.)

The Post merely cites Rumsfeld as stating “I did not lie. The far less dramatic truth is that we were wrong.”

Similarly, President Bush in his Decision Points argues that Powell’s speech “reflected the considered judgment of intelligence agencies at home and around the world,” which totally distorts the intelligence picture.

Along those same lines, former national secretary adviser Condoleezza Rice contends that the CIA believed that Saddam Hussein reconstituted his biological and chemical weapons capability and even Iraq’s nuclear capability, although the intelligence community repeatedly told the Bush administration that the Iraqis were several years away from developing a nuclear weapon. [Rice’s No Higher Honor: A Memoir of My Years in Washington]

The sole source on intelligence on the mobile biological labs was an agent code-named “Curveball,” who was in fact trading disinformation to the Germans in order to obtain citizenship. The Germans warned the CIA against using Curveball’s information, but they were ignored.

When David Kay, the chief of the Iraq Survey Group, told Tenet that Curveball was a liar and that Iraq had no mobile labs or other illicit weapons, Kay was assigned to a windowless office without a working telephone.

All of these memoirs by senior Bush administration officials blame faulty intelligence for the decision to go to war, but the speeches of these principals, including the President and the Vice President, confirm that they were willing to go beyond evidence to justify a state of “permanent war” against terrorism.

The speeches, which were given careful review inside the White House as well as in the intelligence community, provide excellent evidence of the Bush administration taking phony intelligence to the Congress, the American people, and the international community.

The Washington Post could have used the memoirs to depict a President presiding over a national security process marked by incoherent decision-making and policy drift, a dysfunctional national security process riven by tensions between the Pentagon and the State Department, and a politicized Central Intelligence Agency.

Instead, the Post used the memoirs to present the “fighting” over the case for war as a food fight between the President and his key decision-makers. Nearly a decade after the start of the unconscionable Iraq War, the American people are entitled to know more about the deceit of its key leaders and the national security decision-making process.

Melvin A. Goodman, a former CIA analyst, is a senior fellow at the Center for International Policy and an adjunct professor at Johns Hopkins University.  His most recent book is National Insecurity: The Cost of American Militarism (City Lights Publisher, February 2013).


11 comments for “How the Iraq War Was Sold

  1. gus smith
    February 7, 2013 at 12:27

    I think back to the information I read leading up to the Iraq invasion when I was appalled at the injustices by our government toward decent Americans trying to get the truth out about lack of WMD. Remember, the searches for WMD found nothing but good people were excoriated.

  2. Jay
    February 7, 2013 at 08:35


    Because Bill Clinton didn’t propose invading Iraq. Iraq having nuclear weapons would not have been a reason to invade. And the first Gulf War was explicitly not an invasion and occupation of Iraq.

    Nope George W Bush, Cheney, Rice and Rumsfeld came into office looking for excuses to launch this illegal war, (sorry but there was not some invocation of the War Powers Act in what H Clinton, John Kerry and other Democrats voted for), and anyhow they didn’t order the invasion, Bush did.

  3. jake
    February 7, 2013 at 07:18

    How come no one ever mentions Desert Storm, Kuwait or the democrats including bill clinton, hillary, kerry, kennedy, gore.. when talking about iraq and wmd? They just pick up the story from Bush? As if this had no history and just started with Bush?

    • Percy
      February 7, 2013 at 07:57

      Reagan/Clinton or Democrats/Republicans is not the issue here. The issue is that USA has its own way of imposing herself on other people. Particularly those countries that are rich in oil, for instance. And there is only one party in the US. That is the Corporate (Business) Party with two factions, the Democrats and Republicans. They’re both filthy liars, colonizers and imperialists. A country forever at war. So evil.

  4. Jay
    February 6, 2013 at 23:22

    Yeah sure CIA has a bit of the blame, but in 2002 was anyone at CIA jumping up and down saying: “Iraq positively has WMDs and is about to attack the USA”? No. And was CIA ever saying that Iraq organized the attacks of Sept. 2001? No. In the first case the Bush White House found willing CIA backers for their preconceptions, and in the second case the BushII White House simply invented a connection.

    And in fact even if Iraq had made working nuclear weapons, the 2003 invasion by the US was still illegal and separately a war of aggression; that latter still an un-prosecuted crime.

    Mr Goodman needs to get some basic facts straight, it aint just the WashPost or the NYTimes running cover for the GWBush administration here (the Times published as fact a lie about the Iraq war being caused by faulty intelligence on Feb 3rd 2013.) Mr Goodman is running cover for the GWBush administration here by not simply calling lies about the CIA lies.

    This bears repeating in different terms: Who effing cares that someone at CIA said: “Yeah sure the way we read some of this, Iraq could be seeking…” Or who cares what that careerist fool George Tenet said. It’s the Bush administration that insisted on a predetermined conclusion. This isn’t news.

  5. bubba booey
    February 6, 2013 at 22:59

    Bush and his little gang of neo-cons need to be executed for this treason already.

  6. bubba booey
    February 6, 2013 at 22:59

    Bush and his little gang of neo-cons need to be executed for this treason already.

  7. Otto Schiff
    February 6, 2013 at 21:28

    Everything that Rehmat writes is totally predictable.
    I could write this stuff myself.

  8. Derek Leebaert
    February 6, 2013 at 17:08

    Goodman offers a terrific analysis. It’s a model of how to write an exelent book review essay……

  9. nora
    February 5, 2013 at 13:04

    The Post failed, but to me, the intrigue of Judith Miller and Scooter Libby and Valerie Plame and jailtime and NYTimes to Fox transformations still form the most twisted part of the tale. The manipulation of the public by Judith Miller, witting or unwitting, while she wrote of WMD with Scooter as her sorce has never been explored to my satisfaction. Her jailtime obscured the lethal nature of source and journalist relationship gone wrong.

  10. Hillary
    February 5, 2013 at 08:14

    Iraq under Saddam Hussein never posed a threat to the United States, but it did to Israel, which is the main reason why the US invaded Iraq.
    Philip Zelikow, the executive director of the 9/11 commission admitted that the prime motive for the invasion of Iraq was to eliminate a threat to Israel, a “staunch US ally in the Middle East”.

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