Ten years ago, the American empiric misadventure in Iraq began. The National Security Archive at George Washington University has compiled the key intelligence and military documents that (mis)led the country's political leadership to war. Human beings brought to the process willful blindness, deliberate lies to obscure a strategic goal, and sincere convictions. They used PowerPoints and memos with codewords to reassure each other that their decisions were correct.
In late November of 2001, Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld visited the headquarters of U.S. Central Command to see the progress made on revising OPLAN 1003-98, which was the DoD's regime change operational plan for Iraq. "98" refers to 1998, when it had last been reviewed and finalized. A Rumsfeld memo includes three potential avenues to war; it would be triggered by the discovery of WMD, by Iraq's suddenly proven connections to al Qaeda, or a sudden invasion of Kurds.
Then, on July 23, 2002, notes from a meeting with the prime minister of the U.K., defense secretary, chief of the defense staff, head of MI-6 and others, where the planning for war was much advanced and that "intelligence and facts were being fixed around the policy." (What John Scarlett, the SIS head who uttered these words, actually meant, has been debated. He says it meant that Washington was narrow-minded and suffered from a sort of confirmation bias, not that deliberate falsehoods were being created.)
The intelligence community was not unanimous that Iraq had reconstituted a WMD program or that the evidence for such a reconstitution was mounting. The State Department's Bureau of Intelligence and Research dissented in two fundamental ways in a 2002 National Intelligence Estimate. INR noted that special tools that could help create nuclear weapon components were indeed being produced, but that they had been produced well before Iraq was thought to have started its program and that the tools "clearly" were intended for other, conventional uses. The NIE also contains a "report" that Iraq sought uranium from African sources -- later proven untrue and the source of the Valerie Plame outing.
Here, a planning document suggests that a maximum of 5,000 U.S. troops would be on the ground a few years after the invasion.
Finally, the list of "horribles" that Rumsfeld drew up in an October of 2002 listing what could go wrong. His last sentence: "It is possible of course to prepare an illustrative list of all the potential problems that need to be considered if there is no regime change in Iraq."
THE WEEK'S AUDIOPHILE PODCASTS: LISTEN SMARTER
- This is what happens when Republicans actually enact their radical agenda
- How to be the most productive person in your office — and still get home by 5:30 p.m.
- The Obama administration's nonstop incoherence on ISIS
- 43 TV shows to watch in 2014
- 6 things the happiest families all have in common
- How I dug myself out of debt — and stayed that way
- Why so many Christians won't back down on gay marriage
- 6 super-helpful iOS8 tricks you probably don't know about
- The science of sex: 4 harsh truths about dating and mating
- The European Union was supposed to end nationalism. It gave it new life instead.
Subscribe to the Week