Bush Before the War

Joe Conason tells the story revealed by recently released transcripts of a meeting held between Spain’s then-prime minister and President Bush prior to the war. As one might expect, Bush was arrogant and determined to invade, diplomacy be damned.


Equally striking are the echoes of the “cakewalk” talk that pervaded White House propaganda in the weeks before the invasion. “We can win [the war] without much destruction,” burbled Bush, attempting to reassure Aznar that the future would be bright. “We’re planning for a post-Saddam Iraq and believe there is a strong base to build a better future. Iraq has a good bureaucracy and relatively robust civil society.” Whatever Bush expected, the State Department’s attempt to plan for Iraq’s future would be discarded by Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld; the former Iraqi government would be disbanded and its offices looted and burned; and of course Iraq’s civil society would disintegrate into sectarian civil war.

If Aznar didn’t anticipate those multiple disasters, at least he had the wit to urge caution, and to wonder aloud why Bush sounded so confident and sunny on the eve of massive bloodshed. (The Spanish people soon ratified his foreboding by dismissing his right-wing government in the next election.)

“I’m optimistic because I believe I’m right,” replied the obtuse Bush. “I’m at peace with myself.” That smug statement — uttered by a man who had no idea what he was talking about and no interest in what anyone else believed — could be the epitaph for his presidency.

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