Juan Cole: The Transcript that Reveals Impeachable Offenses by President Bush

Roundup: Historians' Take

[Juan Cole teaches Middle Eastern and South Asian history at the University of Michigan. His most recent book Napoleon's Egypt: Invading the Middle East (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2007) has just been published. He has appeared widely on television, radio and on op-ed pages as a commentator on Middle East affairs, and has a regular column at Salon.com. He has written, edited, or translated 14 books and has authored 60 journal articles. His weblog on the contemporary Middle East is Informed Comment.]

HNN Editor: On September 27 on his blog, Informed Comment, Juan Cole reported that the Spanish website, El Pais, has published a transcript of a conversation held in 2003 before the Iraq War in Crawford, Texas between President George W. Bush, the Spanish leader Jose Maria Aznar, and National Security Advisor Condoleeza Rice. "Bush," wrote Cole "is typically bullheaded, impatient, conspiratorial, bullying, arrogant, ill-informed and way over-optimistic. The transcript shows the true colors of the man-- a sort of thuggish, ignorant Mafia don-- who destroyed the United States and destroyed Iraq."

Cole subsequently provided additional commentary and his own translation of the conversation.

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.

Aznar asked Bush if he would grant Saddam these guarantees, and Bush roared back that he would not.

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.

Transcript of Bush-Aznar Consultation in Crawford, February 22, 2003

President Bush We are in favor of getting a second resolution in the Security Council and would want to do it quickly. We would want to announce it Monday or Tuesday [24 or 25 of February of 2003].

President Anzar Better Tuesday, after the meeting of the Council of General Affairs of the European Union. It is important to maintain the momentum gained by the resolution at the summit of the European Union [in Brussels, Monday 17 of February]. We would prefer to wait until Tuesday.

Bush It could be in the evening Monday, considering the time difference. In any case, the next week. We will see that the resolution is written so that it does not contain obligatory steps [for Iraq], that it does not mention the use of force, and that it states that Saddam Hussein has been unable to fulfill his obligations. That type of resolution can be voted for by many people. It would be something similar to the one passed regarding Kosovo [the 10th of June of 1999].

Anzar Would it be presented to the Security Council before, and independently of, a parallel declaration?

Condoleezza Rice In fact there would not be parallel declaration. We are thinking about as simple a resolution as possible, without many details regarding [Iraq’s] obligations--such that Saddam Hussein could use them as stages and consequently could neglect to fulfill them. We are speaking with Blix [head of the inspectors of the UN] and others of his team to get ideas that can serve to introduce the resolution.

Bush Saddam Hussein will not change and will continue playing games. The moment has come to be rid of him. That’s the way it is. As for me, from now on I will try to tone down the rhetoric as much as possible, while we seek approval of the resolution. If somebody uses a veto, we will go. [Russia, China and France have, along with the U.S.A. and the United Kingdom the right to a veto in the Security Council by virtue of being permanent members]

Saddam Hussein is not disarming. We have to take him right now. We have shown an incredible degree of patience so far. There are two weeks left. In two weeks we will be militarily ready. I believe that we will get the second resolution. In the Security Council we have the three African members [Cameroun, Angola and Guinea], the Chileans, and the Mexicans. I will speak with all of them, also with Putin, naturally. We will be in Baghdad at the end of March. There is a 15% possibility that Saddam Hussein will die or flee. But that possibility will not exist until we have demonstrated our resolve. The Egyptians are talking to Saddam Hussein. It seems that he has indicated that he is willing to go into exile if he can take a billion dollars with him and all the information that he wants on weapons of mass destruction. [Muammar] Gaddafi told Berlusconi that Saddam Hussein wants to go away. Mubarak tells us that in these circumstances it is entirely possible that he will be assassinated.

We would like to act with the mandate of the United Nations. If we act militarily we will do it with great precision, tightly focusing on our objectives. We will decimate the troops loyal to him, and the regular army quickly will recognize what is going on. We have sent a very clear message to Saddam’s generals: we will treat them like war criminals. We know that they have accumulated an enormous amount of dynamite to demolish bridges and other infrastructure and to blow up the oil wells. We foresee occupying those wells very quickly. Also, the Saudis will help us by putting on the market all the petroleum that is necessary. We are developing a package of very extensive humanitarian aid. We can win without destruction. We are already planning for a post-Saddam Iraq, and I believe that there are good bases for a better future. Iraq has a relatively good bureaucracy and a civil society. It can be organized as a federal system. Meanwhile, we are doing everything possible to take care of the political needs of our friends and allies.

Anzar It is very important to have a resolution. It is not the same to act with it as without it. It would be very advisable to have a majority in the Security Council that supported that resolution. In fact, it is important to have it passed by a majority, even if someone exercises a veto. Let us consider that the text of the resolution would have among other things to state that Saddam Hussein has lost his opportunity.

Bush Yes, by all means. It would be better to have a reference to “necessary means” [a reference to the type of UN resolution that authorizes the use of “all necessary means”].

Anzar Saddam Hussein has not cooperated, has not been disarmed; we would have to summarize his breaches and to send a more detailed message. That would allow, for example, Mexico to move [a reference to a change in its negative position on the second resolution, the extent of which Aznar could have known about from the lips of president Vicente Fox on Friday, February 21, in Mexico City].

Bush The resolution will be custom-made in such a way that it will help you. I don't care much about the content.

Anzar We will send you some sample texts.

Bush We do not have any text. Only a criterion: that Saddam Hussein disarm. We cannot allow Saddam Hussein to drag things out until the summer. After all, this last stage has already lasted four months, and this is more than enough time to disarm.

Anzar Having a text would allow us to sponsor it and to be its coauthors, and to arrange for many others to sponsor it.

Bush Perfect.

Anzar The next Wednesday [(2)6 of February] I will meet with Chirac. The resolution will already have begun to circulate.

Bush It seems to me all very good. Chirac knows the reality perfectly. Their intelligence services have explained it to him. The Arabs are transmitting a very clear message to Chirac: Saddam Hussein must go. The problem is that Chirac thinks he is Mister Arab, but in fact he is making their lives impossible. But I do not want to have any rivalry with Chirac. We have different points of view, but I would like that to be all. Give him my best regards. Really! The less rivalry he feels exists between us, the better it will be for everyone.

Anzar How to combine the resolution with the report of the inspectors?

Condoleezza Rice Actually there will not be a report on February 28, but the inspectors will present a report written on March 1. We don’t have high hopes for that report. As with the previous ones, it will be a mixed picture. I have the impression that Blix will now be more negative than he was before, with regard to the Iraqis’ intentions. After the appearance of the inspectors before the Council, we must anticipate a vote on the resolution one week later. The Iraqis, meanwhile, will try to explain that they are fulfilling their obligations. It isn’t true, and it won’t be sufficient, though they may announce the destruction of some missiles.

Bush This is like Chinese water torture. We must put an end to it.

Aznar I agree, but it would be good to have the maximum possible number of people. Have a little patience.

Bush: My patience is exhausted. I don’t intend to wait longer than the middle of March.

Aznar I do not request that you have infinite patience. Simply that you do everything possible so that it all works out.

Bush: Countries like Mexico, Chile, Angola, and Cameroon must realize that what’s at stake is the security of the United States, and they should act with a sense of friendship toward us. [Chilean President Ricardo] Lagos should know that the Free Trade Accord with Chile is awaiting Senate confirmation and a negative attitude about this could put ratification in danger. Angola is receiving Millennium Account funds [to help alleviate poverty] and that could be jeopardized also if he’s not supportive. And Putin must know that his attitude is putting in danger the relations of Russia with the United States.

Aznar Tony [Blair] would like to wait until the 14th of March.

Bush: I prefer the 10th. This is like a game of bad cop, good cop. I don’t mind being the bad cop, and Blair can be the good one.

Aznar Is it certain that any possibility exists that Saddam Hussein will go into exile?

Bush: The possibility exists, including that he will be assassinated.

Aznar Exile with a guarantee?

Bush: No guarantee. He is a thief, a terrorist, a war criminal. Compared with Saddam, Milosevic would be a Mother Teresa. When we go in, we are going to discover many more crimes and we will take him to the Court the International Justice. Saddam Hussein thinks that he has already escaped. He thinks that France and Germany have ceased fulfilling their responsibilities. He also thinks that the demonstrations of the last week [Saturday, February 15] will protect him. And he thinks that I very am weak. But the people around him know that the things are otherwise. They know that his future is in exile or a coffin. For that reason it is very important to maintain the pressure on him. Gaddafi tells us through back channels that that is the only thing that can finish him off. Saddam Hussein’s only strategy is to delay, to delay and to delay.

Aznar In fact the biggest success would be to win the game without firing a single shot and entering Baghdad.

Bush: For me it would be the perfect solution. I do not want war. I know what wars are. I know the destruction and the death that they bring with them. I am the one who has to console the mothers and the widows of the dead. By all means, for us that would be the best solution. In addition, it would save $50 billion.

Aznar We need you to help us with our public opinion.

Bush: We will do everything we can. Wednesday I am going to speak on the situation in the Middle East, proposing the new peace plan with which you are familiar, and on weapons of mass destruction, on the benefits of a free society, and I will locate the history of Iraq in a wider context. Perhaps it will serve you.

Aznar What we are doing is a very deep change for Spain and the Spaniards. We are changing the policy that the country had followed for the past two hundred years.

Bush: A historical sense of the responsibility guides me just as it does you. When within a few years History judges us, I do not want people to ask themselves why Bush, or Aznar, or Blair did not face their responsibilities. In the end, what people want is to enjoy freedom. Recently, in Rumania they reminded me of the example of Ceausescu: it was enough for a woman to call him a liar, for the entire repressive edifice to come down. It is the uncontrollable power of freedom. I am convinced that I will get the resolution.

Aznar All to the good.

Bush: I made the decision to go to the Security Council. In spite of the disagreements in my Administration, I said to my people that we had to work with our friends. It will be wonderful to get a second resolution.

Aznar The only thing that worries me about you is your optimism.

Bush: I am optimistic because I believe that I am in the right. I am at peace with myself. It has been up to us to face a serious threat to the peace. It irritates me a great deal to consider the indifference of the Europeans to the sufferings that Saddam Hussein inflicts on Iraqis. Perhaps because he is brown-skinned, far away, and Muslim, many Europeans think that everything is all right in his regard. I will not forget what Solana once said to me: why do we Americans think that the Europeans are anti-Semitic and unable to confront their responsibilities? That defensive attitude is terrible. I have to acknowledge I have just great relations with Kofi Annan.

Aznar He shares your ethical preoccupations.

Bush: The more the Europeans attack me, the stronger I am in the United States.

Aznar We would like to make your strength compatible with the esteem of the Europeans.
Read entire article at Informed Comment (Blog)

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omar ibrahim baker - 10/19/2007

Professor Cole , for all his knowledge and expertise, still insists on ignoring the, by now, all too plain real objective of the US invasion and conquest of Iraq!

It was, US policy is still after, the DESTRUCTION of IRAQ as a nation and as a state!

Iraq for all its problems with and real grievances during the Saddam regime, was, relative to its present post US conquest, a land of LAW and Order with a functioning society that lived in incomparable (relative to present) security.

Under US occupation five millions Iraqis, out of an estimated 28-30 millions, fled Iraq or changed dwelling.

Saddam's civilian victims, assuming the truth of all allegations, are but a fraction of the victims of present day, post US conquest daily, US and Iraqi official and /or sectarian fighting and US army subcontractors, victims.

According to UN records Iraq had the most efficient and least corrupt civil service of the third world.
Now it has none and corruption, both Ammerican supported Iraqi and unmitigated American, is more than rampant .

An Iraqi ex-minister of defense got away from an under US occupation Iraq with a multi million bribe from an east European country arms deal while US officers, in the field or in Washington, are facing multi million bribery charges or committing suicide!

Vice Roy Bremer in complete agreement with Bush and Rumsfeld consciously, deliberately and purposefully destroyed the fundamentals and underpinnings of the Iraqi state by disbanding the Iraqi army and all security apparatuses.

US friendly associates presenly rulin Iraq replaced all with gangsters and sectarian militias.

While Bush's favourite Iraqi, Ahmad Chalabi, in full agreement with the US administration destroyed the Iraqi Civil Service.

One has only to compare present day Iraq with Saddam's or Aref's or Said's past regimes and the NET ,almost irreversible, outcome from US occupation to realize and fully comprehend the REAL objective from the US conquest:
the total DESTRUCTION of IRAQ!

That goes beyond clearing the name of Reagan, the Bush family and Rumsfeld.

All the American public, and scholars, has to do is ask themselves :
"Who is the primary beneficiary" from the DESTRUCTION of Iraq ?"
"WHO is paying , in blood, bullion and international good will?" for this mega crime to find out WHY the DESTRUCTION of Iraq was the real objective of the Bush/Wolfowitz administration

Every thing else is but footnotes for this neocon-Zionist move.

Peter K. Clarke - 10/9/2007

I agree with you that the American invasion and occupation has had the effect of demolishing Iraq "as a nation and as a state." That does mean that this outcome was an intended one.

Sometimes people, leaders, and even whole countries make mistakes, and sometimes even whole bunches of howlingly bad blunders. Excrement occurs, to rephrase the standard truism only slightly. It is highly unlikely, for instance, that Arab leaders boycotting the UN Special Commission on Palestine in 1947 INTENDED that Palestinians would lose more territory and that Israel would be bigger than planned by the UN as a result. Israel's current government, to take a more recent example, almost surely did not INTEND to cause the deaths of Israels and get no compensating gains when it invaded Lebanon last summer.

Peter K. Clarke - 10/9/2007

Despite the garbage headline (there is nothing directly impeachable here, nor does Cole claim such), this is a revealing and damning document. It shows W's reckless and arrogant disregard for the national security interests of the United States. It, like many other aspects of this presidency, warrants a full-scale investigation which should ideally be preceded by the resignation in disgrace of Democrats like Hillary Clinton and Joe Lieberman who have consistently rubberstamped the massive incompetency of this administration.

mark safranski - 10/2/2007

I'm not seeing the impeachable offense either - which, even if there was, impeachment would not happen for political reasons so close to a presidential election.

N. Friedman - 9/28/2007

The transcript provides some information unknown to me. I was unaware of serious Arab governmental support for the invasion.

As for Cole's view that the UN can veto US or any other country's fights, he is a wee bit too selective for me. While the Iraq war would not be on my list, I do not see how the evidence he cites creates an impeachable offense.