Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and Deputy Secretary Paul Wolfowitz
undertook a full-fledged lobbying campaign in 1998 to get former
President Bill Clinton to start a war with Iraq and topple Saddam
Hussein's regime. They claimed that the country posed a threat to
the United States, according to documents obtained from a former
This new information begs the question: what is really driving the Bush
Administration's desire to start a war with Iraq if two of Bush's future
top defence officials were already planting the seeds for an attack five
In 1998, Rumsfeld and Wolfowitz were working in the private sector.
Both were involved with the right-wing think tank Project
for a New American Century, which was established in 1997 by William
Kristol, editor of the Weekly
Standard, to promote global leadership and dictate American
While Clinton was dealing with the worldwide threat from al Qa'ida and
Osama Bin Laden, Rumsfeld and Wolfowitz wrote
to Clinton urging him to use military force against Iraq and remove
Hussein from power because the country posed a threat to the United States
due to its alleged ability to develop weapons of mass destruction. The Jan
26, 1998 letter sent to Clinton from the Project for the New American
Century said a war with Iraq should be initiated even if the United States
could not muster support from its allies in the United Nations. Kristol
also signed the letter.
"We are writing you because we are convinced that current
American policy toward Iraq is not succeeding, and that we may soon face a
threat in the Middle East more serious than any we have known since the
end of the Cold War. In your upcoming State of the Union Address, you have
an opportunity to chart a clear and determined course for meeting this
threat. We urge you to seize that opportunity, and to enunciate a new
strategy that would secure the interests of the U.S. and our friends and
allies around the world. That strategy should aim, above all, at the
removal of Saddam Hussein's regime from power."
"We urge you to turn your Administration's attention to
implementing a strategy for removing Saddam's regime from power. This will
require a full complement of diplomatic, political and military efforts.
Although we are fully aware of the dangers and difficulties in
implementing this policy, we believe the dangers of failing to do so are
far greater. We believe the U.S. has the authority under existing UN
resolutions to take the necessary steps, including military steps, to
protect our vital interests in the Gulf. In any case, American policy
cannot continue to be crippled by a misguided insistence on unanimity in
the UN Security Council."
Clinton rebuffed the advice from the future Bush Administration
officials saying he was focusing his attention on dismantling al Qa'ida
cells, according to a copy of the response Clinton sent to Rumsfeld,
Wolfowitz and Kristol.
Unsatisfied with Clinton's response, Rumsfeld, Wolfowitz, Kristol and
others from the Project for the New American Century wrote
another letter on May 29, 1998 to former House Speaker Newt Gingrich
and Senate Republican Majority Leader Trent Lott saying that the United
States should "establish and maintain a strong U.S. military presence
in the region, and be prepared to use that force to protect our vital
interests in the Gulf - and, if necessary, to help remove Saddam from
"We should take whatever steps are necessary to challenge
Saddam Hussein's claim to be Iraq's legitimate ruler, including indicting
him as a war criminal. U.S. policy should have as its explicit goal
removing Saddam Hussein's regime from power and establishing a peaceful
and democratic Iraq in its place. We recognize that this goal will not be
achieved easily. But the alternative is to leave the initiative to Saddam,
who will continue to strengthen his position at home and in the region.
Only the U.S. can lead the way in demonstrating that his rule is not
legitimate and that time is not on the side of his regime."
The White House would not comment on the letters or whether Rumsfeld
and Wolfowitz possessed any intelligence information that suggested Iraq
posed an imminent threat to the United States at the time. The letters
offered no hard evidence that Iraq was in possession of weapons of mass
The Clinton aide said the former President believed that the policy of
"containing Saddam Hussein in a box" was successful and that the
Iraqi regime did not pose any threat to U.S. interests at the time.
President Clinton "never considered war with Iraq an option",
the former aide said. "We were encouraged by the UN weapons
inspectors and believed they had a good handle on the situation."
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