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This chapter is from the book

The Bush Doctrine

In truth, Iraq has never been off the U.S. agenda since the 1991 Gulf War. But for the ensuing decade, Washington was content for the most part to keep Saddam "in his box"—tying him down with sanctions and isolating him as an international pariah.

Two things changed that. The first was the arrival of a Republican administration with unfinished business with Iraq and the second was September 11. When the Arab hijackers turned commercial airliners into missiles and smashed them into New York's World Trade Center and the Pentagon, they struck at the nerve centers of U.S. financial, political and military power. Another plane which could have caused further chaos crashed in a field in Pennsylvania after passengers apparently rushed the hijackers.

Americans had suffered deadly attacks abroad—in the Middle East and East Africa, for example—but never before had they sustained such a devastating blow on mainland U.S. soil. America's view of the world was transformed, and so too was the Bush presidency. A leader who had taken power with an overwhelmingly domestic agenda was forced to rededicate his presidency to one central international mission, the war on terror. The overriding goal was the pursuit of bin Laden and al Qaeda. America would act alongside allies where it could, but alone where needed. Relations with every country would be governed by the requirements of this war: "Either you are with us or you are with the terrorists," the president declared. Bush would root out enemies and threats to the United States, wherever they arose in the world. He began in Afghanistan, where the United States threw its weight behind the opposition Northern Alliance. The ruling Taliban, sponsors and hosts of al Qaeda, were quickly routed by the combination of U.S. air power and Northern Alliance forces on the ground.

Iraqi women shout and cryIraqi women shout and cry in the village of Jassan after U.S. and British air strikes, August 18, 1999. The U.S. military's Southern Command said the raids took place after Iraqi anti-aircraft artillery fired at Western planes. REUTERS

A defining moment came with Bush's State of the Union speech in January 2002. The Taliban were vanquished, al Qaeda dispersed, and the bin Laden trail had gone cold. The name of Osama, the enemy whom Bush had denounced as the "evil one" and wanted "dead or alive," was mentioned increasingly rarely by U.S. officials. Where was the war on terror going from here?

Enter the "Axis of Evil." It was in this speech that Bush first coined that term and applied it to three countries—Iraq, Iran and North Korea—which he accused of developing weapons of mass destruction. At a stroke, Bush was widening the definition of the war on terror: the fight against weapons proliferation would now be a crucial part of the struggle. In a June 1, 2002, speech at West Point military academy, Bush developed his new doctrine further, stressing the need for pre-emptive military action where necessary to stop "terrorists and tyrants" from obtaining weapons of mass destruction. "If we wait for threats to fully materialize, we will have waited too long. We must take the battle to the enemy, disrupt his plans and confront the worst threats before they emerge."

The fullest expression of America's new security stance came in a strategy report released on September 20, 2002. Building on the West Point theme, the administration affirmed the need to defeat terrorism by "destroying the threat before it reaches our borders." It went further: moving away from traditional Cold War policies of containment and deterrence, the United States asserted its own military pre-eminence and the need to prevent its rivals from matching it.

"Our forces will be strong enough to dissuade potential adversaries from pursuing a military buildup in hopes of surpassing, or equaling, the power of the United States," the document said.

Many aspects of these new policies drew criticism. Opponents condemned the "Axis of Evil" as a distortion, implying an alliance between the three named countries that did not exist in reality. Rather like Bush's Wild West-style "dead or alive" rhetoric toward bin Laden, critics saw it as reflecting a naïve, simplistic view of a world divided between good guys and bad guys. To America's enemies and even some of its friends, the new U.S. strategy showed a worrying unilateralist, even imperialist, streak. But the switch reflected a strong sense among Americans that previous security mechanisms had failed and needed replacing. September 11 had exposed a need for new thinking. Increasingly it began to look as though Iraq would provide the first test of the Bush doctrine.

An Iraqi soldier gestures to weapons inspectorsAn Iraqi soldier gestures to weapons inspectors as they drive out of U.N. headquarters in Baghdad, November 23, 1998. REUTERS

Post-Gulf War Chronology


Feb 28 U.S. and allied forces cease fire.

Apr 7 The United States, Britain and France set up a "no-fly zone" north of the 36th parallel.

Apr 11 The United Nations declares formal Gulf War ceasefire.

Jun 9 The U.N. Special Commission (UNSCOM) starts chemical weapons inspections.

Jun 28 Iraqi soldiers fire shots into the air when U.N. inspectors try to photograph a speeding convoy carrying crates of nuclear-related material.


Jun U.S. warships fire 23 cruise missiles at Baghdad, destroying Iraqi intelligence service headquarters wing. Missiles kill six people. Attack ordered to avenge alleged Iraqi plot to kill former U.S. President George Bush.


Jul 1 Iraq admits for the first time that it has biological weapons.


Dec 10 The oil for food deal comes into effect, allowing Iraq to sell $2 billion worth of oil for six months to buy humanitarian supplies for its people.


Oct 29 Iraq bars Americans from weapons teams.


Aug 9 UNSCOM suspends inspections of new sites after Baghdad decides to halt cooperation with United Nations.

Nov 14/15 President Clinton halts two planned air strikes after Iraq offers to let inspections resume.

Dec 16 United Nations inspectors are withdrawn from Baghdad.

Dec 17 United States and Britain stage four days of air strikes at Iraqi factories, political, military and intelligence headquarters as punishment for not cooperating with inspectors.


Mar 26 President Saddam Hussein meets outgoing U.N. relief coordinator Hans von Sponeck, the first time he has met an Iraqi-based U.N. official since the 1991 Gulf War.


Jan 29 In a speech, President George W. Bush says Iran, Iraq and North Korea form an "axis of evil" developing weapons of mass destruction; all three reject the accusation the next day.

Sep 12 Bush challenges U.N. General Assembly to disarm Iraq or the United States would do it alone.

Sep 16 U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan receives a letter from the Iraqi authorities agreeing to allow the return of U.N. inspectors without conditions.

Oct Mohammed Aldouri, Iraq's ambassador to the United Nations, says that 1.7 million people have died as a result of U.N. sanctions.

Oct 12 An adviser to Saddam sends a letter to U.N. weapons inspectors saying Iraq is ready to remove all obstacles to a return of inspectors after nearly four years.

Nov 8 U.N. Security Council unanimously approves resolution directing Iraq to disarm or face "serious consequences" and giving inspectors new rights.

Nov 13 Iraq accepts U.N. resolution in an angry letter to Annan.

Nov 18 Advance party of U.N. inspectors land in Baghdad for first time in four years.

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