Did White House Orchestrate
The Iraq 'Crisis'?
By Rowan Scarborough
The Washington Times
The White House orchestrated a plan to provoke Saddam Hussein into defying United Nations weapons inspectors so President Clinton could justify air strikes, former and current government officials charge.
Scott Ritter, a former U.N. inspector who resigned this summer, said Thursday the U.N. Special Commission (Unscom) team led by Richard Butler deliberately chose sites it knew would provoke Iraqi defiance at the White House's urging. Mr. Ritter also said Mr. Butler,executive chairman of the Unscom, conferred with the Clinton administration's national security staff on how to write his report of noncompliance before submitting it to the U.N. Security Council Tuesday night.
The former inspector said the White House wanted to ensure the report contained sufficiently tough language on which to justify its decision to bomb Iraq. "I'm telling you this was a preordained conclusion. This inspection was a total setup by the United States," Mr. Ritter said. "The U.S. was pressing [the U.N.] to carry out this test. The test was very provocative. They were designed to elicit Iraqi defiance."
Mr. Ritter resigned from Unscom in August, accusing the Clinton administration of interfering in how and when inspections were carried out. Mr. Butler, in charge of inspections to rid Iraq of weapons of mass destruction, denied the charges at a U.N. press conference. "Now, I want to say simply, slowly and plainly that any suggestion that that report was not factual, was not objective, is utterly false," he said.
Military sources say the White House notified the Pentagon on Sunday -- the same day that Mr. Butler ordered an end to inspections -- that air strikes would begin this week. The warning came two days before Mr. Butler submitted his report -- the catalyst the administration cites for Mr. Clinton ordering Wednesday's start of a four-day bombing campaign.
Asked about a Sunday decision before the report was done, Defense Secretary William S. Cohen told reporters, "We have always been prepared to go during the month of December, to take action. We were not going to take any action until such time as a report was filed, we knew what it -- what was said, and the president actually called for a strike."
Mr. Butler defended his report amid charges by Mr. Ritter that the White House helped him write it. "I want to say it as simply and as plainly as I can. That report was based on the experts of Unscom," he said. "It danced to no one's tune. It was not written for anyone's purposes, including, as some of you have suggested, for the purposes of the United States, for example."
Republican lawmakers, retired military officers and military experts have questioned the attack's timing. Some GOP lawmakers bluntly accused the president of orchestrating a war to shore up waning public support in his impeachment battle. Administration officials, including Mr. Cohen, vehemently denied that charge.
Pentagon officials, rebutting an impeachment motive, said Thursday that Mr. Cohen and the Joint Chiefs of Staff had been looking for another opportunity to strike since mid-November, when Mr. Clinton called off a planned attack after Saddam pledged to cooperate with the U.N. inspectors. They said they wanted to take action before the month-long Islamic holiday Ramadan began this weekend and they grew tired of seeing badly needed budget dollars drained by on-and-off military buildups in the Gulf.
Mr. Ritter's charge that the White House co-authored the Butler report is at odds with the version of events given by administration officials. For example, as Tomahawks began destroying Iraqi targets Wednesday, Mr. Cohen was asked if he had any advance warning of the report's contents. "No. There was some speculation about what it might contain," he answered. "And frankly, we had assumed that it might be mixed. We didn't know."
Said Mr. Ritter, "If Bill Cohen said he did not know this report was not going to trigger a military response, he is being disingenuous." He added, "On Tuesday they worked closely with Richard Butler to make sure the report had no wiggle room. The concept this is the first time they saw the report is ludicrous. They orchestrated with Richard Butler."
Mr. Ritter said he is criticizing the timing of the attack in the media because Mr. Butler has become a "tool" of the White House and has "corrupted" Unscom's independence.Gen. Henry H. Shelton, Joint Chiefs chairman, said planners had been eyeing Wednesday for a possible attack for weeks because they had the right mix of forces in the region and it also would commence before Ramadan.
If Iraq had not defied inspectors, the military would have lost its "window" of opportunity. "We were looking at the calendar seeing Ramadan that we've got to be sensitive to," Gen. Shelton said. "And so we had to prepare for a window during which time, if there were a failure to comply, we could take action. And so, it was not until Mr. Butler filed his report that this became a reality as far as we were to go and then the decision had to be made."
Mr. Ritter cited two inspections as proof that Mr. Butler wanted to provoke Saddam. Mr. Ritter said Unscom demanded access to Ba'ath Party headquarters, even though an intelligence report that ballistic missile parts were inside was three months old and, as sources told him, no longer accurate. Mr. Ritter also said inspectors chose to inspect the building of the Iraqi commission overseeing weapons development even though intelligence reports said it was empty. Indeed, he said, nothing was found.
The White House knew by Dec. 9, when U.N. inspectors were in Baghdad, that the House had planned to debate impeachment as early as Wednesday, Dec. 16. Air strikes began that day. The Washington Post first reported Wednesday that administration officials "played a direct role in shaping Butler's text during multiple conversations."
"The decision to attack was driven on Sunday," Mr. Ritter said. "Ask Richard Butler why he stopped inspections on Sunday. The answer is, 'We have enough. We have enough points here. Get your team out.'"