George W. Bush and The Iraq War

Beginning at his January 29, 2002 State of the Union address, President Bush began publicly focusing attention on Iraq, which he labeled as part of an "axis of evil" allied with terrorists and posing "a grave and growing danger" to U.S. interests through possession of "weapons of mass destruction". In the later half of 2002, Central Intelligence Agency reports requested by the Administration contained assertions that Saddam Hussein was intent on reconstituting nuclear weapons programs, had not properly accounted for Iraqi biological weapons and chemical weapons material in violation of UN sanctions, and that some Iraqi missiles had a range greater than allowed by the UN sanctions. In particular, the CIA drew together an October 1, 2002 National Intelligence Estimate on Iraq's Weapons of Mass Destruction, pulling together the intelligence, estimations, opinions and judgments of 16 different U.S. intelligence services, including dissenting views or challenges to various assertions. Several versions of this report were or have been produced with varying levels of declassification, inclusion of dissenting opinions, and completeness. President Bush received a one-page summary of the National Intelligence Estimate. The question of whether the Bush Administration manipulated or exaggerated the threat and evidence of Iraq's Weapons of Mass Destruction capabilities or attempted to create a tie between Sadaam Hussein and the al Qaeda terrorists who carried out the September 11, 2001 attacks would eventually become a major point of criticism and controversy for the President.

In late 2002 and early 2003, President Bush urged the United Nations to enforce Iraqi disarmament mandates, precipitating a diplomatic crisis. On November 13, 2002, under UN Security Council Resolution 1441, Hans Blix and Mohamed ElBaradei led UN weapons inspectors in Iraq. There was controversy over the efficacy of inspections and lapses in Iraqi compliance. UN inspection teams departed Iraq upon U.S. advisement given four days prior to the U.S. invasion, despite their requests for more time to complete their tasks. The U.S. initially sought a UN Security Council resolution authorizing the use of military force pursuant to Chapter VII of the United Nations Charter. Upon facing vigorous opposition from several nations (primarily France and Germany), however, the U.S. dropped the bid for UN approval and began to prepare for war; Benjamin Ferencz, a former chief prosecutor of the Nuremberg Trials argued that for these actions Bush, with his Administration, could be prosecuted for war crimes. Kofi Annan, Boutros Boutros-Ghali, as well as leaders of several nations made similar statements, implying that the attack constitutes a war crime.

In order to comply with the 2002 Authorization for Use of Military Force Against Iraq Resolution by Congress, on March 18, 2003, President Bush certified to Congress that he had "determined that: (1) reliance by the United States on further diplomatic and other peaceful means alone will neither (A) adequately protect the national security of the United States against the continuing threat posed by Iraq nor (B) likely lead to enforcement of all relevant United Nations Security Council resolutions regarding Iraq; and (2) acting pursuant to the Constitution and Public Law 107-243 is consistent with the United States and other countries continuing to take the necessary actions against international terrorists and terrorist organizations, including those nations, organizations, or persons who planned, authorized, committed, or aided the terrorist attacks that occurred on September 11, 2001."

The war effort was joined by more than 20 other nations (most notably the United Kingdom and Australia) who the Bush Administration designated the "coalition of the willing". The invasion of Iraq commenced on March 20, 2003, ostensibly to pre-empt Iraqi WMD deployment and remove Saddam from power. The Iraqi military was quickly defeated. The capital, Baghdad, fell on April 9, 2003. On May 1, 2003, President Bush declared the end of major combat operations in Iraq in a speech from the deck of the USS Abraham Lincoln. This speech would become known as his "Mission Accomplished" speech due to a banner with that slogan in view overhead. At the outset of the speech, President Bush stated: "Major combat operations in Iraq have ended. In the Battle of Iraq, the United States and our allies have prevailed. And now our coalition is engaged in securing and reconstructing that country. In this battle, we have fought for the cause of liberty, and for the peace of the world."

The initial success of U.S. operations had increased President Bush's popularity, but the U.S. and allied forces faced a growing insurgency led by sectarian groups. As the situation deteriorated, Bush's May 1, 2003 "Mission Accomplished" speech would be criticized as premature." The Bush Administration was also criticized in subsequent months following the report of the Iraq Survey Group, which did not find the large quantities of weapons that the regime was believed to possess. On December 14, 2005, while discussing the WMD issue, Bush stated that "It is true that much of the intelligence turned out to be wrong." Bush nevertheless continued to assert the war had been worthwhile and confirmed he would have made the same decision if he had known more.

The Plame affair concerned allegations that U.S. government officials revealed classified employment information about Valerie E. Wilson (née Valerie Elise Plame; also known as "Valerie Plame") indicating that she was a covert operative of the United States CIA investigating the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction. Mrs. Wilson's husband, former ambassador Joseph Wilson, alleges that members of the George W. Bush administration leaked his wife's covert identity to the press as "political retribution" for his criticizing the administration in his New York Times Op-Ed piece published on 6 July 2003. Wilson's allegations have led to a federal grand jury investigation and subsequent conviction on perjury and obstruction of justice charges against I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby, Jr., a civil suit by the Wilsons, and related controversy. The trial United States of America v. I. Lewis Libby, also known as "Scooter Libby" began on January 16, 2007. Pursuant to the grand jury leak investigation, Libby was convicted on March 6, 2007, on four counts of perjury, obstruction of justice, and making false statements, and he was acquitted of one count of making false statements. His lawyers have announced that they will appeal his conviction. Fitzgerald said he didn't expect anyone else to be charged in the case. "We're all going back to our day jobs."

Iraqi elections and a referendum to approve a constitution were held in January and December 2005. Initial media reports of high voter turnout were overestimated, and were later estimated at less than 50%. In 2004 through 2006 the situation in Iraq deteriorated, with some observers arguing that the country was on the brink of, if not already engaged in, a full scale civil war. Bush's policies regarding global terrorism and the war in Iraq met increasing criticism, with increasing demands within the United States in 2006 to set a timetable to withdraw troops from Iraq. Sectarian violence and political deadlock in Iraq at the end of 2006 increased negative impressions of Bush's leadership and of the situation in Iraq. Several studies were done to ascertain the exact cost of the war in human lives; while more than 3,000 U.S. soldier deaths had been determined, the amount of Iraqi fatalities was unclear. According to a Lancet survey, the number of Iraqi deaths was estimated at 654,965, in a range of 392,979 to 942,636. In October 2006 Bush commented on the survey saying, "six hundred thousand or whatever they guessed at is just, it's not credible". The Iraq Body Count project also disputed the Lancet survey and gave their own estimate of around 60,000. Previously, in December 2005, Bush estimated that 30,000 Iraqis had died in the war. Following the Lancet survey being published, when asked again, Bush said: "I stand by the figure, a lot of innocent people have lost their life."

In 2006 a National Intelligence Estimate (a consensus report of the heads of 16 U.S. intelligence agencies) asserted that the Iraq war had increased Islamic radicalism and worsened the terror threat. The report of the bipartisan Iraq Study Group led by Republican James Baker came out in late 2006, concluding that the situation in Iraq was "grave and deteriorating" and recommending that the then present military course of action be modified. In particular, the ISG recommended that the Bush administration (1) launch a diplomatic offensive with Iraq's neighbor states, particularly Iran, to help achieve stability, and (2) redeploy U.S. forces to shift their focus from combat and security operations to that of supporting the Iraqi army, with the expectation that U.S. combat forces not necessary for force protection could be withdrawn from Iraq by March 2008. A recent report of Brookings Institution has found, however, that, in case of a pullout of American forces from Iraq, terrorism groups will get stronger. President Bush admitted by the end of 2006 that there were strategic mistakes made in regards to the stability of Iraq, he maintained he would not change the overall Iraq strategy. Bush and his aides continued to stress his belief of the necessity to "stay the course" in Iraq. They accused critics, mainly Democrats who have called for a U.S. troop pullout or a timetable for withdrawal, of advocating a policy of "cut-and-run". On November 28, 2006, facing mounting criticism for his Iraq war policy, Bush told the NATO Summit 2006 in Latvia that "We'll continue to be flexible, and we'll make the changes necessary to succeed. But there's one thing I'm not going to do: I'm not going to pull our troops off the battlefield before the mission is complete." On January 10, 2007 Bush addressed the U.S. about the situation in Iraq. In his speech, he announced new initiatives, including most notably the "surge" of 21,500 more troops for Iraq, as well as a job program for Iraqis, more reconstruction proposals, and 1.2 billion dollars for these programs. The "surge" was opposed by many influential politicians in Washington, including some Republicans, such as Senator Chuck Hagel and Senator Norm Coleman. On February 16, 2007, the House of Representatives passed a nonbinding resolution opposing the troop "surge" in Iraq by a vote of 246-182. On February 17, 2007, a similar resolution in the Senate failed to obtain the 60 (filibuster-proof) votes necessary to bring the resolution to debate and vote, with 33 Republican Senators and 1 Independent blocking the resolution. In early march he requested to Congress an additional 8,000 troops be added to this surge.

On July 31, 2008, Bush announced that with the end of July, American troop deaths had reached their lowest number—thirteen—since the war began in 2003. Due to increased stability in Iraq, Bush announced the withdrawal of additional American forces. This reflected an emerging consensus between the White House and the Pentagon that the war had "turned a corner". He also described what he saw as the success of the 2007 troop surge.

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