A once classified 2002 memo accurately warned of a “perfect storm” from invading Iraq, though the White House ultimately ignored the caution, the Wall Street Journal reported.
Top State Department officials advised President George W. Bush, who was making the case for war in Iraq, that an invasion to overthrow Saddam Hussein could spark internal Iraqi chaos, Middle East upheaval and threats to U.S. interests, documents released this week show, the Journal reported.
“An effort to overthrow the regime in Baghdad could unravel if we’re not careful, intersecting to create a ’perfect storm’ for American interests,” three veteran diplomats wrote on July 29, 2002, to Secretary of State Colin Powell — a message that went unheeded when the Bush administration invaded without detailed plans for post-war Iraq, the Journal reported.
The “perfect storm” memo, though previously known, wasn't made public until the recent declassification, the Journal noted. It and more than 80 other once classified documents covering policy toward the Middle East, Russia and other regions were released in conjunction with the publication of “The Back Channel,” a memoir by former Deputy Secretary of State William Burns, the Journal reported.
Burns told the Journal the July 2002 memo was intended “to try to puncture what we saw to be incredibly rosy assumptions” by war advocates about an invasion’s aftermath.
The Journal noted the 10-page memo predicted many setbacks that actually occurred: violence among Iraq’s Sunnis, Shiites and Kurds; attacks on U.S. troops; intervention by Iran and other neighbors. And it also accurately forecast that trying to bring structural change and stability to Iraq would take years.
“This view would require planning to stay five years — maybe four if we’re lucky, ten if we’re not,” says the document, written by Burns, who then led the State Department’s Near Eastern Affairs bureau, and colleagues David Pearce and Ryan Crocker.
A second document showed that by August 2002 it was obvious to U.S. diplomats the debate over going to war was essentially over.
“This is not about whether the goal of regime change makes sense; it’s about choosing between a smart way and a dumb way of bringing it about,” Burns wrote in an Aug. 16, 2002, email to Powell.
A third document dated Nov. 19, 2001, suggests the Defense Department was arguing for a strike on Iraq barely two months after 9/11.
“DoD will likely argue the campaign in Afghanistan should serve as a model for Iraq —dissimilarities be damned and ignored,” Burns wrote to superiors.
Representatives for Bush and former White House national security adviser Condoleezza Rice didn’t respond to the Journal’s requests for comment. But the Journal noted senior Bush administration officials have defended the decision to invade Iraq, while acknowledging mistakes took place.