A Time of Our Choosing: America's War in Iraq

A Time of Our Choosing: America's War in Iraq


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"An indispensable guide to understanding the causes, conduct and consequences of the war in Iraq . . . A Time of Our Choosing can be read with profit by those on all sides of the debate."

-The New York Times Book Review

A Time of Our Choosing is the authoritative and dramatic account of the war in Iraq, America's most controversial war since Vietnam, drawing on the unparalleled resources and reportage of The New York Times. Todd S. Purdum, one of the paper's most gifted writers, deftly rolls out the whole canvas before our eyes, weaving together a single, gripping tale. Purdum traces the story of the war from the first rumblings after 9/11 to the diplomatic tussles at the United Nations, to the battles themselves and the violence that lasted well beyond the cessation of formal hostilities. And in a new afterword he recounts the high drama of the capture of Saddam Hussein and pursues the persistent questions regarding weapons of mass destruction, flawed intelligence, and preemptive war. President George W. Bush has vowed that the United States would attack its enemies at "a time of our choosing," and Purdum shows in vivid terms what this choice has meant for our now transformed world.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780805076905
Publisher: Holt, Henry & Company, Inc.
Publication date: 10/01/2004
Edition description: REV
Pages: 352
Product dimensions: 5.54(w) x 8.34(h) x 0.93(d)

About the Author

Todd S. Purdum is a correspondent in the Washington bureau of The New York Times. He has worked for the Times for more than twenty years, and is a former diplomatic correspondent, White House correspondent, and Los Angeles bureau chief. A graduate of Princeton University, he lives with his family in Washington, D.C.

Read an Excerpt

A Time of Our Choosing

America's War in Iraq
By Todd S. Purdum

Times Books

Copyright © 2004 Todd S. Purdum
All right reserved.

ISBN: 0805076905

Chapter One


Camp David, Maryland Saturday, September 15, 2001

In the secure isolation of the Catoctin Mountains outside Washington, D.C., a grim group of the world's most powerful people sat bundled in windbreakers and fleece jackets against the morning chill. Four days earlier, jetliners loaded with fuel had slammed into the Pentagon and flattened the World Trade Center, killing unknown thousands of people in the worst terrorist attack in American history. Now President George W. Bush and his top advisers were meeting for a daylong discussion on how to respond to what the president had described in unblinking terms as "an act of war." Already the chief suspect was clear: a Saudi-born exile named Osama bin Laden, head of the worldwide Al Qaeda terror network, which had found shelter and support from the brutal Taliban regime in Afghanistan and flourished in secretive cells from Pakistan to Germany. The director of Central Intelligence, George J. Tenet, had come armed with detailed briefing books on how to wage a campaign against this newly obvious, though hardly new, threat.

But around the long table in the functional-woodsy conference room of Laurel Lodge, the specter of another, better-known villain hovered. Ten years earlier, many of the same officials sitting at Camp David that morning had helped the president's father, the first President George Bush, plan and execute the Persian Gulf war to drive Saddam Hussein's Iraqi forces out of Kuwait. Vice President Dick Cheney had been secretary of defense, Secretary of State Colin Powell had been chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice had been a Russia expert on the White House staff, and the deputy defense secretary, Paul Wolfowitz, had been undersecretary of defense for policy.

On this Saturday morning, none of the officials around the table could yet know what role Iraq had played, if any, in the horrific attacks days before. But at least one of them, Wolfowitz, had suspicions, and he piped up. That morning's New York Times had carried an editorial chastising Wolfowitz for having spoken at the Pentagon in the aftermath of the attacks about "ending states who sponsor terrorism." The Times intoned: "That may work as a form of intimidation but we trust he does not have in mind invading and occupying Iraq" and other countries. In fact, even as the newspaper's readers were absorbing that editorial, Wolfowitz was advocating just such a course to his colleagues at the presidential retreat. During a break in the seven-hour meeting, or in the middle of it-accounts from participants differ-Wolfowitz expounded on the Iraqi threat, and President Bush listened. Wolfowitz argued that toppling Saddam was an achievable goal, and he estimated that there was a 10 to 50 percent chance that the Iraqi leader had been involved in the 9/11 attacks. By going after Iraq, Wolfowitz argued, America's resolve would be taken seriously. Secretary of State Powell, however, argued strongly for keeping the "focus on the ball" of Al Qaeda and the Taliban and not pulling a "bait and switch." Wolfowitz's boss, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsreid, took no public position. Vice President Cheney, too, was skeptical, saying that by going after Saddam "we lose our rightful place as good guy." The next morning, when he was asked on NBC's Meet the Press if there was any Iraqi connection to the attacks, the vice president answered with a flat "no." But a seed had been planted.

On Sunday morning, after the other officials had left Camp David, Bush summoned Rice, a trusted confidante who had tutored him on foreign policy throughout his campaign, to his cabin.

"Here's what I want to do," he said. The assault on terrorism would come in phases, opening with a more focused attack on Osama bin Laden, his followers and their Afghan protectors, but eventually extending to any terrorist organization or nation with the "global reach" to harm the United States. Rice's hastily taken notes turned out to be the first tentative draft of a sweeping new foreign policy outlook that would come to be known as the Bush Doctrine.

George Walker Bush had come to the presidency at the age of fifty-four with strikingly little knowledge of or exposure to the world beyond the United States and Mexico. In fact, he had rarely traveled abroad as an adult: one of his trips was to China in the 1970s when his father was the American envoy in the early days of Washington's opening to the mainland; when his father was president, he led a delegation to Gambia for a celebration of its independence; and in 1998 he visited one of his twin daughters in Italy before joining other governors on a tour of the Middle East. He had met with perhaps 150 foreign diplomats and trade officials in six successful years as governor of Texas. But neither he nor his much more experienced rival in the 2000 election, Vice President Al Gore, expected foreign policy to be a major issue after a decade in which the end of the Cold War had given way to a series of regional conflicts-a period that the columnist George Will later summed up as a "holiday from history." Bush's campaign emphasized education and a package of sweeping tax cuts that he said would spark a domestic economy that was beginning to flag after a run of unprecedented expansion. Asked in the second presidential debate of the 2000 campaign to describe his philosophy for projecting American power, Bush responded in terms that sounded startlingly like Gore. "If we are an arrogant nation," he said, "they will resent us. If we're a humble nation, but strong, they'll welcome us." As a candidate, Bush was famously unprepared to answer detailed questions on foreign policy, and when asked in one interview about the Taliban leadership in Afghanistan, answered, "Oh, I thought you said some band. The Taliban in Afghanistan. Absolutely. Repressive." He scorned "nation-building" as a woolly-headed ambition that risked diluting America's priorities and diverting its military into insoluble conflicts around the world.

At the same time, however, Bush surrounded himself with a cadre of harder-headed foreign policy advisers dubbed the Vulcans, after the Roman god of fire, a statue of whom was a landmark in Birmingham, Alabama, Condoleezza Rice's hometown. This team included both Rice and Wolfowitz, along with such veteran players as Richard L. Armitage, Richard Perle, and Robert B. Zoellick. Significantly, it did not include either the cautious, moderate Colin Powell or Brent Scowcroft, the first President Bush's pragmatic national security adviser. Powell had considered but declined a run for president himself in 1996, and had emerged as the nation's most prominent black Republican, having written a best-selling autobiography and led a nonprofit public-service group called America's Promise. When Powell gave his public support to Bush's candidacy in the summer of 2000, it was universally understood that he would become secretary of state if Bush were elected, but his relationship with the new president remained more professional and correct than personal, and his careful, internationalist approach was already shaping up to be at odds with that of many of Bush's other advisers and the president himself.

What Bush lacked in detailed knowledge of foreign affairs, he made up for in decades of family exposure to the hard realities of modern American electoral politics. During his father's presidential campaign and presidency, Bush took on a role as loyalty enforcer and studied the take-no-prisoners political gamesmanship of Lee Atwater, the legendary Republican political consultant. He had absorbed the painful lessons of his father's lack of "the vision thing," and once declared that the challenge of the presidency was to "have a strategy and set the debate." A former owner of the Texas Rangers baseball team, Bush liked to think of himself as a "gut-player," whose instincts were true, even when his knowledge might be shaky. If Bush sometimes shrunk from articulating a clear vision of his foreign policy goals, many of his advisers, in their writings and speaking, did not. They did not agree on all issues, but pulsing through the thinking of many was the conviction that nation-states, acting in self-interest-not international organizations, alliances or increasingly interlinked economies-constituted the crucial elements of global politics. Wolfowitz, citing the "remarkable record" of coalition-building during the Cold War, argued that leadership means "demonstrating that your friends will be protected and taken care of, that your enemies will be punished, and that those who refuse to support you will live to regret having done so."

The intellectual Wolfowitz was an unlikely soul mate for Bush. He grew up in Ithaca, New York, the son of a Cornell University mathematics professor who had emigrated from Warsaw in 1920 and told his children how lucky they were to have escaped the horrors of Hitler. As a teenager, Wolfowitz was a John F. Kennedy Democrat and marched on Washington in Martin Luther King's great pilgrimage for civil rights in 1963.

After considering a career in mathematics, Wolfowitz earned his doctorate in political science at the University of Chicago, a cradle of what came to be called neo-conservative thinking on foreign policy and a hotbed of the anti-ditente school during the Cold War. After three years' teaching at Yale, he came to the Arms Control and Disarmament Agency at the end of the Nixon administration, where he was part of a group that espoused the contrarian view that the Soviet Union should not merely be contained, as American policy had held since the late 1940s, but instead challenged on every front. He fell into various jobs as an analyst at both the State and Defense Departments, and ultimately wound up working for Dick Cheney in the first Bush administration as undersecretary for policy, the Pentagon's brainstormer-in-chief. A decade later, Rumsfeld hired him as the Pentagon's number-two official after working with him on a congressional commission on missile defense. Morton Abramowitz, a veteran diplomat, called Wolfowitz "the preeminent house intellectual." Conversant in six foreign languages, Wolfowitz was the kind of unrepentant wonk who kept Civil War histories by his bedside, and a painting of the Battle of Antietam-the single bloodiest day in American history-in his third floor, E-Ring Pentagon office.

As a young Defense Department analyst, Wolfowitz had directed a secret assessment of Persian Gulf threats that listed Iraq as a menace to its neighbors and a threat to American interests-and this was in 1979, a dozen years before the Persian Gulf war. In 1992, he oversaw the writing of a new "Defense Planning Guidance" for Cheney, a broad outline of what the military should be prepared for. An early draft argued that, with the collapse of the Soviet Union, Washington should be ready to assure that no new superpower could arise to challenge America's enlightened dominion, and that the United States should be "postured to act independently when collective action cannot be orchestrated." The guidance was accompanied by scenarios sketching out possible wars, including another war with Iraq. The draft was leaked to The New York Times-without his ever having read it, Wolfowitz later said-and sparked a storm of criticism as being overly bellicose. But now, in the aftermath of the 9/11 terrorist attacks, ideas similar to these were coalescing at the highest levels of the Bush administration's thinking.

For all his fire-breathing pronouncements, Wolfowitz in person was low-key and engaging, if sometimes politically tone-deaf with colleagues, showing up at meetings uninvited or offering his views in the presence of his superiors without being asked. He still described himself as a "bleeding heart" on social issues, and friends said his hard-line foreign policy views sprang from a relentless optimism about the improvability of the human condition. But Wolfowitz could also be so intellectually unshrinking as to seem unfeeling. "We know the costs of Vietnam," he said in an interview in 2002. "They were horrendous. But we don't know what that part of the world would have looked like today if it hadn't been."

The 1991 Persian Gulf war had been designed, by Colin Powell and others, to be the precise opposite of Vietnam: a clear-cut conflict, with limited aims, defined goals, massive force and broad international support. At the head of a coalition of some thirty-four nations, American forces had succeeded in a campaign that lasted just forty-two days, with only 100 hours of ground combat. Coalition forces drove Iraqi troops out of Kuwait back north toward Baghdad, but did not try to topple Saddam Hussein's dictatorial regime, already well known for extraordinary viciousness and brutality. To have done so would have splintered the international coalition, exceeded the United Nations resolutions that had backed the war in the first place and risked exploding a volatile country already riven by centuries of ethnic and religious rivalries and hatreds.

"If we'd gone to Baghdad and got rid of Saddam Hussein-assuming we could have found him-we'd have had to put a lot of forces in and run him to ground someplace," Cheney told the BBC in 1992. "He would not have been easy to capture. Then you've got to put a new government in his place, and then you're faced with the question of what kind of government are you going to establish in Iraq? Is it going to be a Kurdish government or a Shia government or a Sunni government? How many forces are you going to have to leave there to keep it propped up, how many casualties are you going to take through the course of this operation?"

So at Powell's urging, with Cheney's acceptance and the first President Bush's approval, the war was stopped-a decision that would be hotly debated, by the participants and critics, for much of the following decade. The assumption in 1991 was that Saddam's regime, defeated militarily and humbled politically, would collapse of its own weight or be toppled in a coup. Ten years later, not only had that not happened, but Saddam had defied or eluded numerous United Nations resolutions requiring him to destroy weapons of mass destruction or forsake oil revenues-and had further squeezed, bled and tortured his own populace.

Less than two years after the end of the first Bush administration, however, Wolfowitz was already expressing regrets about the outcome of the Persian Gulf war. In a 1994 review of Crusade, Rick Atkinson's book on the conflict, Wolfowitz argued: "With hindsight, it does seem like a mistake to have announced, even before the war was over, that we would not go to Baghdad, or to give Saddam the reassurance of the dignified cease-fire ceremony at Safwan."


Excerpted from A Time of Our Choosing by Todd S. Purdum Copyright © 2004 by Todd S. Purdum. Excerpted by permission.
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A Time of Our Choosing: America's War In Iraq 3.5 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 2 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I think that this book was well written. It explains what was going on when President Bush was in office and what was going on after Sept. 11 and what had taken place. It shows a good insight of what happened in Iraq with our troops and how we handled certain things. Great book to read if you want insight of what it is like in today's military.
Guest More than 1 year ago
While a bit dry at first, the speed soon picks up as this book takes you through the decision making process starting when Bush came into office right up to where events stand today. This book provides invaluable insights into the intricate workings of the UN and the Presidential Cabinet. Although not particularly good as a resource, it does provide a good solid information base for general knowledge about reasons and basises for the President's decisions as well as information about how operations were conducted in Iraq. Included is a section on Saddam's regime for shock value to keep things interesting.