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October 15, 2010

No Good Idea Ever Dies

Justin Elliot of Salon is reading a new book by General Hugh Shelton, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff during parts of the Clinton and George W. Bush administrations. And apparently Shelton describes how in 1997, someone in the Clinton cabinet—from the way it's written, probably Madeleine Albright—suggested that the U.S. let a plane get shot down in order to provide a pretext to invade Iraq: of the Cabinet members present leaned over to me and said, “Hugh, I know I shouldn’t even be asking you this, but what we really need in order to go in and take out Saddam is a precipitous event — something that would make us look good in the eyes of the world. Could you have one of our U-2s fly low enough — and slow enough — so as to guarantee that Saddam could shoot it down?”

The hair on the back of my neck bristled, my teeth clenched, and my fists tightened. I was so mad I was about to explode. I looked across the table, thinking about the pilot in the U-2 and responded, “Of course we can ...” which prompted a big smile on the official’s face.

“You can?” was the excited reply.

“Why, of course we can,” I countered. “Just as soon as we get your ass qualified to fly it, I will have it flown just as low and slow as you want to go.”

This sounds completely plausible, since coming up with some bullshit excuse to attack Iraq was in the air for several years. Kenneth Pollack suggested it in his book The Threatening Storm, although no one celebrating what a brilliant and wise book it was ever mentioned it:

Assembling a [] coalition would be infinitely easier if the United States could point to a smoking gun with Iraqi fingerprints on it—some new Iraqi outrage that would serve to galvanize international opinion and create the pretext for an invasion...

There are probably [] courses the United States could take that might prompt Saddam to make a foolish, aggressive move, that would then become the "smoking gun" justifying an invasion. An aggressive U.S. covert action campaign might provoke Saddam to retaliate overtly, providing a casus belli...Other means might also be devised.

Then of course there's this:

During a private two-hour meeting in the Oval Office on Jan. 31, 2003, [Bush] made clear to Prime Minister Tony Blair of Britain that he was determined to invade Iraq without the second resolution, or even if international arms inspectors failed to find unconventional weapons, said a confidential memo about the meeting written by Mr. Blair's top foreign policy adviser...

"The U.S. was thinking of flying U2 reconnaissance aircraft with fighter cover over Iraq, painted in U.N. colours," the memo says, attributing the idea to Mr. Bush. "If Saddam fired on them, he would be in breach."

And they absolutely did try something along these lines:

THE RAF and US aircraft doubled the rate at which they were dropping bombs on Iraq in 2002 in an attempt to provoke Saddam Hussein into giving the allies an excuse for war, new evidence has shown.

But in any case, it's always interesting to find out how the Democratic foreign policy establishment are not just scumbags, but scumbags in exactly the same way the Republican foreign policy establishment are.

BONUS: Recall that Madeleine Albright played the Colin Powell role in our previous dramatic-presentation-of-airtight-evidence-at-the-UN-Security-Council-for-why-we-had-to-attack-Iraq that also turned out to be complete bullshit.

—Jonathan Schwarz

Posted at October 15, 2010 11:45 AM

Soooo, that proves that lightning does strike twice in the same place???

Posted by: Mike Meyer at October 15, 2010 01:59 PM

Minor technical point, but from the Salon article this is odd--

"During that time we had U-2 aircraft on reconnaissance sorties over Iraq. These planes were designed to fly at extremely high speeds and altitudes (over seventy thousand feet) both for pilot safety and to avoid detection."

U-2 planes don't fly fast. SR-71's fly extremely fast. Did he get them mixed up?

Posted by: Donald Johnson at October 15, 2010 02:03 PM

two words and a number:

"Project for the New American Century"

"A new Pearl Harbor"


Not that that's proof or anything - but still, it makes you wonder

Posted by: mistah charley, ph.d. at October 15, 2010 02:07 PM

There goes Jon's invitation to Jon Stewart's rally to restore sanity!

Posted by: . at October 15, 2010 02:33 PM


Posted by: Mike Meyer at October 15, 2010 02:33 PM

In the 2000 presidential race, Al Gore was actually more hawkish then Bush. Once he left politics, it was safe for him to oppose the badly managed, unpopular war against Iraq.

Posted by: Edward at October 15, 2010 03:01 PM

Justin Elliot dates the meeting in the LATE 1990s.

Well, I have to wonder if the plan was inspired by the Mrkonjić Grad incident. Remember the pilot shot down in 1995 by the Bosnian Serb Army? (I think they made a hero movie out of it.)

But plotting a scheming and actually doing something are two different things. I think Clinton had enough advisers telling him that taking out Saddam would remove an enemy of Iran. Bad idea. Bad idea.

Posted by: Paul Avery at October 15, 2010 03:24 PM

My, my, what a *cough Operation Northwoods cough* surprise!

Posted by: Neal Deesit at October 15, 2010 04:55 PM

Minor point of non-disagreement agreement, but scumbags is understating things a bit. That is psychopath territory.

Posted by: Justin at October 15, 2010 06:01 PM

For some reason, this reminds me of the Gary Powers U2 incident... As I recall reading somewhere, in all previous secret U2 Russia overflights (which the Russians knew about but were willing to diplomatically ignore, since they didn't want to admit they were helpless to stop them), the flights were straight over Russia until they were picked up on radar, and then the plane would veer in an unpredictable direction, preventing a shootdown. A very important summit meeting was scheduled, and no more flights were planned... but Eisenhower either wanted one more to verify something or other or was talked into authorizing one last flight... Something like that.. But on this final mission, "they" had Gary Powers fly his U2 over Russia and then continue in exactly the same direction which enabled them to shoot him down - which forced the Russians and the US to admit the overflights had been going on, which prompted a scuttling of the summit meeting, along with any hopes of ending the Cold War, uh, prematurely. Does this sound familiar? Do I have this right?

Posted by: steve the artguy at October 15, 2010 08:23 PM

It reminds one of the Tonkin Gulf and the attack against an American naval ship by the North Vietnamese that somehow didn't really happen but was used to escalate the Vietnam War by LBJ. Who says we don't learn from our experiences?

Posted by: Rob Payne at October 16, 2010 01:59 AM

Don't forget about P2OG:

Well, thank Hope we've got a good man running things now!

Posted by: marcus at October 16, 2010 12:30 PM

Making up excuses for war is an American tradition.

October 7, 1940: The Day That Should Have Lived in Infamy

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Posted by: sunderlandgrl at October 18, 2010 05:56 AM

I'm sure Miss Albright felt the loss of one life was worth the price considering the loss of 500,000 Iraqi children's lives was worth it.

Posted by: Stupid Git at October 22, 2010 03:55 AM