In his new memoir that came out Tuesday, former President George W. Bush flatly rejects the notion that Israel was behind his decision to invade Iraq.
Referring to critics who cast aspersions on his motives, Bush dismisses those who “alleged that America’s real intent was to control Iraq’s oil or satisfy Israel.”
He stresses, “Those theories were false. I was sending our troops into combat to protect the American people.”
In the 30 pages he spends in Decision Points detailing the frantic diplomacy, military planning and consultations with international figures in the run-up to the Iraq war, Bush never once mentions a conversation with an Israeli official or member of a pro-Israel organization.
Bush does mention the threat of Israel being bombarded with missiles among his many concerns about fallout from an invasion – including the well-being of Iraqi civilians and the possibility of chemical weapons being used against US soldiers.
But when it comes to Middle Eastern pressure to declare war, he only describes Arab input: from Saudi Arabian Prince Bandar, who urged him to make a decision on whether to attack, and from Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, who said Iraq had biological weapons and would certainly use them against the US, an assessment Mubarak wouldn’t make public “for fear of inciting the Arab street.”
The picture Bush paints stands in stark contrast to the assertions of critics who charged that the “Israel lobby” was a major factor in the decision to go to war. Among the most vocal were scholars John Mearsheimer and Stephen Walt, who said of the Israel lobby that “the war would almost certainly not have occurred had it been absent.”
The only reference Bush makes to a pro-Israel figure having a role in his Iraq deliberations is the Holocaust survivor and Nobel Peace Prize winner Elie Wiesel, a supporter of military intervention whose opinion the president solicited as he weighed his options.
“Elie is a sober and gentle man. But there was passion in his seventy-four-year-old eyes when he compared Saddam Hussein’s brutality to the Nazi genocide,” Bush writes.
The other major pro-Israel figure whose influence Bush notes in his work comes during his discussion of the “Freedom Agenda.” Bush cites a passage from Natan Sharansky’s book The Case for Democracy in making the argument that America needed to “put pressure on the arms of the world’s tyrants.”
Bush sees his Freedom Agenda as being most needed in the Middle East to help diminish the appeal of terrorism, and speaks sympathetically of the terror that visited Israel during the second intifada.
“I was appalled by the violence and loss of life on both sides. But I refused to accept the moral equivalence between Palestinian suicide attacks on innocent civilians and Israeli military actions intended to protect their people,” Bush writes, saying his views on the right of countries to defend themselves were magnified by September 11.
And he points out, “The Israeli people responded to the violent onslaught the way any democracy would. They elected a leader who promised to protect them, Ariel Sharon.”
Though he scores Sharon for making a “provocative” visit to the Temple Mount after the collapse of the Camp David talks in 2000, Bush says the blame for the violence that followed fell squarely on Yasser Arafat, whom he describes as someone who “didn’t seem very interested in peace.”
His wariness about Arafat only increased in early 2002 after Israel intercepted the Karine A, an Iranian ship it believed was smuggling deadly weapons to Palestinians. Arafat pleaded his innocence in a letter to Bush, who notes that both the US and Israel had evidence refuting his claim.
“Arafat had lied to me. I never trusted him again,” Bush relates. “In fact, I never spoke to him again. By the spring of 2002, I had concluded that peace would not be possible with Arafat in power.”
Bush also details differences with Sharon, particularly his feeling that Sharon’s sweeping West Bank offensive against Palestinian terrorists following the Pessah bombing of the Park Hotel in Netanya had gone too far and become “counterproductive.”
“‘Enough is enough,’ I said.
Still Sharon wouldn’t budge,” he writes.
During the offensive, Crown Prince Abdullah of Saudi Arabia arrived at Bush’s ranch in Texas for a visit. Bush recounts that the Saudis expected the US to have put a stop to the operation by then, and threatened to leave soon after arriving should it continue.
“They were insisting that I call the Israeli prime minister on the spot. I wasn’t going to conduct diplomacy that way,” Bush writes.
He was, however, able to convince a miffed Abdullah, who happened to be a farming enthusiast, to take a tour of the ranch. While driving along, a hen turkey stood in the middle of the road, blocking their progress.
Bush recalls that he then felt Abdullah grab his arm and tell him, “It is a sign from Allah. This is a good omen.”
The visit continued without a hitch, with Bush concluding, “I had never seen a hen turkey on that part of the property, and I haven’t seen one since.”