WASHINGTON – National security adviser Condoleezza Rice (search) forcefully disputed on Sunday an assertion that President Bush decided in early January 2003 to invade Iraq, three months before official accounts say the decision was made.
The statement, in Washington Post reporter Bob Woodward's (search) new book about the run-up to war, is "simply not, not right," Rice said.
Bush told reporters a prime-time news conference on March 6 that a U.N. Security Council resolution authorizing action was days away. Ten days later, having failed to win approval, the resolution was withdrawn, and the assault began March 20.
Rice did not deny the private conversation between her and Bush just after New Year's Day in which Woodward said the decision was made, but she said the writer had misinterpreted what was said.
She said Woodward also misread another comment attributed to her, that since Defense SecretaryDonald H. Rumsfeld (search) knew of the "go" decision and Secretary of State Colin Powell (search) did not, perhaps Bush should tell Powell.
In the January meeting, Rice said on CBS' "Face the Nation," she and Bush were at the president's ranch in Crawford, Texas, considering the Iraq situation. In such sessions, she said, Bush "kind of thinks out loud."
"He said, `No, I think we probably are going to have to go to war. We're going to have to go to war.' And it was not a decision to go to war," Rice said. "That decision he made in March, when he finally decided to do that."
She said the Powell misunderstanding grew from her comment to Bush that "If you're beginning to think that the diplomacy is not working, it's probably time to have a conversation with the secretary of state. I'm sure he would have, in any case."
Rice said she meant that Bush should ask Powell "his sense of how the diplomacy was going" and that Bush had thought diplomacy would not succeed.
"But I just want it to be understood: That was not a decision to go to war. The decision to go to war is in March. The president is saying in that conversation, I think the chances are that this is not going to work out any other way. We're going to have to go to war.
Woodward also wrote in "Plan of Attack" that Rumsfeld, Vice President Dick Cheney (search) and Air Force Gen. Richard Myers, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told Prince Bandar bin Sultan (search), the Saudi ambassador to Washington, about the war plan on Jan. 11. That was two days before Bush told Powell, Woodward wrote.
"I just can't let this impression stand," Rice said. "The secretary of state was privy to all of the conversations with the president, all of the briefings for the president. They were in almost daily contact about what was going on at the United Nations."
She was asked: "So he knew that Bandar was being told?"
"I certainly knew, and I suspect that Colin would not have been surprised, going through the Gulf War experience, that one of the allies that you had to be certain understood what might happen if the president decided to go to war was the Saudis," Rice said.
"But it's just not the proper impression that somehow Prince Bandar was in the know in a way that Secretary Powell was not. It's just not right. Secretary Powell had been privy to all of this. He knew what the war plan was."