It’s one thing to have heard talk of something, but it’s another to hear it said in this way by a person who was in the room at the time. Thank goodness for DVR, which made rewinding and transcribing (and pausing to type and pausing to type) not only easier, but possible. The exact words of Richard Clarke follow:
In meetings on Sept. 11 and Sept. 12, the Defense Department officials, including Secretary Rumsfeld, began talking about the need to attack Iraq. I at first thought they were kidding. It became clear they weren’t. Uh…Rumsfeld said, “Well, yeah, we could attack Afghanistan, but there aren’t very many targets to bomb in Afghanistan, and they’re not worth very much. So we should bomb Iraq where there are much better targets.”
And I thought, but there’s no connection between what just happened and Iraq. That didn’t seem to bother them. I said, “Uh, well, attacking Iraq actually will make it more difficult for us to get the kinds of support we need in the world, particularly in the Muslim world.” That didn’t seem to bother them.
Secretary Powell tried to have a restraining influence on this discussion. Secretary Powell said, “Look, the world is not going to understand if we don’t go after Afghanistan. That’s where the attack of September 11 was launched from.” So, reluctantly, during the course of the week, uh, the Defense Department came around to a consensus, and the consensus was called “Afghanistan first.” And that’s what the President approved. An “Afghanistan first” policy. But it was very clear what was second, and what was second was Iraq.