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McCain Claims ‘No One’ Believes Iraq ‘Diverted Our Attention’ From Quest To Catch Bin Laden

Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) continues to deny that the Bush administration’s turn to Iraq in late 2001 had any effect on the battle at Tora Bora, according to the LA Times yesterday:

“I know of no one who believes attention to Iraq at that point diverted our attention from Tora Bora,” McCain said. …

“We should have put more boots on the ground there to apprehend [Bin Laden]. Everyone agrees. But I have no reason to believe that because we urged attention to Iraq, it had any tactical effect on the battleground.”

But according to Washington Post reporter Bob Woodward, even before the Tora Bora battle, Bush began meeting with Army Gen. Tommy Franks and his war cabinet to plan the U.S. attack on Iraq:

On Nov. 21, 2001, 72 days after the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, Bush directed Rumsfeld to begin planning for war with Iraq. “Let’s get started on this,” Bush recalled saying. “And get Tommy Franks looking at what it would take to protect America by removing Saddam Hussein if we have to.” …

Bush’s order to Rumsfeld began an intensive process in which Franks worked in secret with a small staff, talked almost daily with the defense secretary and met about once a month with Bush.

Similarly, Michael Gordon, co-author of Cobra II: The Inside Story of the Invasion and Occupation of Iraq, has reported that Franks, in charge of the battle, was upset about Bush’s turn to Iraq:

I was at Tora Bora at that point, in December ’01. The desire to have a war plan for Iraq has already been telegraphed to [General] Tommy Franks at Centcom. Franks is actually struggling with Tora Bora, with his unhappiness with the results in Afghanistan, just as he is on the eve of returning for a very important meeting at Crawford with the President. I think they made a very quick decision that in principle Iraq was next on the agenda.

Reporter Christina Lamb, using Woodward’s book as her source, has said that “there was another reason for Washington’s reluctance to commit troops on the ground” at Tora Bora. According to Woodward, when Gen Tommy Franks received the top-secret message asking for an Iraq war plan within a week, he was incredulous. “They were in the midst of one war in Afghanistan, and now they wanted detailed planning for another? Goddamn,” Franks said, “What the f*** are they talking about?”

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Jordan Michael SmithThis post was submitted through our Blog Fellows program. Make your own contribution — and get paid for it — by clicking here.