Geronimo : What if Osama Bin Laden was killed prior to 9/11?

Diane Lane - “And the Oscar goes to … Bowling for Columbine, Michael Moore and Michael Donovan”

Standing ovation as the winner takes to the stage

Michael Moore - “Thank you, thank you very much, on behalf of our producers Kathleen Glen and Michael Donovan from Canada. Um ... I’d like to thank the academy for this, I’m a documentarian, I work in non-fiction but unfortunately, we live in fictitious times, we have fictitious election results, that elects a fictitious president more concerned with giving special favours to Enron, polluters and lobbyists, sucking this state and this country dry for millions! Shame on you George, shame on you! We deserve better!”

That famed moment from the Oscars was received by a partially positive audience, though accompanied by scattered stiltedness and awkward claps. In time, conservative commentators would deride Hollywood's liberal bias, it represented a real moment where politics and the media met. Michael Moore’s fame had ballooned following the release of his 4th film the documentary, Bowling for Columbine a dissection of America's gun culture, the power and influence of the NRA (National Rifle Association) and eaches role in the 1999 Columbine school shooting. It was a smash hit, especially for the genre and the academy would have been foolish to expect Moore not to express his political views on the stage granted him.


Film Director Michael Moore during his Oscars acceptance speech, the cover of his film Bowling for Columbine
Based and epic.

The first couple of years, of the new millennium, marked a shift for the new Hollywood. Tent poll movies such as Harry Potter and Lord of the Rings reigned over the box office. The steady march of visual effects allowed the creation of more efficient computer animation, especially with the release of DreamWorks Shrek. 3D animation would quickly overtake traditional hand-drawn animation as the studio choice. The new century saw a re-emergence of superhero films thanks to the X-Men and Spider-Man (The third Biggest film of the year), productions that contributed to the revival of other superheroes.


Posters for Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, Spider-Man and Lord of the Rings the Two Towers
Great update! Bush would have been foolish to have attempted to go into Iraq ITTL. No domestic rally round the flag, goodwill from abroad, or feeling of empowerment based on how well the military took down Afghanistan were all missing here. Here’s hoping that that damned war is avoided.

I’d have been in high school around this time. Can’t say that my life would have been that different except for feeling less anxious and disheartened by how messed up the world was becoming.
Even Dino Crisis 3 might have that cancelled New York level with dinosaurs running around the city. This was cancelled because of 9/11 and was changed to a spaceship instead.
It might keep the game from being as bad as it was and avoid killing the franchise.
It might keep the game from being as bad as it was and avoid killing the franchise.
Yeah, it came to the point that not even Dino Stalker (Japanese title: GunSurvivor 3: Dino Crisis) could revive it. Nonetheless, I enjoyed playing Dino Stalker on the PS2. It's one of the Jurassic Park-style games we never had.

Since Dino Crisis 3 definitely killed the franchise, that's probably the reason why it does not get a remake unlike CAPCOM's Resident Evil.

For TTL, perhpas Dino Crisis 3 will be set in New York as originally planned. It would be a mix of Resident Evil and Parasite Eve.
Since Dino Crisis 3 definitely killed the franchise, that's probably the reason why it does not get a remake unlike CAPCOM's Resident Evil.

For TTL, perhpas Dino Crisis 3 will be set in New York as originally planned. It would be a mix of Resident Evil and Parasite Eve.
That would at least give the game a chance. Capcom was starting to bite off more than it could chew around this time. Personal note, I don’t get why there is no Dino Crisis: Remastered since they’re doing that for the Resident Evil series already and they’re doing great.
That would at least give the game a chance. Capcom was starting to bite off more than it could chew around this time. Personal note, I don’t get why there is no Dino Crisis: Remastered since they’re doing that for the Resident Evil series already and they’re doing great.
We definitely need a Dino Crisis remake. Every RE and DC fan have been calling for it. I've seen the fan mods, they're great.
Great update! Bush would have been foolish to have attempted to go into Iraq ITTL. No domestic rally round the flag, goodwill from abroad, or feeling of empowerment based on how well the military took down Afghanistan were all missing here.
You are correct, it's a different fight.
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September 11th, 2001

John O’Neill had, only a few months ago been a committed and decorated member of the ‘Bureau’, now made his commute to his office in the world trade centre. The death of Bin Laden, the man John spent years searching for had been the peak in his law enforcement career. It didn’t take long for the short-sighted politicians and the circle jerk operation going in the CIA to take the credit. O’Neil didn’t complain, but it was clear that his superiors had had enough of him. His constant doomsaying and dire predictions on the state of U.S. security clearly didn’t fit right with them it didn’t help that he had opposed the Afghan strikes as an inefficient way of beating Al-Qaeda. They boxed him out, set ethics investigators on his trail and spied on him. Instead of allowing the axe to fall upon him, he opted for early retirement so he could learn more about the rumoured private sector pay. He headed up to the 34th floor of the south tower and sat down at his desk.[1]

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New York City Skyline, featuring World Trade Centre 1 and 2 known as the Twin Towers

Captain Ogonowski drove his chevy to the logan international airport. He’d been a pilot coming up on 30 years, first for the military flying supplies from South Carolina to Saigon, now for American Airlines. It was always his dream, and his dream had turned out well for him and met his wife Peggy on the job. He now only flew a week out of the month which gave him plenty of time for his family farm. As the dawn came up over Boston and he glided by his uncles' house he honked his horn.

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American Airlines Captain, John Ogonowski
18 thousand people worked at the Pentagon even with all the renovations the building undergoing it was still flush with military and civilians alike struggling to get hard work done here, in the heart of the U.S. military. However to Toni, it was what she did to pass the time between fishing trips, she couldn’t think about that now though, the day hadn’t even started and already she had lost focus. Instead of analysing the army budget she couldn’t help but picture the cruise she’d be on in a month.

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Budget Analyst, Antoinette "Toni" Sherman

United Airlines flight 175 departed Logan Airport for Los Angeles on time just as Alona had scheduled it, despite it being a vacation she worked just as hard engineering her sightseeing in America as well as she engineered for a living in Israel. She’d travelled the world Paris, Amsterdam, Africa but America was different, the weather, the sights, the prices! But above all, it was the peace, a far cry from the fighting at home. Alona’s trip had only just begun and she dreaded the thought of it ending

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Israeli Engineer, Alona Abraham

‘Late, how could I be late’. That is what Greg thought to himself. He knew why he was late, too busy watching the Giants lose to the Broncos. First, he gets yelled at by his wife for going out on a weeknight, then his daughter for not watching the game with her, and now he’d get it from the manager and the customers, honestly nothing gets people angrier than missing breakfast. Not even the view the Windows on the World could provide could smooth over the sin of slow service. As he jogged out of Penn Station, he braced himself for a confrontational day.

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Windows on the World, The most valuable restaurant in the US

It was a busy time for Republican pundits, they were no longer riotous crusaders, fighting the powerful hedonist liberals to save America's moral fabric. Now, they were the powerful and the media was a lot less accommodating. Barbara Olson jotted notes down as the plane crossed the Appalachians. She’d need them for when she got to Los Angeles where she intended to defend Bush and attack the Clintons, where she would inevitably face a pack of liberals and the host Bill Maher. She’d be kidding herself if she pretended not to enjoy it, plus her new book Final Days would get good publicity from the appearance. It just pained her that it was all so last minute. ‘still’ she thought ‘it was either Teds birthday or the earlier flight.’

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Writer and Commentator, Barbara Kay Olson

9-11 is D-Day, that’s what the banners declared as hundreds of New Yorkers lined up one by one and cast votes in the New York City primaries. Both Republicans and Democrats were voting to decide on the nominees to succeed the thoroughly dampened mayor Giuliani. For the Republicans, it was all but sewn up for former Democrat billionaire businessman Michael Bloomberg. Polls predicted a much tighter race for the Democrats but it seemed that Mark Green the city’s public advocate held the advantage. Politicos across the city waited on tenterhooks for the results.

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Candidates for mayor : (left) Michael Bloomberg (R) and (right) Mark Green (D)

President George W Bush sat in Emma E Booker Elementary School, listening politely to the second graders conduct a reading exercise. Rhythmically the children recited The Pet Goat for both president and press and then after 15 minutes they finished. The President and teacher applauded the students’ performance and the class concluded, the President took a moment to pull his chief of staff, Andrew Card, aside and whispered to him “You were right Andy, it's gonna be an easy day” [2]

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George Bush visits Emma E Booker Elementary School

Howard Stern joked about Pamela Anderson[3], Madonna played to a sold-out staples centre, Alejandro Sanz took away the Latin Grammy for Record, Album and Song of the year[4], the New York Yankees bested the Chicago White Sox. Michael Bloomberg and Mark Green[5] won their respective primaries. Passengers flew, politics debated, the markets opened and closed[6], thousands commuted to and from work, millions continued their days uninterrupted. Jay Leno came on that night at his usual time and gave the opening monologue for The Tonight Show. “The President was in Florida today, visiting elementary schools, he even sat in on a 2nd-grade reading class. Isn’t that good to see? It just goes to show it is never too late for you to go back to school” the show featured an interview with Charlie Sheen and musical guest Gillian Welsh[7]

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The Tonight Show with Jay Leno

United Airlines 93 touched down at San Francisco International airport, it was perfect luck that just as the flight had been delayed from taking off it was delayed from disembarking. Adjusting his watch Todd realised he still had time for the Sony meeting, but he’d be cutting it a lot closer than he’d like. He worked too hard, that’s what his wife told him, it was crazy, she was the pregnant one, yet he was the one working too hard, she was probably right. ‘God, Italy can’t come soon enough’ he thought.
“Don’t you think this is the worst part of flying?”. The guy speaking to him was a row behind him and standing impatiently, Todd looked and nodded politely from his seat. The guy continued “It’s like they get your hopes up when they land, and then they make you wait here with the airport right there! Do you fly a lot?”
“Me? all the time,” Todd said.
“Same, I hate it, but it's work, so what are you gonna do about it. Say, you got kids?” …

Tod still sitting and the guy (he said his name was Jeremy[8]) still standing talked about their work, their kids, and sports all through the tarmac delay until finally when the doors opened to the airport and people began exiting. Todd finally stood up
“All right let’s roll”

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Account Manager, Todd Beamer

[1] O’Neil is a character but one way or another it seemed he was on the way out of the FBI
[2] Andrew Card reportedly told the president just that
[3] Pamela Anderson was the subject of the broadcast immediately prior to the first plane
[4] The 2001 Latin Grammys never took place
[5] By my research, the Democratic primaries were a lot closer following 9/11 here Green walks away with the majority needed to avoid a runoff
[6] The economic implications of 9/11 are especially interesting
[7] The Tonight Show and the Daily show both went dark following the attacks Letterman was already on a break
[8] Jeremy Glick

This was something I felt had to be written for this timeline, to those who something else I understand but don't worry, all shall be explained.
I read this while listening this:
Part 24: Resolutions



An American soldier's coffin returns to the United States

The coffins containing two deceased Americans were returned to the United States in July of 2003, the sombre scene was a macabre and curious moment in history. From the outside, it looked as if the world had taken a step away from the cliff's edge. President George Bush’s call for diplomacy and negotiations, Saddam Hussein’s letter accepting talks with the U.N. and the end of American bombings in central Iraq, all culminated in the readmittance of U.N. weapons inspectors. It was as if a diplomatic coup had taken place, that perhaps all the posturing and the brinksmanship had succeeded, and the United States had put Iraq back in its box to borrow Colin Powell’s turn of phrase. But celebrations were muted in the White House, and everyone could still hear the steady beat of war drums.

As the executive branch continued to lobby congressmen, international delegates and the wider public on the possibility (and potential necessity) of renewed conflict; Secretary Rumsfeld said, "Since the Persian Gulf War, Iraq has agreed to a series of U.N. commitments and failed to fulfil each one., I fail to see what the difference will be now". Or as Press Secretary Ari Fleischer put it “Their words change after a month of attacks, and their army has been decimated, but their actions have not.". Even before inspectors officially returned to Iraq there were bumps in the road, the destruction caused in the American operation ‘Desert Badger’ included the bombing of possible production or storage sites of weapons of mass destruction, making it possible that if such facilities had existed they were already buried under hundreds of tons of rubble. Another issue was that the leadership both in Baghdad and Washington hoped for inspections to be brief, at most a couple of months, Washington held public and private concerns that a long delay would significantly push back the military timeline, as well as give Saddam Hussein the chance to deceive or meddle with inspections or better prepare for a conflict with the U.S., while Iraq feared that long-winded inspections would be used to spy on the regime or otherwise meddle in its affairs. Unfortunately for both, chief inspector Hans Blix expressed his own belief that full inspections it could take up to a year “We have hundreds of sites to visit, and many interviews to conduct, this is a process and will not be completed in a short space of time”.


(left) Hans Blix, Cheif weapons inspector (right) UN weapons inspectors

Along with claims and reports on the Iraqi government's treacherous misdeeds, Rumsfeld announced that thousands of Marines would be sent to Kuwait for supposed
routine training exercises, however, the number he was sending (nearly 7,000) would triple the number of marines who were present for the exercises the previous year, this sparked news coverage that the United States may be ramping up for war. As President Bush won his first U.N. resolution and inspectors returned to Iraq, his scope shifted back again to wooing Congress to pass its resolution giving the President the authority to take military action should he need to. Though Congress was eased by the U.N. resolution, it was still contentious amongst most Democrats, who were sceptical of White House claims that a resolution was for purely diplomatic aims and not military ones, as well as claims of Iraq’s WMD capability. Many insisted on seeing the evidence for themselves before they made their decision on whether to grant the President the authority. The U.S’s, intelligence agencies were reluctant to provide such information due to an internal conflict over the strength of said intelligence, when Director of the CIA George Tenet was asked by the Senate intelligence committee for a CIA assessment he refused to provide one, Sen Bob Graham chair of the committee was stunned “This was going to be one of the most important votes in a long time, we don’t want to be flying blind here, we said straight up we can’t vote if we don’t know what we’re getting into.”

The President needed to whip votes, he knew that if he couldn’t get congress on his side it would severely disrupt any coalition and hurt any potential war effort, though he was certain that as President he could act alone he was determined to see that he wouldn’t have to, and he began personally lobbying Senators and the public to go his way on the issue. “The authorization to use force.” he said “If you want to keep the peace, you've got to have the authorization to use force. But it's -- this will be -- this is a chance for Congress to indicate support. It's a chance for Congress to say, we support the administration's ability to keep the peace. That's what this is all about.” While the President's tone was still one of chief diplomat arguing that a force resolution would give the United States a freer hand in negotiations, other members of the administration were blunter in their persuasion, Vice President Cheney at a speech to a conservative think tank said he was sceptical of any U.N. proposals “This is an emerging threat, The question is how best to do it. And we'd like to have the support of the international community and congress as we move forward here. Any suggestion that we should just get inspectors back into Iraq, and then our worries will be over is wrong … A return of inspectors would provide no assurance whatsoever of his compliance with U.N. resolutions … we can’t put Saddam back in his box”.


President Bush and Vice-President Cheney

The administration’s effort whipped the vast majority of Republicans into line, even those with doubts would be willing to put their faith in the White House and back a broad resolution against Iraq, but the Democrats were by and large still against it, unless presented the proof in hand. Three weeks into negotiations the White House finally conceded and Tenet agreed to produce a national intelligence assessment (NIE) on Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction to the intel committee. It was the assignment that George Tenet had dreaded, he was a passionate CIA chief who had been eager to bridge the divide between the President and the intelligence community ( at times an adversarial relationship). He saw his role as the helpful bureaucrat, to aid the President from a neutral perspective. He had been good at it, able to keep his position from the Clinton administration to Bush’s, a miracle in this Washington. It won him scorn and praise, what some saw as a yes-man for the President, he saw as the ‘chain of command’. But Tenet was steadily becoming aware of the new role the White House was carving out, and just what the Vice President’s office and Department of Defence wanted from him, they wanted to promote specific, possibly faulty intelligence to support their policy on Iraq. Tenets then deputy John Brennan later explained his own frustration “Responding to the requests from the Hill for that National Intelligence Estimate in a very short period and compressed schedule to do something as major and as significant as that, there was concern that intelligence was being pushed forward as the justification for war. ...”. The White House had put the CIA into a position where it could end up embarrassing the administration, the agency or both because the truth was the CIA had very little solid information on Iraq from 1998 onwards. What the CIA did have was a mix of unreliable, unconfirmable or unintelligible. This would be clear to anyone who could read such a report. Nor would it satisfy the White House or Congress. He had tough choices to make, but he ultimately decided to cut out as much shaky intelligence as possible for the good of the agency.[2]

The national intelligence estimate left a lot out, there was no mention of how a U.S. invasion would be expected to go or the possible aftermath of an invasion, Tenet said that this was far outside the intelligence agencies' field. There was also no mention of bioweaponry, as the CIA had been unable to corroborate the claims of Iraq’s continuation of the program[3]. When it came to chemical weapons the strongest evidence was unaccounted for stocks of mustard, VX and sarin gas plus thousands of shells of chemical agents known to have been used in the Iraq-Iran war and the Kurdish genocide, and the CIA had some intelligence from multiple sources that Saddam sought to continue chemical programs and maintained ties to Iraqi scientists with chemical weapons backgrounds.[4] Regarding nuclear weaponry there were a few lines of inquiry that suggested that Iraq had attempted to purchase thousands of aluminium tubes that could be used for nuclear centrifuges but the report showed it was more likely they would be used for missiles[5], they placed no timeframe on its current nuclear programme but estimated that if unobstructed Iraq could attain a nuclear weapon by the end of the decade. The NEI concluded that the Saddam regime was maintaining a rudimentary WMD program and had not accounted for all its WMD contrary to U.N. resolutions, that Iraq was likely in possession of chemical weapons, and maintained weapons scientists, such weapons may be used on the battlefield though probably not in a first-strike capacity. The NEI was especially critical of Cheney’s theories about Iraq’s relationship with international terrorism showing that they had unable to pin either financing or training of terrorists to the Iraqi regime, a move that the Vice President took as a personal attack, Cheney was later reported commenting on the NEI and Tenet, calling him “unserious and dishonourable … isn’t he seeing what we’re seeing?”.


CIA Director George Tenet

The report was released to members of Congress. To read the report congressmen had to read it in a small room, alone for security reasons, but some criticised the measure as a tactic to dissuade congressmen from reading the whole document[6]. And though it made for spooky reading to the uninitiated, it contained nothing new or urgent, Senator Graham who asked for the report, later said he understood why the CIA had been reluctant to hand it over “I think [Tenet] knew what this was, this was window dressing, there was nothing fundamentally different here than before”. Still, the report was able to convince some, Senator John McCain said that there was now “No room for doubt” that Saddam had WMD, and Democratic Senator John Edwards (a key vote for the President) said that “Saddam’s weapons of mass destruction are a clear threat to America’s allies”. But Robert Byrd the moderate Democratic Senator from West Virginia saw the opposite “There is no necessity in here, this tells me it would be a war of choice.”

The Bush administration was confident they had a majority to support the desired resolutions in both chambers but there was still a worry regarding the Senate filibuster, Senate Leader Tom Daschle was among the Democrats unimpressed by the intelligence saying that “this report shows that more study is needed” but Daschle was privately very worried that filibustering a war resolution would backfire on them, as the White House would make political hay for stalling a bill on national security, in such an instance several Democrats could join the President in support to avoid the association. Instead, Daschle opted for a third option between support and obstruction, a bi-partisan solution. Developed by Senators, Democrat Joe Biden of Delaware and Republican Richard Lugar of Indiana they proposed a two-part resolution. The two-part resolution would give the President authorization to use force to secure the dismantling of Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction not Iraq as a whole, and this was reliant on U.N. security council approval. If the President were unable to secure U.N. approval it would be kicked back to Congress who would vote for the second part of the resolution to approve the President to act unilaterally. It was a catch-all bill, giving cover to those focused on national security, the desire for international support and not giving the President a ‘blank check’, and consequently won support from the Democratic leadership. The plan had detractors on the left, from peace purists who insisted on voting against the war at all costs. But Biden pitched the plan to those Democrats this way, “If we don’t have an alternative, they’ll get the votes for their resolution”. The Biden-Lugar bill began attracting support from some reluctant Democrats and Republicans and represented a real threat to the White House’s strategy, Bush desperate to kill the bill whipped Republican leadership in line telling them it made “no sense why Congress would send a weaker resolution” and that it may “tie his hands”. Biden bit back at the criticism saying that “This bill is focused on our primary concern; weapons of mass destruction, anyone that’s arguing, saying that this is nit-picking or some kind of symbolic gesture, I mean that is just malarky”. President Bush in a meeting with Powell and Rice was lobbied by the two, they raised that the Biden-Lugar Bill would still achieve what he wanted, Powell emphasized that the U.S. strategy against Iraq remained in building global support and Rice had met personally with Biden and Lugar to work on the language of the bill to better fit with the White House’s needs. Serious tensions flared in the executive branch over the proposal, to the hawks it would be a massive step back that would severely limit the administration's use of force (in a manner some deemed unconstitutional) even no resolution would be better than that.


(left to right) Secretary of State Colin Powell, National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice, Senators Joe Biden and Richard Lugar

The President was pushed by his chief of staff to personally meet with Senators to get across his concerns to Congress, that any resolution needed to expand to the whole of Iraq, “I understand there’s disagreements, but Iraq is a threat and doing nothing is not an option, [Saddam Hussein] represents the biggest threat to the United States, he wants a nuclear bomb to destroy Israel ” Daschle replied, “I think we’re concerned about support, we need these concerns to be addressed”, Gephardt agreed “we agree with your assessment of Saddam Hussein but if this isn’t about WMD we just can’t see it” Some senator’s raised concerns about ability the United States military, Carl Levin chair of the armed services committee said he had received “deep concerns” from officers, such concerns included Saddam utilizing chemical weapons, or hunkering down in ‘fortress Baghdad’ or a potential post-Saddam Baathist insurgency. The President snapped back “Well it would be nice if they shared their concerns with me instead of someone from the Senate”. When asked by congressional Republicans to focus more on Iraq’s human rights abuses, the President got emotional “I’m well aware, you know the guy tried to kill my dad!”

Some attempts to win over Congress went poorly, Secretary Rumsfeld reportedly made an antagonistic, borderline nonsensical hour-long briefing about the threat of Saddam, caricaturing himself going on about how ‘we know there are things we know, we know there are things we do not know’, the pitch worked against him and only convinced some Democrats that the White House was being cagey, Senator Feinstein of the intelligence committee was reported to conclude from the briefing that “there is no new evidence of Saddam’s nuclear capacity” and that she wouldn’t be willing to go to war, and was joined in this criticism by several Republicans "We want to be with you," Oklahoma Senator Don Nickles, finally told Rumsfeld. "But you're not giving us enough.”. and other attempts to convince came across as too heavy-handed such as the vivid testimony on the danger of a biological attack on the United States given to congress by Anthrax expert Dr, Bruce Ivins, which was criticised for fearmongering, and failed to convince or panic Americans.

Congress remained embattled over the writing of the resolution into August. Colin Powell and Condoleezza Rice worked hard to alter the Democrat's resolution, Powell hit the nail on the head when he said that the threat of unilateral action had to be there “we need to challenge [Saddam], hopefully with a strong congressional resolution, with a strong U.N. resolution, to force him to change his ways, to change the behaviour of that regime, or the regime will have to be changed”. Republicans succeeded in altering the Biden-Lugar Bill to support a general authorization of force against Iraq pending United Nations support which if unsuccessful would trigger a second vote for Congress to authorize unilateral action. As the President's timeline ticked down, Congress voted a week later the final day before the summer recess and passed the Authorization for Use of Military Force Against Iraq Resolution of 2003 or the Joint Resolution to authorize the use of United States Armed Forces pursuant to United Nations Security Council Action passed with big majorities, 82 votes in the Senate and 319 votes in the House. Now once again the ball was in the United Nations court.

Throughout the Iraqi disarmament crisis, polls on popular opinion greatly wavered, from the beginning of operation Desert Badger, President Bush’s approval rating rose by 10 points to the mid-’50s, and a large majority, 3/4ths of Americans approved of the bombing campaign. But approval for a larger scale invasion was trickier to parse. Americans had been split on an invasion to remove Saddam since 1992, with most polls wavering around 48 to 52% support for a war. Americans’ opinions shifted once important caveats were added, if it were a long war or high casualties were evoking Vietnam flashbacks support dropped dramatically and a third of Americans believed a draft would be reinstated in such a case. Most Americans supported the U.N. weapons inspections but remained unsure of their actual value, 70% thought the U.S. should wait for inspections to end. Half of Americans believed that Saddam had WMD, but most, over 60% thought the administration hadn’t proven it. As the fight over security council and congressional resolutions dragged on support for war steadily declined to between 42% and 47% (these numbers dropped by a further 7% without U.N. support and another 8% without congressional approval). The period also saw Bush’s approval rating settle at around 50%.

The polarized opinion of the country began to be reflected in the public. Where once there had been a single protester outside the White House on the day the strikes began, to the hundreds outside the U.N. headquarters in New York, over 4 months between July and September a largely grassroots anti-war movement took off, slowly but surely, with a few thousand in Washington here, to a few thousand in Chicago there, a vocal opposition grew. The movement wasn’t just a domestic one, the U.K. was quick to build such a movement aided by the governing Labour party’s backbench opposition, against assisting the U.S. in a war. These protests and marches grew in scope, sometimes to the hundreds of thousands, as the images of fighting Americans in the gulf and President Bush’s speeches began to fade from the TV screens, they were replaced by protests (which some complained lent undue weight to the protesting minority). Soon enough Americans were becoming divided too between doves and hawks.[7]


Large protests in Washington, Chicago and London

Criticism of a potential war was given more prominence by the ‘professional’ opposition, most prominently former weapons inspectors, generals, diplomats and politicians. These high-profile talking heads raised the idea that the administration was distorting the facts or said that an Iraq war would be a lot more difficult than they expected. Scott Ritter the former head of weapons inspections before 1998 said that Iraq’s weapons had been 95% destroyed after the Gulf War, and what was left would now be totally unusable. Officer Brent Scowcroft (the elder Bush’s national security advisor) said that an American invasion could ignite the middle east into one big Israeli Palestinian conflict, and former head of Central Command Anthony Zinni said Iraq was nowhere near a priority to America's defence. Former FBI Special Agent John P O’Neill said that an invasion of Iraq would significantly aid anti-American terrorist groups. There was also Al Gore by now a Presidential candidate who openly attacked Bush’s policy for overreaching “But look at the differences between the resolution that was voted on in 1991 and the one this administration is proposing that the Congress vote on in 2002. The circumstances are really completely different”. Such opposition was also inside the administration, dozens of leaks portrayed a White House scrambling to act, detailing disapproval amongst the military as to the planning of such an operation, and the lack of preparation being taken, there was some pretty explicit criticism of Rumsfeld that he was massively under preparing U.S. forces and portrayed moral as low in the ranks of American forces.

The media varied in its response, print media was far more openly critical compared to television, especially cable news, but coverage especially as the anti-war movement took off split the major cable networks, MSNBC the most left-leaning network featured prominent anti-war critics such as Phil Donahue, CNN was the most neutral and FOX was in clear support for the war and was especially critical of the peace protesters. Print media's criticism of the White House and its intelligence sources could be damning specifically picking apart the exiled Iraqi National Congress for providing misleading or unfounded information to the Bush administration and Congress in their testimony and the scandal swept up several Iraq hawks that championed the INC’s leader Ahmed Chalabi such as Deputy Defence Secretary Paul Wolfowitz, including exposing state department records that declared him a ‘convicted fraudster’. Famed Washington Post Reporter Bob Woodward wrote a very critical piece picking apart the White House narrative on WMD simply titled ‘Where is the smoking gun?’. America’s intellectuals and columnists strongly debated between pro-war and anti-war positions, debating the morality of interventionism. The liberal Arianna Huffington chided the pro-war position asking, “I wonder how people would answer the question of how many American body bags they are willing to accept for the removal of Saddam Hussein.?” spared against Christopher Hitchens “Under that condition, there are no circumstances in which a military intervention in Iraq could be justified. Someone could get killed. Then again, a man so deeply committed to Habitat for Humanity might ask what kind of habitat this is, where civilians are used as human shields”[8]


Opposition to the Iraq war, (left to right) former weapons inspector Scott Ritter, General Anthony Zinni, former Vice-president Al Gore, Journalist Bob Woodward and columnist Arianna Huffington

No one was certain just what could now be achieved diplomatically while inspections were ongoing, but to fulfil Congress's requirement for the second resolution, they needed to try. So, the administration built its case. An oval office meeting was held for the CIA to present its evidence to the President. Bush, Rice, Card, and Cheney were there and a slide show of every suspected Iraqi violation of UNSC resolutions including Saddam’s drone programme, remaining missiles, unaccounted for chemical weapons and reports that Saddam still held meetings with nuclear scientists. By the time the presentation was done, it was clear that the President was underwhelmed by it, “nice try, but I don’t think this is something that joe-public is going to understand” he looked to Tenet and asked, “I’ve been told all this evidence about WMD and this is the best we've got?” Tenet who assisted the CIA’s presentation was cordial in his response “This is what we have, it’s a tossup”[9]. The President thought for a moment “it needs a lot more work” he then added, “but don’t stretch it, I don’t want this to be stretched, just the facts”.[10]

If selling the case to the White House was tough, then the U.N.S.C. would be on a different level Powell worked day and night negotiating with the other council members for their vote. Some already saw it as a lost cause, Cheney derided the council as the “Inspections business” and heavily resented being railroaded by Congress. But Powell was heavily committed to building United Nations support seeing it as essential to legitimising any military action and aiding any potential post-Saddam Iraq.

The United Kingdom was most supportive of a second U.N. resolution, Prime Minister Blair a long-time supporter of removing Saddam from power was facing considerable descent from within his own party and hoped for a U.N. mandate to shore up support. This was also true for America's second strongest ally to date, Australia, PM Kim Beazley told Bush he wouldn’t be able to participate in a conflict without a United Nations support confiding that his own party could remove him. And the Italian PM Berlusconi also hedged his support on a U.N. vote following considerable parliamentary and public pushback. The administration worked to canvas support for a military resolution, Powell believed that they could still find the necessary 9 votes, that Mexico, Spain, Germany, Bulgaria, Cameroon, Guinea and Angola combined with permanent members the U.S. and U.K. would make the majority, but the question circulated over if the other permanent members France, Russia or China would veto the decision. All three countries were firmly behind continued inspections, China urged to ‘Use all possible means to avert war', Russia pointed toward Blix’s statements saying that inspections were working, "There is movement in the right direction," and the French kept up a firm line to give inspections their due, foreign minister Hubert Vedrine (a known critic of U.S. hegemony popularizing the term hyperpower) said “it is everyone’s interest that Iraq is permitted to see the light at the end of the tunnel” giving Iraq the chance to comply. Though none made it explicit[11], it became clear that an immediate push for a resolution would likely fail.


UK Prime Minister Tony Blair, Australia Prime Minister Kim Beazley and Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi

A month into U.N. negotiations the President grew frustrated “He is deceiving inspectors, he is deceiving the U.N. and he is deceiving the world, I have said it before and I’ll say it again if Saddam Hussein is not brought to justice by the international community, then the U.S. must be prepared to act unilaterally.” He was angry at reports of inspectors, from his eyes, being led around by their noses by grinning Iraqi guards, ‘of course they weren’t finding anything Saddam was hiding it!’ Hans Blix delivered his first report on the 27th of August detailing the search for weapons in Iraq, the theme was that Iraq, had been unenthusiastically compliant with the inspections, allowing them full access to all sites, though there were reports of intimidation and some Iraqis were not submitting themselves to interviews, but the conclusion was a relatively positive one, Blix also reported that no WMD had been found. Saddam also made an appearance publicly, saying that he was allowing inspectors into the country to squash the US’s claims. Some in the White House took Saddam’s growing confidence as an insult and blamed Blix and the U.N. publicly. Press Secretary Fleischer shot down the report as unimportant and derided the weapons team, "The problem with guns that are hidden is you can't see their smoke.”.

The administration could not break through diplomatically with any of the permanent members neither France, Russia nor China would concede while inspections were ongoing, and several other non-permanent members began to waiver, Cameroon fell in line behind France, and Mexican President Vincente Fox hinted that his country might abstain and German Chancellor Stoiber (who needed to maintain an alliance with centrist liberals) began to urge restraint. The White House grew concerned about the timeline for possible military operations to begin in November, and pushed Powell to wrap up at the United Nations so they could go back to Congress and say that the U.N. was refusing to act. But Powell was struggling to let go of the diplomatic track, he recognised that the there was no clear smoking gun, though he shared much of the enthusiasm for ‘getting rid of the bastard Saddam’ he could see things were not going well, Rumsfeld was sending far too few troops and greatly underestimating the level of resistance they were likely to face, the public was not united behind them and there were too few allies on board. Powell kept fielding doubts from within the military and diplomatic spheres and was getting tired of constantly having to reassure them. Now the Vice-president’s office and Defence department were asking him to push clearly flawed intelligence, a draft of speech from Cheney’s office included already disproven information. He had developed great political clout as the Secretary of State, and it was his soldier's code not to betray the President, it would be an enormous unimaginable act of disloyalty to do so. But he picked up the phone and called the President anyway to ask him “Is this the right way?”, with the most deference possible he asked the President just what he wanted Powell to achieve at the U.N. going over possible options, while never critical he asked if diplomacy was still on the table, and if the President saw a disarmed Iraq still under Saddam was a possibility, he said he would need more time to gather intelligence to convince the United Nations. He reiterated that he would support the President whatever his decision but left the President with his clear view that “if you’re going to send young men and women in harm’s way, you ought to have a clear political objective”.[12]


German Chancellor Edmund Stoiber, Mexican President Vincente Fox and Secretary of State Powell at the UN

The President was in limbo now, central command had pushed back the earliest start date for military action from November to December, Turkey, Jordan and Saudi Arabia denied use of their territory for a ground invasion, and they were still muddling through the United Nations. The President also knew that he was in choppy waters at home, Democrats now had the votes to filibuster a war resolution (the current count was 47 votes for no in the Senate[13]). There were a variety of factors, the growing anti-war movement, the lack of solid allies, ongoing weapons inspections which some said shouldn’t be disrupted (a process that could take months as Blix predicted), the lack of a firm Security Council decision, as well as the 2004 Presidential election steadily gathering steam giving many a good reason to oppose the administration. But the decision was made for him when Senate Leader Daschle said, “Just because the President has failed miserably at diplomacy does not mean the United States should go to war, rushing to war without an adequate concern for the ramifications of doing so unilaterally, with a very small coalition, without enough support, would be premature … this war is not inevitable”. The President could try to force the Senates hand by putting a vote on the table to make Democrats sign their name to the refusal but one by one when a few high-profile Democrats shared their criticisms it was clear that the battle lines were drawn and barring a change of circumstances a congressional resolution wasn’t on the table, the war drums seemed to be fading.

“If we allow President Bush to start a war without Congressional approval, it will haunt us for years to come, we cannot go to war just because the President sets an unrealistic deadline” – Ted Kennedy

"Are we supposed to go to war simply because one man -- the president -- makes a series of unilateral decisions that put us in a box, a box that makes war, to a greater degree, inevitable?" – John Kerry

“There is no question that with regard to Iraq, we have a real and growing problem. But I also believe we have time to deal with that problem in a way that isolates Saddam and does not isolate the United States of America, that makes the use of force the final option, not the first one, The President has failed to do this.” – Joe Biden

“If we were to attack Iraq now, alone or with few allies, it would set a precedent that could come back to haunt us. In recent days, Russia has talked of an invasion of Georgia to attack Chechen rebels. We have already criticised India for its pre-emptive strike on Pakistan. What if China should perceive a threat from Taiwan? So, for all its appeal, a unilateral attack, should be ruled out” – Hillary Clinton

“Disarming Iraq under Saddam Hussein is necessary and vital to the safety and security of America, the Persian Gulf and the Middle East--let there be no doubt about this. But I continue to have serious concerns that there are those in the administration who would seek to use an authorization for a unilateral, pre-emptive attack against Iraq. I believe this would be a terrible mistake.” – Diane Feinstein

"I've seen the toll that war can take on our troops and on limbs on that battlefield. The best way to support the troops is never to send them into war in the first place. In the second place, if they go to war, make sure it’s worthwhile. That’s the second-best way to support the troops, so then they won’t have to worry about the reception they will get upon their return.” – Max Cleland

Democratic Senators, Ted Kennedy, John Kerry, Joe Biden, Hillary Clinton, Diane Feinstein and Max Cleland, all opposed the President's authorization

[1] Photographs of American military coffins were censored at the time
[2] After 9/11 there was a lot of criticism of the CIA and Tenet saw it as his job to protect the agency. This included getting closer than usual with the President and would not surprise me if it affected his handling of Iraqi intelligence
[3] All intel on bio weaponry were second-hand rumours
[4] The unaccounted-for stockpiles were probably the best evidence of Saddam still having them if you can call the absence of evidence, evidence
[5] The aluminium tubes and the yellow cake (which is ignored totally ITTL) were the only evidence of Saddam trying to build nuclear weapons aside from some sites that the Defence Department pointed out could be used for centrifuges
[6] Unsurprisingly many didn't
[7] A big difference is that the pro-war movement and the jingoism are significantly reduced ITTL
[8] The New York Times and the Washington Post coverage was so bad they famously posted apologies in 2004, The war on terror and 9/11 seriously affected reporters' objectivity
[9] Tenet famously called the evidence a ‘slam dunk’. Since 9/11 was a failure not to take the information seriously the Iraq war was a failure of amplifying intelligence.
[10] Bush-like most believed there was WMD but it wasn’t his primary motivation for going after Saddam. WMD just seemed like the most obvious one.
[11] Without Chirac putting down a firm veto the U.N. process is not firmly ruled out. And also there is no Francophobia in the U.S. or freedom fries
[12] Powell constantly reiterated how his speech to the UN was a blot on his record, he remains more cautious ITTL and the White House needs to keep up appearances.
[13] I have a rudimentary vote count if anyone is interested in knowing how certain Senators would have voted​
Good update. You're fantastic at balancing the granular details with the overall narrative. It always makes for a compelling read.
What a great and engaging update. As for invading Iraq, that's going to be a quagmire for sure and eventually backfire.

Without the US in Afghanistan, Iraq could actually go much better, or at least do better to avoid the same pitfalls. It certainly give Bush and the Republicans a big rally around the flag.

We could have won in Afghanistan without Iraq, and I feel the same can be said for Iraq without Afghanistan. The folly of a two front war.
Without the US in Afghanistan, Iraq could actually go much better, or at least do better to avoid the same pitfalls. It certainly give Bush and the Republicans a big rally around the flag.

We could have won in Afghanistan without Iraq, and I feel the same can be said for Iraq without Afghanistan. The folly of a two front war.
Maybe we would have "won" in Iraq, but if same or similar mistakes are made such as telling 250,000 men who are trained to use weapons they have no job or allow sectarian instigators to do what they want without restraint if they win will turn it into a hellhole. Also given the population makeup of Iraq, there's a fair chance that when invaded it will eventually become a client of satellite of Iran.
I think the Bush Administration will still invade Iraq without UN authority, they did IOTL, nothing is stopping them here.
There are a LOT of headwinds TTL though. As I said before, if things go hot then Bush may be the first wartime president to lose reelection.
Good update. You're fantastic at balancing the granular details with the overall narrative. It always makes for a compelling read.
I wholeheartedly agree.
Maybe we would have "won" in Iraq, but if same or similar mistakes are made such as telling 250,000 men who are trained to use weapons they have no job or allow sectarian instigators to do what they want without restraint if they win will turn it into a hellhole. Also given the population makeup of Iraq, there's a fair chance that when invaded it will eventually become a client of satellite of Iran.
“Win” is subjective for the reasons you mentioned. We did “win” in Iraq, hence the MISSION ACCOMPLISHED fiasco. The problem is that we only won the initial campaign. With AQ injured and the US having less distraction with no Afghanistan, then we would see more of a focus on trying to rebuild the country with more troops and less organization among the insurgents early on. That all said, there is little reason to believe that things won’t end up like they did OTL. A Democrat winning in ‘04 would take a slightly different approach but the damage may be largely done by the time they get in motion.

Regarding Iran, Bush likely isn’t going to pull an “Axis of Evil” speech here. That coupled with no Afghan war may well butterfly the presidency of Ahmadinejad. Iran would be considerably less at odds with the West and less predatory to its neighbors.
Part 25: Justice
Part XXV


Explosions and Gunfire Rock U.S. Military Compound in Saudi Capital

By The Associated Press
Sep 23, 2003

RIYADH, Saudi Arabia – On Saudi Arabia’s national day, attackers shot their way into an American and allied forces coalition compound and detonated several truck and car bombs, Eskan Village the compound just outside Riyadh, the capital of the Saudi Kingdom, was housing American and other coalition military personal. The bombs and gunfire killed at least 18 and left over 200 people injured, a hospital official said.

Over a hundred Americans were reported to have serious injuries and the Defense Department expects the death toll to rise as the search through the rubble continues. Attackers were able to gain entry to the compound in the explosive primed vehicles before storming several apartment blocks with the vehicles and gunfire before detonating explosives inside, 2 trucks and one car leaving several large craters destroying 2 buildings and damaging many others.

All of the dead and injured were Americans, Pentagon officials said, but the Saudi Government said some of the injured were of other nationalities including British.

"We don't know how many are injured, but we received over 200 and the number is growing," an official at the National Guard Hospital in Riyadh told The Associated Press by telephone, without identifying himself. "We're full now, there is no room for more casualties."

Smoke rose into the night sky from the heavily gated and guarded village, located directly beside a U.S.-operated airbase, helicopters circled overhead, scanning the ground with a searchlight for other potential attackers. Hundreds of, U.S. servicemen, Saudi police and members of the Saudi National Guardsmen were cordoning the area and sealing it off as ambulances rushed in.

The compound serves to house over 2,000 U.S. troops and has recently headquartered United States Central Command for commanding Operation Desert Badger the military mission conducted by American and British forces to strike targets in neighbouring Iraq.

U.S. officials said they are concerned about the possibility of more attacks, and the State Department ordered the departure of all nonessential U.S. personnel and their family members from Saudi Arabia. "We're very concerned about additional attacks," said a U.S. official. He declined to be more specific.

President Bush said the attack "was very well planned." and he vowed to bring the perpetrators to justice. "The United States will find the killers and they will learn the meaning of American justice,” he said while speaking to an audience in Indiana.

The blast appeared to be the worst terrorist attack on Americans in the Middle East since the bombing of American military personnel at the apartment complex the Khobar Towers also in Saudi Arabia in 1996 killing 19. And came at a time of immense tension in the middle east concerning both ongoing weapons inspections in Iraq and ongoing negotiations between Israel and Palestine

Defense Department officials in Washington said they could not know for certain the group responsible for the attack but Saudi Officials appeared to pin the blame on the terrorist network al Qaeda, the terrorist organization formally headed by the Saudi exile Osama bin Laden who was killed by a United States airstrike 5 years ago, the group took responsibility for the attack on American embassies in 1998 and FBI Director Robert Mueller said that "What is to be learned from last night is that al Qaeda and other terrorist networks are still there and still want to strike us,". al Qaeda opposes the Saudi government and the presence of the U.S. military in the country.


President George W Bush addresses an audience following the Eskan Village attack

The terror attack in Saudi Arabia came at a time of immense tensions in the middle east, as the United States was sizing up against Saudi Arabia’s neighbour Iraq and its dictator Saddam Hussein. In the immediate aftermath, some were prepared to believe the worst of Saddam and suspected him of carrying out the attack on America’s troops. This was a belief some White House officials were primed to agree with, those who had been searching for an Iraqi-terror connection. However, Saudi and U.S. law enforcement was quick to throw cold water on those suspicions and cast the blame on the Al-Qaeda terror network. The Saudis claimed to have already broken up numerous Al-Qaeda cells inside of Saudi Arabia and it was public knowledge that over the past 3 years a low-level insurgency had been simmering in the country, consisting of bombing attacks and the occasional murder of western tourists, officials and businessmen. But the Eskan Village attack stood out as the deadliest to date. It was well known to U.S. authorities that several anti-American terrorist networks held connections to the Kingdom including some wealthy and powerful patrons and sympathisers. The foundation of Al-Qaeda was the anger toward the U.S. presence in Saudi Arabia, the country that contains Islam’s two holiest sites. Osama bin Laden, the group’s founder had made chasing American forces out of the Arabian Peninsula his primary goal. A thesis that was embraced by Al-Qaeda’s and other splinter groups' subsequent leadership. The Saudi Kingdom had tolerated anti-American sentiments and a growing number of American foreign policy analysts were critical of the worrying connection between Saudi wealth and terror attacks and noted the number of young Saudis who participated in global militant activities, such as those arrested in New Jersey in 2002. The kingdom had been trying to deny the existence of any such terrorist threat or connection to terror groups hoping to avoid the stigma associated with confessing to having an anti-western insurgency and wanted to avoid enforcing a potentially destabilizing crackdown on those groups.

The FBI was dispatched to corroborate the Saudi government's claims. Previous attacks in the region had been historically difficult to determine the exact responsibility, with a web of interweaving networks occasionally working in conflict with each other. Both Iran, Iraq and Syria among other countries had been suspected of aiding Saudi extremists as a means of destabilizing the Kingdom, but no smoking gun had been found. The FBI investigation into the attack made several revelations, that the attack had been intimately planned and that the attackers were able to breach the defences of the compound because they were dressed as Saudi National Guardsmen, sparking fears that militants had penetrated the upper ranks of the Saudi military. The investigation also revealed that over a dozen men took part in the attack and DNA evidence did link some perpetrators to Al-Qaeda or similar militant groups, any efforts to link them to Iraqi or other state groups went nowhere. The level of complexity and organisation involved in the plot was trademark Al-Qaeda. There was further criticism of the Saudi government’s handling of the attack seen as the state shielding its own country's possible involvement, even though they round up a dozen involved they declined to look into any connections to extremism in the Saudi forces nor would the government extradite any of them to the United States to stand trial (the subsequent results of the Saudi led trials were not made public). Regardless of either the Saudi or FBI findings, Al-Qaeda’s connection looked to be definitively confirmed when 2 weeks later the group released videotaped eulogies of several dead militants and took personal credit for the attack in a video featuring Saad bin Laden one of the many sons of Al-Qaeda’s former leader who echoed his father’s own sentiments calling the kingdom a “slave to Jews and Americans” and the attack “all they deserve.


Leader of Al-Qaeda Mohammed Atef beside Saad Bin Laden

The attack in Saudi Arabia and the President’s public commitment to bring the killers to justice meant that the administration needed to visibly respond. The FBI, Saudi and numerous other intelligence agencies across the globe had placed the blame flatly on Al-Qaida's doorstep, despite a continued effort by certain White House officials to keep the admins focus solely on Iraq (these groups included differing factions of the Saudi leadership who were for a U.S. invasion of Iraq) but the confession tape largely silenced them, even Cheney and Rumsfeld deferred to the agencies view that action needed to be taken against Al-Qaeda, if nothing else because the tape had taunted/threatened the administration. The President had hoped for a departure of what he saw as the Clinton policy, doing very little interrupted by occasional airstrikes, he called it ‘swatting flies’. He saw hitting Al-Qaida operatives alone as an ineffective policy, the U.S. couldn’t just go after individual terrorists they needed to hit the organization and punish the countries and groups responsible for aiding them, to put the terrorists firmly on the back foot instead of just reacting to every attack, Bush wanted to include hitting the Taliban as part of any American response, the Islamic fundamentalists that controlled most of Afghanistan and played host to the many jihadist groups in the country including Al-Qaeda. This Presidents strategy was controversial, there had been no formal investigation that had pinned Al-Qaeda’s actions to have been directed by the Taliban and publicly confronting them could provoke a backlash, the Taliban had support across the Muslim world including some of America's allies in the Gulf, including Saudi-Arabia, Qatar and the UAE. The Taliban’s most important backer was its nuclear neighbour Pakistan, where thousands of volunteers including intelligence officials came from and were actively aiding the Taliban regime, the previous Afghan strikes by Clinton in 1998 had killed Pakistani officials, now directing attacks against the Taliban specifically, could kill dozens of Pakistanis. The CIA worried that it might spur unrest against Americans in Pakistan and could drive more to join militant groups. Another snag was that for strikes to be effective in Afghanistan they would need to pass through Pakistani air space, and it would require them to receive prior notice to prevent them from trying to shoot down the U.S. missiles/planes and this would allow Pakistani intelligence to inform the Taliban of impending strikes greatly diluting their value in killing any high-value targets.

But President Bush still demanded a stronger response and told the State department to approach Pakistan’s President Musharraf with an offer for Pakistan to cut off support for the Taliban and in exchange the President would support better relations between the countries. It was a big ask; Musharraf had so far proven resistant to curbing support for the Taliban instead he had been continuing the policy of supporting the Taliban to prevent a more Indian-aligned Afghanistan from forming. But Musharraf couldn’t deny the enormous opportunity in front of him.

Following the 2002 Kashmir war, General Musharraf experienced a level of political popularity unseen in Pakistan since its formation and he already used the political capital to break bread with the United States, aiding a crackdown on anti-American terror groups in Pakistan and chasing high target terrorists out of the country (though many hawkish Americans saw these moves as half-hearted). The subsequent general election in Pakistan was a triumph for Musharraf’s newly formed political party, where he easily bested the opposition parties of his exiled rivels Nawaz Sharif and Benazir Butto[1], winning 46% of the vote and giving parties that favoured him a large majority. To further legitimize his rule, he transferred some executive power to the Prime Minister to present himself as the legitimate civilian leader of the country. With his high domestic approval and support from within the Pakistani military, Musharaff was best placed for a change of course regarding the country's stance on the Taliban, Musharraf was aware of his country’s fragile political system, the need to balance regional security concerns, and domestic support for the Taliban, but he also had his own aims to liberalise and grow Pakistan’s economy, primarily by spurring investment. A reproach with the west could bring just that about. So, Musharraf struck a deal with the United States to permit the use of its airspace for military strikes against Al-Qaeda and certain affiliates in the Taliban but refused to support efforts that would assist regime change.


Musharraf Supporters on the street

The President was pleased with the deal and quickly approved a mission to carry out a large series of military strikes against Al-Qaeda in Afghanistan as well as limited strikes against Taliban military bases and training facilities though notably not Taliban leadership. The mission dubbed, Infinite Justice was carried out on November 12th, 2003, in dramatic fashion. The strikes began in the dead of night and were noticeably larger than the strikes in 1998, designed to show that this President was more concerned than his predecessor. Supersonic jets took off from American aircraft carriers in the sea. B-2 bombers flew from as far away as California and cruise missiles were fired from American submarines. All on a mission to wipe out terrorist training camps and select Taliban military encampments.

The President made the announcement from the cabinet room “On my orders, the United States military has begun strikes against terrorist training camps as well as certain military installations in Afghanistan being used to aid these terrorist groups. These carefully targeted actions are designed to disrupt the use of Afghanistan as a terrorist base of operations … By destroying camps and compounds, we will make it more difficult for the terror network to train new recruits and coordinate their evil plans … The recent attack on American soldiers was planned and ordered by these groups and they will pay the price”.

Over an 18-hour period 30 targets, including training camps, air bases and garrisons were struck across Afghanistan in a grand display of the world’s greatest military power's raw might. Images of fuzzy explosions were beamed out of the mountains of Afghanistan by television networks. When asked if the administration achieved its objective Defence Secretary Rumsfeld praised the mission “it has been very successful, all the targets were hit and all our aircraft came back safe”. The powerful barrage was assessed as much more successful at destroying the camps and bases than the previous cruise missile strikes due to the increased firepower and accuracy, but as for bagging high profile targets and terror leaders like Khalid Sheik Mohammed, Abu Zubaydah, Muhammed Atef and Saaf Bin Laden all evaded death. Perhaps the terror organisations had either expected strikes and had gone to ground or maybe they had been informed, either way, the groups escaped the fate of its first emir incurring minimal casualties. The strikes against the Taliban air bases and military garrisons were much more successful in destroying or disabling air bases in the north and around the capital of Kabul as well as destroying half of the Taliban air force in the process and led to an estimated 300 casualties among militants.


(Left to right) B-2 Bomber in flight, aircraft taking off from a carrier and cruise missiles launching


Map of the Strikes in Afghanistan
The global reaction to the strikes was again a mixed bag. Domestically the strikes were met with uniform support from both party leadership even as Democrats doubted the administration’s stance on Iraq they commended the President's commitment to justice in Afghanistan, sometimes using loaded language “This was a justified, well planned and responsible action by the President, and I applaud him for that” said Bob Graham a senior Democrat and one of the chief critics of the Iraq policy. A joint statement by Democratic leadership went “[America] had to respond, we support this operation”. Even Senate Leader Daschle who was filibustering the President's war resolution on Iraq gave deference to the President while cautious not to provide the President with a free hand “There is clear bi partisan support for this mission and clear reasoning for it … we ought to be doing everything we can to protect American servicemen”. Globally the response was the predictable response between America's traditional allies in favour while Muslim nations and Islamic groups and the other major powers Russia and China were against what they called a pre-emptive response, and another day of anti-American protests flared up across the Islamic world.


The Eskan Village attack and the subsequent operation, Infinite Justice further complicated the internal politics of the White House, where all the key figures were looking at the prospects of military action in a second country and weighing up the options for dealing with the Iraqi disarmament crisis. Hans Blix’s team continued to search Iraq for U.N. banned weaponry. In a second report, Blix detailed his efforts, noting that Iraq was becoming increasingly belligerent slowing down the rate inspections were being carried out. The White House labelled this 'the latest part of their games of deception' and saw dragging out inspections as an attempt to lull the international community into losing interest. Blix did detail that Iraq had been more open with interviews and after some back and forth over the Iraqi missiles, that was over the U.N. allowed range Iraq agreed in principle to destroy the missiles but said it did not know how to go about it, a perfect example of what Blix called ‘unenthusiastic compliance’ (Iraq shortly after proceeded to destroy the missiles).


Wax sculptures of George Bush, Colin Powell and Saddam Hussein

But to the White House, questions over Saddam’s compliance were only a footnote, the question was no longer whether to act, it was how and when. Unfortunately, several obstacles stood in the administration's path. Ongoing inspections under Blix would have to be ended if the U.S. brought the hammer down on Iraq, inspections that were gaining traction and public support despite Blix's and the U.S. grumblings. The United States would only have a small coalition for large-scale military action only the Brits would be able to join for an immediate invasion with possible support from some other European country's special forces. If military action were to begin, the time frame was becoming a difficult task to manage, troops were being trickled into Kuwait at a slow rate so as to not arouse suspicions but there was considerable disagreement between Secretary of Defence Rumsfeld and the General Staff over how many troops would be needed for a sufficiently swift military operation, Rumsfeld’s new timeline was that they would be ready to go by mid-November for a lightning strike to Baghdad (a timeline that was further stalled by the Eskan attack) but Generals wanted more troops and a dedicated air campaign phase akin to the 1991 Gulf war to destroy Iraqi forces prior to ground operations, which would push an invasion at least into the new year. Finally, lay the question of victory, everyone was certain the United States would crush the Iraqi army, but the level of resistance they would face was highly debated, from the rosy picture championed by the hawks that U.S. forces would be greeted by flowers in the street to the apocalyptic preparations being made in the military, of the United States forces facing chemical weapons barrages and sieging down city after city. The level of resistance at home was also in flux, Congress had declined to give the President the green light yet, and the public was generally opposed to an invasion roughly 30% to 40% were in favour under the current circumstances but the Bush team were confident that that dial would shift if action began. But to do nothing and allow Saddam to run out the clock was an unthinkable outcome.

It was well within the President’s authority to order a military operation without Congress's authority, Clinton, his father, and Reagan had all done so. But in those instances, those presidents had stronger global support and military assurance, the invasion of Grenada, Panama and Haiti were swift operations in the Caribbean, America’s backyard, even in the Gulf War where President H W Bush threatened to go to war without congressional support, he had the U.N. authority to back the legality of his actions. Bush Jr had some legal loopholes available to him, the Iraq Liberation act or the original 1991 resolution or even the recent endorsement of American action in Desert Badger could be applied to a larger operation, Cheney pointed out that the President had used armed force over 200 times and congress had only approved of war 5 times, but Bush knew that the political consequences could be severe, especially if some of the worst estimates of American casualties unfolded during an election year, some Democrats put it in harsh terms “If the President acts against Congress’s and the American people will, he will be impeached by Congress” Said Daniel Inouye (The senator who lost an arm in WWII, and a firm opponent of a war with Iraq), congressional opposition was honing in on probes into faulty intelligence used by Deputy Secretary of State Paul Wolfowitz’s team and possible intel leaks or spying to build support for a war and there were even accusations on the internets that the Bush administration had shot down the U.S. pilots deliberately as a false flag attack. Military action would definitely be on a scale unseen since the Vietnam war and regardless of the outcome at the end of the day, the United States would be left occupying a country the size of France and Powell’s paraphrased pottery barn rule of ‘you break it you buy it’ still hung in the air. And the situation would be especially awkward since it had been his father who set the standard for getting congressional authorization. The President had a decision to make, either abide by Congress’s non-decision or make the unilateral manoeuvre to take the nation to war.

Saddam disarmed or not, was a threat, a sworn enemy of America, he threatened his neighbours, paid Palestinian terrorists and shot at our aircraft. He defied sanctions and the U.N. brazenly and ruled his people with a brutal blood-soaked iron fist, whether or not he had them now, he had used weapons of mass destruction in the past. One way or another we needed to confront the threat from Iraq, Cheney and Rumsfeld pressed urgency saying that waiting would allow Saddam to better prepare and could wear down morale in the American forces, but there was significant detraction inside the administration, multiple cabinet Secretaries including State: Powell, and Treasury: Paul O’Neil and the general staff was split on the decision as well as the mounting congressional hostility and public opposition. The President had even been pushed by his family who, of course, all supported him but each had expressed fears regarding a war (Bush recalled an awkward moment when watching 13 days with his family a film recalling the Kennedys administration's effort to avert war with the Soviet Union), even his father who rarely gave advice without being asked, so to not condescend to him had told him to be careful with his course of action. Everyone could tell that the President was in a tricky situation and being forced to reconsider his path going forward, on multiple occasions he asked General Tommy Franks what the latest possible date for military action to begin would be, to which Franks responded, “Mr President we can go at any time but we would prefer to go before February”. The President’s schedule was tighter than it had ever been, between campaigning, legislating, and meetings on Iraq, Saudi Arabia, Pakistan and Afghanistan there was scarce time to think. The President travelled to the United Kingdom for a state visit following Operation Infinite Justice, a trip that became clouded over, due to the thousands of peaceful protesters that came out in opposition. In a frank conversation with Blair each discussed their political troubles, in the UK the opposition Conservative Party was beginning to question the PM on his policy toward Iraq and though the PM reassured Bush that he was 100% behind it was clear that there was a growing effort to put the brakes on the war machine.


Bush and Blair Press conference during Bush's state visit to the UK

Returning to the White House on November 22nd, he was certain of his authority to act and was more certain that the world would thank him for doing so. But the President was still stuck, launching military action now, disrupting the U.N. process would burn too many bridges and though Bush tried to ignore the political ramifications he didn’t like the picture of a war in an election year. But the President would act, he had too many meetings with people concerning the threat of Saddam to ignore him and recalled that a holocaust survivor told him that he as the President had the moral obligation to act. And to all those protesting and the lawmakers who pledged that their opposition to the war was out of concern for human rights, using force to remove a man who gassed Kurds and massacred Shia with helicopter gunships was no issue to the President. Removing such a man would surely advance the cause of human rights and as President, he would pursue regime change in Iraq. But he was not convinced that an invasion was the only method to do so. Dissatisfaction from Powell, Rice, Card and Rove as well as senior military officials on the political and military implications of launching an invasion under these circumstances, these concerns were real and couldn’t be set aside easily. Rummy and Dick would be frustrated but Bush recognised that the ball had been severely dropped, that the intelligence and the WMD argument that they had insisted on using as the linchpin for war just wasn’t a strong enough a case to alone, justify a war to the American public, the argument wasn’t a winning one and W just couldn’t listen to much more of it. The President confronted his deputies and told them that though he hadn’t taken war off the table, a large military invasion of Iraq was not on the immediate agenda. The hawks were dismayed, to them American legitimacy was on the line, they were blinking in the face of Saddam’s deception and could pay dearly for it, the President reassured them the United States had pledged to enforce the UN resolution and he wouldn’t break his word, neither would he let Saddam off the hook pledging commitment to still supporting regime change in Iraq.[2]

The sabre-rattling would continue, but war plans would for the moment were shelved, a large contingent of troops would remain in Kuwait and Saudi Arabia (close to 40,000) and the intelligence agencies and CIA teams would double down on their Iraqi operations, the President called it a maximum pressure campaign to wrestle Saddam and force him into compliance, not just to keep him in the box but hopefully to squeeze him out of the box with the beginning of a new covert programme Operation Wolverine. The administration straddled two public lines of thought, that they had succeeded in confronting Saddam Hussein by backing up the U.N. with arms even though he still represented a material threat to the United States and needed to be removed from office. One thing was for certain, Saddam saw it as his victory "Iraq has triumphed over the enemies of the (Arab) nation and over its enemies who have failed to destroy our people with their lies," he said.


Saddam Hussein tile mural


For the past 3 years, the United States had assisted in sending support to those in opposition to the Taliban under the covert CIA program Operation Mercury. The United States had been supplying guns, trucks, helicopters food, medical equipment and military advisors to the anti-Taliban forces of the Northern Alliance led by Ahmad Shah Massoud. These efforts were successful and gathered steam. Masoud’s forces were growing thanks to the aid and the influx of migrants from Taliban-controlled Afghanistan as well as the money provided which aided in winning over the support of local Afghan warlords. Despite the Bush administration's agreement with Pakistan that his goal was not regime change the results of the aid and bombardment spoke for themselves. The destruction of the Taliban air facilities and military garrisons in the north allowed Massoud to go on the offensive where his troops held strong advantages on the battlefield and now with covert military advisors Masoud’s forces prepared to launch an attack to seize back territory and capture Taliban strongholds in the North of Afghanistan. America increased the aid being sent to the Northern Alliance under Operation Mercury and alongside advisors, the CIA sent paramilitary to assist the Northern Alliance and potentially locate, kill or capture terrorist leadership that had evaded death in the strikes. The President had secretly authorized boots on the ground in Afghanistan.

The first evidence of Masoud’s superior army came when his forces launched an attack after the beginning of Ramadan on Kunduz, a major city home to 300,000 that allowed the Taliban to control international aid coming through Tajikistan and became one of the Taliban’s greatest strongholds with an estimated 15,000 fighters present including a large minority of foreign fighters, Northern Alliance forces taking advantage of its now undisputed air superiority (its airport and garrisons being one of the ones destroyed by Americans) lay siege to the city, Northern Alliance leaders offered to negotiate a surrender but the Taliban turned the request down with its leader Mullah Omar issuing the order to not surrender calling on his followers to “choose death over submission to the fascists." the battle for Afghanistan continued, bloodier than ever.


Northern Alliance forces (left) Taliban forces (right)

[1] The Islamist party doesn’t form
[2] 9/11 changed Bush and fully converted him from a ‘compassionate conservative’ into a neocon idealist. Some have reported it to be a religious transformation. ITTL he hates Saddam but doesn’t have the zeal to invade to remove him
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