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The Dilemma of Dissent

Author: Richard N. Haass, President, Council on Foreign Relations
May 18, 2009


In early July 2002 I went to see Condoleezza Rice, President George W. Bush's National Security Advisor, in her West Wing office. I was meeting Condi in my capacity as director of policy planning, the State Department's internal think tank. But we were longtime friends, dating back to our work together for the first President Bush more than a decade before, and our get-togethers were not part of any formal interagency process.

As usual, I prepared on a yellow pad a list of the half-dozen or so issues I wanted to discuss during what normally was a 30- or 45-minute meeting. At the top of my list was Iraq. For several weeks, those on my staff who dealt with Iraq and other Middle East issues had been reporting back that they sensed a shift in tone within the government. Their counterparts working at the Pentagon, the National Security Council (NSC) and the vice president's office who favored going to war with Iraq were sending signals that things were going their way. I did not share this enthusiasm for going to war, believing that we had other viable options and fearing that any conflict would be much tougher than the advocates predicted. I was also concerned that an invasion would take an enormous toll on the rest of American foreign policy at the precise moment in history that the United States enjoyed a rare opportunity to exert extraordinary influence.

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