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At the time of Gulf War I, George W. Bush was spending a lot more time worrying about the Texas Rangers of the American League than about the Rangers in Army fatigues. During his father's presidency, Bush was an occasional and important political fixer, but he was never involved--never wanted to be involved, and was never invited to be involved--in foreign policy. When he ran for the presidency in 2000, his team of advisers spent little time on Iraq. To be sure, whenever he was asked about Saddam, Bush had the tough talk down. In an interview with TIME during the campaign, he was asked what he would do if Saddam tested him. "That would be good," said Bush. "I've learned one thing; I'd jump on him." But despite the aggressive language, there was no sign that he had accepted the logic of a pre-emptive strike against Saddam. After Sept. 11, he initially resisted making Iraq an early target of American might. Wolfowitz, says a Republican lawmaker, "was like a parrot bringing [Iraq] up all the time. It was getting on the President's nerves." At one point in the Camp David meeting after Sept. 11, Wolfowitz tried to persuade Bush to back a scheme to lop off the southern part of Iraq, including Basra, its third largest city, and some important oil fields. That went nowhere. And no matter how hard the intelligence agencies looked, they couldn't come up with a link between Saddam and Sept. 11 that might persuade Bush of the virtues of an early strike.
Yet in January 2002, Bush identified Iraq as a member of an "axis of evil, arming to threaten the peace of the world." The President told Congress that he "would not wait on events while dangers gather"--a clear sign that he was contemplating pre-emptive strikes against those with WMDs. By April 2002, on Bush's instruction, Cheney toured the Middle East trying to make the case for action against Saddam.
What had changed? What had brought Bush into the get-Iraq-now camp? The most important factor was also the simplest. By the fall of 2001, Bush and other senior policymakers in Washington were scared out of their wits. On Oct. 4 came the first anthrax attacks on New York City and Washington. Again, no evidence was found linking Saddam to the attacks. But Saddam had once admitted developing anthrax weapons to U.N. inspectors, and now anthrax was being used to kill Americans. Even if a link to Baghdad could not be proved, this was enough to stiffen the spines of those who thought Saddam's WMDs had been left alone too long.