President George W. Bush began planning a war with Iraq before he took office on January 20, 2001, and long before the 9/11 terrorist attacks gave him the excuse he needed to push American intelligence agencies to fabricate “evidence” that Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction or plotted with Osama bin Laden to attack American.

Bush knew from the get-go that he wanted to invade Iraq. It was on his mind before the election and campaign aides say he was obsessed with “getting Saddam.”

“We’d be on the campaign plane talking about domestic issues and he’d change the subject and start rattling on about what a great evil Saddam Hussein was and how if he won the election he’d finish what he father failed to do – topple Hussein,” says campaign worker Jerry Caufield who worked for the administration one year before leaving.

Other tell similar stories. The terrorist attacks weren’t the reason Bush invaded Iraq. They provided the excuse.

“We will confront weapons of mass destruction, so that a new century is spared new horrors,” Bush said in his inaugural address on Jan. 20, 2001.

On January 21, Bush held his first meeting of the National Security Council in the White House. At that meeting he ordered the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff to draw up plans for an invasion of Iraq as, he said, “a contingency.”

On February 16, in a press conference with Mexican president Vicente Fox, Bush said:

“Saddam Hussein has got to understand that we expect him to conform to the agreement that he signed after Desert Storm. We will enforce the no-fly zone, both south and north. Our intention is to make sure that the world is as peaceful as possible. And we’re going to watch very carefully as to whether or not he develops weapons of mass destruction, and if we catch him doing so we’ll take the appropriate action.”

On February 23, in a press conference with British Prime Minister Tony Blair, Bush said:

“We spent a lot of time talking about our mutual interests in Iraq and the Persian Gulf, and from our perspective, as you know, I made the famous statement that our sanctions are like Swiss cheese. That means they’re not very effective. And we’re going to work together to figure out a way to make them more effective. But I think the Prime Minister and I both recognize that it is going to be important for us to build a consensus in the region to make the sanctions more effective. Colin Powell left today, after lunch, to move around the Middle East, collect thoughts and to listen, with a policy of strengthening our mission to make it clear to Saddam Hussein that he shall not terrorize his neighbors, and not develop weapons of mass destruction.”

On May 21, Bush spoke at the Naval Academy in Annapolis:

“Today, nearly one-third of our naval forces are forward-deployed overseas. The USS Constellation carrier battle group and its 10,000 sailors are plying the waters of the Persian Gulf, enforcing the no-fly zone over southern Iraq. Another 3,800 sailors and Marines stand guard nearby with the Boxer amphibious ready group, deterring any mischief Saddam might contemplate.”

If anything, Osama bin Laden was a diversion from Bush’s obsession with Hussein, a problem that got in the way.

On September 11, 2001, as Air Force One headed out of Florida, Bush turned to chief of staff Andrew Card and said “find out how soon we can be ready to go into Iraq.”

Card told him that preliminary reports pointed towards bin Laden and Afghanistan.

“Forget fucking Afghanistan,” Bush responded. “Hussein is behind this. I know it. We’re going into Iraq.”

Aides who overheard Bush’s outburst say Card hustled him away and talked for Bush for more than 30 minutes in private. After that, Bush talked more about bin Laden and less about Hussein.

But Saddam and Iraq remained Bush’s focus. In his 2002 State of the Union address, he returned to that theme:

“Iraq continues to flaunt its hostility toward America and to support terror. The Iraqi regime has plotted to develop anthrax, and nerve gas, and nuclear weapons for over a decade. This is a regime that has already used poison gas to murder thousands of its own citizens — leaving the bodies of mothers huddled over their dead children. This is a regime that agreed to international inspections — then kicked out the inspectors. This is a regime that has something to hide from the civilized world.”

Pentagon sources tell me Bush wanted to invade Iraq first, believing bin Laden was there, not Afghanistan, but Secretary of State Colin Powell convinced the President he needed the cover of widespread support of going into Afghanistan and going after bin Laden.

But Bush really didn’t care that much about bin laden. In March 2002 Bush said he was no longer concerned about bin Laden:

“We haven’t heard from him in a long time,” Bush said in a White House press conference on March 13, 2002. “I truly am not that concerned about him.”

In Bush’s mind, bin Laden had never been the issue. His set his sights on Hussein from day one and nothing – not facts, not truth, not international law – would stop him from doing what he planned to do all along: Invade Iraq and launch the most divisive war since Vietnam.