24 June 2009

The Downing Street Memo: No One-Off

It emerged over the weekend (but largely missed because of media coverage of the Iran crisis), but it seems that the infamous "Downing Street Memo," which alluded to the manufacturing of the Iraq, has a successor, which pretty much confirms that the war was manufactured. A second secret memo has been released that must have both Bush and Blair cringing, for it further clarifies how the men, and their cabinets, considered how they might go about prompting a war with Iraq.

Excerpts from the "Downing Street Memo," 23 July 2002.
(full facsimile of the document at the Times)
John Scarlett [Director General of BSIS] summarised the intelligence and latest JIC assessment. Saddam's regime was tough and based on extreme fear. The only way to overthrow it was likely to be by massive military action. Saddam was worried and expected an attack, probably by air and land, but he was not convinced that it would be immediate or overwhelming. His regime expected their neighbours to line up with the US. Saddam knew that regular army morale was poor. Real support for Saddam among the public was probably narrowly based.

C reported on his recent talks in Washington. There was a perceptible shift in attitude. Military action was now seen as inevitable. Bush wanted to remove Saddam, through military action, justified by the conjunction of terrorism and WMD. But the intelligence and facts were being fixed around the policy. The NSC had no patience with the UN route, and no enthusiasm for publishing material on the Iraqi regime's record. There was little discussion in Washington of the aftermath after military action.
[. . . .]
The Defence Secretary said that the US had already begun "spikes of activity" to put pressure on the regime. No decisions had been taken, but he thought the most likely timing in US minds for military action to begin was January, with the timeline beginning 30 days before the US Congressional elections.

The Foreign Secretary said he would discuss this with Colin Powell this week. It seemed clear that Bush had made up his mind to take military action, even if the timing was not yet decided. But the case was thin. Saddam was not threatening his neighbours, and his WMD capability was less than that of Libya, North Korea or Iran. We should work up a plan for an ultimatum to Saddam to allow back in the UN weapons inspectors. This would also help with the legal justification for the use of force.
So it's established that in summer 2002 Blair and Bush had decided on war, were trying to find a justification for striking Iraq, and that "the intelligence and facts were being fixed around the policy" of war. This is well-known. Old news.

Well, it turns out that in January 2003 (when Rumsfeld had originally wanted to begin attacks), Bush and Blair again reviewed their plans. The problem was that no WMDs had been found, nor was it likely that they might be found. So they had to explore different ways to "legitimize" invading Iraq. A five page memo, from 31 January 2003, records their planning. From The Guardian:

Bush told Blair the US had drawn up a provocative plan "to fly U2 reconnaissance aircraft painted in UN colours over Iraq with fighter cover". Bush said that if Saddam fired at the planes this would put the Iraqi leader in breach of UN resolutions.

The president expressed hopes that an Iraqi defector would be "brought out" to give a public presentation on Saddam's WMD or that someone might assassinate the Iraqi leader. However, Bush confirmed even without a second resolution, the US was prepared for military action. The memo said Blair told Bush he was "solidly with the president".
[. . . .]
Paraphrasing Bush's comments at the meeting, Manning [the document's scribe], noted: "The start date for the military campaign was now pencilled in for 10 March. This was when the bombing would begin." [it actually began 10 days later--20 March]
[. . . .]
The memo notes there had been a shift in the two men's thinking on Iraq by late January 2003 and that preparing for war was now their priority. "Our diplomatic strategy had to be arranged around the military planning," Manning writes [essentially a repetition of ""the intelligence and facts were being fixed around the policy"]. This was despite the fact Blair that had yet to receive advice on the legality of the war from the Attorney General, Lord Goldsmith, which did not arrive until 7 March 2003 - 13 days before the bombing campaign started.

There have been rumors and allegations about the run-up to the war, but to have it presented so clearly, and cynically, is pretty gobsmacking. If they were aware that Iraq had no WMD, what in God's name was the point of the entire enterprise in the first place? They cannot hide behind "well, our intelligence failed" now. We've evidence of the cock up. It wasn't the intelligence. It was them.

No more sweeping under carpets. Let's have this out.

No comments: