June 13, 2005

Downing Street Blues

From David Sanger at the New York Times: Prewar British Memo Says War Decision Wasn't Made

A memorandum written by Prime Minister Tony Blair's cabinet office in late July 2002 explicitly states that the Bush administration had made "no political decisions" to invade Iraq, but that American military planning for the possibility was advanced. ...

So the allegedly liberal Times, instead of focusing on the lack of post-war planning as most other papers did when writing about this second leak, leads off by implicit contradiction of the last memo, while making a brief nod to it:

... The publication of the memorandum is significant because a previously leaked document, now known as the Downing Street Memo, appeared to suggest that a decision to go to war may have been made that summer. In Washington last week, Mr. Bush and Mr. Blair denied that they made any decision in 2002, and suggested that the memorandum was being misinterpreted.

"No, the facts were not being fixed in any shape or form at all," Mr. Blair said, adding that "no one knows more intimately the discussions that we were conducting as two countries at the time than me." ...

Does the second memo itself support the implication of the Times' lead in? Emphasis mine:

... Agree to engage the US on the need to set military plans within a realistic political strategy, which includes identifying the succession to Saddam Hussein and creating the conditions necessary to justify government military action,

... The US Government's military planning for action against Iraq is proceeding apace. But, as yet, it lacks a political framework. In particular, little thought has been given to creating the political conditions for military action, or the aftermath and how to shape it.

... This is particularly important for the UK because it is necessary to create the conditions in which we could legally support military action. Otherwise we face the real danger that the US will commit themselves to a course of action which we would find very difficult to support.

... Depending on US intentions, a decision in principle may be needed soon on whether and in what form the UK takes part in military action.

... Although no political decisions have been taken, US military planners have drafted options for the US Government to undertake an invasion of Iraq. In a 'Running Start', military action could begin as early as November of this year, with no overt military build-up. ... US military plans include no specifics on the strategic context either before or after the campaign. Currently the preference appears to be for the 'Running Start'. CDS will be ready to brief Ministers in more detail.

... 14. It is just possible that an ultimatum could be cast in terms which Saddam would reject (because he is unwilling to accept unfettered access) and which would not be regarded as unreasonable by the international community. However, failing that (or an Iraqi attack) we would be most unlikely to achieve a legal base for military action by January 2003.

An International Coalition

15. An international coalition is necessary to provide a military platform and desirable for political purposes.

... Time will be required to prepare public opinion in the UK that it is necessary to take military action against Saddam Hussein. There would also need to be a substantial effort to secure the support of Parliament. An information campaign will be needed which has to be closely related to an overseas information campaign designed to influence Saddam Hussein, the Islamic World and the wider international community. This will need to give full coverage to the threat posed by Saddam Hussein, including his WMD, and the legal justification for action.

... Although the US military could act against Iraq as soon as November, we judge that a military campaign is unlikely to start until January 2003, if only because of the time it will take to reach consensus in Washington. ...

Now, look me in the eye and tell me that this memo isn't referring to a done deal. Look me in the eye and tell me that by "no political decision," this memo didn't actually mean 'no public announcement.' There isn't any question of whether or not the US will actually go to war, just when. The only uncommitted party at the juncture of this memo sounds to the UK, and only for political reasons. It's all about crafting and selling reasons to go, including making demands that the parties believe won't be met, and not about discussing all alternatives.

Tony "Chamberlain" Blair might have been undecided at this point, but a full reading of this document gives the impression that the only decision the Bush administration had yet to make was when to give the go ahead. The first memo reinforces this reading, emphasis mine again:

... 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.

The Attorney-General said that the desire for regime change was not a legal base for military action. There were three possible legal bases: self-defence, humanitarian intervention, or UNSC authorisation. The first and second could not be the base in this case. Relying on UNSCR 1205 of three years ago would be difficult. The situation might of course change. ...

"It seemed clear that Bush had made up his mind to take military action, even if the timing was not yet decided."

For me, that's the best summary of the situation in either document, and it makes the distinction that the Times glosses over. The decision to go to war had been made sometime earlier, early enough so that there had been plenty of time to work on war plans and discuss justifications. The decision left to be made was when to tell the public, how to sell them on it, and when to start the war. The political decision, if you will.

Which decision am I concerned about? The decision to go to war in the first place, the rest is window dressing. That's the decision that the administration lied about, the one they told the public repeatedly that they hadn't made, that it was a last option, etc., etc. & etc. These memos make it blatantly clear that war wasn't a last resort, it was a foundational goal of making a big deal about Iraq. Really, the only thing worse than the media irresponsibly ignoring the story is using it to bolster the indefensible position that Bush and Blair were telling the truth.

How many lies before the media becomes outraged? Well, if they can't be angry over the first one, there's really no telling how many it will take.

Please sign Congressman Conyers' letter to demand answers. In the words of Elie Wiesel, "There may be times when we are powerless to prevent injustice, but there must never be a time when we fail to protest."

Posted by natasha at June 13, 2005 03:40 PM | Iraq | Technorati links |

bits like "which includes identifying the succession to Saddam Hussein" tell me that it was not the "if", but the "how" that the second memo discusses.

"How many lies before the media becomes outraged? "

The media is too busy counting the hand out by their corporate masters, forget about getting any reality from them until we are done trust busting these guys...

Posted by: denisdekat at June 13, 2005 04:42 PM