Downing Syndrome

The Times of London on Sunday printed the text of an "extremely sensitive" memo detailing the Prime Minister's meeting of July 23, 2002, in which plans for Iraq were discussed. The introduction of the memo stressed that "no further copies should be made. [The memo] should be shown only to those with a genuine need to know its contents." No wonder; if the rest of us had known its contents, we might not have invaded Iraq.

In the summer before the March 2003 invasion of Iraq, those with ears to hear knew that war was waiting in the wings, yet we were told repeatedly that it was not. That the President had not yet decided what to do—even as late as March 6, 2003. Take a look, then, at a few curious paragraphs from the "Downing Street memo":
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 election.

...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.

The Prime Minister said that it would make a big difference politically and legally if Saddam refused to allow in the UN inspectors. Regime change and WMD were linked in the sense that it was the regime that was producing the WMD. There were different strategies for dealing with Libya and Iran. If the political context were right, people would support regime change....
(Article via Atrios, via Kevin Drum. Emphasis mine.)

The key, then, was to create the political context so that people would support overthrowing Saddam's dictatorship. Enter the nuclear option: aluminum tubes. (Al Qaeda, too, but that's less scary and it's already late.) The White House knew there was a debate over whether the tubes were for rockets or uranium enrichment, and the debate wasn't leaning in their direction. Hence the need for the President to assert that
the evidence indicates that Iraq is reconstituting its nuclear weapons program.... Iraq has attempted to purchase high-strength aluminum tubes and other equipment needed for gas centrifuges, which are used to enrich uranium for nuclear weapons.
And after bringing up September 11th, the President grabbed the nation by the balls and squeezed: "Facing clear evidence of peril, we cannot wait for the final proof -- the smoking gun -- that could come in the form of a mushroom cloud." (Read the whole article: it's enlightening.)

Clearly, as Kevin Drum points out, it was all about spreading Democracy. Shortly after the war but before the insurgency, Paul Wolfowitz said that
there have always been three fundamental concerns. One is weapons of mass destruction, the second is support for terrorism, the third is the criminal treatment of the Iraqi people....The third one by itself, as I think I said earlier, is a reason to help the Iraqis but it's not a reason to put American kids' lives at risk.
And we're nearing 1600 on that score, aren't we? Not counting the wounded. Never mind the 20,000+ Iraqi civilian deaths or the many-more-thousand-than-that maimed and wounded Iraqis. It's all about replacing an asset establishing bases near oil reserves establishing dominance reigning in blowback taking out Israel's enemies yes, democratizing the Middle East freedom, baby.

But it's clear, Blair and Bush went to war in good faith (don't forget the post-inaugural oil meetings!):
As a civil service briefing paper specifically prepared for the July meeting reveals, Blair had made his fundamental decision on Saddam when he met President George W Bush in Crawford, Texas, in April 2002. [Note: Right after Tora Bora, the LA Times reported what was coming, to no avail.]

"When the prime minister discussed Iraq with President Bush at Crawford in April," states the paper, "he said that the UK would support military action to bring about regime change."

Blair set certain conditions: that efforts were first made to try to eliminate Iraq's weapons of mass destruction (WMD) through weapons inspectors and to form a coalition and "shape" public opinion. But the bottom line was that he was signed up to ousting Saddam by force if other methods failed. The Americans just wanted to get rid of the brutal dictator, whether or not he posed an immediate threat.
Which is interesting, considering what some senior administration officials said shortly after the Prime Minister's meeting that the "Downing Street memo" details:

"The Iraqi regime is a threat of unique urgency."
-President Bush, 10/2/02

"There's a grave threat in Iraq. There just is."
-President Bush, 10/2/02

"No terrorist state poses a greater or more immediate threat to the security of our people and the stability of the world than the regime of Saddam Hussein in Iraq."
-Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, 9/19/02

"Iraq is busy enhancing its capabilities in the field of chemical and biological agents, and they continue to pursue an aggressive nuclear weapons program...."
-Vice President Dick Cheney, 8/29/02

More here.

UPDATE: Well whaddaya know. Conyers thinks maybe there's something worth investigating here. (Bonus: he actually used the term "mainstream media.")

When I wrote this last night, I forgot to mention that the only place I found the story was buried in the NY Times under "international" news, in a piece on Blair. This is front page stuff, but all I hear are crickets chirping.

UPDATE: Does the POTUS pull Downing Street's strings? Sounds fishy, but worth investigating.

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