"Ready for dinner"
Are Americans so jaded about the deceptions perpetrated by our own government to lead us into war in Iraq that we are no longer interested in fresh and damning evidence of those lies? Or are the editors and producers who oversee the American news industry simply too timid to report that proof on the evening broadcasts and front pages?
There is a “smoking memo” that confirms the worst assumptions about the Bush administration’s Iraq policy, but although that memo generated huge pre-election headlines in Britain, its existence has hardly been mentioned here.
On May 1, the Sunday Times of London published the confidential minutes of a meeting held almost three years ago at 10 Downing Street, residence of the British prime minister, where Tony Blair and members of his Cabinet discussed the British government’s ongoing consultations with the Bush administration over Iraq. Those in attendance included the defense secretary, the foreign secretary, the attorney general, the intelligence chief and Blair’s closest personal aides.
The minutes of that meeting, set down in a memorandum by foreign policy advisor Matthew Rycroft, were circulated to all who were present. Dated July 23, 2002, the Rycroft memo begins with the following admonishment: “This record is extremely sensitive. No further copies should be made. It should be shown only to those with a genuine need to know its contents.” Evidently that doesn’t include those of us living in the United States, although press coverage of the document in Britain created a sensational 11th-hour backlash against Blair. (The prime minister admitted that the Iraq war had been a “deeply divisive” issue as he savored a narrow election victory Friday.)
What the minutes clearly show is that Bush and Blair secretly agreed to wage war for “regime change” nearly a year before the invasion — and months before they asked the United Nations Security Council to support renewed weapons inspections as an alternative to armed conflict. The minutes also reveal the lingering doubts over the legal and moral justifications for war within the Blair government.
But for Americans, the most important lines in the July 23 minutes are those attributed to Sir Richard Dearlove, the head of the British Secret Intelligence Service, or MI6, who in spy jargon is to be referred to only as “C.” The minutes indicate that Sir Richard had discovered certain harsh realities during a visit to the United States that summer:
“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 U.N. route … There was little discussion in Washington of the aftermath after military action.”
At the same meeting, British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw confirmed Sir Richard’s assessment:
“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.”
Those few lines sum up everything that went wrong in the months and years to come — and place the clear stamp of falsehood on the Bush administration’s public pronouncements as the president pushed the nation toward war.
When Bush signed the congressional resolution authorizing the use of military force against Iraq on Oct. 16, 2002 — three months after the Downing Street memorandum — he didn’t say that military action was “inevitable.” Instead, the president assured Americans and the world that he still hoped war could be avoided.
“I have not ordered the use of force. I hope the use of force will not become necessary,” he said at a press conference. “Hopefully this can be done peacefully. Hopefully we can do this without any military action.” He promised that he had “carefully weighed the human cost of every option before us” and that if the United States went into battle, it would be “as a last resort.”
In the months that followed, as we now know, the president and his aides grossly exaggerated, and in some instances falsified, the intelligence concerning the Iraqi regime’s supposed weapons of mass destruction and alleged ties to the terrorists who attacked us on 9/11. Defenders of his policy have since insisted that he too was misled with bad information, provided by U.S. and foreign intelligence agencies.
But “C” heard something very different from Blair’s allies in Washington.
According to him, Bush, determined to oust Saddam, planned to “justify” a preventive war by tying the terrorist threat to Iraq’s WMD arsenal — and manipulating the intelligence to fit his policy instead of determining the policy based on the facts.
That is precisely what happened, and precisely the opposite of what the president vowed to do. Not only did Bush and his top aides lie about their approach to the alleged threat posed by Iraq, but they continued to lie about that process in the war’s aftermath.
And what of the aftermath of the war in Iraq? Evidently “little discussion” was devoted to that topic as the Bush administration prepared to sell the war, or so “C” reported to his colleagues in London. Iraqis and Americans, as well as their coalition partners, have been suffering the dismal results of that lack of planning ever since.
Despite much happy talk from Washington about the successes achieved in Iraq, recent polls show that Americans are more disenchanted than ever with the war. Nearly 60 percent now say the president made the wrong decision and that the outcome is not worth the price in lives and treasure. What would they say if the media dared to tell them the truth about how it all happened?
Joe Conason is the editor in chief of NationalMemo.com. To find out more about Joe Conason, visit the Creators Syndicate website at www.creators.com.More Joe Conason.