The briefing before Downing Street

It took six weeks, but the other shoe has dropped regarding the Downing Street Memo.

By Eric Boehlert
Published June 13, 2005 12:28PM (EDT)

It took six weeks, but the other shoe has dropped regarding the Downing Street Memo. The thud came courtesy of the Sunday Times of London in its report Sunday on yet another damning, top-secret British government document prepared eight months before the war with Iraq. Like the previous unearthed memo published by the Times on May 1, the latest document paints not only a picture of a Bush administration that, despite its talk in 2002 of averting war, was bent on invading Iraq, but one that, according to close counterparts in the British government, was determined to wage war without thinking through the consequences.

The briefing paper was prepared for participants in advance of the now-famous July 23, 2002 meeting, held at Prime Minister Tony Blair's residence, 10 Downing Street in London. According to the Times report, the briefing paper confirms that Blair had actually signed off on Bush's plan to invade Iraq back in April, 2002, at a summit in Crawford Texas. The two men then spent the next 11 months working to formulate a justification for the invasion -- because, as the briefing paper stressed, it was necessary to create the conditions which would make the invasion legal.

During the run-up to the invasion there was deep concern among Blair's senior advisors that an unprecedented, preemptive war of regime change would violate international law. According to the United Nations charter, there are only two reasons to legally wage war: self-defense (Article 51), and to restore international peace (Article 42). On the eve of the war with Iraq in 2003, Blair's Attorney General Lord Peter Goldsmith, working around the clock with a team of attorneys, stitched together a legal justification for the war. Based on the leaked memos, that justification now appears to have been formulated for the benefit of Blair's political needs.

The July 2002 briefing paper wasn't just about "creating the conditions" and circumventing the law, it was about how Bush's war planners had given "little thought" to the implications of an invasion. That's the angle the Washington Post played up on Sunday, based on excerpts of the leaked briefing paper it received and separately verified with British sources. "The eight-page memo, written in advance of a July 23, 2002, Downing Street meeting on Iraq, provides new insights into how senior British officials saw a Bush administration decision to go to war as inevitable, and realized more clearly than their American counterparts the potential for the post-invasion instability that continues to plague Iraq," wrote the Post's Walter Pincus. "In its introduction, the memo 'Iraq: Conditions for Military Action', notes that U.S. 'military planning for action against Iraq is proceeding apace,' but adds that 'little thought' has been given to, among other things, 'the aftermath and how to shape it.'"

The Post notes that some thought about post-war contingencies took place inside the Bush government, within the State Department -- but that the planning there was willfully ignored: "The Bush administration's failure to plan adequately for the postwar period has been well documented. The Pentagon, for example, ignored extensive State Department studies of how to achieve stability after an invasion, administer a postwar government and rebuild the country." This took place even though it was the view of Washington's closest ally, as the briefing paper stated, that "a post-war occupation of Iraq could lead to a protracted and costly nation-building exercise."

"As already made clear," the briefing paper stressed, "the US military plans are virtually silent on this point."

Eric Boehlert

Eric Boehlert, a former senior writer for Salon, is the author of "Lapdogs: How the Press Rolled Over for Bush."

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