As Bush seeks more cash for Iraq, a memo sheds light on how he got there

Is this "Downing Street Memo, Part 2"?

Published February 3, 2006 5:54PM (EST)

The Bush administration is asking Congress for an additional $120 billion for military operations in Iraq and Afghanistan -- money that comes on top of the $226 billion the administration has already budgeted for Iraq.

Would we be "aiding and abetting the terrorists" if we mentioned just now that the Bush administration's top budget official insisted in 2002 that the entire war in Iraq would probably cost between $50 billion and $60 billion? Or that the president's secretary of defense suggested that the cost would be "something under $50 billion" and that other countries would be paying some of it? Or that the deputy secretary of defense said that Iraq could "pay for its own reconstruction"? Or that the White House eased out the president's chief economic advisor after he dared to suggest that the war would actually cost $100 billion or -- gasp! -- $200 billion?

That kind of talk might not get you arrested -- OK, it might -- but it probably isn't particularly welcome among supporters of the president's war right now. Neither is this: A new report in the Guardian says that George W. Bush and Tony Blair decided to go to war in Iraq regardless of whether the United Nations authorized it and regardless of whether inspectors actually found any weapons of mass destruction.

The report is based on the work of Philippe Sands, a professor of international law at London's University College who practices law in the same firm as Blair's wife, and it seems to conflict with the two leaders' public claims that they were working through the U.N. process and wanted to give Saddam Hussein a final chance to disarm before deciding on war.

Among other things, Sands says the memo details Bush's idea about luring Iraq into war by spying on the country with U2 spy planes painted in U.N. colors. "If Saddam fired on them," Bush is said to have said, "he would be in breach" of U.N. resolutions. Bush is also said to have told Blair that he thought it was "unlikely" that there would be warfare between different groups in Iraq after the invasion.

Sir Menzies Campbell, the acting leader of Britain's opposition Liberal Democrat Party, said in a statement that the memorandum -- if accurate -- suggests that Bush and Blair were simply going through the motions when they sought U.N. approval for the war. "The prime minister has a lot of explaining to do," he said. One might say the same about the president and his administration, if only it would do any good.

By Tim Grieve

Tim Grieve is a senior writer and the author of Salon's War Room blog.

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