The Nuclear Memo
It's the very well written memo of record of the July 23, 2002 meeting held by Tony Blair at Downing Street about George Bush and Iraq. You can read the full text of it here. But let's concentrate on the parts relevant to the historical record:
SECRET AND STRICTLY PERSONAL - UK EYES ONLY
From: Matthew Rycroft
Date: 23 July 2002 S 195 /02
cc: Defence Secretary, Foreign Secretary, Attorney-General, Sir Richard Wilson, John Scarlett, Francis Richards, CDS, C, Jonathan Powell, Sally Morgan, Alastair Campbell
IRAQ: PRIME MINISTER'S MEETING, 23 JULY
Copy addressees and you met the Prime Minister on 23 July to discuss Iraq
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.....
C reported on his recent talks in Washington. ["C" is the traditional designation of the head of MI-6, Britain's foreign intelligence service] 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 Prime Minister said that it would make a big difference politically and legally if Saddam refused to allow in the UN inspectors.... If the political context were right, people would support regime change. The two key issues were whether the military plan worked and whether we had the political strategy to give the military plan the space to work....
The Defence Secretary said that if the Prime Minister wanted UK military involvement, he would need to decide this early. He cautioned that many in the US did not think it worth going down the ultimatum route. It would be important for the Prime Minister to set out the political context to Bush....
The Nuclear Memo made the American press a few weeks back and probably contributed to the slap in the face Tony Blair received from the electorate after years of overall good management marred by his involvement in the mare's nest of Iraq.Then it vanished without a trace. Too many other things got in the way.
That's the problem with our current politics. The people in power are engaged in so many avenues of bad public policy that it's hard to keep after any one of them with any consistency.
This baby is worth the effort, though. Enough mileage has been squeezed out of the sins of Newsweek. Enough ink and airtime have been given to the Filibuster Follies so that we've reached the point of anticlimax whatever the outcome. The Social Security Snake Oil Road Show flopped weeks ago. And the various lapses of the US Military--murder, torture, and showing Saddam Hussein to the world in his underwear--have turned into steady sellers rather than bestsellers.
So now the memo can command our attention.And it is beginning to. The new public editor of the New York Times, Byrone Calame has stepped up several days before his official first day on the job to discuss why the Grey Lady let the memo slide:
The Times's coverage of the once-secret memo started alertly with a May 2 article by Alan Cowell that laid out its contents in the context of the possible impact on the May 5 British election. But the news coverage languished until this morning when a Times article from Washington focused on the reaction to the memo there. This has left Times readers pretty much in the dark until today --and left critics of the paper's news columns to suspect the worst about its motives. . . So Times readers finally have the Washington bureau's take on the Downing Street Memo to go with the alert coverage on the minutes the foreign desk provided back on May 2. Overall, it's better than the readers of most other newspapers got. It's just unfortunate that today's Washington perspective, much of it based on reporting that could have been done days ago, didn't land in readers' hands sooner.
The Washington Post has also gotten off its duff to deal with a memo that should have raised a firestorm, and would have raised a firestorm if there were a public, a press, and a Congress with moral integrity, courage, and brains. Walter Pincus has finally attempted to put some context around the memo:
The question of prewar intelligence has been thrust back into the public eye with the disclosure of a secret British memo showing that, eight months before the March 2003 start of the war, a senior British intelligence official reported to Prime Minister Tony Blair that U.S. intelligence was being shaped to support a policy of invading Iraq.Moreover, a close reading of the recent 600-page report by the president's commission on intelligence, and the previous report by the Senate panel, shows that as war approached, many U.S. intelligence analysts were internally questioning almost every major piece of prewar intelligence about Hussein's alleged weapons programs.
The story is really ugly. We always knew it would be really ugly. The question is, do we as a country now even care?
Everyone with eyes, in 2002 and 2003, could see that the United States was on a course, for the first time in its entire history, to make war not because we, as a country, needed to, but merely because the President wanted to.
Anyone with both a sense of history, and a well-oriented moral compass, looked upon this with a sense of dread, knowing that the moral leadership of the world, held by America since the Presidency of Theodore Roosevelt, was about to be deliberately abandoned.
American men and women sacrificed their lives or their loved ones for the three grand climaxes of America's moral leadership for international order: the defeat of the Axis powers in 1945, the downfall of the Soviet Union in 1989, and the ouster of Iraq from Kuwait in 1991. That leadership was abandoned in a heartbeat, replaced with a philosophy of American world order imposed by sheer naked power.
Like a bandage on a syphilis chancre, that philosophy--now that we have proven that it doesn't work--has now been covered over with sanctimonious claptrap about "spreading democracy".
A couple of countries have gotten lucky and actually achieved democracy as a byproduct of our moral failure, rather than as an end product of our military world dominance. Time will tell whether they keep it long enough to achieve real independence from us.
But we made the Devil's bargain and everything else logically follows: the torturing, the straight out murders of Iraqis and Afganis, and the high probability that we will still be hemorrhaging blood and lives in Iraq when the man who threw away our moral integrity retires to his ranch.
The Downing Street Memo has all the relevant bullet points. And the Washington Post analysis has most of the evidence about how the bullet points describe what really happened. So let's connect the dots:
- 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:
- 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:
- The Attorney-General said that the desire for regime change was not a legal base for military action:
- The most likely timing in US minds for military action to begin was January [of 2003], with the timeline [in 2002] beginning 30 days before the US Congressional elections [the beginning of October 2002]. The Foreign Secretary said he would discuss this with Colin Powell this week:
When the list was submitted in early 2002, the manufacturer's distributor determined that the U.S. mapping software would not be included in the autopilot package.
Senior members of Congress were told in September 2002 that this [autopilot report] was the "smoking gun" in a special briefing by Vice President Cheney and then-CIA Director George J. Tenet. By January 2003, however, it became publicly known that the director of Air Force intelligence dissented from the view.
All these claims were made by Bush or then-Secretary of State Colin L. Powell in public addresses even though, the reports made clear, they had yet to be verified by U.S. intelligence agencies. For instance, Bush said in his Jan. 28, 2003, State of the Union address that Hussein was working to obtain "significant quantities" of uranium from Africa, a conclusion the president attributed to British intelligence and made a key part of his assertion that Iraq had an active nuclear weapons program.
- The Defence Secretary said that if the Prime Minister wanted UK military involvement, he would need to decide this early. It would be important for the Prime Minister to set out the political context to Bush.
- The Prime Minister said that if the political context were right, people would support regime change. The two key issues were whether the military plan worked and whether we had the political strategy to give the military plan the space to work:
And here is the "political strategy" that made it all happen:
The planning to invade Iraq was well underway in Washington by July of 2002, though no serious intelligence in Britain or the United States had confirmed either that Saddam was connected with Al Queda or that he possessed WMD's. So every scrap that could be gathered, reliable or not, would be shoehorned into the foregone conclusions that he was.
The game was deliberately started one month before the U.S. Congressional elections. This was for two reasons.
First, pressure had to be brought to bear to stampede the Congress into giving the President authority to go to war. This pressure came from two directions, the panic over a supposed "smoking gun" of a plan to attack the U.S. and the need to appear "strong on fighting terrorism" so close to the elections.
Moreover, the Congressmen and Senators who might be still be skeptical, particularly the Democratic ones, had to be cowed into submission by demonstrating that any questions, reasonable or not, of the President's judgment on Iraq would handicap their political career permanently.
This leads to the second reason for starting things in October--winning the Congressional elections. The Democrats were already in a seriously weakened position. The afterglow of 9/11 and the Afghan war had George Bush and the Republicans riding high in the polls.
By starting to beat the drum against Saddam in October and forcing the Democrats to soft pedal reasonable questions about the adventure, Bush put his political opponents in the position of having to try to win a Congressional election on issues which most of the country wasn’t interested in at the moment, making them look indifferent to the country’s defense.
It worked. The Democrats were clobbered in 2002. Any serious Congressional opposition to Bush’s rush to war was obliterated. And the momentum started over the “War On Terrorism” issue was even enough to carry Bush to a razor thin popular majority in 2004, despite the massive failure to stabilize Iraq after the fall of Baghdad.
Tony Blair, very shrewdly, saw that even if George Bush and his neocons wanted to simply ignore and bypass the UN, the process of feinting Saddam into refusing to cooperate would be necessary, particularly to sell the war in Britain.
So the invasion plans, which were ready to go by January, because the intent to invade had allowed the troop buildup much earlier, were consummated in March, when Saddam, full of hubris, had painted himself into a corner. This was the last link in the “political strategy to give the military plan space to work”.
The other evidence which has been slowly leaked in Britain indicates that Tony Blair supported Iraqi “regime change” in principle as early as March 2002:
Sir Christopher Meyer, then British ambassador to the US, sent a dispatch to Downing Street detailing how he repeated the commitment to Paul Wolfowitz, the US Deputy Defence Secretary. The ambassador added that Mr Blair would need a "cover" for any military action. "I then went through the need to wrongfoot Saddam on the inspectors and the UN Security Council resolutions."
Blair apparently agreed with Bush to actually attack some time in the future in his meeting at the Bush Ranch of April 6, 2002, and it was telegraphed in this segment of the press conference on that date:
THE PRIME MINISTER: Well, John, you know it has always been our policy that Iraq would be a better place without Saddam Hussein. I don't think anyone can be in any doubt about that, for all the reasons I gave earlier. And you know reasons to do with weapons of mass destruction also deal with the appalling brutality and repression of his own people. But how we now proceed in this situation, how we make sure that this threat that is posed by weapons of mass destruction is dealt with, that is a matter that is open….
THE PRESIDENT: Maybe I should be a little less direct and be a little more nuanced, and say we support regime change.
The explicit American political strategy of how to deliberately manufacture reasons to go to war with Iraq apparently was first discussed with the President’s National Security Council by the head of Britain’s MI-6 sometime in the middle of July. The meeting in Downing Street then took place in late July, and the Prime Minister was informed of it. Blair committed to it early, with the warning in mind, from his Defense Secretary, that the buildup to British war readiness must start quickly if it was to be ready on time.
The British Foreign Secretary then apparently discussed it with Secretary of State Colin Powell sometime shortly after July 23, and it was also to be discussed by Tony Blair with George Bush at some indefinite date in the future. The plan involved deliberately pressuring the United States Congress into precipitate action based on skewed intelligence.
Blair was on hand in Camp David with the President one month before the big push, presumably to have this discussion, and probably immediately before CIA Director George Tenet told Congress, in confidence, of the so-called “smoking gun” of Saddam’s intent to attack the United States.
Everything followed from there. The plan worked like a charm. Except, there were no WMD’s, there were no links of Saddam to Al Queda, and the boffins in the intelligence community on both sides of the Atlantic have been steadily leaking the fact that they were pressured to manufacture evidence for prefabricated conclusions ever since.
The British Government has refused to comment on the authenticity of the July 23 Memo.
- There was little discussion in Washington of the aftermath after military action:
We all know the aftermath. We have been living in a morally diminished America in the aftermath.
George Galloway, M.P. tied it all together a few days ago:
I gave my heart and soul to stop you committing the disaster that you did commit in invading Iraq. And I told the world that your case for the war was a pack of lies. I told the world that Iraq, contrary to your claims, did not have weapons of mass destruction. I told the world, contrary to your claims, that Iraq had no connection to Al Qaeda. I told the world, contrary to your claims, that Iraq had no connection to the atrocity on 9/11, 2001. I told the world, contrary to your claims, that the Iraqi people would resist a British and American invasion of their country and that the fall of Baghdad would not be the beginning of the end, but merely the end of the beginning.
Senator, in everything I said about Iraq, I turned out to be right and you turned out to be wrong. And 100,000 people have paid with their lives, 1,600 of them American soldiers sent to their deaths on a pack of lies; 15,000 of them wounded, many of them disabled forever on a pack of lies.
A pack of lies....
I think he has a point, don't you?