The Downing Street Memo has caused a mild uproar since it was reported in the London Times in May. Released on the eve of the UK elections, it caused Tony Blair's party to lose a few seats in Parliament. In America, it took a couple of weeks to catch on.
Bush's political enemies acted as if there was a conspiracy to supress the Downing Street Memo in the mainstream media. Actually, the document didn't contain anything that is particularly newsworthy. It merely was some notes that stated what was already known to anyone who had kept up with the news.
The text of the document contains the minutes of the British Prime Minister's meeting held on July 23, 2002 regarding discussions with America on Iraq. For anybody living in isolation since 2001, or relying on talk radio or FOX News for information, some of the following excerpts might be surprising.
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 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 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.
Once the Downing Street Memo gained traction in America, Congressman John Conyers sent President Bush a letter signed by 88 House members asking for answers to the questions raised by the document. Conyers then appealed to the public for 100,000 citizens to sign his letter. As someone who has been for impeaching the President, all I can say is - too little and too late, Mr. Conyers.
I wonder what Mr. Conyers thinks merely asking the President some questions in a letter will accomplish. Does Conyers think Bush is going to answer the questions truthfully? Why doesn't Conyers introduce Articles of Impeachment?
It should have been obvious to an idiot that Bush was determined to go to war with Iraq in September 2002 as the war had already begun by then. Former administration officials had already revealed that Bush wanted war with Iraq in 2001.
According to White House transcripts, a reporter named "Steve" asked Prime Minister Blair and President Bush the following question at a press conference on June 7, 2005:
On Iraq, the so-called Downing Street memo from July 2002 says intelligence and facts were being fixed around the policy of removing Saddam through military action. Is this an accurate reflection of what happened? Could both of you respond?
Well, I can respond to that very easily. No, the facts were not being fixed in any shape or form at all. And let me remind you that that memorandum was written before we then went to the United Nations. Now, no one knows more intimately the discussions that we were conducting as two countries at the time than me. And the fact is we decided to go to the United Nations and went through that process, which resulted in the November 2002 United Nations resolution, to give a final chance to Saddam Hussein to comply with international law. He didn't do so. And that was the reason why we had to take military action.
Then Bush Responded:
Well, I -- you know, I read kind of the characterizations of the memo, particularly when they dropped it out in the middle of his race. I'm not sure who "they dropped it out" is, but -- I'm not suggesting that you all dropped it out there. (Laughter.) And somebody said, well, you know, we had made up our mind to go to use military force to deal with Saddam. There's nothing farther from the truth.
My conversation with the Prime Minister was, how could we do this peacefully, what could we do. And this meeting, evidently, that took place in London happened before we even went to the United Nations -- or I went to the United Nations. And so it's -- look, both us of didn't want to use our military. Nobody wants to commit military into combat. It's the last option. The consequences of committing the military are -- are very difficult. The hardest things I do as the President is to try to comfort families who've lost a loved one in combat. It's the last option that the President must have -- and it's the last option I know my friend had, as well.
And so we worked hard to see if we could figure out how to do this peacefully, take a -- put a united front up to Saddam Hussein, and say, the world speaks, and he ignored the world. Remember, 1441 passed the Security Council unanimously. He made the decision. And the world is better off without Saddam Hussein in power.
These answers mirror earlier answers given by Bush. For some reason, Blair finds it necessary to remind us that the memo was written before they went to the United Nations. The memo said: The Prime Minister said that it would make a big difference politically and legally if Saddam refused to allow in the UN inspectors. That is not inconsistent with going to the United Nations. Blair wanted U.N. Inspectors and went to the U.N. to request - and get - further inspections.
Bush and Blair imply that Saddam did not comply with international law. Blair states this but it is not clear what Saddam did not comply with. Bush says "he ignored the world" and "he made the decision". It would seem that both Bush and Blair are living in some alternate dimension.
Bush has made similar statements in the past. Bush made the following statement on July 14, 2003:
The larger point is, and the fundamental question is, did Saddam Hussein have a weapons program? And the answer is, absolutely. And we gave him a chance to allow the inspectors in, and he wouldn't let them in. And, therefore, after a reasonable request, we decided to remove him from power, along with other nations, so as to make sure he was not a threat to the United States and our friends and allies in the region. I firmly believe the decisions we made will make America more secure and the world more peaceful.
Bush claims that Saddam didn't let the inspectors in and this is not reality. The U.N. inspectors went into Iraq and the story was a nightly feature on the news as the neocon talking heads repeated their mantra that Hans Blix was an idiot and the U.N. inspectors were being fooled by the clever Saddam.
In fact, it was reported on January 28, 2003 that:
Chief UN weapons inspector Hans Blix said Iraq has largely cooperated with arms experts, in a report to the UN Security Council that could determine whether the world body backs military action against Baghdad.
"Access has been provided to all sites we have requested to inspect," Blix told the Security Council.
U.N. arms inspectors are privately complaining about the quality of U.S. intelligence and accusing the United States of sending them on wild-goose chases.
The claim that Saddam "did not comply" or did not let the U.N. inspectors in is almost too bizarre to address. Do they think we are idiots? Are they delusional? Why aren't those who thought the media was covering up the Downing Street Memo asking why the press doesn't address these glaring misstatements of fact?
To my knowledge, nobody in the media has raised the possibility that Bush may have been lying on June 7th when he babbled:
And somebody said, well, you know, we had made up our mind to go to use military force to deal with Saddam. There's nothing farther from the truth.
The Sunday Times reported a story on May 29, 2005 that would seem to make Bush's statement questionable:
(UK) and US aircraft doubled the rate at which they were dropping bombs on Iraq in 2002 in an attempt to provoke Saddam Hussein into giving the allies an excuse for war, new evidence has shown. The attacks were intensified from May, six months before the United Nations resolution that Tony Blair and Lord Goldsmith, the attorney-general, argued gave the coalition the legal basis for war. By the end of August the raids had become a full air offensive.
Tommy Franks, the allied commander, has since admitted this operation was designed to degrade Iraqi air defences in the same way as the air attacks that began the 1991 Gulf war.
The Ministry of Defence figures, provided in response to a question from Sir Menzies Campbell, the Liberal Democrat foreign affairs spokesman, show that despite the lack of an Iraqi reaction, the air war began anyway in September with a 100-plane raid.
Giving Bush the benefit of the doubt - that he hadn't decided to go to war with Iraq in July 2002 - he must have decided sometime prior to September 6, 2002. This was about two weeks before Congress addressed authorization.
The World Tribune reported a massive attack on Iraq in a story datelined September 6, 2002:
Allied forces have launched a massive attack on Iraqi air defense facilities near the Jordanian border, the first in the area.
The allied strike on Thursday was launched from Kuwait and Saudi Arabia and was described as the biggest attack on the regime of Iraqi President Saddam Hussein since 1998. The strike targeted the so-called H3 area 390 kilometers west Baghdad, Middle East Newsline reported.
"Coalition strikes in the no-fly zones are executed as a self-defense measure in response to Iraqi hostile threats and acts against coalition forces and their aircraft," U.S. Central Command said in a statement.
The U.S. and British air attack on Iraqi facilities near the Jordanian border came at the conclusion of a large-scale U.S. military exercise in the southern portion of the Hashemite kingdom. The exercise, which included more than 4,000 soldiers, took place near the Iraqi border.
The United States is now preparing to launch a long-term military exercise in the Persian Gulf.
Michael Evans, the defense correspondent for the London-based Times daily reported on Friday that the allied attack appeared meant to enable British and U.S. attack helicopters to fly into Iraq from neighboring Jordan to search for Scud missiles. Iraq is believed to have up to 50 missiles that can reach Israel.
The Times reported that about 100 American and British aircraft participated in striking targets in the H3 area, where Iraq had based its Scud-class missiles in the 1991 Gulf war.
According to an Associated Press report on September 9, 2002, there were further airstrikes:
Allied aircraft struck Iraq for the third time in a week, bombing a military facility southeast of Baghdad Monday morning, defense officials said.
The attack came after Iraqi forces fired on one of the U.S.-British patrols in the no-fly zone, and it followed bombings on Thursday and Saturday, Pentagon officials said.
It brought to 37 the number of strikes reported this year by the United States and the United Kingdom coalition put together to patrol zones in the north and south of Iraq following the 1991 Gulf War.
"There is a price to pay when you attack U.S. and British planes," said Marine Gen. Peter Pace, vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.
In Baghdad, the official Iraqi News Agency quoted an unidentified military spokesman as saying, "American and British evil warplanes violated our skies on Monday coming from Kuwait to bomb civil and service installations." The spokesman gave no further details.
In Monday's strike, coalition aircraft used precision-guided weapons to hit an air defense command and control facility near Al Amarah, about 170 miles southeast of the Iraqi capital, the U.S. Central Command said. The command called it "a self-defense measure in response to Iraqi hostile threats and acts against coalition forces and their aircraft."
The time to ask President Bush questions has long since passed. There was ample opportunity to ask questions before the war and many people did so. Many of the answers given at that time turned out to be wrong. Maybe I would be more excited about Conyer's letter requesting answers from Bush if it demanded he do so under oath and with a polygraph.
This article contributed by Tom Blanton of Richmond, Virginia.