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Hullabaloo


Thursday, May 19, 2005

 
Downing St Revelations

I suppose that I understand to a certain extent why the press is so disinterested in the Downing Street memo. It's because they think that the memo merely says the US was inevitably going to war as early as 2002 --- and everybody already knows that. In fact, we knew it at the time. As Juan Cole documents in detail in this Salon article, Bush and his national security team made it quite clear that they wanted to invade Iraq long before 9/11 and launched into high gear to make it happen immediately after. This memo is an official rendering of something that I think the press believes people have absorbed --- and assume that the election settled. They're wrong, but then what else is new?

There are a number of other important revelations in the memo, the most startling being the rather casual acceptance of the need to create the illusion of legality. We knew that going to the UN and dealing with the inspectors were a form of Kabuki on the part of the Bushies, but it's never been clear before now that they planned it that way. Some of us actually believed that there may have existed a genuine desire on Blair and Powell's parts to slow down the process and try to persuade the Bush administration to back off under international pressure. Apparently not. Everybody signed on to this egregious scam from the very beginning ---- it was always a matter of finding the proper cover. I wonder if the Scowcroft (and Poppy) messages were part of it too?

The Downing St. Memo contains another smoking gun that I haven't heard anyone mention. It says:

The Foreign Secretary said he would discuss [the timing of the war] 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 neighbors, and his WMD capability was less than that of Libya, North Korea or Iran.


I must say that this answers definitively one of the biggest questions I had in the run-up to the war. I had always wondered how, if anyone believed even for a second that Saddam had serious biological or chemical weapons, that we would ever have placed 100,000 American soldiers like sitting ducks in Kuwait over the course of several months before the war. It was an incomprehensible risk, I thought, considering that everyone knew that the war was unnecessary in terms of the terrorist threat. Even Bush couldn't be that craven and stupid. And he wasn't. He expected a razzle dazzle military "cakewalk," not a catastrophic loss of life, and that's what he got. It seemed clear to me then that we knew with certainty from the start that there wasn't a serious WMD threat in Iraq.

Most of us have known for some time that the administration cooked the intelligence, although no commission or congressional investigation has been undertaken to determine if that's the case. (The Silbermann-Robb commission goes to great lengths to explain that this conveniently wasn't their mandate.) All this nonsense about how the intelligence services "misled" the president is rightly seen a crapola. I do think people assumed, however, that the Bush administration felt they needed to cook the intelligence because they actually believed that Saddam probably had WMD even though they didn't have the intelligence to support that claim. People thought they had overlearned the lessons of the first Gulf War when the CIA had underestimated Saddam's capability and they just weren't taking any chances.

And from a public relations standpoint, I'm sure most people felt it was nonsensical that they would have taken the risk of being shown as complete assholes in front of the entire world with all of their absolute pronouncements of Saddam's arsenal if they hadn't legitimately believed that he had one. More importantly, it would have been shockingly irresponsible after 9/11 to expose our intelligence services to the whole world as being completely unreliable if they knew for a fact that there was no real threat. But that's what they did.

This memo shows that they knew he didn't have that threatening arsenal and it appears they just didn't care about the fallout. Clearly they believed they could say anything and get away with it. And they are right. Both Bush and Blair were re-elected despite the fact that they invaded a country to "disarm" it and found out that the country didn't have any arms in the first place. That should have been a firing offense, but it wasn't. Now we know they knew it all along.

Who knows if people would have voted differently if they knew that their leaders knew ahead of time that there was no serious threat of WMD? My suspicion has long been that a fair number of voters believed that in spite of all the hoopla about not finding WMD that their leaders must have known something for sure that they couldn't tell us about. This memo proves that they were right. What they knew for sure was that the country they wanted to attack presented no threat.


One interesting thing in the Cole article that I hadn't heard before was a reason why Tony Blair went along with all this. It's just unbelievable:

When British Prime Minister Tony Blair arrived in Washington on Sept. 20, 2001, he was alarmed. If Blair had consulted MI6 about the relative merits of the Afghanistan and Iraq options, we can only imagine what well-informed British intelligence officers in Pakistan were cabling London about the dangers of leaving bin Laden and al-Qaida in place while plunging into a potential quagmire in Iraq. Fears that London was a major al-Qaida target would have underlined the risks to the United Kingdom of an "Iraq first" policy in Washington.

Meyer told Vanity Fair, "Blair came with a very strong message -- don't get distracted; the priorities were al-Qaida, Afghanistan, the Taliban." He must have been terrified that the Bush administration would abandon London to al-Qaida while pursuing the great white whale of Iraq. But he managed to help persuade Bush. Meyer reports, "Bush said, 'I agree with you, Tony. We must deal with this first. But when we have dealt with Afghanistan, we must come back to Iraq.'" Meyer also said, in spring 2004, that it was clear "that when we did come back to Iraq it wouldn't be to discuss smarter sanctions." In short, Meyer strongly implies that Blair persuaded Bush to make war on al-Qaida in Afghanistan first by promising him British support for a later Iraq campaign.



Tony Blair had to make a deal with Bush that he'd support him on Iraq to get him to go after Al-Qaeda. Is there anything more pathetic --- and frightening --- than that?



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