MORE DOWNING STREET MEMOS….The London Times has gotten hold of yet another leaked memo prepared for Tony Blair in July 2002. This one says that Blair had already agreed the previous April to support military action against Iraq, and therefore some way needed to be found to make it legal:
The briefing paper, for participants at a meeting of Blair?s inner circle on July 23, 2002, said that since regime change was illegal it was ?necessary to create the conditions? which would make it legal.
….?US plans assume, as a minimum, the use of British bases in Cyprus and Diego Garcia,? the briefing paper warned. This meant that issues of legality ?would arise virtually whatever option ministers choose with regard to UK participation?.
….The document said the only way the allies could justify military action was to place Saddam Hussein in a position where he ignored or rejected a United Nations ultimatum ordering him to co-operate with the weapons inspectors. But it warned this would be difficult.
The Washington Post has yet another memo prepared at the same time, this one suggesting that the Bush administration had no clue what it was getting into:
Saying that “we need to be sure that the outcome of the military action would match our objective,” the memo’s authors point out, “A post-war occupation of Iraq could lead to a protracted and costly nation-building exercise.” The authors add, “As already made clear, the U.S. military plans are virtually silent on this point. Washington could look to us to share a disproportionate share of the burden.”
One of the reasons the previous Downing Street Memo hasn’t gotten much traction with the press ? and the reason these new memos will probably get limited attention as well ? is that I don’t think anyone really finds any of this a surprise. After all, previous evidence has already made it clear that George Bush was intent on war against Iraq almost immediately following 9/11. It was the first thing on Donald Rumsfeld’s mind on 9/11 itself, and Dick Clarke has testified that hours later Bush himself was more eager to go after Iraq than Afghanistan ? a plan was subsequently reversed due to pressure from Tony Blair and a cadre of more levelheaded Bush staffers. Even so, by early 2002, with Osama bin Laden still on the loose, intelligence assets and special forces were already being moved out of Afghanistan and into the Iraqi theater.
By April it was clear to the British that war was inevitable, and in July they were discussing a strategy to use the UN as a cassus belli. In September Bush went to the UN as planned, and White House chief of staff Andy Card explained the timing with his famous statement that “From a marketing point of view, you don’t introduce new products in August.” Two months later, Saddam Hussein allowed UN inspectors into the country, thus ruining the hoped for legal justification, and three months after that the inspectors still had uncovered no serious violations. Nonetheless, war commenced in March 2003.
Was the Iraq war a foregone conclusion by early 2002? Of course it was. These new memos provide further evidence of that, but I’m not sure there’s anyone who really doubted it in the first place.
More on this later, I’m sure.
UPDATE: As Atrios point out, my ending sentence was badly worded. Such are the perils of late night posting.
What I meant to say was that most of the press had probably concluded before the DSM memos were released that Bush had committed himself to war in early 2002, not that they knew it at the time. Having already figured that out last year, they probably think the Downing Street Memos are a bit of a yawn.