THE REAL NEWS….Michael Smith, the reporter who uncovered the Downing Street Memos, thinks everyone is focusing on the wrong issues. The real news, he says in the LA Times today, is that Tony Blair knew the war was illegal and was fishing around for a way to bait Saddam Hussein into attacking first:

Downing Street had a “clever” plan that it hoped would trap Hussein into giving the allies the excuse they needed to go to war. It would persuade the U.N. Security Council to give the Iraqi leader an ultimatum to let in the weapons inspectors.

Although Blair and Bush still insist the decision to go to the U.N. was about averting war, one memo states that it was, in fact, about “wrong-footing” Hussein into giving them a legal justification for war.

British officials hoped the ultimatum could be framed in words that would be so unacceptable to Hussein that he would reject it outright. But they were far from certain this would work, so there was also a Plan B.

….Another part of the memo…quotes British Defense Secretary Geoff Hoon as saying that “the U.S. had already begun ‘spikes of activity’ to put pressure on the regime.” This we now realize was Plan B.

Put simply, U.S. aircraft patrolling the southern no-fly zone were dropping a lot more bombs in the hope of provoking a reaction that would give the allies an excuse to carry out a full-scale bombing campaign, an air war, the first stage of the conflict.

In the end, Blair’s plan didn’t work: Hussein declined to react to the increased bombing, and later on he allowed the UN inspectors in and (grudgingly) allowed them to do their job. Of course, as we all know, George Bush had a Plan C….