New British Memos Raise Even More Questions
More secret British memos concerning the lead up to the Iraqi war have been released, this time to the Las Angeles Timea. Unlike the original leaked memo, the so-called Downing Street Memo, these provide a lot more details about preparations for war with Iraq that were happening as early as March of 2002.
Just a small excerpt from what the Times has learned:
"The issue of weapons inspectors must be handled in a way that would persuade Europe and wider opinion that the U.S. was conscious of the international framework, and the insistence of many countries on the need for a legal basis. Renewed refusal by Saddam to accept unfettered inspections would be a powerful argument," [chief foreign policy advisor, David] Manning wrote Blair.
Four days after the Manning memo, Christopher Meyer, then the British ambassador in Washington, wrote to Manning about a lunch he had with Paul D. Wolfowitz, then the U.S. deputy secretary of Defense and a leading proponent in the administration of confronting Hussein. Meyer said in the memo that he had told Wolfowitz that U.N. pressure and weapons inspections could be used to trip up Hussein.
"We backed regime change," he wrote, "but the plan had to be clever and failure was not an option. It would be a tough sell for us domestically, and probably tougher elsewhere in Europe."
Clever? Clever how? Clever is not necessarily a good thing when you're talking about persuading people to go to war. There’s more:
Another memo, from British Foreign Office political director Peter Ricketts to Foreign Secretary Jack Straw on March 22, 2002, bluntly stated that the case against Hussein was weak because the Iraqi leader was not accelerating his weapons programs and there was scant proof of links to Al Qaeda.
"What has changed is not the pace of Saddam Hussein's WMD programs, but our tolerance of them post-11 September," Ricketts wrote. "Attempts to claim otherwise publicly will increase skepticism about our case….
"U.S. scrambling to establish a link between Iraq and Al Qaeda is so far frankly unconvincing," he said.
Ricketts said that other countries such as Iran appeared closer to getting nuclear weapons, and that arguing for regime change in Iraq alone "does not stack up. It sounds like a grudge between Bush and Saddam." That was why the issue of weapons of mass destruction was vital, he said.
There’s a lot more and it all pretty much lays out the British leadership’s impressions of Bush administration strategy. And that strategy appears to have been to create the conditions that would make regime change by military action justifiable—both by prodding Saddam and by convincing the world that Iraq was a real threat even though the evidence of that was slim.
I honestly don’t know what to make of all this. We have to be careful mainly because these are British memos and not United States memos and their impressions might not be accurate portrayals of what our leadership was thinking. But even if it’s in the ballpark, this all raises a lot of questions.
Why were we focusing on Iraq while the war in Afghanistan was still going fairly strong and we still thought we could capture Bin Laden?
How intent was the Bush administration on using forceful regime change in Iraq? Were other strategies seriously considered? Could anything have deterred them?
There’s a fine line between pushing very hard for a desired outcome and using deception to achieve those ends. Did Bush or anyone in his administration cross that line?
I’m sure many people could provide me with very reasonable explanations for all of this. But I have a feeling that many more people are going to see this new info as evidence that the administration wasn’t exactly straight with the American people. But, if so, how “not exactly straight” were they? These memos don’t tell us. But do they point us in the direction?
I need to think about all of this. I reserve judgment for now. The situation would be so much clearer if we were hearing this through American memos or if these memos provided concrete policy decisions rather than just discussions of strategy. Discussions of strategy don’t prove that the strategy was followed. But it’s got to make us wonder.