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We all knew in the summer of 2002 that Bush and Cheney were determined to drag us into war against Iraq.  Now we have the proof.  On the basis of a leaked memo, the Sunday Times Newspaper reports that in July 2002 Tony Blair held a war council meeting with his closest aides, a few weeks after Blair's trip to Crawford.  Already by that stage, both Bush and Blair had decided to go to war, and it was simply a question of finding the grounds and the occasion to do so.  More on the flip. Update [2005-5-1 2:9:34 by smintheus]: I've posted large chunks of the leaked British memo, on which these revelations are based, in the comments.

That was the summer of the long war tease, of rolling out the new product line after the August vacation.  But the fix was already on, as many of us suspected.  Here are excerpts from the newspaper The Independent reporting on the leaked memo:

Tony Blair had resolved to send British troops into action alongside US forces eight months before the Iraq War began, despite a clear warning from the Foreign Office that the conflict could be illegal.

A damning minute leaked to a Sunday newspaper reveals that in July 2002, a few weeks after meeting George Bush at his ranch in Crawford, Texas, Mr Blair summoned his closest aides for what amounted to a council of war. The minute reveals the head of British intelligence reported that President Bush had firmly made up his mind to invade Iraq and overthrow Saddam Hussein, adding that "the intelligence and facts were being fixed around the policy".

At the same time, a document obtained by this newspaper reveals the Foreign Office legal advice given to Mr Blair in March 2002, before he travelled to meet Mr Bush at his Texas ranch. It contains many of the reservations listed nearly a year later by the Attorney General in his confidential advice to the Prime Minister, which the Government was forced to publish last week, including the warning that the US government took a different view of international law from Britain or virtually any other country.

The advice, also put before the July meeting, was drawn up in part by Elizabeth Wilmshurst, the Foreign Office's deputy legal adviser, who resigned on the eve of war in protest at what she called a "crime of aggression".

further...

The minute revealed last night was of a meeting held in Downing Street on 23 July 2002. Signed by the Prime Minister's foreign policy adviser, Matthew Rycroft. It concluded: "We should work on the assumption that the UK would take part in any military action. But we needed a fuller picture of US planning before we could take any further decisions."

The minute records that the Foreign Secretary, Jack Straw, had warned that the case against Saddam was "thin". He suggested that the Iraqi dictator should be forced into a corner by demanding the return of the UN weapons inspectors: if he refused, or the inspectors found WMD, there would be good cause for war.

The Attorney General, Lord Goldsmith - who took part in the meeting - warned then that "the desire for regime change was not a legal base for military action". But the Prime Minister countered that "regime change and WMD were linked in the sense that it was the regime that was producing the WMD".

This leaked minute confirms that many world leaders knew well in advance what the Bush administration kept secret from the American public until spring of 2003, that the US intended to invade Iraq.  This of course makes even more understandable the consistent opposition and mistrust the Bush administration encountered in the buildup to war, especially in Europe; many leaders in Europe were in a position to know that the war already had the green light, and therefore the posturing before the UN by the Bush administration must have been deeply galling for them.

The minute also demonstrates that Blair already had foreseen many of the main lines of opposition that would emerge, and Blair had designed a plan or accepted somebody else's plan to thwart that opposition by maneuvering Saddam Hussein into untenable positions.  It is every bit as Machiavellian as one always supposed.

In the UK, the further revelations that Blair had been warned fully eight months before the shooting commenced that an invasion would be difficult to justify by international law, is sure to damage his already low standing with the public.  It is even conceivable that this could throw the election to the Tories.  That would be a shame for Britain and the Labour Party, but a well deserved end to Tony Blair's career.

In the US, it is hard to guess how this will play.  I, for one, am beginning at this very hour to remember the taste and smell of the Watergate era; this could be huge.  If the MSM have the decency to report on this explosive memo, it is even possible that this could spell the beginning of the end of George Bush's presidency.  I hope that I do not exaggerate the importance of this story.

Originally posted to smintheus on Sat Apr 30, 2005 at 08:45 PM PDT.

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Comment Preferences

  •  Meant to post a link (4.00)
    to the article in The Independent.
    •  And here are links to (4.00)
      the text of the leaked minute, and to the article in the Times.

      The most interesting parts of the memo are as follows:

      C reported on his recent talks in Washington. There was a perceptible shift in attitude. Military action was now seen as inevitable. 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.

      CDS said that military planners would brief CENTCOM on 1-2 August, Rumsfeld on 3 August and Bush on 4 August.

      The two broad US options were:

      (a) Generated Start. A slow build-up of 250,000 US troops, a short (72 hour) air campaign, then a move up to Baghdad from the south. Lead time of 90 days (30 days preparation plus 60 days deployment to Kuwait).

      (b) Running Start. Use forces already in theatre (3 x 6,000), continuous air campaign, initiated by an Iraqi casus belli. Total lead time of 60 days with the air campaign beginning even earlier. A hazardous option.

      The US saw the UK (and Kuwait) as essential, with basing in Diego Garcia and Cyprus critical for either option. Turkey and other Gulf states were also important, but less vital.

      snip

      The Defence Secretary said that the US had already begun "spikes of activity" to put pressure on the regime. No decisions had been taken, but he thought the most likely timing in US minds for military action to begin was January, with the timeline beginning 30 days before the US Congressional elections.

      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. There were different strategies for dealing with Libya and Iran. If the political context were right, people would support regime change. The two key issues were whether the military plan worked and whether we had the political strategy to give the military plan the space to work.

      On the first, CDS said that we did not know yet if the US battleplan was workable. The military were continuing to ask lots of questions.

      For instance, what were the consequences, if Saddam used WMD on day one, or if Baghdad did not collapse and urban warfighting began? You said that Saddam could also use his WMD on Kuwait. Or on Israel, added the Defence Secretary.

      The Foreign Secretary thought the US would not go ahead with a military plan unless convinced that it was a winning strategy. On this, US and UK interests converged. But on the political strategy, there could be US/UK differences. Despite US resistance, we should explore discreetly the ultimatum. Saddam would continue to play hard-ball with the UN.

      John Scarlett assessed that Saddam would allow the inspectors back in only when he thought the threat of military action was real.

      The Defence Secretary said that if the Prime Minister wanted UK military involvement, he would need to decide this early. He cautioned that many in the US did not think it worth going down the ultimatum route. It would be important for the Prime Minister to set out the political context to Bush.

      The reference to Rumsfeld already beginning spikes of activity against Iraq is to my mind particularly chilling.  The tattered case for war has never looked shabbier.

      •  They didn't want to avoid a war (none)
        Here's another discussion of how Saddam grew increasingly desperate and began making concessions that were rejected.

        But a further, and even graver, set of lies is only now beginning to come to light. Even if all the claims Bush and Blair made about their enemies and their motives had been true, and all their objectives had been legal and just, there may still have been no need to go to war. For, as we discovered last week, Saddam proposed to give Bush and Blair almost everything they wanted before a shot had been fired. Our governments appear both to have withheld this information from the public and to have lied to us about the possibilities for diplomacy.

        Over the four months before the coalition forces invaded Iraq, Saddam's government made a series of increasingly desperate offers to the United States. In December, the Iraqi intelligence services approached Vincent Cannistraro, the CIA's former head of counter-terrorism, with an offer to prove that Iraq was not linked to the September 11 attacks, and to permit several thousand US troops to enter the country to look for weapons of mass destruction. If the object was regime change, then Saddam, the agents claimed, was prepared to submit himself to internationally monitored elections within two years. According to Mr Cannistraro, these proposals reached the White House, but were "turned down by the president and vice-president".

        By February, Saddam's negotiators were offering almost everything the US government could wish for: free access to the FBI to look for weapons of mass destruction wherever it wanted, support for the US position on Israel and Palestine, even rights over Iraq's oil. Among the people they contacted was Richard Perle, the security adviser who for years had been urging a war with Iraq. He passed their offers to the CIA. Last week he told the New York Times that the CIA had replied: "Tell them that we will see them in Baghdad".

        Saddam Hussein, in other words, appears to have done everything possible to find a diplomatic alternative to the impending war, and the US government appears to have done everything necessary to prevent one.

        It ought to be considered a high crime to start a war that can be avoided, shouldn't it? Even if Saddam's offers were lies and delaying tactics, if we are "erring on the side of life", we have an obligated to try the diplomatic solution first.

        Bush and Blair are indeed criminals. Simple as that.

        •  Case for war was 'thin' (none)
          Yes, the memo makes clear as could be that even Jack Straw thought "the case [for war] was thin. Saddam was not threatening his neighbours, and his WMD capability was less than that of Libya, North Korea or Iran."  Given the lies that Bush has built up around himself, this could be the most damaging thing for him.  The war was entirely unnecessary, such that Bush and Blair started looking immediately for pretexts to cloak their actions in.  It is utterly sickening.
  •  ...but a well deserved end to Tony Blair's career. (none)
    You mean in Britain a leader might actually be held accountable for lying a country into war?
    Maybe here someday...
    •  Well, the memo admits (none)
      that the case against Iraq was thin, and that Hussein's WMD capabilities were less than those of North Korea, Iran, and Libya...and therefore something needed to be done to gin up a war against Iraq.  You don't suppose...well, that this might possibly, er, some day, lead to questions about whether our own leaders, being not strictly truthful, would need to be, say, impeached?

      Maybe I'm deluded, but somehow, just somehow, this memo tastes in my mouth like that famous afternoon 33 years ago when John Dean suddenly spilled the beans before the Watergate Commission about Nixon's secret tape recordings.

  •  The bombing was on too (none)
    posted earlier.

    U.S. Attacked Iraqi Defenses Starting in 2002
    By Michael R. Gordon
    New York Times

    American air war commanders carried out a comprehensive plan to disrupt Iraq's military command and control system before the Iraq war, according to an internal briefing on the conflict by the senior allied air war commander.
    Known as Southern Focus, the plan called for attacks on the network of fiber-optic cable that Saddam Hussein's government used to transmit military communications, as well as airstrikes on key command centers, radars and other important military assets.
    The strikes, which were conducted from mid-2002 into the first few months of 2003, were justified publicly at the time as a reaction to Iraqi violations of a no-flight zone that the United States and Britain established in southern Iraq. But Lt. Gen. T. Michael Moseley, the chief allied war commander, said the attacks also laid the foundations for the military campaign against the Baghdad government.
    •  Yes indeed, thanks for the link (none)
      and if you haven't seen it, check out the text of the memo I've linked to, which discusses Rumsfeld's initiation of "spikes of activity" against Iraq (already underway on July 23).
    •  Bombing the Southern Oil Ministry Building (none)
      I've no longer got it bookmarked, but there was an article in an oil industry trade magazine reporting the pre-war US bombing of Iraq's Southern Oil Building, killing several people and chalking it up to a target mis-identification. The Iraqis speculated that this was an intentional bombing to destroy evidence of illegal business operations between US oil companies and Iraq.

      Does anybody remember this or have links to this story in their bookmarks?

  •  fyi (none)
    British military chief reveals new legal fears over Iraq war
    · Forces head in remarkable 'jail' claim
    · Top law officer met key Bush officials
    An Observer investigation into the legal ramifications of the war also reveals that Goldsmith's advice authorising war was shaped after meeting the five most powerful Republican lawyers in the Bush administration, in February 2003.
    These included Alberto Gonzales, Bush's controversial chief legal adviser who has been at the centre of the Abu Ghraib prison abuse scandal. Gonzales once famously described elements of the Geneva Conventions on the treatment of prisoners of war as 'quaint'.
    The four other lawyers were William Taft IV, chief legal adviser to the then Secretary of State Colin Powell; Jim Haynes, chief legal adviser to Donald Rumsfeld in the Pentagon; John Bellinger, chief legal adviser to Condoleezza Rice; and the then US Attorney General, John Ashcroft.
    Speaking to The Observer from his Virginia home, Taft explained how the US argument that a second UN resolution was not needed before invading Iraq was put to an undecided Goldsmith. Taft said: 'I will say when we heard about his statement in Parliament [on 17 March] ... what he said sounded very familiar.' ..
    Last night, government sources confirmed that Goldsmith met the five Washington lawyers on 11 February 2003. A spokeswoman for the Attorney General said he had travelled to Washington to listen to American opinion and had not been pressured to change his view on the war.
    http://observer.guardian.co.uk/politics/story/0,6903,1474276,00.html

    Scotsman: Mother vows to challenge Blair in court
    Police were last night investigating the circulation of a forged document purporting to be a memo from Lord Goldsmith, the Attorney General, to the Prime Minister.
    The memo, dated March 2003, appears to show that war in Iraq could pave the way for "planned future conflicts that have been discussed, like Syria, Iran and Saudi Arabia".
    http://news.scotsman.com/politics.cfm?id=461092005

  •  more info.... (none)

    u must read all of this...

    Guardian: Iraq, the secret US visit, and an angry military chief
    Philippe Sands QC, an international lawyer whose book Lawless World re-ignited the row over the Attorney General's legal advice said: 'How delightful that a Labour government should seek assistance from US lawyers so closely associated with neo-con efforts to destroy the international legal order.'
    http://observer.guardian.co.uk/politics/story/0,6903,1474190,00.html

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