Thursday, June 02, 2005

Downing Street Memo for Dummies

I haven't written much about the Downing Street Memo. Maybe I was just weary of yet another "smoking gun" that "proved" Bush lied about the facts to lead the country into a war of choice. But last night I took the time to read the memo for myself. Since I suspect we will continue to hear about the memo's formerly top secret contents, none of which have be denied or even remotely challenged by British officials, I'd like to highlight the key points for those new to the story. A story that broke a month ago in the UK, but for some strange reason, the SCLM in this country had yet to even print a word of. You can read the memo for yourself here.

Point 1: Date and Origin:
"SECRET AND STRICTLY PERSONAL - UK EYES ONLY

DAVID MANNING
From: Matthew Rycroft
Date: 23 July 2002
S 195 /02

cc: Defence Secretary, Foreign Secretary, Attorney-General, Sir Richard Wilson, John Scarlett, Francis Richards, CDS, C, Jonathan Powell, Sally Morgan, Alastair Campbell

IRAQ: PRIME MINISTER'S MEETING, 23 JULY

Copy addressees and you met the Prime Minister on 23 July to discuss Iraq.

This record is extremely sensitive. No further copies should be made. It should be shown only to those with a genuine need to know its contents."

Note, this is not some low level email from one bureaucrat to another over in the UK somewhere. This is essentially the minutes of a meeting between Prime Minister Tony Blair and his top staff about military action in Iraq. Is is dated eight months prior to the invasion of Iraq. Let me note that again: this meeting happened eight months prior to the US led invaision of Iraq.

Point 2: Bush Wants Military Action Regardless of Facts
"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."

Read that last line again: "But the intelligence and facts were being fixed around the policy." Remember the date of this memo. All Bush's talk about not wanting to use force is a lie.

Point 3: The Iraq War Time Table:
"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."

Note the political timing of the war here. There was a conscious attempt to place the war after congressional elections, with action to begin in the new year. Just like it happened.

Point 4: The Case for War was Thin
"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 case was thin" so here they are deciding on a way to provoke Sadam into giving them a legal case to invade. This paragraph also notes Iraq's real WMD capabilities as less than that of "Libya, North Korea or Iran."

Point 5: There was No Legal Reason to Invade
"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."

Regime change wasn't enough. There was no self-defense or humanitarian intervention. The UN resolution was shaky at best. There was no legal reason to invade and this created a problem.

Point 6: Link Regime Change to Fear of WMD
"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."

Essentially, if Bush and Blair can convince the public that Sadam's got WMD's and he's a threat, then regime change would be supported politically regardless of the facts. It wasn't about WMD, it was about legalizing regime change.

I've read a lot about smoking guns. But this one's got fingerprints.