Piles of Smoking Guns
Kind readers have drawn my attention to other leaked documents on the British side that lend support to the implications of the Downing Street memo, which alleges that Bush had decided on a war against Iraq by summer, 2002 and would fix the intelligence around the policy.
The Daily Telegraph for 18 September 2004 first quoted from a leaked memo by Christopher Meyer, UK ambassador in Washington, describing his meeting with Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz in March, 2002.
A pdf file of the original of this memo was on the web earlier, but I cannot now find a copy. Perhaps a kind reader can provide the URL. [The memos are at Boozle.net in .pdf form]. In the meantime, it has been typed up and published at Scoop. Here are some revealing passages. Meyer notes the need to “wrongfoot” Saddam with regard to WMD inspections (this is a constant refrain among officials of the Blair government, that Saddam could be tricked into war if the US and UK just demanded the return of weapons inspectors, which they thought he would refuse, supplying a casus belli). Then Meyer reports Wolfowitz’s remarks:
“If the UK were to join with the US in any operation against Saddam, we would have to be able to take a critical mass of parliamentary and public opinion with us. It was extraordinary how people had forgotten how bad he was.
“4 Wolfowitz said that he fully agreed. He took a slightly different position from others in the Administration, who were focussed on Saddam’s capacity to develop weapons of mass destruction. The WMD danger was of course crucial to the public case against Saddam, particularly the potential linkage to terrorism. But Wolfowitz thought it indispensable to spell out in detail Saddam’s barbarism. This was well documented from what he had done during the occupation of Kuwait, the incursion into Kurdish territory, the assault on the Marsh Arabs, and to his own people. A lot of work had been done on this towards the end of the first Bush administration. Wolfowitz thought that this would go a long way to destroying any notion of moral equivalence between Iraq and Israel. I said that I had been forcefully struck, when addressing university audiences in the US how ready students were to gloss over Saddam’s crimes and to blame the US and the UK for the suffering of the Iraqi people.
“5 Wolfowitz said that it was absurd to deny the link between terrorism and Saddam. There might be doubt about the alleged meeting in Prague between Mohammed Atta, the lead hijacker on 9/11, and Iraqi intelligence (did we, he asked, know anything more about this meeting?). But there were other substantiated cases of Saddam giving comfort to terrorists, including someone involved in the first attack on the World Trade Center (the latest New Yorker apparently has a story about links between Saddam and Al Qaeda operating in Kurdistan).
“6 I asked for Wolfowitz’s take on the stuggle inside the Administration between the pro- and anti- INC lobbies (well documented in Sy Hersh’s recent New Yorker piece, which I gave you). He said that he found himself between the two sides (but as the conversation developed, it became clear that Wolfowitz was far more pro-INC than not). He said that he was strongly opposed to what some were advocating: a coalition including all outside factions except the INC (INA, KDP, PUK, SCIRI). This would not work. Hostility towards the INC was in reality hostility towards Chalabi. It was true that Chalabi was not the easiest person to work with. Bute had a good record in bringing high-grade defectors out of Iraq. The CIA stubbornly refused to recognise this. They unreasonably denigrated the INC because of their fixation with Chalabi. When I mentioned that the INC was penetraded by Iraqi intelligence, Wolfowitz commented that this was probably the case with all the opposition groups: it was something we would have to live with. As to the Kurds, it was true that they were living well (another point to be made in any public dossier on Saddam) and that they feared provoking an incursion by Baghdad, But there were good people among the Kurds, including in particular Salih (?) of the PUK. Wolfowitz brushed over my reference to the absence of SUnni in the INC: there was a big difference between Iraqi and Iranian Shia. The former just wanted to be rid of Saddam.”
The document shows that Wolfowitz knew very well that Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction were not a presssing issue. The Defense Department consistently pretended otherwise in 2002 and 2003. It shows that he consistently misunderstood Iraqi Shiites as non-ideological and unreligious, contrasting them to Iranian Shiites. It shows that he was touchingly trusting of Chalabi’s ability to provide good intelligence on Iraq. It shows that he was concerned to differentiate the Iraqi regime (which invaded and occupied Kuwait) from Israel (which invaded and occupied Gaza and the West Bank, and earlier had invaded and occupied Sinai). His method was to focus on Saddam’s mass murders. Israel had been brutal, had expelled a lot of people from their homes, but unlike Saddam had not murdered tens of thousands. (Israeli’s 1982 invasion of Lebanon is estimated to have killed 10,000 innocent civilians, but if one is playing a numbers game, the Iraqi Baath was worse by several orders of magnitude).
A good overview of the record of Iraq decision-making as revealed in leaked British memos is at the BBC Panorama site.
Helpful readers have sent me another piece of evidence that George W. Bush was determined to have a war against Iraq even while running for president in 1999-2000, long before September 11:
by Russ Baker (HOUSTON) October 28, 2004 — Two years before the September 11 attacks, presidential candidate George W. Bush was already talking privately about the political benefits of attacking Iraq, according to his former ghost writer, who held many conversations with then-Texas Governor Bush in preparation for a planned autobiography.
“He was thinking about invading Iraq in 1999,” said author and journalist Mickey Herskowitz. “It was on his mind. He said to me: ‘One of the keys to being seen as a great leader is to be seen as a commander-in-chief.’ And he said, ‘My father had all this political capital built up when he drove the Iraqis out of Kuwait and he wasted it.’ He said, ‘If I have a chance to invade·.if I had that much capital, I’m not going to waste it. I’m going to get everything passed that I want to get passed and I’m going to have a successful presidency.” Herskowitz said that Bush expressed frustration at a lifetime as an underachiever in the shadow of an accomplished father. In aggressive military action, he saw the opportunity to emerge from his father’s shadow. The moment, Herskowitz said, came in the wake of the September 11 attacks. “Suddenly, he’s at 91 percent in the polls, and he’d barely crawled out of the bunker.”
For more evidence, see my “The Lies that Led to War” at Salon.com.