Juan Cole: The Memo that Proves Bush Lied Us into WarRoundup: Historians' Take
Juan Cole, at Salon.com (5-19-05):
When Newsweek's source admitted that he had misidentified the government document in which he had seen an account of Quran desecration at Guantánamo prison, Pentagon spokesman Lawrence Di Rita exploded, "People are dead because of what this son of a bitch said. How could he be credible now?"
Di Rita could have said the same things about his bosses in the Bush administration. Tens of thousands of people are dead in Iraq, including more than 1,600 U.S. soldiers and Marines, because of false allegations made by President George W. Bush and Di Rita's more immediate boss, Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, about Saddam Hussein's nonexistent weapons of mass destruction and equally imaginary active nuclear weapons program. Bush, Rumsfeld, Vice President Dick Cheney and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice repeatedly made unfounded allegations that led to the continuing disaster in Iraq, much of which is now an economic and military no man's land beset by bombings, assassinations, kidnappings and political gridlock.
And we now know, thanks to a leaked British memo concerning the head of British intelligence, that the Bush administration -- contrary to its explicit denials -- had already made up its mind to attack Iraq and "fixed" those bogus allegations to support its decision. In short, Bush and his top officials lied about Iraq.
Going to war is the most serious decision a president can make. It should never be approached in a cavalier fashion. American lives, the prestige and influence of the country, international relations, the health of its defenses, and the future of the next generation are at stake. Yet every single piece of evidence we now have confirms that George W. Bush, who was obsessed with unseating Saddam Hussein even before 9/11, recklessly used the opportunity presented by the terror attacks to march the country to war, fixing the intelligence to justify his decision, and lying to the American people about the reasons for the war. In other times, this might have been an impeachable offense.
The media circus around the Newsweek story arrived in time to further divert attention from the explosive British memorandum. Although the leaked Downing Street memo, published by the London Times on May 1, revealed the deeply dishonest and manipulative way that the Bush administration took the United States (and the United Kingdom) to war against Iraq, the American press corps studiously ignored it for two weeks.
The memo reported a July 2002 meeting of key British Cabinet and other officials, held when Sir Richard Dearlove, head of the British intelligence service, MI6, returned from a trip to Washington. It revealed that the decision to go to war had already been made by that point: "Military action was now seen as inevitable," the notes by British national security aide Matthew Rycroft revealed. Dearlove reported, "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."
Members of the British Cabinet were worried by the news, the memo shows, since they knew that the case against Iraq was tissue-thin in international law and that there were several more egregious sinners in the weapons area than Iraq. Because the United Kingdom, unlike the United States, is a member of the International Criminal Court, its officials had to worry about being tried for war crimes if they became involved in an illegal war of aggression launched by Bush and lacking U.N. Security Council sanction. Prime Minister Tony Blair put his hopes in a ploy. He thought that Bush should arrange for the United Nations to demand a return to Iraq of weapons inspectors, with the hope that Saddam Hussein would refuse, thus creating a legal justification for war acceptable to the international community.
On May 6, Knight Ridder reporters Warren Strobel and John Walcott said that a former high official in the U.S. government told them that Dearlove's remarks were "an absolutely accurate description of what transpired" during his visit. This past Monday, White House spokesman Scott McClellan finally responded to the leaked document but denied that he had read it. Regarding the allegation that Bush fixed the intelligence around the Iraq war policy he said, "The suggestion is just flat-out wrong. Anyone who wants to know how the intelligence was used only has to go back and read everything that was said in public about the lead-up to the war."
It is hard to see how this absurdly vague methodology could actually refute the memo's charges or, indeed, to know what exactly McClellan was driving at. He added, "The president of the United States, in a very public way, reached out to people across the world, went to the United Nations, and tried to resolve this in a diplomatic manner." But as the memo makes clear, that "reaching out" was fraudulent, a smoke screen to cover a decision that had already been made. Bush went to the United Nations reluctantly and against the advice of the Cheney and Rumsfeld faction, mainly as a way of giving Saddam an ultimatum that would form the basis for a war.
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