Iraq

The ‘devastating’ Downing Street Memo

Two views on the ‘Downing Street Memo’:

First up Jonathan Freedland in the Guardian in an article entitled ‘Yes, they lied to us’ where he notes the American media are now paying more attention to the issues related to the build up to the war than we are:

The best illustration of this strange reversal is the curious fate of the Downing Street memo. Leaked to the Sunday Times just before the election, it contained a slew of striking revelations. It minuted a meeting of Blair, Jack Straw, Geoff Hoon and a clutch of top officials back on July 23 2002 – when both Bush and Blair were adamant that no decision had been taken – and confirms that, on the contrary, Washington had resolved to go to war. Despite Straw’s insistence that the case against Saddam was “thin”, the course was set. According to the memo, Richard Dearlove, then head of MI6, explained that “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.”

As if that were not devastating enough – vindicating one of the anti-war camp’s key charges, that the decision for war came first and the evidence was “fixed” to fit – the leaks have kept coming. In the past fortnight, six more documents have surfaced, their authenticity not challenged. One shows that Britain and the US heavily increased bombing raids on Iraq in the summer of 2002 – when London and Washington were still insisting that war was a last resort – even though the Foreign Office’s own lawyers had advised that such action was illegal. These “spikes of activity” were aimed at provoking Saddam into action that might justify war. Other documents confirm that Blair had agreed to back regime change in the spring of 2002, that he was warned it was illegal and that ministers were told to “create the conditions” that would make it legal. Other gems include the admission that the threat from Saddam and WMD had not increased and that US attempts to link Baghdad to al-Qaida were “frankly unconvincing”.

Taken together, these papers amount to an indictment of the way the British and American peoples were led to war. In Britain they have scarcely made a dent, but in America they have developed an unexpected momentum

And here is Christopher Hitchens on the same topic:

We have been here before. In an interview with Sam Tanenhaus for Vanity Fair more than two years ago, Paul Wolfowitz allowed that, though there were many reasons to seek the removal of Saddam Hussein, the legal minimum basis for it was to be sought, inside the U.S. government bureaucracy and at the United Nations, in the unenforced resolutions concerning WMD. At the time, this mild observation was also hailed as a full confession of perfidy.

I am now forced to wonder: Who is there who does not know that the Bush administration decided after September 2001 to change the balance of power in the region and to enforce the Iraq Liberation Act, passed unanimously by the Senate in 1998, which made it overt American policy to change the government of Iraq? This was a fairly open conspiracy, and an open secret. Given that everyone from Hans Blix to Jacques Chirac believed that Saddam was hiding weapons from inspectors, it made legal sense to advance this case under the banner of international law and to treat Saddam “as if” (and how else?) his strategy of concealment and deception were prima facie proof. The British attorney general—who has no jurisdiction in these 50 states—was worried that “regime change” alone would not be a sufficient legal basis. One appreciates his concern. But the existence of the Saddam regime was itself a defiance of all known international laws, and we had before us the consequences of previous failures to act, in Bosnia and Rwanda, where action would have been another word for “regime change.”

Many in the British Foreign Office, like many in the American State Department and the CIA, felt more comfortable with the status quo as they knew it (which might explain the hapless references elsewhere in the memos to Iraq’s “Sunni majority”). But theirs is only one opinion among many. How odd that the American left, when it is not busy swallowing the unpunctuated words of the CIA, follows this with another helping of wisdom from the most reactionary institution of the British state.

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