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Barbara O'Brien: Up Downing Street

Up Downing Street

From Barbara O'Brien's Mahablog

Two senior British government officials today acknowledged as authentic a series of 2002 pre-Iraq war memos stating that Saddam Hussein's nuclear weapons program was "effectively frozen" and that there was "no recent evidence" of Iraqi ties to international terrorism—private conclusions that contradicted two key pillars of the Bush administration's public case for the invasion in March 2003.

Michael Isikoff and ark Hosenball today posted a Newsweek web exclusive called "From Downing Street to Captol Hill" that catches us up on the latest Downing Street developments. They continue:

A March 8, 2002, secret "options" paper prepared by Prime Minister Tony Blair's top national-security aides also stated that intelligence on Saddam's purported weapons of mass destruction (WMD) was "poor." While noting that Saddam had used such weapons in the past and could do so again "if his regime were threatened," the options paper concluded "there is no greater threat now than in recent years that Saddam will use WMD."

Thanks to this handy-dandy graphic by Quiddity at uggabugga, we see that in March 2002, Dick the Dick Cheney claimed Saddam Hussein had reconstituted nuclear weapons, and Rummy said for sure there were WMDs in the area around Tikrit and Baghdad. They were, of course, wrong. Isikoff and Hosenball continue:

The options paper was written just one month before Blair met with President Bush in Crawford, Texas. According to another leaked internal memo, Blair agreed at the meeting to support a U.S.-led invasion to topple Saddam’s regime provided that “certain conditions” were met. Those conditions, according to the newly leaked memo, were that efforts be made to “construct a coalition” and “shape” public opinion; that the Israeli-Palestinian crisis was “quiescent,” and that attempts to eliminate Iraqi WMD through the return of United Nations weapons inspectors be exhausted.

I guess Tony dropped the inspector clause some time later. I like this part:

“I think there is a real risk that the [Bush] administration underestimates the difficulties [of an invasion],” David Manning, a top foreign-policy adviser and now Britain’s ambassador to the United States, wrote in a March 14, 2002, memo to Blair shortly before the prime minister’s visit to Bush at Crawford. “They may agree that failure isn’t an option, but this does not mean that they will avoid it.”

The January/February 2004 issue of Atlantic Monthly had a magnificent study of the prewar "planning," or lack thereof, by James Fallows. "Blind Into Baghdad" is available online only to subscribers, unfortunately. But it tells the unforgettable story of how the flaming idiots who run our government ignored copious recommendations to, um, plan. Like Doug Feith, who, says Fallows,

... challenged the premise of most critics: that the Administration could have done a better job of preparing for the consequences of victory. When I asked what had gone better than expected, and what had gone worse, he said, "We don't exactly deal in 'expectations.' Expectations are too close to 'predictions.' We're not comfortable with predictions. It is one of the big strategic premises of the work that we do."

Y'know, that's almost Zen. The problem is that these guys really did have expectations. They expected it to be easy. Back to Isikoff and Hosenball. Another memo from March 18, 2002,

... reveals Wolfowitz’s determination to find connections between Saddam and international terrorists. “Wolfowitz said it was absurd to deny the link between terrorism and Saddam,” the memo states. When Wolfowitz acknowledged “there might be doubt” about an alleged meeting in Prague between September 11 hijacker Mohammed Atta and Iraqi intelligence, he asked Meyer: “Did we know anything more about this meeting?” (The September 11 Commission last year concluded that no such meeting took place.) “But there were other substantiated cases of Saddam giving comfort to terrorists, including someone involved in the first [1993] attack on the World Trade Center," Wolfowitz told Meyer, according to the memo.

Isikoff and Hosenball don't take this further, but the Saddam-1993 connection is a favorite theory of one Laurie Mylroie, crackpot extraordinaire. But for now let's stick with the memo about Wolfowitz. As recorded by Sir Christopher Meyer, British ambassador to Washington at the time, Wolfie waxed enthusiastic about our buddy Ahmed Chalabi.

While claiming he was neutral, Wolfowitz left Meyer with the impression that he was "far more pro-INC than not." Wolfowitz told Meyer that "hostility towards the INC was in reality hostility towards Chalabi. It was true that Chalabi was not the easiest person to work with but he had a good record in bringing high-grade defectors out of Iraq."


The recently released Silberman-Robb investigation into pre-Iraq-war intelligence failures reported that one of two defectors provided by Chalabi's group was a fabricator and another provided information that could not be substantiated. The report cleared Chalabi and his group, however, of coaching or supplying to German intelligence a controversial defector known as Curveball, whose now-discredited tales about mobile biological weapons factories made it in to both public and private U.S. intelligence assessments on Saddam's WMD arsenal.

Somehow, the Brits were not fooled by Chalabi.

British national-security aides, in any case, took a far dimmer view of Chalabi and the INC. For example, the March 8, 2002, “options paper”—which asserted the Iraqi opposition was “weak, divided, and lacks domestic credibility”—described Chalabi as a “convicted fraudster” who was nonetheless “popular on Capitol Hill." The memo states that both Chalabi's INC and the Iraqi National Accord, another CIA- and British-intelligence-backed exile group led by Ayad Allawi (the first postwar Iraqi prime minister), were "badly penetrated by Iraqi intelligence," and both were viewed by "most Iraqis ... as [W]estern stooges."

The Bushies are flaming idiots, of course, but why Blair insisted on going down this road is still a mystery to me. Anyway ...

The British documents assert more than once—in contradiction to statements and repeated innuendo by Vice President Dick Cheney and Pentagon officials—that there was, in the words of the March 2002 options paper "no recent evidence of Iraq complicity with international terrorism."

John Daniszewski writes in the Los Angeles Times:

In March 2002, the Bush administration had just begun to publicly raise the possibility of confronting Iraq. But behind the scenes, officials already were deeply engaged in seeking ways to justify an invasion, newly revealed British memos indicate. ... ... The new documents indicate that top British officials believed that by March 2002, Washington was already leaning heavily toward toppling Hussein by military force. Condoleezza Rice, the current secretary of State who was then Bush's national security advisor, was described as enthusiastic about "regime change."

The memos make it clear that a year before the invasion, the Bushies had already decided on "regime change." And they had given up on peaceful methods.

The new documents also include an earlier 10-page options paper, dated March 8, 2002, from the overseas and defense secretariat of the Cabinet Office, sketching out options for dealing with Iraq. The thrust of the memo was that the economic sanctions imposed on Iraq after the 1991 Persian Gulf War were likely to fail, and that, in any case, the U.S. had already given up on them.

"The U.S. has lost confidence in containment," the document said. "Some in government want Saddam removed. The success of Operation Enduring Freedom [the military code name for the U.S.-led invasion of Afghanistan], distrust of U.N. sanctions and inspection regimes, and unfinished business from 1991 are all factors.

"Washington believes the legal basis for an attack already exists. Nor will it necessarily be governed by wider political factors. The U.S. may be willing to work with a smaller coalition than we think desirable," it said.

The paper said the British view was that any invasion for the purpose of regime change " has no basis under international law."

See also Stirling Newberry and Steve Soto. Coming attractions: John Conyers Downing Street hearings begin tomorrow and will be broadcast on CSPAN-3.


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