Iraq: The White House memo

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  • by Anup Shah
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One of UK’s main television channels, Channel 4 revealed (February 2006) details of George Bush and Tony Blair’s pre-Iraq war meeting in January 2003. They discussed plans to invade Iraq regardless of whether or not the UN passed a second resolution that would authorize the use of force.

To many critics of the war, this may come as no surprise. However, some of the details of that meeting are still interesting, as it gives some insights into thinking at the highest levels.

Much of the detail was revealed in a new version of a book called Lawless World, by a leading British human rights lawyer, Philippe Sands QC.

The memo said:

  • That the US would support efforts to get a second UN resolution on Iraq, and to that ends, it would twist arms and even threaten;
  • That Bush said, if ultimately we failed [to get the second resolution], military action would follow anyway.
  • Blair responded that he was: solidly with the President and ready to do whatever it took to disarm Saddam.
  • Blair also said that: a second Security Council resolution would provide an insurance policy against the unexpected, and international cover, including with the Arabs.
  • Because the WMD inspection teams were not finding evidence of WMDs in Iraq, other option were considered, including the following:
    • Bush said, The US was thinking of flying U2 reconnaissance aircraft with fighter cover over Iraq, painted in UN colors. If Saddam fired on them, he would be in breach.
    • Bush also added that It was also possible that a defector could be brought out who would give a public presentation about Saddam’s WMD
    • and there was also a small possibility that Saddam would be assassinated.

President Bush’s National Security Adviser, Condoleeza Rice and her deputy Dan Fried, and the President’s Chief of Staff, Andrew Card were also present at the meeting, as were Blair’s then security adviser Sir David Manning, his Foreign Policy aide Matthew Rycroft, and his chief of staff, Jonathan Powell. They had discussed what might happen in Iraq after the war, and Bush said that he thought it unlikely that there would be internecine warfare between the different religious and ethnic groups.

The UK Foreign Office responded to these news reports saying, The Government only committed UK forces to Iraq after securing the approval of the House in the vote on 18 March 2003. They did not deny this meeting took place, or question any of its content as presented by Channel 4 and eventually many other news sources around the world. What we do not and cannot know is what would have happened if the British Houses of Parliament had not voted favorably for Blair that day. Given he claimed earlier to Bush his full support, would he have still taken Britain into war?

In the news, there was surprise, outrage and concern that the US entertained the thought of deceiving the world into war by flying an American spy plane but with UN colors. However, as illegal and immoral as that might be, it is not without precedent. It is a standard practice of wartime propaganda and deception, by all sides (though that does not make it better, more comfortable to think about, legal, or right). For example, the US staged the Gulf of Tonkin incident in 1965 making it look like North Vietnamese attacked the South, so they could justify the declaration of war. The National Security Archive project in Washington D.C. revealed that the US Joint Chiefs of Staff considered Operation Northwoods as a pretext for invasion of Cuba in 1962 by assassinating Cubans in Florida, creating fake communism terror campaigns in Florida and Washington D.C., fake airforce attacks, sinking of Cuban refugee ships (real or fake) and blaming it all on Cuba’s dictator Fidel Castro. History is rife with such examples, unfortunately. It is how power works.

However, this time, the Iraq war was unpopular with many people in the US and UK (as well as elsewhere) before it started. The political arousing it led to amongst many more people may mean that this time revelations of such scandals could be far-reaching.

It has often been mentioned that a second UN resolution would give more credibility to the US and UK, but as Blair reveals, he wanted to simply use the UN for their own purpose, though again this is nothing new judging from history. One question, amongst others, that the mainstream seems not to have touched on is whether such actions and decision by Bush and Blair amount to war crimes, or not. While Saddam Hussein was widely known to be a ruthless dictator (including when the US armed and supported him, which is discussed on subsequent pages on this site), and while opinions will differ on whether the US and UK were right to invade Iraq or not, the manner in which they went about trying to convince the world to support them is what is under question and scrutiny here.

An opposition party leader in the UK noted that diplomatic efforts after this meeting leading up to the war (which included the dramatic Powell presentation at the United Nations) were simply going through the motions. In other words a lot of wasted resources and effort were put into this build-up given the decision to go to war was already made. (Does this also mean that Bush and Blair bear even more responsibility of deaths of Iraqi civilians and coalition troops than would have been considered before?)

Given that both leaders continued to stress that they were allowing diplomacy a chance and they really were not, would appear to destroy much of their credibility, especially if future confrontations emerge.

We see once again, that leadership, even from the most advanced of countries, may use spin, deception, and lies, just as they accuse their adversaries of doing. We should rightly scrutinize the propaganda of adversaries and their intentions, but we should also closely scrutinize those same things of our leaders that are supposed to be elected and accountable.

The mainstream media needs to look more seriously at possible reasons why the US really wanted war with Iraq, and not take the Bush Administration or the Blair government’s reasons as the truth, necessarily.

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  • by Anup Shah
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