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    Middle East
     Jun 24, 2005
Making the case vs fixing it
By Peter Bollington

Speaking Freely is an Asia Times Online feature that allows guest writers to have their say. Please click here if you are interested in contributing.

Accompanying Tom Engelhardt's Smoking signposts June 20, Mark Danner's "Why the Memo Matters" (NY Review of Books, July 14) pinpoints the difficulty in demonstrating that the war in Iraq was decided months or years in advance of March 2003. In a peculiar irony, while it is clear that President George W Bush was marching to war with Iraq rather than hoping to avoid it, the "proof" of this intent is somehow elusive.

Mark Danner's comment:
"It was an exceedingly clever pretext, for every action preparing for war could by definition be construed to be an action intended to avert it - as necessary to convince Saddam [Hussein] that a war was imminent. According to this rhetorical stratagem, the actions, whether preparing to wage war or seeking to avert it, merge, become indistinguishable. Failing the emergence of a time-stamped recording of President Bush declaring, "I have today decided to go to war with Saddam and all this inspection stuff is rubbish", we are unlikely to recover the kind of "smoking gun" that Kinsley and others seem to demand."
Yet a reprise of the evidence, including books on the shelf for several years, such as Richard Clarke's Against All Enemies and Craig Unger's House of Bush, House of Saud, as well as the stream of newly released and reviewed documents unleashed by the leaked Downing Street Memos, indicates the march to war was well underway even before the illegal "spikes" or air attacks on Iraq started in the summer of 2002.

Summarizing all this evidence would require a book-sized presentation, beyond the scope of articles for the daily news. But attempts to dismiss the recently leaked Downing Street memos as "nothing new" are futile, as shown by Engelhardt, Danner, Michael Smith, and others. In fact, saying the memos are "old news" tends to confirm the case for war as already fixed.

The Downing Street memos have sprung a cascade of both new information and review of old, such as plans to invade Iraq as distantly as 1992 with Wolfowitz's position paper, "Defense Planning Guidance", then in 1998 with the first Project for the New American Century version of "Rebuilding America's Defenses", and again in 1999 in Bush interviews with his biographer Mickey Herskowitz (who was subsequently replaced) in which he shows enthusiasm for finishing what his dad started in Iraq and for using the political gains thus acquired to push through programs for a magnificent presidency.

The now often-repeated and potent phrasing, "the intelligence and the facts were being fixed around the policy" is one of the most significant and extraordinary pieces of evidence available. Why would Sir Richard Dearlove, the head of MI6 (the British equivalent of the US Central Intelligence Agency), use such language in an official memo of the Downing Street meeting on July 23, 2002, in which British Prime Minister Tony Blair and other top officials had been discussing American plans for war?

Are we to believe that politics is by and large such a game of lying that everything under consideration in secret meetings is by its nature being "fixed around a policy"? Having just returned from America and meetings with Bush officials, was Dearlove quoting one of them directly, or simply offering his impression? Or via Dearlove as messenger, were British parliamentarians, including Blair, being duped by an American government wishing to suggest it was going to war when it had no intention of doing so unless absolutely necessary?

The problem with Dearlove's language is its deviation from a straightforward use of words. In contrast, words such as the following would have left no sinister impression: "The policy was a result of intelligence and facts"; "Facts and intelligence were dictating the policy."

But these were not the words, and additional, similarly phrased comments from the Downing Street memos betray nervous ministers secretly brainstorming ways to fool the public: the US and Britain would need "to create the conditions" to make invasion legal; "Bush wanted to remove Saddam, through military action, justified by the conjunction of terrorism and WMD [weapons of mass destruction]"; "It seemed clear that Bush had made up his mind to take military action, even if the timing was not decided. But the case was thin."

Additional support that Bush intended to make war versus wishing to avert it are the failure to find WMDs, the absence of a connection to al-Qaeda (a problem also mentioned in the Downing Street memos), Saddam's cooperation with UN inspections, the cutting short of those inspections, the absence of plans for the aftermath of the war, and US resistance to world opinion.

Also, if Bush was sincere in his wish to avert war and the UN inspections were supported in that spirit, what action by Saddam precipitated the attacks in March 2003? Here the melding of intent to war and acting to avert war comes to its weakest link. Saddam was cooperating, and had even destroyed missiles uncovered by the inspectors. Since no WMD had been discovered and no connection between Saddam and al-Qaeda established, what happened to unleash the "shock and awe" campaign? What was the triggering event?

If we are to wait until a world leader emerges to say, "I was lying, because that's the nature of how you get things done in politics," we may as well light candles on Richard Nixon's tomb and sing "Hail to the chief." A "smoking gun" may be needed in a court or impeachment proceedings, but for millions of disillusioned Britons and Americans, including those who have lost loved ones in Iraq, the case is absolutely clear.

On gaining office, the Bush presidency had immediately placed pre-emptive attack on Iraq on its agenda and moved deliberately to accomplish it. It did so in violation of international law, riding the pretext allowed it by September 11. This understanding is now spreading in the world's last bastion of illusion, the American Congress. Meanwhile, more and more citizens are having no problems seeing through the deceit.

Peter Bollington is a retired senior citizen in the US writing occasionally to the local and Internet press.

Speaking Freely is an Asia Times Online feature that allows guest writers to have their say. Please click here if you are interested in contributing.

(Copyright 2005 Asia Times Online Ltd. All rights reserved. Please contact us for information on sales, syndication and republishing.)

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