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    Middle East
     Oct 19, 2007
Page 1 of 3
DISPATCHES FROM AMERICA
Bush's faith run over by history

By Mark Danner

(Editor's note: This essay appears in the November 8, 2007 issue of the New York Review of Books and is published here with the kind permission of the editors of that magazine.)

"The only thing that worries me about you is your optimism." - Spanish prime minister Jose Maria Aznar to US President George W Bush, from the "Crawford Transcript" of



February 22, 2003

Surely one of the agonizing attributes of our post-September 11 age is the unending need to reaffirm realities that have been proved, and proved again, but just as doggedly denied by those in power, forcing us to live trapped between two narratives of present history, the one gaining life and color and vigor as more facts become known, the other growing ever paler, brittler, more desiccated, barely sustained by the life support of official power.

At the center of our national life stands the master narrative of this bifurcated politics: the Iraq war, fought to eliminate the threat of weapons of mass destruction that turned out not to exist, brought to a quick and glorious conclusion on a sunlit aircraft carrier deck whose victory celebration almost instantly became a national embarrassment. That was four and a half years ago; the war's ending and indeed its beginning, so clearly defined for that single trembling instant, have long since vanished into contested history.
The latest entry in that history appeared on September 26, when the Spanish daily El País published a transcript of a discussion held on February 22, 2003 - nearly a month before the war began - between President Bush and Jose Maria Aznar, then prime minister of Spain. Though the leaders met at Bush's ranch in Crawford, Texas, some quickly dubbed the transcript Downing Street Memo II, and indeed the document does share some themes with that critical British memorandum, mostly in its clear demonstration of the gap between what Bush and members of his administration were saying publicly during the run-up to the war and what they were saying, and doing, in more private settings.

Though Hans Blix, the UN chief inspector whose teams were then scouring Iraq for the elusive weapons, had yet to deliver his report - two weeks later he would tell the Security Council that it would take not "years, nor weeks, but months" to complete "the key remaining disarmament tasks" - the president is impatient, even anxious, for war. "This is like Chinese water torture," he says of the inspections. "We have to put an end to it."

Even in discussing Aznar's main concern, the vital need to give the war international legitimacy by securing a second UN resolution justifying the use of force - a resolution that, catastrophically, was never achieved - little pretense is made that an invasion of Iraq is not already a certainty. "If anyone vetoes," Bush tells Aznar,
we'll go. Saddam Hussein isn't disarming. We have to catch him right now. Until now we've shown an incredible amount of patience. There are two weeks left. In two weeks we'll be militarily ready ... We'll be in Baghdad by the end of March.
The calendar has already been determined - not by the inspectors and what they might or might not find, nor by the diplomats and what they might or might not negotiate, but by the placement and readiness of warplanes and soldiers and tanks.

When did war become a certainty? The gradations of Bush's attitudes are impossible to chart, though as far back as the previous July, the head of British intelligence, Sir Richard Dearlove, in his famous consultations in Washington, had detected "a perceptible shift in attitude". As Dearlove was quoted reporting to the British cabinet in the most famous passage in the Downing Street Memo:
Military action was now seen as inevitable. 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. The NSC had no patience with the UN route ...1
It is on this point - the need of the Europeans to have a UN resolution justifying force, and thus a legal, or at least internationally legitimate, war, and the deep ambivalence among Bush administration officials about taking "the UN route" - that much of the drama of the Crawford transcript turns, making it into a kind of playlet pitting the sinuous, subtle, and sophisticated European, worried about the great opposition in Europe, and in Spain in particular, to an American-led war of choice with Iraq ("We need your help with our public opinion," Aznar tells Bush), against the blustery, impatient, firing-straight-from-the-hip American cowboy.

Bush wants to put out the second resolution on Monday. Aznar says, "We'd prefer to wait until Tuesday." Bush counters, "Monday afternoon, taking the time zone differences into account." To Bush's complaint that the UN process was like "Chinese water torture", Aznar offers soothing understanding and a plea to take a breath:
Aznar: I agree, but it would be good to be able to count on as many people as possible. Have a little patience.

Bush: My patience has run out. I won't go beyond mid-March.

Aznar: I'm not asking you to have indefinite patience. Simply that you do everything possible so that everything comes together.
Aznar, a right-wing Catholic idealist who believes in the human rights arguments for removing Saddam Hussein, finds himself on a political knife edge: more than nine Spaniards in 10 oppose going to war and millions have just marched through the streets of Madrid in angry opposition; he is intensely concerned to gain a UN resolution making the war an internationally sanctioned effort and not just an American-led "aggression".

Bush responds to his plea for diplomacy with a rather remarkable litany of threats directed at the current temporary members of the Security Council. "Countries like Mexico, Chile, Angola, and Cameroon have to know," he declares, "that what's at stake is the United States' security and acting with a sense of friendship 

Continued 1 2

 


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8. The geopolitical stakes of the 'Saffron Revolution'

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11. Iran jails its conscience

(24 hours to 11:59 pm ET, Oct 17, 2007)

 
 



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