Bush and Blair Deny Early Decision for War

So the July 23, 2002 Downing Street memo (DSM) that matter-of-factly noted that “(U.S.) intelligence and facts were being fixed around the policy” of attacking Iraq was preceded by another damning document—a Cabinet Office briefing paper composed July 21 declaring that it would be “necessary to create the conditions” that would make the war legal.

Referring to a future UN resolution demanding that Saddam Hussein allow a renewal of arms inspections or face attack, it suggests, “”It is just possible that an ultimatum could be cast in terms which Saddam would reject.” But the writer is not sanguine about that, and states that it would be “most unlikely” for the Anglo-American team to acquire legal justification for war. All present at the Downing Street meeting (including Prime Minister Blair, Defense Secretary Geoff Hoon, Foreign Secretary Jack Straw, and MI6 chief Sir Richard Dearlove) must have been a bit queasy discussing the fact that “US plans assume, as a minimum, the use of British bases in Cyprus and Diego Garcia,” so legal issues “would arise virtually whatever option ministers choose with regard to UK participation.”

The Americans, the DSM observes, have given “little thought to the aftermath and how to shape it.” Yet trapped in the “special relationship,” the ministers, with stiff upper lips, proceeded down a road lined at this point by the corpses of 89 Britons, 1700 something Americans, 85 assorted “Coalition” troops and maybe 100,000 Iraqis. How do they sleep as the British press—echoed unhurriedly by the press across the pond— implicitly tells the world that they committed to something they knew, as UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan told the BBC last September, was “illegal”?

Bush and Blair had been discussing an Iraq attack within weeks after 9-11. It was reported within the last two years that Blair was hesitant and insisted that Afghanistan be attacked first since it bore a relationship to al-Qaeda and hence would seem an appropriate target. In April 2002 he signed on to the invasion of Iraq, but echoing Bush continued to insist until early the following year that war would be only “the last resort.”

These recent reports constitute excellent exposure of the mendacity of the Bush-Blair team, which should U.S. news editors decide to air appropriately with big headlines and trenchant analysis could mean a scandal dwarfing Watergate. Let us hope so. The evolving controversy really ought to include discussion of this “last resort” notion. “Only if Saddam forces our hand,” we were told, “will we go to war! Only if he continues to defy the international community!”

In November 2003 the New York Times, Knight-Ridder Newspapers, Guardian, and ABC News all reported that from December 2002 Saddam made repeated efforts to avoid a U.S. attack on his country. These culminated in an offer made through top Iraqi intelligence officers representing Saddam, communicated through intermediaries to U.S. officials, to

(1) cooperate in fighting terrorism;

(2) give “full support for any US plan” in the Arab-Israeli peace process;

(3) give “first priority [to the U.S.] as it relates to Iraq oil and mining rights;”

(4) cooperate with US strategic interests in the region; and

(5) allow “direct US involvement on the ground in disarming Iraq.”

These efforts were resisted, as I indicated in a CounterPunch article summarizing the content of the various reports, by Douglas Feith, David Wurmser, Jaymie Durnan, and most especially Richard Perle, who called the Saddam initiatives “non-starters” and demanded as the price of peace “Saddam’s abdication and departure, first to a U.S. military base for interrogation and then into supervised exile, a surrender of Iraqi troops, and the admission that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction.”

Part of “fixing the facts around policy” was depicting Baghdad as hell-bent on war with the U.S. and its allies while in fact it was desperately trying to come to terms with a terrorizing threat. Similarly, Damascus has attempted to meet U.S. demands but seems similarly targeted for attack, first by vilifying disinformation and then military action. The fixed policy is for regime change throughout the “Greater Middle East,” a huge permanent U.S. military presence in the region, U.S. control of the flow of Caspian Sea and Persian Gulf oil, billions in profits for corporate America, leverage over global allies and competitors, and a strengthened position for Israel. Whatever lies are necessary to secure those ends, be assured the neo-con led Bush administration will use them.

In their joint news conference at the White House June 7 both Bush and Blair were questioned about the DSM, specifically the “Intelligence and facts remain fixed around the policy” quote. “Is this an accurate reflection of what happened?” a reporter asked.

Blair spoke first, noting that the memo had been written before the November 2002 UN resolution requiring renewal of arms inspections. He made no sense but was brief.

Bush spoke at some length, first with an effort to show he wasn’t concerned:

“Well, you know, I read, kind of, the characterizations of the memo…”

Then he suggests that the timing of its publication by the Times of London was political, designed to affect Blair’s reelection chances, and hence not to be taken seriously.

“….particularly when they dropped it out in the middle of his race. I’m not sure who they dropped it out is…”

Note the curious grammatical construction here. Who did the Times drop it out? Does he mean “Who dropped it out to the Times?” (Does he use “drop” rather than the more ordinary “leak” because he subconsciously thinks this story about the memo is potentially a bomb dropped on him?) Anyway, in an apparent effort at humor he tells the assembled journalists:

“…but I’m not suggesting that you all dropped it out there.”

The official transcript notes laughter. Were they laughing with him or at him? I’d think the person who leaked the memo to the Times was a British government employee rather than a member of the White House press corps.

“And somebody said”

the president continued, as though moving on to another subject having settled one,

“Well, you know, we had made up our mind to go to use military force to deal with Saddam. There’s nothing farther from the truth.”

Does that mean that he and Blair were seriously waiting for Saddam to meet the conditions listed by Perle, resign, submit to U.S. military interrogation and confess that he had WMDs?

“My conversations with the prime minister was [sic] how could we do this peacefully, what could we do.”

Note how he doesn’t explain what he and Blair wanted to do peacefully?

“And this meeting, evidently it took place in London”

Yes, evidence shows Downing Street is in London.

“happened before we even went to the United Nations—or I went to the United Nations.”

But that’s the whole point. He went to the UN pretending to want war as a last resort when he’d already decided, in the view of his closest allies, that the war would happen. Perhaps he genuinely thinks that the chronology of things—that he did in fact go to the UN before going to war—validates his stated peaceful intentions. (The fact was, the neocon camp didn’t want to go to the U.N. whereas Colin Powell insisted on it.)

“And so it’s­–look, both of us didn’t want to use our military. Nobody wants to commit military into combat. That’s the last option. The consequences of committing the military are very difficult. You know, one of the hardest things I do as the president is to try to comfort families who’ve lost a loved one in combat.

It’s the last option that the president must have, and it’s the last option I know my friend had as well.”

“And so we worked hard to see if we could figure how to do this peacefully, to put a united front up to Saddam Hussein, so the world speaks. And he ignored the world. Remember, 1441 passed the Security Council unanimously.”

And the inspectors went in, and they found nothing, as Rumsfeld had said they would find nothing, and then they left, because Bush was going to bomb, while the UN looked on in horror and while the world spoke with massive antiwar demonstrations.

“He made the decision. And the world is better off without Saddam Hussein in power.”

* * * *

It’s worth recalling that Yoshi Tsurumi, one of Bush’s professors at Harvard Business School, told Salon last year that while enrolled at Harvard Bush “showed pathological lying habits and was in denial when challenged on his prejudices and biases. He would even deny saying something he just said 30 seconds ago. He was famous for that. Students jumped on him; I challenged him.” When asked to explain a particular comment, said Tsurumi, “Bush would respond, Oh, I never said that.”

GARY LEUPP is Professor of History at Tufts University, and Adjunct Professor of Comparative Religion. He is the author of Servants, Shophands and Laborers in in the Cities of Tokugawa Japan; Male Colors: The Construction of Homosexuality in Tokugawa Japan; and Interracial Intimacy in Japan: Western Men and Japanese Women, 1543-1900. He is also a contributor to CounterPunch’s merciless chronicle of the wars on Iraq, Afghanistan and Yugoslavia, Imperial Crusades.

He can be reached at: gleupp@granite.tufts.edu


Gary Leupp is Emeritus Professor of History at Tufts University, and is the author of Servants, Shophands and Laborers in in the Cities of Tokugawa JapanMale Colors: The Construction of Homosexuality in Tokugawa Japan; and Interracial Intimacy in Japan: Western Men and Japanese Women, 1543-1900 and coeditor of The Tokugawa World (Routledge, 2021). He is a contributor to Hopeless: Barack Obama and the Politics of Illusion, (AK Press). He can be reached at: gleupp@tufts.edu