BUSH PAPER TRAIL GROWS
- BUSH PAPER TRAIL GROWS
April 03, 2006
On March 27, The New York Times published an article based on access
to the full British record of the Iraq policy conversation that
President George W. Bush and Prime Minister Tony Blair held on January
31, 2003, as recorded by Blair's then-national security adviser David
Manning. British legal scholar Philippe Sands had already revealed
this discussion in his book Lawless World , and the British television
network Channel 4 hadtwo months agoprinted many of the same
excerpts of Manning's memo, but the Times coverage focused new
attention on the memo, previously ignored by the U.S. media.
The memo reveals that the two leaders agreed that military action
against Iraq would begin on a stipulated date in March 2003despite
the fact that no weapons of mass destruction had been found there. The
memo reveals how the two leaders mulled over ways to supply legal
justification for the invasion. Indeed this record supplies additional
evidence for the view that Bush planned all along to unleash this war.
Suddenly, the media descended upon the Bush White House demanding
explanations. Spokesman Scott McClellan answered that "we were
preparing in case it was necessary, but we were continuing to pursue a
diplomatic solution." McClellan tried to turn the question around by
insisting that the press had been covering Bush at the time chronicled
in the memo, implying that if the truth were different the press
should have known better. He referred repeatedly to a December report
from U.N. weapons inspector Hans Blix to back his assertion that Iraq
had failed to cooperate with the inspections. Evidently that cowed the
reporters, for there has been little follow-up. But White House damage
control should not be allowed to cover up this evidence that the
president knew his case for war was based on faulty evidence.
First, the evidence is overwhelming that Bush hosted the January 31
meeting to manage his move to war, not as an occasion to review
progress toward disarming Iraq. The record of the session shows
thiswith talk of the war plan, the starting date, the justification
and the securing of a second U.N. resolution as a legal cover, but
there is more than that. Consider the context: the day the memo was
taken U.S. Secretary of State Colin L. Powell began the extensive
review at the CIA of the allegations he would use to make his Security
Council "briefing"already scheduledsupposedly "bulletproof." It was
also that same day that the codebreaking National Security Agency
issued a directive to spy on the friendly nations who were members of
the U.N. Security Council to divine their attitudes on the move to war.
The day before, according to Bob Woodward's account, Bush had told
Italian prime minister Silvio Berlusconi, "We will kick ass." By his
account, Berlusconi tried to dissuade Bush from war. Woodward duly
notes the president resorting to his standard line that no decision
had yet been made on military action. The Manning memo suggests
otherwise, with Bush revealing March 10 as the projected date for
beginning bombinga campaign to hit 1,500 targets in four days, the
"shock and awe" which U.S. officials bragged about at the time.
Moreover, on January 24, the U.S. military commander, General Tommy
Franks, had sent his final war plan up through Rumsfeld to the
president. Bush's comment to Blair on January 31, that "he was not
itching to go to war," is belied by the entire surrounding structure
The other significant finding in the Manning memo concerns Tony
Blair's intentions. The press reporting at the timeregardless of what
Scott McClellan says todaywas that the purpose of the Blair-Bush
meeting was to decide whether there needed to be a second U.N.
resolution. Postwar investigations in London show that in late January
Blair received official advice from his attorney general Lord
Goldsmith that such a resolution was necessary to fulfill the terms of
the existing resolution 1441. At the meeting with Bush, however, the
record shows Blair presented the project as a convenience. "If
anything goes wrong . . . a second resolution would give us
international cover, especially with the Arabs," Blair said, according
to Manning's memo.
Bush went along with Blair's talk of a resolution, but his own
propositions on justifications for war revealed his true lack of
interest in U.N. action. Bush speculated about deceiving Saddam into
shooting at U.S. aircraft phonied up to look like U.N. planes, or
getting an Iraqi scientist to assert that WMD were being concealed.
The most widely reported aspect of the Bush-Blair meeting was these
speculations (talk of a Saddam assassination was less justification
Bush told Blair he would "twist arms" to get a U.N. resolution,
corresponding exactly to the NSA spy directive, which would track the
success of Bush arm-twisting through U.N. members' own communications.
Regardless of the outcome, Bush told Blair, "military action would
follow anyway." Blair's assurance at that point that Britain stood
with the U.S. put him squarely in the box with Bush of seeking to
initiate an aggressive war.
Finally, on the matter of U.N. inspections, David Manning appears to
have engaged in some policy advocacy, as opposed to strictly confining
himself to recording the proceedings of this meeting in his memorandum
to Tony Blair. Manning's paper notes the conversation among the
leaders on the urgency of action if Bush's timeline was to be met.
Blair's adviser argued that, "We therefore need to stay closely
alongside Blix, [and] do all we can to help the inspectors make a
significant find." But Manning's view did not reflect the realities
ofat leastU.S. intelligence cooperation with the inspections.
Rather, the CIA had been parsimonious in its help, taking weeks to
begin providing tips, and then holding back many of its target
folders, while national security adviser Condi Rice had put pressure
on Blix to declare Iraq in violation.
Immediately upon finishing their talk, at 4:12 p.m. Bush and Blair
appeared before newsmen, where Bush declared, "Saddam Hussein is not
disarming. He is a danger to the world." Bush then added archly, "This
issue will come to a head in a matter of weeks, not months," an almost
exact repetition of Blair's comment at their secret meeting, as
recorded by Manning, that "we should be saying that the crisis must be
resolved in weeks, not months."
President Bush asserted, inaccurately, that Resolution 1441 "gives us
the authority to move without any second resolution," a position the
Attorney General of Great Britain had rejected only days before. Blair
followed up, insisting that Dr. Blix had told the Security Council
that Saddam was not cooperating with UN inspectors. In fact, what Blix
had said when he reported to the U.N. on January 27 was that there had
been difficulties with the Iraqi government but the situation was
improving, and he added that his inspectors had made 300 visits to 230
different sites without finding any evidence of WMD. Nuclear inspector
Mohammed ElBaradei had agreed, "We have to date found no evidence that
Iraq has revived its nuclear weapons program." Hans Blix's own take on
the Bush-Blair conversation rings true: "The U.S. government did not
want to raise the hope that there was any way out but war."
On balance the newly revealed record of President Bush's secret
meeting of January 31, 2003, confirms that by that date Bush's Iraq
war was certain. The Manning memo supplies an explicit picture of Bush
not merely cherrypicking only the intelligence he wanted to use, but
scheming to overcome the consequences of not finding weapons of mass
destruction in Iraq.
In all likelihood the debate over the Iraq war will come to center on
the question of how much sooner than January 2003 was Bush's war
policy cast in stone. Was it September 2002, when Bush blurted out "I
don't know what more evidence we need" and set up the White House Iraq
Group to sell the war? Was it April at a previous Bush-Blair summit in
Crawford or December 2001 when General Franks presented the first war
plan to the president? Was it on or immediately after 9/11 or was it
the day George W. Bush took the oath of office as President of the
John Prados is a senior fellow of the National Security Archive in
Washington, D.C., and author of Hoodwinked: The Documents that Reveal
How Bush Sold Us a War (The New Press).
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