Among the embarrassing documents that surfaced during the mud-bath that was Great Britain’s parliamentary election this month, one of the most disturbing was a memo indicating that President Bush had his mind firmly set on war with Iraq as early as July 2002, nearly a year before the shooting began, and that America’s “intelligence and fact were being fixed around that policy.”
The assessment of Bush came from Richard Dearlove, head of Britain’s MI-6 intelligence service, who had just returned from talks in Washington. He briefed Prime Minister Tony Blair in a face-to-face meeting at No. 10 Downing Street on July 23, 2002, with other senior aides in attendance. The minutes of the meeting were contained in a memo published in the Times of London this past May 1, five days before the British elections.
The war began on March 20, 2003, nine months after the London briefing. In the intervening months, the Bush administration repeatedly insisted it was doing all it could to avert war, find the truth on Saddam Hussein’s weapons and work with the United Nations Security Council to end the Iraq crisis peacefully.
According to the memo, Dearlove — referred to as C — had found that Bush’s National Security had “no patience with the UN route, and no enthusiasm for publishing material on the Iraqi regime’s record.” Bush, he reported, simply wanted to go in and oust Saddam.
The memo shows Britain’s top leaders in a bit of a quandary. The foreign secretary, Jack Straw, noted that the case for war “was thin,” since Saddam was not threatening his neighbors and his “WMD capability” — he assumed it existed — “was less than that of Libya, North Korea or Iran.” The attorney general, Lord Goldsmith, observed that “the desire for regime change was not a legal base for military action.” A war might be justified by self-defense, humanitarian crisis or Security Council authorization, but the first two didn’t apply here. It was Blair’s idea to convince the Americans to delay the war and seek a new U.N. weapons ultimatum, hoping Saddam would defy it.
If the contents are true — the White House denies it, but London doesn’t — the memo appears to be a something like a smoking gun. The conclusion it suggests, nearly inescapably, is that the administration made up its mind about the Iraqi threat long before it had finished examining the intelligence on the matter. That being so, the three separate investigations launched into apparent flaws in our prewar Iraq intelligence gathering — one by a White House commission, one each by the Senate and House intelligence committees — are beside the point. Whatever the intelligence showed, Bush’s mind was made up.
What’s shocking is the low level of outrage in response. Several dozen Democratic lawmakers have asked the White House for an explanation. The White House has made it plain that none will be forthcoming.
Over the months, repeated attempts to have Congress or an independent commission investigate the administration’s prewar use of intelligence have been stopped dead. Democrats have had no recourse except to shout.
Now, it seems, they can barely muster the energy to do even that.