A briefing paper prepared for British Prime Minister Tony Blair and his top advisers eight months before the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq concluded that the U.S. military was not preparing adequately for what the British memo predicted would be a “protracted and costly” postwar occupation of that country.
This is of little interest or surprise compared with the memo itself, which never made it to the Post’s front page, especially since even our own State Department foresaw post-war problems that the Defense Department ignored.
The real news is in the Times’ story on the same eight-page document:
Ministers were warned in July 2002 that Britain was committed to taking part in an American-led invasion of Iraq and they had no choice but to find a way of making it legal.
The warning, in a leaked Cabinet Office briefing paper, said Tony Blair had already agreed to back military action to get rid of Saddam Hussein at a summit at the Texas ranch of President George W. Bush three months earlier. ... The document said the only way the allies could justify military action was to place Saddam Hussein in a position where he ignored or rejected a United Nations ultimatum ordering him to co-operate with the weapons inspectors. But it warned this would be difficult.
Both stories cite Tuesday’s press conference with Bush and Blair, during which each denied fixing intelligence and facts and pointed out that the memo “was written before we then went to the United Nations” (Blair) and the meeting “happened before we even went to the United Nations” (Bush).
These are weak bits of obfuscation. The underlying point of the memo is not just that “intelligence and facts were being fixed around the policy,” but that this was taking place a full eight months before the March 19, 2003, invasion of Iraq. The U.S. arguments to the United Nations — that Saddam Hussein was dangerous and defying international will, including Colin Powell’s Feb. 6, 2003, shadow play of misinterpreted, flawed or cooked evidence — were a demonstration, not refutation, of policies shown in the memo.
It is also worth noting another bit of humbug.
During the Tuesday press conference, Blair talked about the
United Nations resolution to give a final change to Saddam Hussein to comply with international law. He didn’t do so. And that was the reason why we had to take military action. But, all the way through that period of time, we were trying to look for a way of managing to resolve this without conflict. As it happened, we weren’t able to do that because, as I think was very clear, there was no way that Saddam Hussein was ever going to change the way that he worked or the way that he acted.
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.
It’s not quite clear what Blair’s talking about; Hussein allowed in U.N. weapons inspectors, who found no evidence of the weapons of mass destruction providing the pretext for the invasion; and, according to The New York Times and Daily Telegraph, he essentially surrendered to the White House through secret diplomacy, even offering internationally supervised elections within two years.
Another offer Iraq made in its desperation was for “direct U.S. involvement on the ground in disarming Iraq.” And this was for weapons the country didn’t even have, as Hussein told the United Nations Dec. 7, 2002, and was being confirmed with greater and greater confidence by weapons inspectors.
Why would Iraq offer to disarm when it also claimed to have no weapons? It’s true there was confusion in the Iraqi government about whether such weapons existed, but it also seems a way to call the bluff of the United States, which had rejected the assertion and forced the weapons inspectors to leave. After all, as The Guardian reported, the United States was still insisting that Iraq, to avoid war, admit it had weapons of mass destruction.
In retrospect, this was nothing more than bullying. The United States may as well have made Hussein admit to wearing little girls’ panties and wetting the bed.
All of this must be put in the context of that last night before war, when the White House revealed that its 48-hour ultimatum aside, the invasion of Iraq would take place “no matter what.” As The New York Times and Newsday reported, even if Hussein agreed to go into exile, the United States would occupy Iraq.
Why? To ensure Iraq had no weapons of mass destruction, according to White House spokesman Ari Fleischer.