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British memo on Iraq war not relevant, leaders say

Wednesday, June 08, 2005
Jonathan Riskind

WASHINGTON � Addressing what has been a simmering issue for some Democrats and liberal activists, President Bush and Prime Minister Tony Blair yesterday dismissed a British government memo that asserts the Bush administration essentially cooked the facts to justify the Iraq war.

"Somebody said we had made up our mind to use military force," Bush said at a White House news conference.

"There�s nothing farther from the truth. Both of us didn�t want to use our military. It was our last option."

Blair added, "The facts were not being fixed in any shape or form at all."

It was the first time Bush had addressed the July 2002 memo, which to many critics of his decision to wage war in Iraq represents evidence of wrongdoing that at least should lead to a congressional inquiry.

But there has been scant media attention in the United States since the "Downing Street memo" surfaced May 1 in the Sunday Times of London � and the wave of public indignation has been confined mainly to liberal bloggers and some Democrats.

Written eight months before U.S. forces invaded Iraq, the memo is a recitation of a meeting between Blair, whose office is on Downing Street in London, and top advisers. It includes the views of "C," Richard Dearlove, after the intelligence chief returned from meetings with Bush administration officials.

"Military action was now seen as inevitable," the memo states. "Bush wanted to remove Saddam, through military action, justified by the conjunction of terrorism and WMD (weapons of mass destruction). But the intelligence and facts were being fixed around the policy."

The memo went on to say that "it seemed clear that Bush had made up his mind to take military action, even if the timing was not yet decided. But the case was thin. Saddam was not threatening his neighbors, and his WMD capability was less than that of Libya, North Korea or Iran."

British officials haven�t disputed the memo�s authenticity but have insisted that Blair�s government continued to push to exhaust all diplomatic avenues before backing the U.S.-led military strike, launched March 19, 2003.

In a relatively rare network mention of the memo Sunday on NBC�s Meet the Press, Republican National Committee Chairman Ken Mehlman dismissed the memo�s contention.

"That report has been discredited by everyone else who�s looked at it since then," Mehlman told host Tim Russert.

"Whether it�s the 9/11 Commission, whether it�s the Senate, whoever�s looked at this has said there was no effort to change the intelligence at all. The fact is that the intelligence of this country, the intelligence of Britain, the intelligence of the United Nations, the intelligence all over the world said that there were weapons of mass destruction present in Iraq."

But critics say the memo backs up their contention that Bush misled Americans both about his intention to use diplomacy over war and his belief that Saddam Hussein and his weapons posed an imminent threat. And they�re frustrated that more than a month after the memo was published in England, letters to the editor and opinion pieces far outnumber hard-news stories.

That could be starting to change in the face of grassroots and Internet campaigning, said David Swanson, cofounder of the group, a coalition of mostly liberal advocacy organizations.

"In the past week and a half, it�s started to get a lot more attention in the media than it was getting, but it�s nowhere near what it should be," said Swanson before yesterday�s remarks by Bush and Blair. "This is the sort of smoking gun we were told we needed."

Swanson noted that Democratic Rep. John Conyers Jr., of Michigan, has spearheaded a letter signed by about 100 other Democrats to the White House asking for more information into what Swanson contends could be a "high crime" by Bush.

Randy Penn, a Johnstown, Ohio, X-ray technician, said that although he�s gone on the Internet to examine the memo and read about the controversy, he doesn�t think friends and coworkers know much about it � or that it has gotten adequate news coverage in central Ohio.

The memo is "spelling out in black and white . . . that this (Iraq war) all had been planned beforehand and that intelligence had nothing to do with it � in fact, it was a pretext," said Penn, who voted for Democratic Sen. John Kerry in last year�s presidential election.

It�s not so clear to Nile Gardiner, a fellow in U.S.-British relations at the conservative Heritage Foundation, that the memo makes a good case that the Bush administration was plotting to mislead the public.

The memo is simply characterizing one British intelligence official�s "interpretation of American thinking, but I don�t think in any way should it be taken as conclusive," Gardiner said. "It�s one intelligence official�s own interpretation of his meeting (with administration officials). I don�t think one can really draw final conclusions from that."

And why have the media not paid much attention? Perhaps because this is viewed by many journalists as a "rehashing of long worn-out debates over the motives of Bush and Blair for war against Iraq," Gardiner said.




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