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Iraq war started too early
Attacks preceded congressional OK
- Paul Rogat Loeb
Sunday, June 19, 2005
San Francisco Chronicle
It's bad enough that the Bush administration had so little international support for the Iraqi war that its "coalition of the willing" meant the United States, Britain, and the equivalent of a child's imaginary friends.
It's even worse that, as the British Downing Street memo confirms, the administration had so little evidence of real threats that officials knew from the start that they were going to have to manufacture excuses to go to war. What's more damning still is that they effectively began this war even before the congressional vote.
This transcript of a July 23, 2002, British prime minister's meeting, whose legitimacy the British government confirms, details the Bush administration's early intention to go to war against Iraq.
"It seemed clear that Bush had made up his mind to take military action, even if the timing was not yet decided," the document says. "But the case was thin. Saddam was not threatening his neighbours, and his WMD capability was less than that of Libya, North Korea or Iran." As the document states, "the intelligence and facts were being fixed around the policy."
The document is damning, particularly coupled with the testimony of former Bush ghostwriter Mickey Herskowitz that Bush was talking about invading Iraq as early as 1999. But it's even more disturbing as we start learning that this administration began actively fighting the Iraq war well in advance of the March 2003 official attack -- before both congressional authorization in October 2002 and the United Nations' November resolution requiring Saddam Hussein to open the country to inspectors.
Charlie Clements, now head of the Unitarian Universalist Service Committee, described driving in Iraq months before the war. "A building would just explode, hit by a missile from 30,000 feet." "What is that building?" Clements would ask. "Oh, that's a telephone exchange," he was told.
Later, at Nevada's Nellis Air Force Base, Clements heard a U.S. general boast "that he began taking out assets that could help in resisting an invasion at least six months before war was declared."
Earlier this month, Jeremy Scahill wrote a powerful piece on the Web site of the Nation, describing a huge air assault in September 2002. "Approximately 100 U.S. and British planes flew from Kuwait into Iraqi airspace," Scahill writes.
"At least seven types of aircraft were part of this massive operation, including U.S. F-15 Strike Eagles and Royal Air Force Tornado ground-attack planes. They dropped precision-guided munitions on Saddam Hussein's major western air-defense facility, clearing the path for Special Forces helicopters that lay in wait in Jordan.
"Earlier attacks had been carried out against Iraqi command and control centers, radar detection systems, Revolutionary Guard units, communication centers and mobile air-defense systems. The Pentagon's goal was clear: Destroy Iraq's ability to resist."
As Scahill points out, this was a month before the congressional vote and two months before the U.N. resolution. The United States hadn't declared war. Bush had no authorization, not even a fig leaf. This pre-emptive war pre- empted Congress and international law.
Most Americans don't know about these prewar attacks. The bombings that destroyed Iraq's air defenses were under the radar for both the American media and American citizens.
If coverage of the Downing Street memo continues to increase, I suspect the administration will try to dismiss it as mere diplomatic talk, just inside baseball. But officials weren't just manipulating intelligence so they could attack no matter how Saddam Hussein responded. They weren't just bribing would- be allies into participation.
They were already fighting a war they'd planned long before. They just didn't bother to tell the American public.
Paul Rogat Loeb is the author of "The Impossible Will Take a Little While: A Citizen's Guide to Hope in a Time of Fear." See theimpossible.org or contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org. You can read more about the Downing Street memo at afterdowningstreet.org.