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The Downing Street Reader: a cheat sheet on the memos behind the scandal


The RS Blog
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Memogate
In case you haven't made time to download all of the Downing Street Memos, we at the RS Blog would like to offer our Cliffs Notes.
Leaked by one or more high-ranking Brits, the memos consist of seven official documents that together paint a damning portrait of the U.S. march to war in Iraq.
The original "Downing Street Memo" -- in which Sir Richard Dearlove, head of Britain's intelligence service MI6, reported that "war was now seen as inevitable" and that "intelligence and facts were being fixed around the policy" -- has been held up as a smoking gun, proof that the Bush administration lied about seeking a peaceful solution to the conflict with Iraq, and cherry picked intel to overhype the threat of Saddam Hussein and his alleged WMD.
The six supporting memos provide ample context as to how -- and to what extent -- that might actually have been done.
For those eager to paint the entire war rationale as a sham, the six earlier memos are a bit inconvenient. They reveal that our British allies shared a genuine alarm over Iraq's WMD capabilities. British officials found Saddam's unconventional weapons programs "extremely worrisome." However, they also admitted that recent intelligence was "poor."
Across the board, the memos show British decision makers struggling to justify Iraq as a unique threat -- above and beyond the other worrisome, WMD-armed states in Axis of Evil. But that Saddam had chemical and biological weapons, and might even be reckless enough to use them against Israel during an invasion, was not substantially in doubt.
In contrast, British officials were highly dubious of any link between Iraq and terrorism; one memo describes the Bush administration as "scrambling" to produce evidence of such a connection, an effort the author calls "frankly unconvincing." Such doubts, however, didn't stop anyone on either the American or British side from holding up the confluence of terrorism and WMD as the primary justification for war.
The impression that emerges most sharply from these documents is that decision-makers in the Bush administration were deeply committed to removing Saddam Hussein through military action well over a year before the invasion. It's also clear that hawks in the administration would have been content to go to war even without British help -- without the song and dance at the U.N., without the game of chicken with Saddam over the weapons inspectors. "Regime change" was the policy, whatever the justification.
That the path to war ultimately passed through the U.N. seems a direct result of British influence. Tony Blair & Co. convinced the Bush administration to give the war a veneer of legitimacy under international law by orchestrating an elaborate PR scheme hooked to a security council resolution. As UK ambassador to Washington Chris Meyer wrote, "We backed regime change, but the plan had to be clever." That's because, as another memo notes, "regime change has no basis under international law."
Judging from the memos, no one in either camp put any faith in the U.N. process achieving a peaceful end. The intention was never to leave a weakened, disarmed Hussein in power. The clear intent, as Meyer also wrote, was to "wrongfoot Saddam" into a material breach of U.N. requirements and thereby justify military action.
Why were the British so eager to sign onto this unpopular war? Again, the concern over WMD seems to play an honest role. But there was also a desire to make sure that the march to war and the invasion itself were carried out in the least-worst manner. The authors of a document called the Options Paper described this objective as: "sustaining UK/US co-operation, including, if necessary, by moderating US policy."
The memos are, by turns, darkly humorous (Meyer writes that Paul Wolfowitz told him, "It was true that Chalabi was not the easiest person to work with. But he had a good record in bringing high-grade defectors out of Iraq. The CIA stubbornly refused to recognise this,") and infuriating -- one memo cites "unfinished business from 1991" as a motivating factor for the Bush administration.
But in their troubleshooting of the postwar period, the memos are achingly prescient. The British shared -- over and over again -- a deep concern that the U.S. had no clear plan for "the morning after." Their concerns were, all too clearly, never heeded.
The Downing Street Seven
Here, quickly, is a rundown of the seven memos in chronological order. (The excerpts that follow, grouped by subject, attempt to retain this order.)
The earliest memo is known as the Options Paper and was prepared by Tony Blair's top national-security aides. It dates from March 8, 2002, when we were still cleaning up in Afghanistan -- a full three months before the Loya Jirga installed Hamid Karzai as that country's president, more than a year before the invasion of Iraq.
Next comes a memo from British foreign policy adviser David Manning to Tony Blair, dated March 14, which details a Manning's meeting with Condi Rice.
A March 18 memo, written by Christopher Meyer, then UK ambassador to Washington, is his report to Manning of a subsequent meeting with Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz.
From March 22 comes a memo written by Peter Rickets -- think: the British Karl Rove -- that weighs the political implications of marching to war with the Americans.
In advance of Blair's trip to Texas, State Secretary Jack Straw wrote an explosive March 25 memo that begins: "The rewards from your visit to Crawford will be few."
There's then a four-month gap.
The next memo, dated July 21, is known as the Cabinet Office Paper and details "conditions for military action." It was written in advance of the meeting whose minutes have become infamous as . . .
. . . the original Downing Street Memo.
The Downing Street Reader
On Weapons Worries
Iraq continues to develop WMD, although intelligence is poor. (Options)
With his regime in danger, Saddam could use WMD, either before or during an invasion. Saddam could also target Israel . . . restraining Israel will be difficult. ( Options)
Iraq continues with its B[iological]W[eapons] and C[hemical]W[eapons] programmes and, if it has not already done so could produce significant quantities of BW agents within days and CW agent within weeks of a decision to do so. (Options)
On the True Nature of the Threat
There is no greater threat now than in recent years that Saddam will use WMD. ( Options)
Sanctions have effectively frozen Iraq's nuclear programme. (Options)
The truth is that what has changed is not the pace of Saddam Hussein's WMD programmes, but our tolerance of them . . . attempts to claim otherwise publicly will increase skepticism about our case . . . even the best survey of Iraq's WMD programmes will not show much advance in recent years on the nuclear, missile or C[hemical]W[eapons]/B[iological]W[eapons] fronts: the programmes are extremely worrying but have not, as far as we know, been stepped up. (Rickets)
In the documents so far presented it has been hard to glean whether the threat from Iraq is so significantly different from that of Iran or North Korea as to justify action. ( Straw)
Objectively, the threat from Iraq has not worsened as a result of 11 September. ( Straw)
The case was thin. Saddam was not threatening his neighbours and his WMD capability was less than that of Libya, North Korea, or Iran. ( DSM -- minutes from Straw's presentation)
On Saddam's Links to Terror
There is no recent evidence of Iraq complicity with international terrorism. There is therefore no justification for action against Iraq based on action in self-defense to combat imminent threat of terrorism as in Afghanistan. ( Options)
U.S. scrambling to establish a link between Iraq and Al Aaida [sic] is so far frankly unconvincing. (Rickets)
There has been no credible evidence to link Iraq with U[sama]B[in]L[aden] and Al Qaida. Straw
On the Push for Regime Change
The U.S. has lost confidence in containment. Some in government want Saddam removed. The success of Operation Enduring Freedom, distrust of U.N. sanctions and inspection regimes, and unfinished business from 1991 are all factors. U.S. may be willing to work with a much smaller coalition than we think desirable. (Options)
Condi's enthusiasm for regime change is undimmed. (Manning)
U.S. military planning unambiguously takes as its objective the removal of Saddam Hussein's regime, followed by elimination if [sic] Iraqi WMD. ( Cabinet)
C reported on his recent talks in Washington . . . Military action was now seen as inevitable. Bush wanted to remove Saddam, through military action, justified by the conjunction of terrorism and WMD. But the intelligence and facts were being fixed around the policy. ( DSM -- minutes reflecting the report of Sir Richard Dearlove, the chief of the MI6 Secret Intelligence)
On the Legalities
We have dismissed assassination of Saddam Hussein as an option because it would be illegal. (Options)
Regime change has no basis in international law. ( Options)
Regime change per se is no justification for military action. ( Straw)
On the Aftermath
Bush has yet to find the answers to the big questions: . . . -- what happens the morning after? ( Manning)
We also have to answer the big question -- what will this action achieve? There seems to be a larger hole in this than in anything. No one has satisfactorily answered . . . how there can be any certainty that the replacement regime will be better. (Straw)
In particular little though has been given to creating the political conditions for military action, or the aftermath and how to shape it. ( Cabinet)
A post-war occupation of Iraq could lead to a protracted and costly nation-building exercise. As already made clear, the U.S. military plans are virtually silent on this point. (Cabinet)
There was little discussion in Washington of the aftermath after military action. ( DSM MI6 director's report)
On the PR Campaign
Bush wants to hear your views on Iraq before taking decisions . . . This gives you real influence: on the public relations strategy; on the U.N. and weapons inspections. ( Manning)
The U.S. could go it alone if it wanted to. But if it wanted to act with partners, there had to be a strategy for building support for military action against Saddam. I then went through the need to wrongfoot Saddam on the inspectors and the UN S[ecurity] C[ouncil] R[esolution]s and the critical importance of the M[iddle] E[ast] P[eace] P[rocess] as an integral part of the anti-Saddam strategy. ( Meyer, referring to his meeting with Wolfowitz.)
For Iraq, "regime change" does not stand up. It sounds like a grudge match between Bush and Saddam. Much better as you have suggested, to make the objective ending the threat . . . from Saddam's WMD. (Rickets)

Tim Dickinson encourages you to not take his word for it. Read the memos yourself.

:: Article nr. 12918 sent on 23-jun-2005 05:35 ECT
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