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Downing memos deeper than White House lets on
Detroit Free Press
GRANTED, FINDING a way to end the bloodshed in Iraq is at present more pressing than re-examining the rationale that was developed to start the war there more than two years ago. But the so-called Downing Street memos are still too significant to be dismissed as simply old news -- as the White House would like -- or left to historians.
They speak to the credibility of the administration of President Bush, which is telling the American people that significant progress is being made in Iraq and the murderous insurgency there is in its final throes. Meantime, U.S. military leaders say rebel attacks have remained constant at 50-60 a day, and last month was the deadliest for Iraqi civilians since the March 2003 U.S. invasion.
The Downing Street memos shine some light on the internal thinking of the most secretive U.S. administration in modern times. They were prepared by top British officials as Prime Minister Tony Blair pondered his critical decision to join Bush in the war against Iraq.
Based on meetings with administration officials, they support the premise that, despite public claims to the contrary, the Bush administration saw war against Iraq as a first, not last, option after the 9/11 attacks and manipulated bad intelligence to exaggerate the threat posed by Saddam Hussein.
"The truth," a top British official said in a March 22, 2002, memo to Foreign Secretary Jack Straw, "is that what has changed is not the pace of Saddam Hussein's WMD programs, but our tolerance of them post-11 September ... the programmes are extremely worrying but have not, as far as we know, been stepped up." Three days later, in a memo to Blair, Straw said that "there has been no credible evidence to link Iraq with UBL (Osama bin Laden) and Al Qaida."
The United States, of course, found no deadly weapons in Iraq after toppling Hussein from power; and al-Qaida had no presence in the country until the insurgency erupted.
The eight memos also show British concern, bordering on alarm, for the lack of American plans for postwar Iraq at a time when the Bush administration was selling the belief that Iraqis would welcome their liberation and quickly embrace democracy. It has not, obviously, been such a smooth transition.
Most important for today, the evidence reflects an administration that makes a major decision and then finds or fits the evidence to back it up and sell it.
That's not thoughtful policy. It's marketing.