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By The Record, NorthJersey.com
ALTHOUGH it shook Britain on the eve of Prime Minister Tony Blair's reelection last month, the "Downing Street memo" hasn't received much attention in this country.
The memo summarized the minutes of a July 2002 meeting of Mr. Blair's inner circle, including his defense secretary, foreign secretary and head of intelligence, to discuss U.S. plans for invading Iraq - assuming that British forces would take part.
The memo reveals this about the coming war:
Eight months before the invasion began, President Bush had already made up his mind to wage war on Iraq, even though he told the American people it would be a last resort.
According to the memo, the head of British intelligence (known as "C") had just met in Washington with top U.S. intelligence officials: "C reported on his recent talks in Washington. There was a perceptible shift in attitude. Military action was now seen as inevitable."
The memo also hints that intelligence on Iraq's possession of weapons of mass destruction was being manipulated.
It says: "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."
That intelligence was later found by a presidential commission to be "deeply flawed." But the war was well under way by then.
At the July 2002 meeting, British officials discussed the weakness of the case for war, based on weapons of mass destruction, and what could be done to strengthen it.
"It seemed clear that Bush had made up his mind to take military action, even if the timing was not yet decided," the minutes say. "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."
So how to justify an invasion? Go to the United Nations and hope it fails. According to the memo, Mr. Blair says that "it would make a big difference politically and legally if Saddam refused to allow in the U.N. inspectors."
As it turned out, Mr. Blair urged Mr. Bush to go to the United Nations first, rather than invade Iraq outright. Bush advisers didn't want to seek U.N. approval for the war, but British officials saw it as giving the invasion legitimacy - if Saddam didn't cooperate with the inspectors. However, he did.
Had the inspectors been allowed to continue their work, it might have become clear that Iraq had no weapons of mass destruction, and the war might never had started.
The memo shows the American people were hoodwinked. Now, more than 1,600 American soldiers are dead, and we are still being hoodwinked.
As Mr. Blair visits this week with the president in Washington, both are likely to insist, at least publicly, that the war in Iraq is going well.
Truth doesn't enter into it.