Statement Regarding the Importance of the Downing Street Memo
By Karen U. Kwiatkowski, Ph.D.
As a retired Air Force Lieutenant Colonel who worked for Bill Luti, Deputy Under Secretary for Defense, Near East South Asia Directorate, Under Secretary for Policy, Office of the Secretary of Defense from May 2002 to March 2003, I am providing the following assessment for the Congress and Congressional investigators interested in determining the importance of the so-called Downing Street Memo dated 23 July 2002.
My background is described at www.militaryweek.com/kwiatkowski.shtml , which also provides links to my public statements regarding the fabrications aggressively and incautiously used by the administration to justify the invasion of Iraq to the Congress, the American people, and the United Nations during the summer, fall and winter of 2002. I am also a member of the National Security Whistleblowers Coalition (www.nswbc.org ).
The Downing Street Memo indicates that the operational war planning for the invasion of Iraq, including plans to soften the Iraqi battlefield by increased intensity of the Northern and Southern No-Fly-Zone enforcement by U.S. and U.K. air and naval forces, were unusually and unexpectedly mature by July 2002. As the memo states, Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld admitted that "spikes of activity" had already begun as of July 2002. At that time, no acceptable or "just" rationale for war had been articulated privately or publicly by the Bush Administration or by the Pentagon. No rationale of substance had been presented to the Congress or the public. No United States National Intelligence Estimate on Iraq of any kind had been published by the Bush Administration. Based on the contents of the memo in question, nothing justifying an invasion of Iraq or a toppling of Saddam Hussein, and no evidence that Iraq posed a threat of a serious kind to either her neighbors or the United States had been shared with the government of the only significant ally in the military operation, Great Britain.
Why is the Downing Street Memo important? In general, it serves as confirming evidence that a government desired military action was foisted upon the world and the American people by an administration that came to office predisposed to "do something" militarily and directly about Saddam Hussein. This policy perspective -- advocating a military overthrow of Saddam Hussein, whether incited domestically or inflicted externally through the direct use of force -- was widely available from several private policy advocacy organizations, such as the Project for a New American Century and the American Enterprise Institute. The Clinton Administration had followed some of this counsel, but the lack of success of the Iraq Liberation Act investment frustrated the "topple-Saddam" advocates. While George W. Bush's 2000 presidential campaign expressed a clear non-interventionist platform, in fact most of his national security related staff, to include the Vice President and his extensive personal policy staff, were recruited from a narrow set of policy advocacy organizations that had spent years unsuccessfully advocating a military march to Baghdad. Those of us in the Pentagon planning circles understood this by at least early 2002, and it has been confirmed by many who had close ties to the administration in 2001 and 2002, including former Treasury Secretary Paul O'Neill and Counterterrorism guru Richard Clark.
Specifically, from my perspective, the Downing Street Memo is important for three reasons.
1. It confirms what we already knew inside the Pentagon. The memo confirms what I saw in May 2002, namely that the Central Command war planning for the invasion of Iraq had proceeded far beyond a "Deliberate Plan" (typical on-the-shelf plans for every military contingency that can be imagined) into a detailed "Operational Plan." I was surprised to learn in late May 2002 that this operational plan for the invasion of Iraq was on its not its first, but its second detailed OSD and Joint Staff review. Incidentally, I spoke in January 2003 to a Naval Captain I knew from OSD. He had been transferred to the Navy Staff sometime in the spring of 2002. I asked him what he had been up to since we had last spoken. He told me he had been on 14 hour days since he moved to the Navy Staff working the non-stop transit of logistics supplies into the theater. I asked him how long he�d been at this pace, and he informed me that for the past ten or so months, he and the Navy staff had been working continuously to move tons of equipment, arms, and supplies into Central Command. I asked, "But last spring we didn't know we were going to war with Iraq, did we?" Apparently, many people in Washington, and in London, already did.
2. It provides insight into the desperate late summer 2002 formation of the Office of Special Plans. The Downing Street Memo identifies clearly how Secretary Rumsfeld and the Bush Administration attempted to solve the problem they had created by planning for war in the absence of an intelligence-backed security rationale. The operational plan for the Iraq invasion was completed in response to a political direction from the administration, as any operational plan would be under normal circumstances. However, under normal circumstances, measured intelligence -- not executive whimsy and political opportunism -- drives this activation process. In late 2001 and early 2002, when the direction to General Franks would have been received to go operational, there was no reliable intelligence anywhere in the CIA or DIA system that indicated any significant threat emanating from Iraq, either from WMD, terrorism linkages or association of any kind with the 9-11 attacks on the part of Iraq. There was no evidence of Saddam Hussein conducting or planning aggressive acts against his neighbors.
The Downing Street Memo vividly illustrates the administration's desperate motivation for �fact-fixing� around a preconceived military operation that, by July 2002, was all dressed up and ready to go. The OSP -- formed in late August 2002 to produce pro-invasion and often frightening but false talking points by using shaky intelligence or single point of source factoids, by ignoring or rewriting caveats to intelligence within the system and in providing these talking points throughout the Pentagon, to the Vice President's office, presidential speechwriters, the NSC, and selected administration friendly media reporters -- is now fully explainable. Propaganda was desperately needed once the Rumsfeld-Frank approved invasion plan was complete, or else it might not be able to be exercised in time to be completed before the 2004 elections. Contractors worked diligently in the OSP, along with a few military and career civilians, and a larger share of political appointees from neoconservative leaning thinktanks, producing information that would be used to communicate a false image of the threat posed by Iraq in order to gain Congressional support for the Bush war. Ironically, this exact charge -- using contractors to develop position papers aimed at gaining Congressional supporters -- was recently used by the administration to abruptly and forcibly retire the honest but outspoken Army Lieutenant General John Riggs at a lower grade.
3. We now know what administration was actually doing -- fixing the facts -- and we can now deal with it as a constitutional republic. Critics of the administration's rush to war and use of poorly researched, creatively interpreted and easily proven wrong "intelligence" have said that the administration and the Pentagon civilian leadership simply "lied" to the country, the Congress and coalition members to gain their support for an unnecessary and illegal war. For most Americans, this accusation is difficult to stomach, easy to reject outright, and certainly ends any civil conversation that might occur between members of Congress and among those citizens who may wish to understand exactly what happened in 2002 and why. Simple British eloquence is now a life-saver for both the truth movement and democracy in America. The people and their representatives in Congress must ensure that future wars are not dreamed up and designed by politicians, then justified to the Congress and the American people afterwards using fear-inspiring yet shoddy intelligence. Caution and accuracy are of critical importance in an era where the Bush Doctrine proclaims America's right and duty to engage in pre-emptive wars. Thus, the Downing Street Memo helps bridge the intellectual and emotional gap that has been created by vicious name calling between government supporters and the loyal opposition. If facts were fixed around a plan already decided, this indeed is a practical problem that may be prevented by practical and patriotic people. Fact fixing for a political agenda, while deplorable, and in this case, extremely expensive and deadly, does not intrinsically label the participants or advocates as liars, unpatriotic, or criminals.
However, it is also important to recognize what the Downing Street Memo does not do. It does not explain or suggest the real reasons behind the Bush administration's determination to militarily topple Saddam and occupy Iraq. It does not mention the reasons later used in the Bush disinformation campaign such as freedom, democracy and liberation. There were real reasons in the minds of the political appointees and the Bush White House for the invasion and occupation of Iraq, and the timing was not entirely related to American midterm elections. Saddam Hussein had switched to the euro in November 2000, and he looked increasingly likely to be presiding over a post-sanctions Iraq. This would place the United States in a tough position with regards to dollar security and reduce, if not eliminate, the opportunity for lucrative contracts rebuilding Iraq's wasted oil production capability and degraded national infrastructure. In fact, the first executive order signed by President Bush regarding Iraq in May 2003 included an effective reversal of the November 2000 currency decision and provided for direct control of the Iraqi economy by Washington. Further, had Saddam Hussein remained in place, the long desired removal of American forces from Saudi Arabian bases would by necessity force American positions further south or west, to Qatar or the Horn of Africa. The routine enforcement of the no-fly zones and sanctions was a drain on the U.S. military operating budget, and also had degraded military training opportunities. Iraq offered -- in a post Saddam Hussein, American-controlled environment -- a third way to satisfy both the longstanding Carter Doctrine and a U.S. military operational conundrum, through the construction and ownership of new, American specified army, air and naval bases throughout that country. The role of Israel's own interests and influence within the security apparatus of the United States is also an area that should concern the Congress, yet understanding this role is only indirectly aided by the Downing Street Memo.
The Downing Street Memo does not help us understand completely why we are in Iraq. That governments lie their way into war is evident from our own rich history, whether in terms of the Indian Wars, the Civil War, the Spanish American War, World War I, and most recently Vietnam and Iraq. It isn't new, and it isn't unique to the Bush Administration. Thus, we need to engage in an honest exploration as to why we are in Iraq today. The Downing Street Memo doesn't do this hard work for us, but it may contain the key to getting started.