Deceits enervate an Iraq exit
By DOUG BANDOW, CATO Institute
WASHINGTON -- President George W. Bush's latest attempt to justify his Iraq policy with a televised address to America comes as more evidence emerges that the invasion of Iraq was a war of choice. In arguing that the United States must persevere because Iraq has become "a central front in the war on terror," he sounds like the man who kills his parents and then throws himself on the mercy of the court for being an orphan.
It has long been evident that leading administration officials desired war against Iraq long before Sept. 11, 2001. A series of leaked British government documents demonstrate that the lengthy "debate" over Iraq was Kabuki theater, irrelevant to the preordained result.
On July 23, 2002, British foreign policy aide Matthew Rycroft wrote the "Downing Street" memo summarizing a briefing by Richard Dearlove, then head of MI-6, Britain's CIA. Rycroft observed that "it seemed clear that Bush had made up his mind to take military action, even if the timing was not yet decided." Moreover, "military action was now seen as inevitable."
The debate before the United Nations was a farce. Rycroft said: "The NSC (National Security Council) had no patience with the U.N. route." Indeed, he added, Geoff Hoon, Britain's defense secretary, reported "that the U.S. had already begun 'spikes of activity' to put pressure on the regime."
One problem loomed: A Cabinet Office paper entitled "Conditions for Military Action," prepared on July 21, 2002, acknowledged that "regime change per se is not a proper basis for military action under international law."
A separate options paper developed by the Overseas and Defense Secretariat on March 8, 2002, noted that no legal justification for war "currently exists. This makes moving quickly to invade legally very difficult."
Put bluntly, observed Peter Ricketts, then political director of the Foreign Office, in a memo dated March 22, 2002, "It sounds like a grudge match between Bush and Saddam (Hussein)."
Rycroft reported that the U.S. believed the goal of removing Saddam from power was "justified by the conjunction of terrorism and WMD (weapons of mass destruction)." But, he added, "the case was thin. Saddam was not threatening his neighbours, and his WMD capability was less than that of Libya, North Korea or Iran." Further, noted the options paper, "there is no recent evidence of Iraq complicity with international terrorism."
Ricketts made similar points: that America's scramble to establish a link between Iraq and al-Qaeda "is so far frankly unconvincing"; that "the pace of Hussein's WMD programs" had not changed since 9/11; and that, according to the options paper, there was not a greater threat that "(Hussein) will use WMD now."
Still, observed Ricketts, it was "necessary to create the conditions" that would make an invasion legal. Therefore, Rycroft said, "the intelligence and facts were being fixed around the policy."
Several strategies were invoked. The Cabinet Office paper observed that "an ultimatum for the return of U.N. weapons inspectors to Iraq" might help create "the conditions necessary to justify government military action."
The paper later noted that "it is just possible that an ultimatum could be cast in terms which Saddam would reject." British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw noted in a memo dated March 25, 2002: "I believe that a demand for the unfettered readmission of weapons inspectors is essential, in terms of public explanation, and in terms of legal sanction for any subsequent military action."
The significance of the Rycroft memo has been dismissed by some. Taken together, though, the memos discredit Bush's disingenuous claim that military action would be a last resort.
Indeed, in his speech before invading, the president said, "We are doing everything we can to avoid war in Iraq," which was a blatant falsehood. The administration's elaborate show alleging Baghdad's terrorist connections and WMD programs was only for show.
Perhaps most tragically, the memos foretold the catastrophic mismanagement of the so-called peace. Rycroft noted that "there was little discussion in Washington of the aftermath after military action."
David Manning, then Blair's chief foreign policy aide, wrote the prime minister on March 14, 2002, advocating that the latter should "not budge either in your insistence that if we pursued regime change it must be very carefully done and produce the right result."
Foreign Secretary Straw worried that the U.S. had not answered "how there can be any certainty that the replacement regime will be better." After all, he added, "Iraq has had no history of democracy so no one has this habit or experience."
Regarding President Bill Clinton's war in Kosovo, then-candidate Bush observed that "victory means exit strategy." Finding an acceptable exit from Iraq will be difficult, especially since the administration's prior deceits will undermine public support for whatever policy he chooses.
Doug Bandow is a senior fellow at the Cato Institute.
The Japan Times: July 8, 2005
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