The parade of embarrassing leaks from Britain continues with revelations about another set of minutes. This time, however, the leaked document strikes unusually close to home. The minutes come from the meeting in the White House on January 31, 2003 between George Bush and British Prime Minister Tony Blair. Six close aides also attended the meeting. I will call these the 'White House Minutes'.
Until now, one line of defense for the Bush administration and its apologists has been to argue that the leaked documents, such as the Downing Street Memo, may reflect the British government's views of the Iraq situation but cannot be used to reconstruct what Bush was doing or saying in private. That was an absurd argument, given that many of the previously leaked documents depict the British reporting on and reacting to the policy of the Bush administration.
But with the 'White House Minutes', the argument falls apart. The document records the substance of face-to-face talks between the two leaders of the coalition that invaded Iraq less than two months later. Neither the White House nor Downing Street have denied the authenticity of the WHM. There's no wiggle room that I can see for Bush's defenders. Perhaps that explains the deafening silence coming from those quarters.
Regrettably, the public does not yet have the full text of the 'White House Minutes'. However we do have published reports from three sources, at least two of which have seen the minutes. All three reports are consistent with one another.
The first source is Phillipe Sands, QC, a professor of international law at University College, London. Last year, Professor Sands was instrumental in exposing documents that showed that the British Attorney General, Lord Goldsmith, had repeatedly warned Tony Blair's government in 2002 and early 2003 that an invasion of Iraq would be a violation of international law. In the new edition of his book, Lawless World, Sands reports on the 'White House Minutes', of which he has a copy.
Channel Four in Britain broadcast a story about the 'White House Minutes', a copy of which their reporters had obtained, and they verified Sand's allegations. This is a highly reputable TV news source. Here is a link to the website for Channel Four
The Guardian newspaper
also published a report, based upon Sand's book. In these minutes, "Bush made it clear the US intended to invade whether or not there was a second UN resolution and even if UN inspectors found no evidence of a banned Iraqi weapons programme."
In response, Blair said that he was "solidly" behind the plan to invade.
In other words, while the U.S. and U.K. continued to ask the U.N. to pass a resolution authorizing the use of force against Iraq, and before countries such as France put their foot down, Bush and Blair had decided the will of the U.N. was irrelevant. While weapons inspections (which they'd pressed urgently for) were on-going, Bush and Blair had decided that the facts the inspections turned up were irrelevant. Before Blair asked Parliament to authorize the invasion of Iraq, Blair had decided that the will of Parliament was irrelevant. While they were stating in public that they were seeking a peaceful resolution to their confrontation with Iraq, and that Hussein could avoid war by making concessions, Bush and Blair had already decided upon an invasion.
None of this will be surprising to those of us who bothered to investigate the Downing Street Memo and the other documents already available. They show beyond any reasonable doubt that the "fix was on in July, 2002" (the title of my first post on the DSM, back on April 30, 2005
. They also show how cavalier Blair and Bush were toward manipulating the U.N. and misleading the public about their plans.
Here are some further highlights from the 'White House Minutes':
- Mr Bush told Mr Blair that the US was so worried about the failure to find hard evidence against Saddam that it thought of "flying U2 reconnaissance aircraft planes with fighter cover over Iraq, painted in UN colours". Mr Bush added: "If Saddam fired on them, he would be in breach [of UN resolutions]".
- Mr Bush even expressed the hope that a defector would be extracted from Iraq and give a "public presentation about Saddam's WMD". He is also said to have referred Mr Blair to a "small possibility" that Saddam would be "assassinated".
- Mr Blair told the US president that a second UN resolution would be an "insurance policy", providing "international cover, including with the Arabs" if anything went wrong with the military campaign, or if Saddam increased the stakes by burning oil wells, killing children, or fomenting internal divisions within Iraq.
- Mr Bush told the prime minister that he "thought it unlikely that there would be internecine warfare between the different religious and ethnic groups". Mr Blair did not demur, according to the book.
The first and last of these are the most remarkable. The use of U.N. markings on spy planes to provoke a response from Iraq, which could then be used as a pretext for war, would have been a gross violation of the U.N. mandate for the No-Fly Zone. It is a mark of how desperate the Bush administration was to produce a semi-plausible pretext for war. Is it possible any longer to suppose that Bush believed his own statements about WMD in Iraq? If he did, there would have been no need to stoop to such an absurd stunt.
As for Bush's declaration that religious and ethnic struggles were unlikely to break out in a liberated Iraq, that is yet another mark of how clueless this administration has been from the earliest stages of planning this war. Leaked planning documents from the U.S. State Department, just as further documents from the U.K. government, show beyond any doubt that in 2002 those who thought at all seriously about the problem recognized that ethnic and religious strife was a real likelihood.
To be blunt, Bush had no actual plan to cope with the problems of occupying Iraq. In his mind, a brief military conquest could quickly be chalked up as a "mission accomplished." In the Downing Street Memo in July 2002, the British already were sweating about the almost total absence of planning by the White House.
I think it's fair to say that the 'White House Minutes' confirm the general picture we on this website have already drawn of the behind-the-scenes rush to war. If anything, the more we learn about George Bush's policies, the more incompetent and deceitful he is shown to be.