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Thursday, March 09, 2006 

Iraq Options, 4 years on: "None currently exists"

Four years ago, two memos were prepared to help Tony Blair chart the path to war. One of them read in part

A legal justification for invasion would be needed. Subject to Law Officers advice, non[e] currently exists. This makes moving quickly to invade legally very difficult.

That ought to have been the end of that. But, oddly, it was not. The road to Baghdad is strewn with documents recording in painful detail the stupidity, arrogance, and deceit of Blair and Bush. Neither man has ever acknowledged the substance of these memos and minutes, much less explained themselves to the world. Instead, they've rebuffed all attempts to get answers. Recall the Downing-Street-Memo petition signed by hundreds of thousands, delivered by Rep. Conyers, and never answered.

For our part, we should remain equally adamant in pursuit of the truth. On this anniversary, it's worth reminding ourselves about how shocking the leaked documents truly are.

You'll find transcriptions and PDFs of the two memos, dated March 8, 2002, here at So much information came out so quickly last June that much of it was poorly digested. I feel justified in highlighting some of this material again, if only so we don't forget.

Today I'll analyze the first of the two documents, Iraq: Options Paper. It exhaustively explores 35 points about possible British policies toward Iraq.


It begins with the observation that Bush is intent on "regime change". It ends by noting that no legal justification exists for invading Iraq. In between, the two options it notably overlooks are the possibilities of taking a view independent of Bush, and of leaving Iraq alone.

Here is the Summary of the Options Paper. As far as our authors are concerned, there are only two main options; the first, containment, merits little discussion because, evidently, it doesn't amount to "regime change". The other option, you won't be surprised to learn, is war. It merits a lot of discussion, because it is the option that George Bush favors. Regrettably, there is as yet no excuse for invading Iraq. At least half a year of planning will be needed before one can be found.

Since 1991, our objective has been to re-integrate a law-abiding Iraq which does not possess WMD or threaten its neighbors, into the international community. Implicitly, this cannot occur with Saddam Hussein in power. As at least worst opinion, we have supported a policy of containment which has been partially successful. However:

We have two options. We could toughen the existing containment policy. This would increase the pressure on Saddanm [sic]. It would not reintegrate Iraq into the international community.

The US administration has lot faith in containment and is now considering regime change. The end states could either be a Sunni strongman or a representative government.

Tre [sic] three options for achieving regime change are:

These are not mutually exclusive. Options 1 and/or 2 would be natural precursors to Option 3. the greater investment of Western forces, the greater our control over Iraq's future, but the greater the cost and the longer we woul [sic] need to stay. the only certain means to remove Saddam and his elite is to invade and impose a new government. But this could involve nation building over many years. [...]

A legal justification for invasion would be needed. Subject to Law Officers advice, non currently exists. This makes moving quickly to invade legally very difficult. We should therefore consider a staged approach, establishing international support, building up pressure on Saddam and developing military plans. There is a lead time of about 6 months to a ground offensive.


In the main body of the Paper, where the option of containment is briefly examined, we find this:

the return of UN weapons inspectors would allow greater scrutiny of Iraqi programmes and of Iraqi forces in general. If they found significant evidence of WMD, were expelled or, in face of an ultimatum, not re-admitted in the first place, then this could provide legal justification for large-scale military action (see below).

In other words, even a nominally peaceful option ultimately facilitates war. But this interlude on containment turns out to be but a daydream. It is rudely interrupted by a short, sharp section on "US VIEWS".

The US has lost confidence in containment. Some in government want Saddam removed. The success of Operation Enduring Freedom, distrust of UN sanctions and inspection regimes, and unfinished business from 1991 are all factors. Washington believes the legal basis for an attack on Iraq already exists. Nor will it necessarily be governed by wider political factors. The US may be willing to work with a much smaller coalition than we think desirable.

The U.S. view? 'Damn the facts.' It would be otiose to observe that we continue to pay dearly for that view.

Perhaps the most laughable part of the Paper comes when the Brits consider what kind of Iraqi government they'd like to install, after "regime change". Remember, these are supposed to represent the wiser and less reckless half of the coalition. The Brits foresee just two options. Quite. And these are (a) a Sunni strongman, possibly getting out of control, or (b)

a representative broadly democratic government. This would be Sunni-led but within a federal structure, the Kurds would be guaranteed autonomy and the Shia fair access to government.

Curious how, by the only two options possible, the minority Sunnis continue to dominate Iraq. I would love to know what reasons were given for rejecting options (c) chaos, (d) ethnic cleansing, (e) fragmentation, and (f) Iranian domination. But I digress; those aren't actually mentioned in the Paper.


The second half of the Paper examines military options somewhat breathlessly. The longest section of the Paper, forecasting a ground invasion, peters out inconclusively

At this stage we need to wait to see which option or combination of options may be favoured by the US government.

Nothing in this Paper is truer or better spoken. The legal question, which logically ought to have been posed first, instead comes last. Here is the gist of the legal case for war. And it is a case for war, not for peace; it is a strategy to obtain war, not an assessment of all "LEGAL CONSIDERATIONS". It also betrays the influence of Dick Cheney ("robus[t]").

29 In the judgement of the JIC there is no recent evidence of Iraq complicity with international terrorism. There is therefore no justification for action against Iraq based on action in self-defence [...]

30 Currently, offensive military action against Iraq can only be justified if Iraq is held to be in breach of the Gulf War ceasefire resolution, 687. [...]

32 For the P5 and the majority of the Council to take the view that Iraq was in breach of 687:


The Paper's CONCLUSION is not a restatement of it's findings or concerns. Instead, tellingly, it describes how to get the anticipated war off to a good start. The critical thing, evidently, is a good propaganda campaign.

34 To launch such a campaign would require a staged approach:

35 The US should be encouraged to consult widely on its plans.


This paper makes gruesome reading. With cold calculation, the Blair government examined bellicose options toward Iraq, and dismissed nearly all others. For all the raw cunning on display, it portrays blindspots so large the eye can barely encompass them unaided.

And with supreme hypocrisy, the Paper proclaims Britain's objective to be

the reintegration of a law-abiding Iraq which does not possess WMD or threaten its neighbours, into the international community.

¿That and continued Sunni domination under a British Protectorate?


For many of us, the most pressing question now is: What options do we have left? The Iraq of today is a world turned upside down. It is too easy to forget, as Iraqi society unravels strand by strand, as American and British blunder is compounded by blunder, as horror is piled upon horror, that the world was turned upside down more than four years ago by people such as those who composed this document.

The whirlwind we face is the one they sowed in secret. The options left, if there are any good ones left, are only those that the planners of this debacle permitted to exist with their cunning and guile.

I'd like to believe that we might now, at long last, still choose wisely. But who should make that choice? Those who stand beside the wreckage, who cannot even bring themselves to comment on how it came to pass?

 posted by smintheus  # 10:39 PM  
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