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Wednesday, October 10, 2007 

A forgotten anniversary

Five years ago today the House passed J. H. Res. 114, which authorized the President (presumably in perpetuity) to use any force “necessary” against the “continuing” threat to the nation posed by Iraq…just in case Iraq did in fact pose a threat. The vote was 296-133. On Oct. 11, 2002 the Senate followed suit, by a vote of 77-23. So began the quagmire.

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The lop-sided Congressional votes smoothed the way for the rush to war that was sure to follow. It was accompanied by applause and back-slapping all around.

It occurred to me to wonder how this terrible child’s fifth birthday was being celebrated now in Washington, among those who brought it into the world.

It was the apple of George Bush’s eye back in 2002, a legacy that he wished and prayed for. In fact, Bush had enlisted the help and advice of friends around the globe in his eagerness to give birth to a big, spanking war.

So I visited the White House news page to see how the President was celebrating the festive occasion. A fifth anniversary of an authorization to use force comes only once, and I was certain that Bush the sentimentalist would mark it in style.

Imagine my surprise to find no mention of it there at all. Prominence is given to a proclamation celebrating a Revolutionary war general, which conveys some pleasant thoughts about the 18th century. But no word about the Congressional war authorization that the President so desperately wanted and has so often paraded in front of the public.

My thoughts then turned to the Pentagon. They’re surely going to want to record that on this very day five years ago began the march down into the abyss of Mesopotamia. Yet, curiously, here again there’s nothing. But heck, I thought, the Pentagon is so busy these days that it hasn’t even updated its own publications page for a full month. So busy is the Pentagon that it still hasn’t had a free moment to add a link there to the September quarterly report on Iraq, which presents such a grim contrast to General Petraeus’ upbeat report.

But the Vice President doesn’t appear to be up to much these days. Maybe the commemoration was being left to him, I thought. He was the real dynamo during the whole period of gestation. Surely he would not forget this glorious anniversary? Hmmm….it must have slipped Cheney’s mind as well. Maybe he didn’t feel he was quite the right person to take credit for the war authorization.

But who is stepping forward to commemorate this great event? A difficult question. Made me stop and pause for several moments. Then it struck me: This is a Congressional anniversary, as much as anything. There were 137 sponsors of the Authorization to use force against Iraq--people like John Boehner,
Tom Tancredo, and David Vitter.

As I visited the webpages of each of these members of Congress in turn, it slowly became clear that none of them had thought to mention this anniversary. Not even one of the Bill’s sponsors chose to commemorate its momentous passage. It was all the more odd because they’d all had so very much to say on the 5th anniversary of the Sept. 11 attacks, which had claimed far fewer lives than the Iraq war they had actually sponsored. Even the chief war-mongers in the Senate, John McCain and Joseph Lieberman have neglected to celebrate the birth of the war that they embrace so fervently.

Republicans I suppose might claim that the war is now the Democrats’ responsibility. Be that as it may, I went searching for any tokens of the forgotten anniversary at the websites of the leading Democrats who’d voted for the damnable resolution. Would Sen. Harry Reid mention it? Nope. Sen. Jay Rockefeller? Nope. Sen. Chuck Schumer? Nope. Sen. Chris Dodd? Nope. Sen. Hillary Clinton? Nope again.

Rep. Steny Hoyer then. No, him neither. Rep. Jane Harman? Rep. Ike Skelton? Rep. Henry Waxman? Rep. John Murtha? No, no, no, and no.

Maybe this war is now an orphan. Will the next one be, as well?

crossposted from

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Thursday, September 27, 2007 

"Coalition of the bribed, the coerced, the bought, and the extorted"

During the 2004 presidential campaign, Republicans expressed shock, shock, when John Kerry disparaged George Bush's pretense that a "Coalition of the willing" had joined the invasion of Iraq. Kerry described it as "trumped-up, so-called coalition of the bribed, the coerced, the bought, and the extorted."

I recalled that feigned Republican outrage the other day while perusing the so-called Spanish Downing Street memo.

These are the minutes of a Feb. 22, 2003 meeting between Bush and Spanish Prime Minister Aznar, which El Pais has just published. In this meeting, Bush declares that he would try to get a second UN vote condemning Hussein in order to satisfy his allies, but he doesn't really care what the resolution says and in any case with or without it he intends to invade Iraq shortly after March 15 (as soon as US forces were ready to invade). Bush also shows that he has no interest in what the UN weapons inspectors are finding, and indeed he treats the UN as a cat's paw.

There's plenty of the bully-boy President on display, too. It's particularly evident when juxtaposed to Aznar's patient attempts to get Bush to understand that he needed to appear to be making a good faith effort to work with the rest of the world.

If this were the first such document to appear, it might have provoked great public indignation. But after the publication of the much more damning British documents dating from 2002, in particular the Downing Street memo from July 2002, as well as the revelations about the bizarre January 31, 2003 meeting between Bush and Blair, it will come as little surprise to find Bush war-mongering up a storm in his February meeting with Aznar.

I was struck, in any event, also by Bush's frank admission that he was building his coalition at the UN based upon threats and bribes.

Countries like Mexico, Chile, Angola and Cameroon must know that what is at stake is the security of the U.S. and act in a friendly manner toward us.

[President Ricardo] Lagos must know that the Free Trade agreement with Chile is pending confirmation in the Senate and that a negative attitude could endanger its ratification. Angola is receiving funds from the Millennium Account which could be compromised if they don’t behave positively. And Putin must know that his attitude is endangering relations between Russia and the United States.

Sounds to me as if Bush was content to coerce, bribe, or extort other countries in order to gain their backing for an invasion. Of course that phony coalition long ago began to evaporate, and ere now Bush's apologists have moved on to the agreeable task of denouncing the treachery of formerly "willing" allies who've had enough of the Iraq quagmire.

Everyone will find something to be outraged about in this new document, so I'll reproduce a translation of the entire text. It is lightly adapted from this translation by Ruben Remus.

* *

Minutes of the conversation between George W. Bush and Jose Maria Aznar - Crawford, Texas February 22, 2003

President Bush: We are in favor of obtaining a second resolution at the Security Council and would like to do it quickly. We would like to announce it on Monday or Tuesday.

President Aznar: Better on Tuesday, after the European Union General Affairs Council. It is important to maintain the momentum accomplished by the European Union summit resolution. We would prefer to wait until Tuesday.

PB: It could be Monday afternoon, taking into account the time difference. In any case, next week. We see the resolution written in a way not including compulsory elements, not mentioning use of force, and affirming that Saddam Hussein has been incapable of fulfilling his obligations. This type of resolution can be approved by many people. It would be similar to the one obtained for the Kosovo affair.

PA: Would it be presented before the Security Council before and independently of a parallel declaration?

Condoleezza Rice: There really would not be a parallel declaration. We are considering a resolution as simple as possible, with no detailed elements that could be used by Saddam Hussein as stages which he would subsequently fail to fulfill. We are talking to Blix and others of his team to get ideas that could serve us to introduce the resolution.

PB: Saddam Hussein won’t change and will continue playing. The time has come to get rid of him. That’s it. I, for one, will attempt from now on to use as subtle a rhetoric as possible while seeking approval of the resolution. If anyone vetoes, we will go. Saddam Hussein is not disarming. We have to catch him right now. We have shown incredible patience up until now. There are two weeks left. In two weeks we will be militarily ready. I believe we will get the second resolution. We have three Africans in the Security Council, the Chileans, and the Mexicans. I will speak with all of them, also Putin, naturally. We’ll be in Baghdad by the end of March. There is a 15% chance that by then Saddam Hussein will be dead or will have left. But that possibility will not exist unless we show our resolve. The Egyptians are talking to Saddam Hussein. He appears to have signaled his willingness to go into exile if he is allowed to take 1 billion dollars and all the information he desires concerning weapons of mass destruction. Khadaffi has told Berlusconi that Saddam wants to leave. Mubarak tells us that under these circumstances there is a high likelihood he could be assassinated.

We would like to act under a United Nations mandate. If we act militarily, we will do so with great precision and focusing on our objectives. We will quickly decimate the loyalists and the regular military will quickly know what this is about. We have delivered a clear message to Saddam Hussein’s generals: we will treat them as war criminals. We know they have stockpiled enormous quantities of dynamite to demolish bridges and other infrastructure and blow up the oil wells. We have planned for a quick takeover of these wells. Also, the Saudis will help us put whatever oil is necessary on the market. We are developing a strong humanitarian aid package. We can win without destruction. We are already proposing the post-Saddam Iraq, and I believe there are good grounds to suggest a better future. Iraq has a strong bureaucracy and a relatively strong civil society. It could be organized into a federation. Meanwhile, we are doing everything in our power to fulfill the political needs of our friends and allies.

PA: It is very important to be backed by a resolution. It is not the same acting with it as without it. It would be very convenient to count on a Security Council majority support for the resolution. In fact, it is more important to have majority support than whether somebody vetoes the resolution. We believe the content of the
resolution should state, among other things, that Saddam Hussein has lost his opportunity.

PB: Yes, of course. That might be better than referring to “necessary means”.

PA: Saddam Hussein has not cooperated, has not disarmed, we should summarize his defaults and launch a more elaborate message. This would allow, for example, Mexico to move.

PB: The resolution will be tailored to your needs. Its content makes little difference to me.

PA: We will have some text sent to you.

PB: We don’t have any text. Only one criterion: that Saddam Hussein disarm. We can’t permit Saddam Hussein to string us along until the summer. In the end, he has had four months in this last stage and that is more than enough time for disarmament.

PA: That text would enhance our ability to sponsor, co-author and obtain wide support for it.

PB: Perfect.

PA: Next Wednesday I’m meeting Chirac. The resolution will have started to get around by then.

PB: That’s fine with me. Chirac is well aware of reality. His intelligence services have explained this to him. The Arabs are sending Chirac a very clear message: Saddam Hussein must go. The problem is that Chirac considers himself “Mister Arab”, while in reality he’s making life impossible for them. But I don’t want any quarrel with Chirac. We have different points of view, but I wish that were all. Greet him on my behalf. Really! The less animosity he feels there is between us the better off we will all be.

PA: How do we combine the resolution and the inspectors report?

Condoleezza Rice: In reality there will not be a February 28 report, rather the inspectors will present a written report on March 1, and their appearance before the Security Council will not take place until March 6 or 7 of 2003. We don’t expect much out of that report. As with the others, they will state on the one hand this but on the other hand that. I have the impression that Blix will now be more negative than before about the Iraqis’ will. After the appearance of the inspectors before the Council we must prepare to vote on the resolution a week later. The Iraqis, meanwhile, will try to explain they are complying with their obligations. It is neither true
nor sufficient, even if they announce the destruction of some missiles.

PB: It is like Chinese water torture. We must put an end to it.

PA: I agree, but it would be good to have as many people on our side as possible. Be a little patient.

PB: My patience is exhausted. I don’t intend to wait beyond mid-March.

PA: I’m not asking you for infinite patience. Just that you do what’s possible to make it all work.

PB: Countries like Mexico, Chile, Angola and Cameroon must know that what is at stake is the security of the U.S. and act in a friendly manner toward us.

[President Ricardo] Lagos must know that the Free Trade agreement with Chile is pending confirmation in the Senate and that a negative attitude could endanger its ratification. Angola is receiving funds from the Millennium Account which could be compromised if they don’t behave positively. And Putin must know that his attitude is endangering relations between Russia and the United States.

PA: Tony would like to hold out until March 14.

PB: I prefer the 10th. This is like a good cop, bad cop routine. I don’t mind being the bad cop to Tony’s good cop.

PA: Is it true there is a chance Saddam Hussein will go into exile?

PB: Yes, the is a chance. Even that he will be assassinated.

PA: Exile with some guarantee?

PB: No guarantee. He is a thief, a terrorist, a war criminal. Compared to Saddam, Milosevic would be a Mother Teresa. When we go in we will discover many more crimes and we will take him to the International Tribunal in The Hague. Saddam Hussein believes he has escaped. He believes that France and Germany have abandoned their responsibilities. He also believes that last week’s declarations protect him. And believes I’m very weakened. But the people around him know otherwise. They know his future is in exile or in a casket. That is why it is so important to maintain pressure on him. Khadaffi tells us indirectly that is the only thing that can finish him. Saddam’s only strategy is to delay, delay and delay.

PA: Actually the greatest victory would be to win the match without firing a single shot and entering Baghdad.

PB: For me that would be the perfect solution. I do not want war. I know what wars are. I know the destruction and death they bring. I am the one that has to console the mothers and widows of the dead. Of course, for us this would be the best solution. Also, it would save us 50 billion dollars.

PA: We need you to help us with our public relations.

PB: We’ll speak all we can. On Wednesday I will speak about the situation in the Middle East, proposing a new scheme of peace, which you’re familiar with, and about weapons of mass destruction, about the benefits of a free society, and I will place the history of Iraq in a wider context. Maybe that will help you.

PA: What we are doing is a very profound change for Spain and the Spanish people. We are changing the politics our country had followed in the last 200 years.

PB: I am guided historical sense of responsibility equal to yours. When some years later history passes judgment on us I don’t want people to ask why Bush, or Aznar, or Blair did not confront their responsibilities. In the end, what people want is to enjoy freedom. A short while ago, in Romania, I remembered Ceausescu’s example: all it took was for a woman to call him a liar to bring down the whole edifice. It’s the irrepressible power of freedom. I’m convinced I will get the resolution.

PA: Let’s hope so.

PB: I made the decision to go to the Security Council. In spite of divergent opinions in my administration, I told my people we had to work with our friends. It will be wonderful to be obtain a second resolution.

PA: The only thing that worries me is your optimism.

PB: I’m optimistic because I believe I am right. I’m at peace with myself. It has fallen upon us to confront a serious menace to peace. It irritates me no end to contemplate the insensitivity of the Europeans to the suffering Saddam Hussein inflicts on the Iraqi people. Perhaps because he is dark (skinned), distant and Muslim, many Europeans believe he is all right. I will not forget what Solana once told me: that why do we Americans believe Europeans are anti-semitic and incapable of facing their responsibilities? This defensive attitude is terrible. I must recognize I have a magnificent relationship with Kofi Annan.

PA: He shares your ethical concerns.

PB: The more the Europeans attack me, the stronger I become in the United States.

PA: We would have to make your strength compatible with European appreciation.

crossposted from

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Sunday, June 17, 2007 

Tony Blair knew full well that Bush was failing to plan for Iraq occupation

Next Saturday the respected British Channel 4 will air a television documentary on the pre-war planning for Iraq that will present a "devastating account of the chaotic preparations for the war", according to a preview in today's Observer. Blair told many colleagues (including, we now learn, the former Labour leader Neil Kinnock) that all was well with the planning before the invasion.

According to many officials interviewed for the documentary, however, Blair actually was extremely worried that the US was failing to prepare for the occupation. Blair also thought there was nothing he could do to make Bush & Co. take the problem seriously.

Few observers of the Iraq fiasco any longer dispute that the Bush administration had done little planning, much less done it well; in fact the only competent planning, by the State Department, was tossed aside by the Pentagon. The lack of preparation was apparent within months of the invasion. The record of the administration's failures in the first year of the occupation speaks volumes.

The newsworthy thing, for an American audience, is that the failures were stunningly obvious in advance to our closest ally.

Tony Blair has demonstrated over and over again his magnificent capacity for self-delusion, especially as regards to his relationship with George Bush. Blair has seemed to believe whatever it was necessary for him to believe in order to maintain his fawning relationship with Bush. Therefore, that even a man such as this was painfully aware of Bush's inadequate planning implies that nobody in the upper levels of the US government can have had any excuse for not recognizing the same.

From The Observer:

Tony Blair agreed to commit British troops to battle in Iraq in the full knowledge that Washington had failed to make adequate preparations for the postwar reconstruction of the country.

In a devastating account of the chaotic preparations for the war, which comes as Blair enters his final full week in Downing Street, key No 10 aides and friends of Blair have revealed the Prime Minister repeatedly and unsuccessfully raised his concerns with the White House...

In one of the most significant interviews in the programme, Peter Mandelson says that the Prime Minister knew the preparations were inadequate but said he was powerless to do more...'I remember him saying at the time: "Look, you know, I can't do everything. That's chiefly America's responsibility, not ours."

Another interviewee is Blair's senior foreign affairs advisor, David Manning. He essentially confirms what many of us have believed since the Downing Street Memo was published two years ago, but which Blair and his circle have always denied: That Tony Blair and his advisors were continuously worried during the year before the invasion that the Bush administration was bungling the post-war planning. Manning describes a Prime Minister so fearful in March of 2002 that Bush & Co. were not doing the necessary post-war planning that he sent Manning to DC specifically to assess that problem. On Manning's return he wrote a memo that later become famous when it was leaked to reporter Michael Smith.

Though Blair and his pals denied the clear significance of this memo when it was made public, there has never been the slightest doubt in my mind that it portrays both Manning and Blair as deeply concerned about the obvious gaps in planning. As Manning remarked in the memo, Condoleezza Rice gave him the impression that Bush still hadn't figured out "what happens on the morning after" the invasion is completed. He also wrote...

I think there is a real risk that the [Bush] Administration underestimates the difficulties. They may agree that failure isn’t an option, but this does not mean that they will avoid it.

The very same fear was apparent in the war council minutes from July 23, 2002, the Downing Street Memo:

C reported on his recent talks in Washington. There was a perceptible shift in attitude. Military action was now seen as inevitable...There was little discussion in Washington of the aftermath after military action.

The Briefing Paper for that meeting was still more explicit about the absence of even the most basic post-war planning:

A post-war occupation of Iraq could lead to a protracted and costly nation-building exercise. As already made clear, the US military plans are virtually silent on this point. Washington could look to us to share a disproportionate share of the burden. Further work is required to define more precisely the means by which the desired endstate would be created, in particular what form of Government might replace Saddam Hussein's regime and the timescale within which it would be possible to identify a successor.

Thus the best evidence in the public domain has strongly suggested that any British and American officials who were paying attention were of course deeply concerned that Bush, Cheney, and Rumsfeld were giving precious little attention to the monumental task of preparing to occupy Iraq. The Channel 4 documentary will demonstrate that those inferences were exactly right all along.

And as many insiders expected, after the invasion things fell apart quickly along predictable lines. The Observer:

Sir Jeremy Greenstock, Britain's envoy to the postwar administration in Baghdad, confirms that Blair was in despair. 'There were moments of throwing his hands in the air: "What can we do?" He was tearing his hair over some of the deficiencies.' The failure to prepare meant that Iraq quickly fell apart. Greenstock adds: 'I just felt it was slipping away from us really, from the beginning. There was no security force controlling the streets. There was no police force to speak of.'

The documentary's presenter, Andrew Rawnsley, also has a commentary about what he learned from interviewing so many British and American officials:

As General Charles Guthrie, former head of the armed forces, puts it: 'Everybody knew that the coalition were going to win the initial battle. But then what?'

Blair himself had repeatedly asked that question during the build-up to the war and with mounting anxiety. A significant witness is Sir David Manning who was his most senior adviser on foreign affairs in No 10 and then became, as he still is, British ambassador in Washington. According to Manning, who speaks on camera for the first time for this series, Blair was extremely exercised that the Americans did not have a clue what they would do after the removal of Saddam. Twelve months before the invasion, he sent Manning to Washington to press his concerns on the White House. On Manning's important account: 'The difficulties the Prime Minister had in mind were, "How do you do it, what would be the reaction if you did it, what would happen on the morning after?"' Blair was deeply concerned that the American plans had not been 'thoroughly rehearsed and thoroughly thought through'.

This tells us that it was very early on that Blair was preparing to send British forces into Iraq. Whatever he was saying in public at this time, he was working on the basis that there would be a war a full year before the invasion. It also tells us that he was prescient enough to identify the danger that the Americans would make a catastrophic mess of the aftermath. And it highlights his own failure to translate that anxiety into effective action to ensure that there was a plan for post-Saddam Iraq.

Again, that's pretty much what we argued two years ago on the basis of the Downing Street Memo. But it's good to have people who were involved acknowledge the truth, finally.

This episode from before the invasion is revealing in a number of ways.

Having committed himself to war, Blair did not like to hear prophecies that echoed his own secret fears. Very shortly before the war, in early 2003, there was an Anglo-French summit. Over lunch, Jacques Chirac warned the Prime Minister that he knew what to expect because the French President had been a young soldier in Algeria. Sir Stephen Wall, a former ambassador and one of Blair's senior advisers, was privy to this conversation. He recalls Chirac telling Blair that there would be a civil war in Iraq. 'We came out and Tony Blair rolled his eyes and said, "Poor old Jacques, he doesn't get it, does he?"' Wall remarks: 'We now know Jacques "got it" rather better than we did.'

One of my first reactions to reading the just-published Downing Street Memo was that it clarified much about the European governments' attitudes toward the American/British warmongering in 2002-2003:

This leaked minute confirms that many world leaders knew well in advance what the Bush administration kept secret from the American public until spring of 2003, that the US intended to invade Iraq. This of course makes even more understandable the consistent opposition and mistrust the Bush administration encountered in the buildup to war, especially in Europe; many leaders in Europe were in a position to know that the war already had the green light, and therefore the posturing before the UN by the Bush administration must have been deeply galling for them.

Blair, the smart-aleck assistant to George Bush, never seems to have wised up to the fact that Bush & Co.'s "plans" for Iraq were all about posturing and nothing more. Rawnsley adds that Blair was stunned when the reality of the Iraq fiasco began to hit him in the face:

Blair's despair became so profound that, according to Mandelson, he was ready 'to walk away from it all'. In the spring of 2004, he came extremely close to resigning as Prime Minister.

Blair invested a huge amount of his faith in his capacity to influence the President. He discovered too late that Bush was only nominally the Commander-in-Chief of the Iraq enterprise. A stark picture emerges of Bush making promises and giving assurances to Blair which were not delivered because Iraq was being run by Donald Rumsfeld and Dick Cheney, neither of whom was very interested in listening to their junior British ally.

But is there any conceivable alternate world in which things might have turned out for the better, if only Blair had gotten the influence he so craved? The foolishness of the Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld triumvirate is so great that one is always in danger of underestimating Blair's nearly infinite capacity to learn nothing from experience. Here is Blair's perspective from only seven months ago:

Tony Blair conceded last night that western intervention in Iraq had been a disaster. In an interview with Al-Jazeera, the Arabic TV station, the prime minister agreed with the veteran broadcaster Sir David Frost when he suggested that intervention had "so far been pretty much of a disaster".

Mr Blair said: "It has, but you see, what I say to people is, 'why is it difficult in Iraq?' It's not difficult because of some accident in planning,
it's difficult because there's a deliberate strategy - al-Qaida with Sunni insurgents on one hand, Iranian-backed elements with Shia militias on the other - to create a situation in which the will of the majority for peace is displaced by the will of the minority for war."

Shorter Blair:

The planning we did was perfectly fine, you see.

Sure it was. The real problem was the planning you didn't do.

crossposted from Unbossed and Inconvenient News

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Sunday, June 10, 2007 

More evidence the British military feared that invading Iraq was illegal

The Independent reveals that the head of the British Navy in 2003 sought private legal advice about whether it would be a crime under international law to take part in invading Iraq.

Admiral Sir Alan West, the First Sea Lord, approached lawyers to ask whether Navy and Royal Marines personnel might end up facing war crimes charges in relation to their duties in Iraq. The extraordinary steps taken by Sir Alan - which The Independent can reveal today - shows the high level of concern felt by service chiefs in the approach to war - concern that was not eased by the Attorney General's provision of a legal licence for the attack on Iraq.

The apprehension felt by the military commanders was highlighted at one meeting where General Sir Michael Jackson, the head of the Army, is reported to have said: "I spent a good deal of time recently in the Balkans making sure [the former Serb leader Slobodan] Milosevic was put behind bars. I have no intention of ending up in the cell next to him in The Hague."

You may recall that in the year before the invasion the British Attorney General, Lord Peter Goldsmith, had warned repeatedly that there was no legal basis under international law for invading Iraq (as at the Downing Street Memo meeting of July 23, 2002). Even if Blair shrugged these warnings off, the British military became increasingly alarmed that they might be ordered to commit a crime of war. The Chief of Defence Staff, Admiral Michael Boyce, finally demanded that Goldsmith give a clear ruling on the question of legality.

The man who led the Armed Forces into Iraq expected that the Prime Minister and the Attorney General would have joined him in the dock if he had been prosecuted for war crimes, it emerged yesterday.

Lord Boyce, who as Adml Sir Michael Boyce was the Chief of the Defence Staff in 2003, apparently feared that he might be convicted by the recently-established International Criminal Court in The Hague.

"If my soldiers went to jail and I did, some other people would go with me," he told The Observer yesterday.

Pressed on whether he was referring to Tony Blair and Lord Goldsmith, Lord Boyce replied: "Too bloody right."...

Interviewed by the Sunday newspaper, Lord Boyce said: "I wanted to make sure that we had this anchor which has been signed by the Government law officer. . . It may not stop us from being charged but, by God, it would make sure other people were brought into the frame as well."

Goldsmith finally caved in to pressure from Blair and Dick Cheney, and delivered an opinion on the very eve of war that unsaid every warning he had previously given.

The reluctance with which that opinion was delivered was obvious to all, however, and military personnel were sufficiently worried that Admiral Alan West sought private legal advice. From the Guardian:

...a senior military source said: "The defence chiefs were aware of a rising degree of worry in all three services. Some of this has been passed to them through the padres. What was noticeable was the difference in attitude among the men and women compared to the Afghan war. There was genuine unease and it was the duty of the chiefs of staff, as the head of the services, to get clarification about whether they would be in breach of international law. There was also a degree of worry about the independence or otherwise of the government legal advice.

"Admiral West approached lawyers ... on whether the impending action over Iraq was justified. It was a personal decision on his part and he felt this was necessary because of his duty of care towards people serving under him...

In the event, the advice Admiral West got from the lawyers was that the invasion could just about be justified due to Saddam Hussein's flouting of United Nations resolutions, although the question of how much time Iraq should be given to comply would have to be considered carefully.

I wonder whether that private legal advice given to Admiral West had anything at all to say about what he might need to do if George Bush should order UN weapons inspectors to leave Iraq before their jobs were done?

crossposted from Unbossed

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Wednesday, May 02, 2007 

Geoff Hoon: Intelligence reports misled us

George Tenet is not the only figure complicit in selling the invasion of Iraq who has been trying to burnish his reputation in regard to that fiasco. Today Geoff Hoon, then British Defense Secretary, gives a self-serving interview to the Guardian.

Hoon says nothing however about the July 23, 2002 war council whose deliberations are recorded in the Downing Street Memo. In fact, he has the gall to pretend that we don't know what he was told at that meeting.

Mr Hoon also expressed regret over the government's claim in the run-up to war that Saddam Hussein possessed weapons of mass destruction, which, he now accepts, turned out to be false. He said he had "gradually come to the acceptance" the weapons did not exist. But he insisted the government had acted in good faith.

He still does not understand why the intelligence proved to be false. "I've been present at a number of meetings where the intelligence community was fixed, and looked in the eye and asked are you absolutely sure about this? And the answer came back 'Yes, absolutely sure'."

Mr Hoon added: "I saw intelligence from the first time I came into office, in May 1999 - week in, week out - that said Saddam had weapons of mass destruction ... I have real difficulty in understanding why it was, over such a long period of time, we were told this and, moreover, why we acted upon it."

By contrast, here is what Richard Dearlove, the Head of MI6, told Hoon and others at the war council on July 23, 2002:

C reported on his recent talks in Washington. There was a perceptible shift in attitude. Military action was now seen as inevitable. 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. The NSC had no patience with the UN route, and no enthusiasm for publishing material on the Iraqi regime's record. There was little discussion in Washington of the aftermath after military action.

It's worth emphasizing this: Insiders in the Blair government are still lying about what they knew about Iraq before the war, still trying to shift blame, still trying to convince us that they acted with integrity--and, therefore, still trying to convince us that the war was inevitable. They are suggesting that, had anybody else held the positions that they held, the same conclusions would have been reached. In other words, "mistakes were made" very much in the passive voice.

On the question of an apology, [Hoon] says: "That's the whole thing about apologising, and saying we were wrong. - it's quite hard. You can say "it did not turn out as we expected" and "we made some bad calls", but at the end of the day I defy anyone to to go through what we went through and come to a different conclusion".

Defy is the right term for it: Defy logic; defy all decency.


It's long been clear that those with direct access to actual intelligence estimates, as opposed to the junk that Tony Blair's government was feeding the public and Parliament, knew perfectly well that there was no substance to the allegations. As I've commented before, the evidence given last year to Parliament by the former First Secretary of the British delegation to the U.N., Carne Ross, negates the claims made by Hoon. From the Dec. 15, 2006 Independent:

In the testimony revealed today Mr Ross, 40, who helped negotiate several UN security resolutions on Iraq, makes it clear that Mr Blair must have known Saddam Hussein possessed no weapons of mass destruction. He said that during his posting to the UN, "at no time did HMG [Her Majesty's Government] assess that Iraq's WMD (or any other capability) posed a threat to the UK or its interests."...

The Foreign Office had attempted to prevent the evidence being made public, but it has now been published by the Commons Select Committee on Foreign Affairs after MPs sought assurances from the Foreign Office that it would not breach the Official Secrets Act.

It shows Mr Ross told the inquiry, chaired by Lord Butler, "there was no intelligence evidence of significant holdings of CW [chemical warfare], BW [biological warfare] or nuclear material" held by the Iraqi dictator before the invasion. "There was, moreover, no intelligence or assessment during my time in the job that Iraq had any intention to launch an attack against its neighbours or the UK or the US," he added.

The late Robin Cook, similarly, said in his memoir that that he asked for a private intelligence briefing before the invasion, which convinced him that there was nothing at all to the WMD claims that Blair and ministers such as Hoon were pushing.

Thursday February 20 [2003] ... John Scarlett, chairman of the JIC.. had come to brief me...

The presentation was impressive in its integrity and shorn of the political slant with which No 10 encumbers any intelligence assessment. My conclusion at the end of an hour is that Saddam probably does not have weapons of mass destruction in the sense of weapons that could be used against large-scale civilian targets.

Wednesday March 5: ...I saw Tony [Blair] privately shortly after we left the chamber. I started by observing that he'd gone out on a limb and the first piece of advice that I would offer is that he had to stop climbing further out on it, especially on Friday when Hans Blix presents his next report to the UN. "Britain has got to be seen on-side with Blix." If he needed months, we should be prepared to give him until autumn.

Tony was quite frank that he could not deliver that: "I don't know if I could do that. Left to himself, Bush would have gone to war in January. No, not January, but back in September."...

The most revealing exchange came when we talked about Saddam's arsenal. I told him, "It's clear from the private briefing I have had that Saddam has no weapons of mass destruction in a sense of weapons that could strike at strategic cities..." ...

There were two distinct elements to this exchange that sent me away deeply troubled. The first was that the timetable to war was plainly not driven by the progress of the UN weapons inspections. Tony made no attempt to pretend that what Hans Blix might report would make any difference to the countdown to invasion.

The second troubling element to our conversation was that Tony did not try to argue me out of the view that Saddam did not have real weapons of mass destruction that were designed for strategic use against city populations and capable of being delivered with reliability over long distances. I had now expressed that view to both the chairman of the JIC and to the prime minister and both had assented in it.

In short, Hoon is either a complete fool, and he slept through meetings such as the July 23, 2002 war council, or he's lying when he pretends that he never heard doubts expressed about the quality of the alleged evidence for Hussein's so-called WMD.


In the same Guardian interview, Hoon stresses that the occupation fell apart in the months after the invasion because the Bush administration failed to heed British advice. In particular Hoon urged Rumsfeld not to disband the Iraqi army...Hoon tells us.

Was it a failure of the British government, not to impress on the Bush administration the need to do some things and avoid doing others during the first months of the occupation? Well, no, Hoon assures the Guardian, it was a failure to communicate. Turns out, he says, that there is no British equivalent to the US Vice President; although Tony Blair, Hoon, and Jack Straw all pressed their American counterparts successfully on the major issues, there was nobody in the UK government to button-hole Cheney. That's Hoon's explanation of how Iraq became a quagmire, anyway.

But, again, Hoon is pretending that we don't have the Downing Street Memo. The last sentence from the report Dearlove delivered in Hoon's presense shows again that Hoon is trying to mislead.

There was little discussion in Washington of the aftermath after military action.

The occupation of Iraq did not fall apart merely because of mistakes in planning the Bush administration made after the fall of Baghdad. The occupation was pre-ordained to be a disaster if only because no serious planning was done in advance by the Bush-Cheney-Rumsfeld triumvirate. The British knew that planning was absent, but did not insist upon having a serious plan before the invasion.

crossposted at Unbossed

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Thursday, February 01, 2007 

Tyler Drumheller again on the manipulation of pre-war intelligence

The former head of CIA operations in Europe, Tyler Drumheller, continues to spill the beans about the Bush administration's determination to attack Iraq notwithstanding the evidence. You may recall that last October Newsweek had this short article:

The CIA won't say so, but the U.K. initially opposed war in Iraq. A new book by Tyler Drumheller, former chief of the CIA's European ops, describes how, the day after 9/11, a "powerful delegation from a very close European ally" visited CIA Director George Tenet at HQ. In his book "On the Brink," Drumheller says the foreign-team leader said "his government stood by us ... and that we could count on it for any and all support." But the foreign rep cautioned, "I hope we can all agree that we should concentrate on Afghanistan and not be tempted to launch any attacks on Iraq." In Drumheller's account, Tenet replied, "Absolutely, we all agree on that."

That delegation on Sept. 12, 2001 was from Britain and included Richard Dearlove – who nearly two years later presented Tony Blair with the caustic report preserved in the Downing Street memo, to the effect that the Bush administration was fixing the facts around the policy of attacking Iraq.

Drumheller also made an appearance last April on CBS's 60 Minutes in which he commented:

"It just sticks in my craw every time I hear them say it's an intelligence failure. It's an intelligence failure. This was a policy failure," Drumheller tells Bradley.

Drumheller was the CIA's top man in Europe, the head of covert operations there, until he retired a year ago. He says he saw firsthand how the White House promoted intelligence it liked and ignored intelligence it didn't:

"The idea of going after Iraq was U.S. policy. It was going to happen one way or the other," says Drumheller.

In the same interview, which I commented on here, Drumheller also discussed the allegation that in September, 2002 the CIA convinced Iraq's foreign minister, Naji Sabri, to feed information secretly to the U.S. about Iraq's WMD capabilities. The White House initially was keen to get Sabri's testimony, said Drumheller, but when it became clear that the information coming from Sabri contradicted the position taken by the Bush administration – Sabri told the CIA that Hussein did not have an active WMD program – then contact deliberately was broken off with him.

"The group that was dealing with preparation for the Iraq war came back and said they're no longer interested," Drumheller recalls. "And we said, 'Well, what about the intel?' And they said, 'Well, this isn't about intel anymore. This is about regime change.'"

Drumheller discusses the Sabri episode again in a new interview with the German magazine Der Spiegel. He also returns to the topic of the Bush administration's misuse of the "evidence" provided to German intelligence by the notorious liar "Curveball". Drumheller has spoken before on the topic, but here his comments are particularly pointed about how stunned he was to see that Colin Powell's UN speech was heavily based upon "Curveball's" ridiculous allegations.

Drumheller: ...never before have I seen the manipulation of intelligence that has played out since Bush took office. As chief of Europe I had a front-row seat from which to observe the unprecedented drive for intelligence justifying the Iraq war....

SPIEGEL: There are more than a few critics in Washington who claim that the Germans, because of Curveball, bear a large part of the repsonsibility for the intelligence mess.

Drumheller: There was no effort by the Germans to influence anybody from the beginning. Very senior officials in the BND expressed their doubts, that there may be problems with this guy. They were very professional. I know that there are people at the CIA who think the Germans could have set stronger caveats. But nobody says: "Here's a great intel report, but we don't believe it." There were also questions inside the CIA's analytical section, but as it went forward, this information was seized without caveats. The administration wanted to make the case for war with Iraq. They needed a tangible thing, they needed the German stuff. They couldn't go to war based just on the fact that they wanted to change the Middle East. They needed to have something threatening to which they were reacting.

SPIEGEL: The German government was convinced that "Curveball" would not be used in the now famous presentation that then US Secretary of State Colin Powell gave in 2003 before the United Nations Security Council.

Drumheller: I had assured my German friends that it wouldn't be in the speech. I really thought that I had put it to bed. I had warned the CIA deputy John McLaughlin that this case could be fabricated. The night before the speech, then CIA director George Tenet called me at home. I said: "Hey Boss, be careful with that German report. It's supposed to be taken out. There are a lot of problems with that." He said: "Yeah, yeah. Right. Don't worry about that."

SPIEGEL: But it turned out to be the centerpiece in Powell's presentation -- and nobody had told him about the doubts.

Drumheller: I turned on the TV in my office, and there it was. So the first thing I thought, having worked in the government all my life, was that we probably gave Powell the wrong speech. We checked our files and found out that they had just ignored it.

SPIEGEL: So the White House just ignored the fact that the whole story might have been untrue?

Drumheller: The policy was set. The war in Iraq was coming and they were looking for intelligence to fit into the policy. Right before the war, I said to a very senior CIA officer: "You guys must have something else," because you always think it's the CIA. "There is some secret thing I don't know." He said: "No. But when we get to Baghdad, we are going to find warehouses full of stuff. Nobody is going to remember all of this."

I don't count myself as an admirer of Drumheller. His willingness to make excuses for the Bush administration's policies of "extraordinary rendition", and his own complicity in carrying out renditions, is repulsive in the extreme.

Yet he's an important eyewitness to wrong-doing, and here he has put his finger on one of the basic principles by which the Bush administration has operated: They say any damned thing they want, in the expectation that people will forget soon enough.

That's also why I blog; I don't plan to forget.

Crossposted from Unbossed

Thursday, December 14, 2006 

British Committee lets cat out of the bag

On November 9, I wrote about the on-going struggle in the British House of Commons to break the stranglehold of the Official Secrets Act: More explosive charges from former British UN diplomat. Many MPs want to get documents out in public regarding the run up to the Iraq War, and Tony Blair's role in manipulating intelligence to make a case for invading Iraq.

Former British diplomat Carne Ross has been complaining for more than a year that the evidence he saw before the war demonstrated that Blair was definitely aware that his claims about Hussein's WMD ran counter to the evidence. Ross said as much long ago to the Butler inquiry, but his testimony was marked 'Secret' and never released to the public.

Well, last month Ross testified before a House of Commons committee, restating for them what he had earlier told Butler.

On Wednesday, he gave testimony to the House of Commons Foreign Affairs Committee in which he said he has finally decided to release to the Committee documents he posseses, particulary relating to the testimony that he gave to the Butler Inquiry, which have been kept secret until now. He thinks that it is long past time for them to be made public.

Since then, the Blair government has been trying to prevent the Committee from releasing its copy of Ross' testimony to the Butler inquiry.

Today, the Committee published that testimony, as the Independent reports:

The Government's case for going to war in Iraq has been torn apart by the publication of previously suppressed evidence that Tony Blair lied over Saddam Hussein's weapons of mass destruction....

In the testimony revealed today Mr Ross, 40, who helped negotiate several UN security resolutions on Iraq, makes it clear that Mr Blair must have known Saddam Hussein possessed no weapons of mass destruction. He said that during his posting to the UN, "at no time did HMG [Her Majesty's Government] assess that Iraq's WMD (or any other capability) posed a threat to the UK or its interests."...

The Foreign Office had attempted to prevent the evidence being made public, but it has now been published by the Commons Select Committee on Foreign Affairs after MPs sought assurances from the Foreign Office that it would not breach the Official Secrets Act.

It shows Mr Ross told the inquiry, chaired by Lord Butler, "there was no intelligence evidence of significant holdings of CW [chemical warfare], BW [biological warfare] or nuclear material" held by the Iraqi dictator before the invasion. "There was, moreover, no intelligence or assessment during my time in the job that Iraq had any intention to launch an attack against its neighbours or the UK or the US," he added.

Mr Ross's evidence directly challenges the assertions by the Prime Minster that the war was legally justified because Saddam possessed WMDs which could be "activated" within 45 minutes and posed a threat to British interests. These claims were also made in two dossiers, subsequently discredited, in spite of the advice by Mr Ross.

Every time new evidence comes forth, it always points in the same direction: Bush and Blair misled the world and misrepresented the evidence in order to justify their determination to invade Iraq.

Crossposted from Inconvenient News

Friday, November 17, 2006 

Tony Blair: Iraq invasion "pretty much of a disaster"

Just the other day the White House Domestic Propaganda Bureau (more of that later) insisted vehemently that there's no difference between the views of Tony Blair and George Bush on Iraq. They might want to rethink that.

Today on al-Jazeera TV, Blair agreed with interviewer David Frost that the invasion of Iraq had "so far been pretty much of a disaster". A somewhat tactless admission, given all the lies he's told to Parliament, the public--to pretty much everybody who would listen. Yet this statement has a verisimilitude that will be hard to dismiss, like Cheney's evil chortling that "dunking" prisoners is a "no-brainer".

And just for added fun, Blair's cabinet minister for Trade and Industry gave a private speech in which she slammed him for his dishonesty and "moral imperialism" in Iraq, which she called a "big mistake". She added, "I hope this isn't being reported."

The British newspapers are having a field day with these stories. Here is The Guardian, and The Independent, and The Times. From the Guardian:

Tony Blair conceded last night that western intervention in Iraq had been a disaster. In an interview with Al-Jazeera, the Arabic TV station, the prime minister agreed with the veteran broadcaster Sir David Frost when he suggested that intervention had "so far been pretty much of a disaster".

Mr Blair said: "It has, but you see, what I say to people is, 'why is it difficult in Iraq?' It's not difficult because of some accident in planning,
it's difficult because there's a deliberate strategy - al-Qaida with Sunni insurgents on one hand, Iranian-backed elements with Shia militias on the other - to create a situation in which the will of the majority for peace is displaced by the will of the minority for war."

We knew that the strain of keeping up appearances would grow too much for Mr Blair. Sooner or later, like Cheney and Bush before him, Blair would make the mistake of blurting out the truth. Nice job at recovering...'we planned for this out the wazoo, so this "disaster" thingee is the fault of the natives who didn't play along.'

Downing Street tried to downplay the apparent slip. "I think that's just the way in which he answers questions," said a spokesman. "His views on Iraq are documented in hundreds of places, and that is not one of them."

Won't do much good trying to distract attention, I think; Blair admitted it's "pretty much a disaster", that's what everybody has been waiting to hear him admit, and journalists are now going to run with it. So will his political rivals.

John McDonnell, the leftwing MP who has pledged to challenge for Labour's leadership, said the prime minister's concession was "staggering" and urged him to bring forward Britain's exit strategy.

And here's more from the Independent:

[Blair's] admission was seized on by opponents of the war last night and will revive demands for the Government to call an independent inquiry into what went wrong in Iraq since the toppling of Saddam Hussein in 2003.

Sir Menzies Campbell, the leader of the Liberal Democrats, said: "At long last the enormity of the decision to take military action against Iraq is being accepted by the Prime Minister. It could hardly be otherwise as the failure of strategy becomes so clear."

He added: "If the Prime Minister accepts that it is a 'disaster' then surely Parliament and the British people, who were given a flawed prospectus, are entitled to an apology."

You think we could get one of those apologies over here in the U.S., too? It will be interesting to see if this story turns into a media swarm in Britain. The Lib Dems are ideally positioned to keep the heat turned up, as the main anti-war party. And they don't call Campbell 'Ming the merciless' for nothing. He relishes every opportunity to embarrass the Blair government.

Anyway, Blair's government is doing a pretty tidy job of embarrassing itself today. Here's a parallel story about the statements of the Trade and Industry Minister tearing Blair apart for his Iraq policy. From The Independent:

Margaret Hodge has become the first serving minister openly to attack the Iraq war after describing it as Tony Blair's "big mistake in foreign affairs", adding that he was a man who was driven by "moral imperialism".

It is the first time that a minister has been directly quoted as attacking the Iraq war, although others are known to believe privately that it was a serious mistake....

Mrs Hodge, the Industry minister, told members of the Islington Fabian Society, a pressure group within the Islington Labour Party, that she had had doubts about Tony Blair's foreign policies since 1998 [because of his belief in imposing British values and ideas on other countries]. Challenged by one of the dinner guests about why, in that case, she had voted in favour of sending British troops into Iraq, she replied that she had accepted Mr Blair's claims about Iraq's weapons of mass destruction because "he was our leader and I trusted him".

Aware of the implications of what she was saying, Mrs Hodge added: "I hope this isn't going to be reported."

Yesterday, the minister denied making the comments attributed, which appeared on the front page of the Islington Tribune, a free newspaper. The story was unsigned, but was written by the newspaper's editor/proprietor Eric Gordon, who was described by a fellow journalist as "a hack of some repute, who knows a story and knows what is reportable".

Nice, that last bit. Gordon, you see, happened to be at the dinner, so yes as it turns out, it was going to be reported.

Anyway, the implication is clear: a minister within Blair's government thinks he lied about the grounds for invading Iraq. It doesn't help Blair that he and Mrs. Hodge are old friends.

What is the White House's view about Tony Blair? At the top of their slow-moving propaganda apparatus is a churlish rant against the American news media for having suggested that Blair's views on Iraq were diverging from those of George Bush. Here is the point that we're supposed to take away:

Prime Minister Blair's Policy Is Not New And Is Similar To President Bush's Policy

It's actually underlined in the original. Problem is, the WH makes its point by contrasting the coverage of Blair's comments earlier this week with the coverage given to them by British newspapers. The implication: That the British media gets things right, while American journalists merely give vent to their own biases and parade their stupidity.

So, here's a hint all you biased, stupid American reporters: Take this British story and run with it. It's been vetted by the best in the business, and according to the White House, your job is to transcribe what the Brits are saying.

Oh, and here's another assignment for you. Check out the White House's domestic propaganda website in all its glory. What the heck is this all about, anyhow?

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