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STRATFOR -- GEOPOLITICAL INTELLIGENCE REPORT
<b>The Downing Street Memo</b>
By George Friedman
The "Downing Street Memo" of July 23, 2002, has become the controversy du jour in Washington and London. The memo clearly shows that the White House, in July 2002, was considering an invasion of Iraq. Given that many members of the Bush administration were discussing such an invasion publicly by the summer, we find the shock over the memorandum interesting but hardly enlightening. We recall that in August, only a month after the memo was issued, senior administration members -- including Vice President Dick Cheney -- were very publicly discussing the need for the invasion and were being publicly attacked by opponents of the war. What this memo shows was that London was privy to the thinking in Washington about a month before the Bush administration launched an intense public campaign.
The memorandum is not startling. It is extremely interesting, but far more for what it does not contain than what it does. Consider the following two, separate excerpts:
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.Two points are present in both excerpts: first, that U.S. President George W. Bush had made up his mind to invade Iraq by the time the memo was written, and second, that links to terrorism and -- far more important -- the existence of a program to develop weapons of mass destruction would be the justification for the invasion. It is clear that British intelligence did not believe that the Iraqi program was as advanced as those of other countries; nevertheless, this was to be the justification for the war.The Foreign Secretary said he would discuss this with Colin Powell this week. It seemed clear that Bush had made up his mind to take military action, even if the timing was not yet decided. But the case was thin. Saddam was not threatening his neighbours, and his WMD capability was less than that of Libya, North Korea or Iran. We should work up a plan for an ultimatum to Saddam to allow back in the UN weapons inspectors. This would also help with the legal justification for the use of force.
What is missing from this memo, the glaring omission, is why Bush was so eager to invade Iraq. Matthew Rycroft, the foreign policy aide who wrote this memo, demonstrates a remarkable lack of curiosity about this. C, the moniker hung on the head of British foreign intelligence, had visited the United States for routine consultations. It is extremely important to note that C is asserting that this -- invading Iraq -- is Bush's policy. Indeed, the second paragraph above quotes the British foreign minister as saying that it is Bush's policy. There is no mention here of Dick Cheney, Donald Rumsfeld, Paul Wolfowitz or any of the others who analysts had thought were the real drivers behind the policy. So much for the belief that a cabal of neo-cons had taken control of the president's brain.
To the contrary, British intelligence is clearly reporting to the prime minister that it is George W. Bush who is making the decisions. The only other name mentioned in this memo is that of Colin Powell. Rumsfeld is mentioned only in the context of being briefed on the war plan, not on instigating it. That appears to us the single most important revelation in the document. Bush was president all along, and all the Washington gossips were wrong. The only other explanation is that C didn't know what he was talking about, or that he gave a superficial report. We doubt that either was the case.
If the document makes it clear that Bush was in control of U.S. decision-making, there is a glaring omission: Why did Bush want to invade Iraq? Our readers know that Stratfor began arguing by the summer of 2002 that an invasion of Iraq was inevitable, and I analyzed it in America's Secret War. Those arguments can be reviewed at the links below; we will summarize here simply by saying that there were no other options.
<a href="http://www.stratfor.com/products/premium/read_article.php?id=206709">War Diary:</a> Tuesday, Oct. 8, 2002
<a href="http://www.stratfor.com/products/premium/read_article.php?id=206767">War Diary:</a> Wednesday, Oct. 9, 2002
Smoke and Mirrors: The United States, Iraq and Deception
Bush's Crisis: Articulating a Strategy in Iraq and the Wider War
The Edge of the Razor
September 11: Three Years Later
<a href="http://www.stratfor.com/products/premium/read_article.php?id=241687">Facing Realities in Iraq</a>
U.S. officials believed at the time that al Qaeda was planning another strike, larger than the 9/11 strikes. The United States could not stop al Qaeda on the strength of its own intelligence; it needed the cooperation of intelligence services in the Muslim world. These services were reluctant to cooperate because their view of the United States -- after having watched 20 years of weak responses in warfare --was that it was unable to absorb the risks and casualties of war. Leaders in crucial parts of the Muslim world feared al Qaeda more than the United States. Since a covert strike against al Qaeda was not possible, the United States had no good options. Bush chose the best of a bad lot. He hoped for a change in Arab perception of the United States, from hatred and contempt to hatred and fear. He also wanted to occupy the most strategic territory in the Middle East, bringing pressure to bear on the Saudis.
The decision to justify the war by recourse to the weapons of mass destruction argument was conditioned by three things:
1. It was a persuasive justification. If Saddam Hussein was developing serious WMD, there would be support for a war.
2. The British clearly wanted a legal justification for the war, and the United States wanted the British in. One way to get that justification was a U.N. resolution, and one way to get that resolution was to convince the U.N. that the Iraqis had WMD.
3. The United States and Britain believed Hussein had these weapons. They knew Iraq's was an undeveloped program, but the United States believed that it was sufficiently developed to serve as casus belli for the war.
It was a bad decision. This was not because it was simply a lie -- it wasn't. The memo makes it clear that the British thought Iraq had a WMD program, less developed than those of other countries, but a program nonetheless. Indeed, in the section on military plans, the memo raises the concern about the Iraqis using WMD during the first phase of the war:
For instance, what were the consequences, if Saddam used WMD on day one, or if Baghdad did not collapse and urban warfighting began? You said that Saddam could also use his WMD on Kuwait. Or on Israel, added the Defence Secretary.
Contrary to what others have said after the memo, what it shows was that British intelligence -- and therefore U.S. intelligence -- really did believe the Iraqis might have had some serious capabilities.
Obviously, the fact that there were no WMD in Iraq -- theories that the weapons had been spirited away to Syria notwithstanding -- show retrospectively that this was a bad justification. But even if there had been WMD in Iraq, it was a bad justification even at that time. There was a sound, but complex, justification for the war that could have been provided, consisting of the following pieces:
1. Saddam Hussein might not have aided al Qaeda prior to 9/11, but given his attitude toward the United States, given his past record and given the risks involved, disposing of Hussein is a prudent and necessary action.
2. The Muslim world does not take American military power seriously. It does not think the United States has the will to fight. The United States cannot win the war unless that myth is destroyed by decisive action. If, in the course of that action, Saddam Hussein is destroyed, so much the better. It should be noted here that the United States' decision to fight in Korea, for example, was explicitly based on the theory that the Communists were testing American will - and that unless the United States demonstrated its will to fight, the Communists would take it as a sign of weakness and increase their pressure. There are worse reasons for fighting, and this one has precedent.
3. Iraq is a strategic country whose occupation would permit the United States to place pressure on regimes like Iran or Syria directly.
The mystery in the document, and the mystery since the summer of 2002, is why Bush almost never used these justifications but clung instead to the weapons of mass destruction rationale. Since it is clear that WMD was not his primary motivator, why did he not come forward with a clear explanation?
The obvious answer is that he did not have a better explanation. That would mean that he had no good reason for invading Iraq -- he simply wanted to do so and did. You can pile onto this theories that he wanted to avenge the attempted murder of his father by Iraqi agents, that he is a stupid man who doesn't think much, or that black helicopters took control of his brain. All of this may be possible. But in looking at Bush and reading this memo, there nowhere emerges an image of a man who thinks like this. There is a willful, unbending man. There is a decisive man who can make substantial mistakes and refuse to concede error. But it is hard to locate the stupid man of myth.
So why doesn't Bush come plain with his reasoning? Better still, why doesn't this memo -- which cries out for a paragraph in which C explains Bush's reasoning -- contain a word on that? Why isn't there even a mention that it is not clear what Bush is up to? Everyone in the room knows that WMD is a pretext for war, but the obvious next paragraph -- an analysis of Bush's real reasoning -- simply isn't there.
And not only isn't that discussion there, but no one in the room seemed to be even curious about it. Either they had the least curiosity of any group of men on earth, or they knew the answer.
We continue to believe the answer is Saudi Arabia. It was the elephant in the room. It was the world's largest oil producer, a close ally of both the United States and Britain, willfully uncooperative in the war against al Qaeda. We understand why the United States or Britain would not want to make this a public matter. Humiliating the Saudis was not in anyone's interest. But in the end, Bush and Tony Blair continue to pay the price of the great mistake of the war. They still haven't come up with a good justification for the invasion of Iraq, despite the fact that even we can think of several.
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