Everything We Thought We Knew About the War Was Wrong

[Update: I'm moving this back to the top for a bit, because it's important stuff.]

Since 9/11, President Bush has positioned himself as the best, if not only person, with the wherewithal to protect America from terrorists. He has used the nebulous “War on Terror” to justify everything from the encroachment on Americans’ civil liberties (under the guise of the Patriot Act) to the invasion of Iraq. And yet, in a recent Salon article by Juan Cole, which references the public account of Sir Christopher Meyer as well as his interview with Vanity Fair, it becomes obvious that the President had little interest in pursuing the actual perpetrators of 9/11:

Astonishingly, the Bush administration almost took the United States to war against Iraq in the immediate aftermath of Sept. 11. We know about this episode from the public account of Sir Christopher Meyer, then the U.K. ambassador in Washington. Meyer reported that in the two weeks after Sept. 11, the Bush national security team argued back and forth over whether to attack Iraq or Afghanistan. It appears from his account that Bush was leaning toward the Iraq option.

Meyer spoke again about the matter to Vanity Fair for its May 2004 report, "The Path to War." Soon after Sept. 11, Meyer went to a dinner at the White House, "attended also by Colin Powell, [and] Condi Rice," where "Bush made clear that he was determined to topple Saddam. 'Rumors were already flying that Bush would use 9/11 as a pretext to attack Iraq,' Meyer remembers." When British Prime Minister Tony Blair arrived in Washington on Sept. 20, 2001, he was alarmed. If Blair had consulted MI6 about the relative merits of the Afghanistan and Iraq options, we can only imagine what well-informed British intelligence officers in Pakistan were cabling London about the dangers of leaving bin Laden and al-Qaida in place while plunging into a potential quagmire in Iraq. Fears that London was a major al-Qaida target would have underlined the risks to the United Kingdom of an "Iraq first" policy in Washington.

Meyer told Vanity Fair, "Blair came with a very strong message -- don't get distracted; the priorities were al-Qaida, Afghanistan, the Taliban." He must have been terrified that the Bush administration would abandon London to al-Qaida while pursuing the great white whale of Iraq. But he managed to help persuade Bush. Meyer reports, "Bush said, 'I agree with you, Tony. We must deal with this first. But when we have dealt with Afghanistan, we must come back to Iraq.'" Meyer also said, in spring 2004, that it was clear "that when we did come back to Iraq it wouldn't be to discuss smarter sanctions." In short, Meyer strongly implies that Blair persuaded Bush to make war on al-Qaida in Afghanistan first by promising him British support for a later Iraq campaign.
So what would it mean if this national security president had never wanted to invade Afghanistan, had never wanted to pursue al-Qaida and its leader Osama bin Laden (who remains on the loose to this day)? What would it mean if Iraq, which contrary to administration claims had no weapons of mass destruction with which to harm America or America’s allies, had been the only target all along? And what would it mean if the case for that war had been conceived out of thin air?

It would mean that we all had all been hoodwinked, including our soldiers who had been sent to die by a president who cared not for bringing to justice those responsible for an attack on American soil, and had cared not for the truth. It would mean a national disgrace.

In fact, the now seven total Downing Street Documents provide increasing evidence that that is exactly what happened.

The first document released, known as the Downing Street Memo, and dated July 23, 2002, notes:

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.
Such an assertion is in direct contrast to the claims of the administration, who continued to assert that they viewed military action as a last resort—and to this day refuse to acknowledge that the intelligence used to justify the war was fixed, instead crediting the lack of WMDs to a “massive intelligence failure.”

The document known as the Iraq Options Paper, dated March 8, 2002, includes the following:

The greater investment of Western forces, the greater our control over Iraq's future, but the greater the cost and the longer we would 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. Even a representative government could seek to acquire WMD and build-up its conventional forces, so long as Iran and Israel retain their WMD and conventional armouries and there was no acceptable solution to the Palestinian grievances.
The Bush administration went to great lengths to quash any suggestion that the Iraq invasion would necessitate nation building, in spite of the British government’s view to the contrary. In addition, the following comes from the same document:

The aim would be to launch a full-scale ground offensive... A pro-Western regime would be installed... The optimal times to start action are early spring.
Again, this runs contrary to the mantra of “spreading freedom and democracy” repeated incessantly by the Bush administration. The goal of installing a “pro-Western regime” is in direct opposition to the free and fair elections that both Iraqis and American were promised would take place.

The document known as Iraq: Legal Background, also dated March 8, 2002, notes:

The US... maintain that the assessment of breach [of UN resolutions] is for individual member States. We are not aware of any other State which supports this view.
Bush was misconstruing international law to fit his war plans, and doing so in such an egregious manner as to leave the United States the only nation on earth willing to interpret the laws thusly.

The memo from Blair’s Foreign Policy Advisor, David Manning, to Blair, summarizing his (Manning’s) dinner with Condoleezza Rice, dated March 14, 2002, includes the following:

I said you would not budge in your support for regime change but you had to manage a press, a Parliament and a public opinion... Condi's enthusiasm for regime change is undimmed.... Bush has yet to find the answers to the big questions:... what happens on the morning after?
This, too, is illustrative of both Bush’s disregard for any option other than regime change and the comprehensive lack of post-war planning.

The memo from the UK’s ambassador to the US, the aforementioned Christopher Meyer, to David Manning, summarizing his (Meyer’s) lunch with Paul Wolfowitz, dated March 18, 2002, includes the following:

On Iraq I opened by sticking very closely to the script that you used with Condi Rice last week. We backed regime change, but the plan had to be clever and failure was not an option. It would be a tough sell for us domestically, and probably tougher elsewhere in Europe. The US could go it alone if it wanted to. But if it wanted to act with partners, there had to be a strategy for building support for military action against Saddam. I then went through the need to wrongfoot Saddam on the inspectors and the UN SCRs and the critical importance of the MEPP as an integral part of the anti-Saddam strategy. If all this could be accomplished skillfully, we were fairly confident that a number of countries would come on board.
This indicates that the process of going to the UN was a sham for Blair’s sake and that disarmament was not an option; regime change had already been chosen as the singular goal.

The memo from the UK’s political director, Peter Ricketts, to UK Foreign Secretary Jack Straw, dated March 22, 2002, includes the following:

For Iraq, "regime change" does not stack up. It sounds like a grudge between Bush and Saddam. Much better, as you have suggested, to make the objective ending the threat to the international community from Iraqi WMD...

US scrambling to establish a link between Iraq and Al [Q]aida is so far frankly unconvincing.
Clearly, regime change is acknowledged as the objective, but the WMD issue was better for public relations. Additionally, even the British government believed the Bush adminsitrationa’s claims of a link between Iraq and al-Qaida to be false.

The memo from UK Foreign Secretary Jack Straw to Blair, dated March 25, 2002, includes the following:

We have also to answer the big question—what will this action achieve?... [no US assessment] has satisfactorily answered how that regime change is to be secured, and how there can be any certainty that the replacement regime will be better.
Even members of the British government at its highest levels did not believe that Bush administration had any plan to ensure a new Iraqi government would be an improvement on Hussein’s dictatorship, nor to ensure that the new government would not develop WMD.

These memos collectively draw a very different picture of prewar planning than was painted for the American people. The intelligence and facts were fixed around the policy—a single-minded policy of regime change, with war the inevitable result, even if Iraq’s dictator had to be taunted with bombs and ultimatums. And prior to the invasion, the Bush administration had no definitive plan to promote true democracy—and no strategy to ensure that the new Iraqi government would not be just as bad as the last one.

And now, via The Independent, we find out that the American government used incendiary weaponry, the MK-77—napalm canister munitions, evolved from the napalm bombs which we associate with the Korean and Vietnam wars—during the Iraq War and subsequently lied about their use to the British government:

Despite persistent rumours of injuries among Iraqis consistent with the use of incendiary weapons such as napalm, Adam Ingram, the Defence minister, assured Labour MPs in January that US forces had not used a new generation of incendiary weapons, codenamed MK77, in Iraq.

But Mr Ingram admitted to the Labour MP Harry Cohen in a private letter obtained by The Independent that he had inadvertently misled Parliament because he had been misinformed by the US. "The US confirmed to my officials that they had not used MK77s in Iraq at any time and this was the basis of my response to you," he told Mr Cohen. "I regret to say that I have since discovered that this is not the case and must now correct the position."

Mr Ingram said 30 MK77 firebombs were used by the 1st Marine Expeditionary Force in the invasion of Iraq between 31 March and 2 April 2003.
(For more on this, please see The Heretik and Freiheit und Wissen.)

A tragic irony indeed. This war was sold on the premise that America must protect itself from weapons of mass destruction, and in the end, the only weapons of mass destruction in Iraq were the ones we dropped there.

The Bush administration lied to the American people about this war, and continue to evade questions about the truth about what is happening in Iraq. The American people deserve to know the truth. They deserve to know that everything they thought they knew about the war was wrong.

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