The Smoking Gun 

A British secret memo reveals the truth about how we got into Iraq.

Since I believe one of our greatest strengths as Americans is shrewd practicality, I thought it was time we moved past the now unhelpful "How did we get into this mess?" to the more utilitarian "What do we do now?"

However, I cannot let the astounding Downing Street memo go unmentioned.

On May 1st, The Sunday Times of London printed a secret British government memo that went to that country's defense secretary, foreign secretary, attorney general, and other high officials. It is the minutes of their meeting on Iraq with Tony Blair. The memo was written by Matthew Rycroft, a Downing Street foreign policy aide. It has been confirmed as legitimate and is dated July 23, 2002. I suppose the correct cliche is "smoking gun." Note the fourth sentence:

"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 [National Security Council] had no patience with the U.N. 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."

After some paragraphs on tactical considerations, Rycroft reports: "No decisions had been taken, but he [the British defense secretary] thought the most likely timing in U.S. minds for military action to begin was January, with the timeline beginning 30 days before the U.S. congressional elections.

"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 neighbors, 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 U.N. weapons inspectors. This would also help with the legal justification for the use of force."

There is much more in the memo, which can be found easily online. Most of us who opposed the war concluded some time ago that this was the way it went down. There was plenty of evidence, though nothing this direct and cold. Think of the difference it would have made if we had known all this three years ago. Now? The memo was a huge story in Britain but is almost unreported here. The memo finally settles this ridiculous debate about how Dear Leader Bush just wanted to bring democracy all along, and we did it all for George Washington.

Enough said. What to do, now that we're there?

Unfortunately, our very support for the good guys is making it much harder for them. A tactical Catch-22. I was impressed by the premise of Reza Aslan's new book, No God but God, which is that all of Islam is undergoing a struggle between the modernists and the traditionalists, between reformers and reactionaries.

But in Iraq, which already had a secular state, we have the additional complication of sectarian/ethnic divisions -- Sunnis, Shiites, Kurds -- not to mention the tribalism within those divisions. (Am I bitter enough to point out again that Paul Wolfowitz said under oath, "There is no history of ethnic strife in Iraq"? You bet I am.)

Our most basic problem in-country is that having the U.S. of A. on your side automatically makes you about as popular as a socialist in the Texas legislature. We are working against the guys we want to win by supporting them. This requires some serious skulling but is not, in politics, all that unusual a pickle.

There is a political solution. Like all politics, it requires a deal. What about letting the interim government make a deal with the Sunnis for us to withdraw -- as in "You cooperate with us, and we'll get the Americans out of here for you"?

We can't make that deal, but the Iraqis can.


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