Thursday, April 6, 2006

Planning for the Iraq War

These are a couple of good articles about an important recent story, the confidential British memorandum of the conversation between Bush and Tony Blair in January 2003 about their efforts to justify invading Iraq.

One is Bush's Paper Trail Grows by John Prados 04/03/06  The other is Woodward and Reality by David Corn, Capital Games blog, 03/31/06.  The story to which both articles refer is Bush Was Set on Path to War, British Memo Says by Don Van Natta, Jr. New York Times 03/27/06.

Prados, an historian of intelligence issues from recent decades including the Vietnam War, writes:

President Bush asserted, inaccurately, that Resolution 1441 “gives us the authority to move without any second resolution,” a position the Attorney General of Great Britain had rejected only days before. Blair followed up, insisting that Dr. Blix had told the Security Council that Saddam was not cooperating with UN inspectors. In fact, what Blix had said when he reported to the U.N. on January 27 was that there had been difficulties with the Iraqi government but the situation was improving, and he added that his inspectors had made 300 visits to 230 different sites without finding any evidence of WMD. Nuclear inspector Mohammed ElBaradei had agreed, “We have to date found no evidence that Iraq has revived its nuclear weapons program.” Hans Blix’s own take on the Bush-Blair conversation rings true: “The U.S. government did not want to raise the hope that there was any way out but war.”

On balance the newly revealed record of President Bush’s secret meeting of January 31, 2003, confirms that by that date Bush’s Iraq war was certain. The Manning memo supplies an explicit picture of Bush not merely cherrypicking only the intelligence he wanted to use, but scheming to overcome the consequences of not finding weapons of mass destruction in Iraq.

In other words, the Manning memo provides solid historical evidence that by this date, Bush was firmly committed to war against Iraq, no matter what happened with the UN weapons inspectors.  He ends his article by reminding us that other indicators suggest that he may have firmly decided on this war at some point earlier.  But unless the information in the Manning memorandum is definitely debunked, it is clear that Bush had definitively decided on war by the end of January 2003 at the latest.

Both Prados and Corn compare the Manning memo to Bush court stenographer Bob Woodward's account in his book Plan of Attack.  Corn's article focuses on that comparison in some detail.  He concludes:

Read Woodward's account and you get the impression that Bush was doing all he could to help a buddy [Tony Blair] and that Bush was willing (more so than Cheney or Powell) to stick with the United Nations a little longer. Read the Times' account of the memo and you see that Bush had already set a date for war--despite saying in public that he hoped to avoid war--and that he had raised the prospect of staging an event to make it easier to sell the war. (Does a fellow looking to avoid a war talk about what could be done to provoke a war?) The memo also indicates that Bush and his aides were not fully prepared for the postwar challenges and that Bush and Blair had misjudged the sectarian divides within the Iraqi population.

Woodward likes to say that his best-selling books - which are good reads - are the first drafts of history. That's true. But they can also be tilted drafts--especially when his high-level confidential sources have an interest in tilting the facts. Whoever gave him the details of this Bush-Blair session - Rice, perhaps? - left out the best and most important stuff. The net result was a less-than-full but Bush-positive account of the event. This goes to show that Woodward is only as good as his sources and that those insiders are not always so good when it comes to disclosing the real story.

Steno Bob wrote a response to Corn, which also appeared on the Capital Games blog 04/06/06.  Woodward's response is worth reading.  Because he mentions several instances in Plan of Attack in which there were strong indications from Bush even before January that he was set on war.  for instance, Woodwardwrites in his response about the Saudi Ambassador, who Michael Moore's Fahrenheit 9/11 made famous as "Bandar Bush":

I report [in the book] that on January 11, 2003, Cheney summoned Bandar to the White House to assure him the U.S. was going to war in Iraq.  Rumsfeld, who was there, told Bandar, "You can count on this. You can take that to the bank. This is going to happen." I report that Cheney added, "once we start, Saddam is toast."

Two days later, January 13, I report that Bandar met with President Bush because Bandar said he needed to hear the decision directly from Bush. Bush asked Bandar if he had understood the previous day's briefing. "This is the message I want you to carry for me to the crown prince," Bush said. "The message you're taking is mine, Bandar."

Later on January 13, I report that Powell met with Bush, and Bush told him of the decision. I write, "The President said he had made up his mind on war. The U.S. should go to war." A few paragraphs later, I reemphasized it: "The fork in the road had been reached and Bush had chosen war."  (my emphasis)

Bob "the Daily Howler" Somerby has been saying for a long time that Woodward's book, despite his court stenographer mode of operation in recent years, contained quite a bit of material that contradicted official administration accounts.  Presumably, things like those are what he had in mind.

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