PolySciFi Blog

Wednesday, June 01, 2005


Jody Reaches WAAY Down to Pull Some Items Out of His Butt the Memory Hole

In this post, Matt asserted
"that Bush lied about U.S. intentions and commitment to a diplomatic route. Throughout the fall before the war, Bush repeatedly said that he was commited to seeking a diplomatic solution; that Iraq could, by readmitting inspectors and disarming, avoid war. As the Downing St. Memo makes clear, they couldn't. The United States was involved in the U.N. route only to seek legitimacy for a preordained war."
This was premised on a July 23 date for the Downing St Memo which based the conclusion that "By mid-July 2002, eight months before the war began, President Bush had decided to invade and occupy Iraq." which itself was based on the following excerpt:
"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."
In the comments that post, I a) disagreed with why we went the UN route (asserting that it was for the British) and b) noted that Matt's assessment was consistent with the Downing St Memo, but added:
I will note that I recall excerpts from Woodward's book indicating a different timeline for the decision. Specifically, I think I recall mid-Jan 2003 as the date (I think that's also around when we went into second resolution, i.e., war authorization, mode). This would also place the decision after there had been some serious Iraqi sheninigans with the Res. 1441 inspectors. (I'll have to get a copy and to see if my memory holds up.)

The discrepancy in the decision timings can be resolved if one assumes that a) there was some wavering in Bush's decision after the memo (perhaps via the efforts of Powell and Straw) or b) the certainty described in the memo was overstated.
Unfortunately, Plan of Attack is checked out of the VT library through August and I'm a little too cheap to buy a book just to prove a point.

However, I was able to find the WaPo's series of excerpts that I recalled in the comment. The first in the weeklong series was explicitly on the decision to go to war. In short, my recall of the excerpts was correct on all counts. The decision was made in the Jan 11-13 timeframe, was premised on the Iraqi sheninigans with the Res. 1441 inspectors, and that was also when we went into second resolution, i.e., war authorization, mode. [don't break your arm patting yourself on the back too hard -ed Well, seeing what it's already covered in from my excursion down the memory hole, I pity the doctor who has to set the bone.]

Being more specific on the timeline, there's actually three different decision points cited in the article: 1) shortly after New Year's, 2) Jan 11, and 3) Jan 13.

Shortly after New Year's is when Rice thought Bush had made his decision, though he wasn't willing to commit just yet. [Rice + Bush + unwilling to commit? Are you bringing back up the Rice-Bush married couple meme? -ed Sometimes when you unplug the memory hole, a lot of "stuff" comes out.]
Shortly after New Year's Day 2003, national security adviser Condoleezza Rice had a private moment with President Bush at his ranch in Crawford, Tex.

Bush felt the effort to get United Nations weapons inspections inside Iraq on an aggressive track to make Saddam Hussein crack was not working. "This pressure isn't holding together," Bush told her. The media reports of smiling Iraqis leading inspectors around, opening up buildings and saying, "See, there's nothing here," infuriated Bush, who then would read intelligence reports showing the Iraqis were moving and concealing things. It wasn't clear what was being moved, but it looked to Bush as if Hussein was about to fool the world again. It looked as if the inspections effort was not sufficiently aggressive, would take months or longer, and was likely doomed to fail.


There was another factor at work that was not publicly known. Sensitive intelligence coverage on U.N. inspections chief Hans Blix indicated that he was not reporting everything and not doing all the things he maintained he was doing. Some in Bush's war cabinet believed Blix was a liar...
"He's getting more confident, not less," Bush said of Hussein. "He can manipulate the international system again. We're not winning.


"Time is not on our side here," Bush told Rice. "Probably going to have to, we're going to have to go to war." In Rice's mind, this was the moment the president decided the United States would go to war with Iraq.
January 11 was the point at which Prince Bandar was invited to be briefed - the point at which Rumsfeld thought was the decision point - with Bush personally informing Bandar on the 13th.
Back in Washington in early January 2003, Bush took Rumsfeld aside.

"Look, we're going to have to do this, I'm afraid," he said. "I don't see how we're going to get him to a position where he will do something in a manner that's consistent with the U.N. requirements, and we've got to make an assumption that he will not."

It was enough of a decision for Rumsfeld. He asked to bring in some key foreign players.

The president gave his approval but pressed Rumsfeld again. When is my last decision point?

"When your people, Mr. President, look people in the eye and tell them you're going."

One of the key players that had to be notified and brought along was Saudi Arabia. U.S. forces would have to be sent through and from Saudi territory into Iraq. Rescue, communications and refueling support were not going to be enough. Of the five other countries on Iraq's border, only Kuwait and Jordan supported a military operation. The 500 miles of Saudi-Iraqi border were critical.

So on Saturday, Jan. 11, Cheney invited Prince Bandar bin Sultan, the Saudi ambassador, to his West Wing office. Rumsfeld and Gen. Richard B. Myers, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, were also there.


The next day, Sunday, Rice called Bandar to invite him to meet with the president the following day, Monday, Jan. 13. At the meeting, the president told Bandar that he was receiving advice and reports from some in his administration that in the event of war he would have to contend with a massive Arab and Islamic reaction that would put American interests at risk.
That same day (13th) Bush informed Powell.
So that Monday, Jan. 13, Powell and Bush met in the Oval Office. The president was sitting in his regular chair in front of the fireplace, and the secretary was in the chair reserved for the visiting leader or most senior U.S. official. For once, neither Cheney nor Rice was hovering.

Bush complimented Powell for his hard work on the diplomatic front. "The inspections are not getting us there," the president said, getting down to business. The U.N. inspectors were just sort of stumbling around, and Hussein was showing no intention of real compliance. "I really think I'm going to have to do this." The president said he had made up his mind on war. The United States should go to war.

"You're sure?" Powell asked.

Yes, said Bush.

"You understand the consequences," Powell said in a half question. For nearly six months, he had been hammering on this theme -- that the United States would be taking down a regime, would have to govern Iraq, and the ripple effect in the Middle East and the world could not be predicted. The run-up to war had sucked nearly all the oxygen from every other issue in foreign relations. War would surely get all the air and attention.

Yeah, I do, the president answered.

"You know that you're going to be owning this place?" Powell said, reminding Bush of what he had told him at a dinner the previous August in which Powell had made the case against military action in Iraq. An invasion would mean assuming the hopes, aspirations and all the troubles of Iraq. Powell wasn't sure whether Bush had fully understood the meaning and consequences of total ownership.

But I think I have to do this, the president said.

Right, Powell said.

I just want to let you know that, Bush said, making it clear this was not a discussion, but the president informing one of his Cabinet members of his decision. The fork in the road had been reached and Bush had chosen war.
I think my assertion that sheninigans with the inspectors were the immediate motive is supported by the preceding (particularly in the Rice excerpt). My remaining assertion that was "also around when we went into second resolution, i.e., war authorization, mode" is borne out by the Blair Steady in Support excerpt.
On Jan. 31, 2003, Bush was scheduled to meet again with Blair at Camp David, but a mix of rain and ice kept them at the White House. Blair told Bush that he needed to get a second U.N. resolution. He had promised that to his party at home, and he was confident that together he and Bush could rally the United Nations and the international community.

Bush was set against a second resolution. So were Cheney and Powell -- a rare case in which they agreed. The first resolution had taken seven weeks, and this one would be much harder. But Blair had the winning argument. It was necessary for him politically. It was no more complicated than that, an absolute political necessity. Blair said he needed the favor. Please.

That was language Bush understood. "If that's what you need, we will go flat out to try and help you get it," he told Blair. He also didn't want to go alone, and without Britain he would be close to going alone.

Bush called it "the famous second-resolution meeting" and said Blair "absolutely" asked for help. The new resolution, which would declare that Hussein had "failed to" comply, was introduced in late February, but the efforts to get other Security Council members to sign on floundered.

So there's two different timelines for the decision and Woodward's description of the events indicate that Bush did indeed desire a diplomatic solution and only made the decision after it was felt that Hussein was screwing around with the process. So how to resolve the discrepancy?

Repeating my conclusion from the earlier comment:
The discrepancy in the decision timings can be resolved if one assumes that a) there was some wavering in Bush's decision after the memo (perhaps via the efforts of Powell and Straw) or b) the certainty described in the memo was overstated.


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