James Kirchick Didn’t Get the Memo, Apparently

June 16, 2008

I came across a post by fellow blogger Jimmie over at Sundrie’s Shack, in which he reported on an editorial in the LA Times penned by the assistant editor of New RepublicBush never lied to us about Iraq: The administration simply got bad intelligence. Critics are wrong to assert deception.

Now, as tempted as I was to dissect this over at Jimmie’s place (since it was the second time in a week that an editorial rebutting the “Bush Lied” meme was featured over there), I figured that it’d be better for me to address this over here in the Chamber, and give my pal Jimmie a couple of pingbacks instead.  That, and I do feel frustrated that when the topic comes up, the focus is always on claims about WMD intelligence and connections to al Qaeda.  And as much as I’m convinced that the administration attempted to hyperventilate the American public with ad nauseam presentations of worst-case scenarios as iron-clad fact, this misses what I feel is the actual, bigger “lie”, so if I haven’t covered this already (I have), I’m going to do it now…again

From what I remember, the “Bush Lied, People Died” really picked up steam after the publication of the famous Downing Street Memo, because the focus was primarily on the passage that read “But the intelligence and facts were being fixed around the policy“. To be certain, that portion of the “memo” deserves a fair amount of attention, but what most people miss is the broader point, encapsulated by the sentence the preceded it, reading “Bush wanted to remove Saddam, through military action, justified by the conjunction of terrorism and WMD“.

The meeting took place in Britain on July 23, 2002, remember, and it’s fairly contradictory to what Bush himself said months later in October, when he signed the AUMF:

“Our goal is not merely to limit Iraq’s violations of Security Council resolutions, or to slow down its weapons program. Our goal is to fully and finally remove a real threat to world peace and to America. Hopefully this can be done peacefully. Hopefully we can do this without any military action. Yet, if Iraq is to avoid military action by the international community, it has the obligation to prove compliance with all the world’s demands. It’s the obligation of Iraq.”

There are plenty of reasons to believe that the Congress took him at his word here, and that the AUMF was meant as leverage to force Saddam to comply with U.N. disarmament resolutions, and not a green light for invasion.  Indeed, Congress wouldn’t have granted an AUMF under other conditions, and the administration knew this.  So, the idea was to play along, attempt to scare up public support, convince a few allies to come on board, and when they felt they had jumped through enough hoops (like sending in U.N. weapons inspectors), they went ahead and used it.  It’s really not that complicated.

Of course, there are war supporters out there who are quick to discredit the DSM (even though no one has challenged its authenticity), and I certainly wasn’t going to base my entire accusation on one document.  But lets face it, there is enough evidence out there (other documentsstatements from high-ranking officials, and other evidence) to corroborate the notion that Bush was more interested in invading than he was about finding out if the weapons inspectors were actually going to find anything.   But for some reason that just doesn’t sink in for everyone.  Heck, I’ve come across war supporters who concede that the nation was misled, but it was necessary and that the ends justify the means.  I just don’t get it;  it’s OK with them?  But make no mistake, misled we were…lied to, in fact.

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  1. Chen, as I pointed out in the other thread on my place, you can’t make a credible claim that Bush was in a hurry to go to war. He made a specific point of going after not one but two UNSC resolutions. He extended the deadline set in the unanimous resolution 1441 twice, at least. He gave Saddam Hussein chance after chance to come into compliance.

    Only after the delays and the resolutions and a speech before the UN General Assembly did our troops go in. None of that was necessary, since Hussein was in obvious violation of the cease-fire that ended the first Gulf War. Yet he did it anyway. How, exactly, does that demonstrate that his mind was fixed on war?

    Remember, all that had to happen was for Saddam Hussein to fully disclose his WMD programs under the rubric of the more than dozen UN resolutions from 1991 to 2002. Had he done so, even though he remained in violation of the cease-fire in many other respects, there would have been no war. It’s that simple.

  2. Jimmie-

    Like I said, the administration had to jump through a few hoops to at least make an attempt at presenting the invasion as legitimate. Another one would be the 48 hr ultimatum for Saddam to leave the country. I remember shaking my head at the time, wondering if I could even plan a vacation in 48 hrs, let alone seek exile if I were a hot potato dictator sitting on the fault line of the Sunni/Shia divide. I mean, what if Saddam had actually pulled it off, and found refuge in UAE or something? Were we going to sit on the sidelines and watch a headless Iraq collapse into chaos?

    It was a charade. The intention all along was to go in there.

  3. But was it a lie ? Also the Downing Street memo-the actual one speaks of WMD,various options and grudingly accepted the potential that the standing UN resolutions were legit.

  4. Yes America was misled when it came to Iraq’s WMD. We were misled by Saddam Hussein.

    How many UN resolutions were created just for Iraq? And how many of them did Iraq break? How many times did Saddam refuse entry to UN weapons inspectors?

    (This document is interesting: A Decade of Deception and Defiance: White House Background Paper on Iraq September 12, 2002 http://www.state.gov/p/nea/rls/13456.htm )

    Saddam wanted everyone to believe that he had WMD. I figure it was to try and keep Iran at bay and also because he didn’t think we would actually come in and get him.

    And let’s not forget who got the ball rolling…

    It should be the policy of the United States to support efforts to remove the regime headed by Saddam Hussein from power in Iraq and to promote the emergence of a democratic government to replace that regime.
    H.R. 4655, the Iraq Liberation Act. Signed by President Bill Clinton on October 31, 1998.

    Well, I think that – you know – I don’t think we’re pretending that we can get everything, so this is – I think – we are being very honest about what our ability is. We are lessening, degrading his ability to use this. The weapons of mass destruction are the threat of the future. I think the president explained very clearly to the American people that this is the threat of the 21st century.

    It’s hard to control, hard to get at, that we need to – you know – Saddam Hussein had the capability to – with the VX agents – to destroy every man, woman, and child on Earth. So we have a serious problem here. He is a threat, and what the president decided to do, I think, was very sound, very important for our national security and take action when he could, and what it means is that we know we can’t get everything, but degrading is the right word.
    Clinton Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, after Operation Desert Fox.

    Answering critics of the administration’s policy on Iraq who have suggested that it is time for the United States to downgrade the threat posed by Baghdad, [President Clinton’s national security affairs advisor, Samuel R.]Berger said that the reality is that Saddam’s external aggression and internal repression still pose a genuine threat not only to his neighbors but to global stability in general.

    Clinton’s national security advisor said that the strategy the United States will continue to pursue is to contain Saddam in the short and medium term-by force if necessary-and to work toward a new government over the long term.

    But Bush lied….

  5. Alfie and Red Pill-

    I don’t think any serious analyst would tell you that we should have just left Saddam alone and sit on the sidelines while he reconstituted or bolstered his weapons programs. No one knew for certain exactly what his capabilities were, which is why the DSM mentioned the contingency of WMD’s being used on our troops or Iraq’s neighbors if we invaded. America agreed, the UN agreed (and unanimously passed the 1441 resolution), and I agreed that aggressive inspections were needed to curtail this threat and bring the regime into compliance. You weren’t going to run into too many people who had a problem with it at the time.

    What I’m saying here is that the administration’s intent with sending the inspectors was not to peacefully address the threat posed by Saddam’s regime as the Congress and the UN intended, but to go through the motions of creating the appearance that the invasion was legit, and that all diplomatic avenues had been exhausted (as the AUMF stipulated). The way the AUMF was written, all that was required was that the president deemed diplomatic efforts to be exhausted, so essentially if they said they were, they were. So they did.

    As it turned out, during the few months that the inspectors were actually in Iraq under the resolution, there were positive results. In fact, in the briefing that Blix gave in Feb 03 he stated:

    We have continued to build up our capabilities. The regional office in Mosul is now fully operational at its temporary headquarters. Plans for a regional office at Basra are being developed. Our Hercules L-100 aircraft continues to operate routine flights between Baghdad and Larnaca. The eight helicopters are fully operational. With the resolution of the problems raised by Iraq for the transportation of minders into the no-fly zones, our mobility in these zones has improved. We expect to increase utilization of the helicopters. The number of Iraqi minders during inspections had often reached a ratio as high as five per inspector. During the talks in January in Baghdad, the Iraqi side agreed to keep the ratio to about one to one. The situation has improved.

    Since we arrived in Iraq, we have conducted more than 400 inspections covering more than 300 sites. All inspections were performed without notice, and access was almost always provided promptly. In no case have we seen convincing evidence that the Iraqi side knew in advance that the inspectors were coming.

    The inspections have taken place throughout Iraq at industrial sites, ammunition depots, research centres, universities, presidential sites, mobile laboratories, private houses, missile production facilities, military camps and agricultural sites. At all sites which had been inspected before 1998, re-baselining activities were performed. This included the identification of the function and contents of each building, new or old, at a site. It also included verification of previously tagged equipment, application of seals and tags, taking samples and discussions with the site personnel regarding past and present activities. At certain sites, ground-penetrating radar was used to look for underground structures or buried equipment.

    Through the inspections conducted so far, we have obtained a good knowledge of the industrial and scientific landscape of Iraq, as well as of its missile capability but, as before, we do not know every cave and corner. Inspections are effectively helping to bridge the gap in knowledge that arose due to the absence of inspections between December 1998 and November 2002.

    More than 200 chemical and more than 100 biological samples have been collected at different sites. Three-quarters of these have been screened using our own analytical laboratory capabilities at the Baghdad Centre (BOMVIC). The results to date have been consistent with Iraq’s declarations.

    You have to wonder why the administration would have just abandoned this, right? I mean, we were marching in only a month later. It only makes sense if their intent was invasion from the very beginning. The had only succumbed to their impatience is all.

    Lets use an analogy here for a second…

    A cop pulls over car on the freeway, and when he approaches, he realizes that the driver was a known high-level member of an organized crime syndicate who has a reputation for cleverly evading prosecution. The cop has been frustrated by a recent crime wave in the community, and decides that it would just be better from everyone to just kill the guy. But he knows that he couldn’t legitimately shoot him without a good excuse, so he goes through the motions of patting the guy down so that when he shot him he could at least make the claim that he was resisting arrest. And if our hypothetical cop went before a jury and stated that he only shot as a last resort, he’d be lying.

    That’s what Bush did. The AUMF gave him the “gun”. He did a token pat down. His intention, contrary to public statements and the spirit in which the AUMF was written, was to remove Saddam regardless of what happened or what the inspectors might have found.

    I suppose that makes a good segway to the Iraq Liberation Act. I see that trotted out all the time, and my argument is I’m not sure that a stated policy of supporting regime change in Iraq equates to support for a reckless invasion. Of course we wanted Iraq to be dictator-free, as we would any country. But if the Act was a declaration of war then it would have been Clinton landing on that aircraft carrier. It wasn’t.

  6. Chen, it’s been a while and coming back I have to disagree with you. I can’t find how to quote on this blog, so I can only point to your first paragraph of the above comment:

    You have to make a difference between the USA and the rest of the world there. Western Europe was taking Saddam for the puny little dictator he actually was at that time and didn’t believe a word of him posing an imminent threat. He had been under siege for about 12 years and couldn’t possibly rebuild his army let alone WMDs.

    Sending in the inspectors was considered a last desperate attempt to disarm Bush, not Saddam. It was taken as a given, that Bush wanted this war, no matter what, since the summer of 2002. This was considered as a dangerous folly with the job in Afghanistan being unfinished.

    Also, to make things a little more difficult, you have to make a difference between the likes of Berlusconi or Aznar and their peoples. While the people took the street, both of them were feeding their egoes by joining the alliance of the willing. Berlusconi is still the corrupt crook being at least in alliance with the fascists of his country. And it shines a remarkable light on Bush, that he still refuses to see the obvious in his buddy whilst repeating his talk of freedom.

    An one final remark, since you closed the comments on the Obama popularity issue down. It seems important, since I seem to be the only European being able to comment on it. The issue is simple: Europeans don’t give a rat’s ass about McCain being a war hero. They only see the bomb, bomb, bomb Iran guy and expect more of the same from him. Political analysts on the other hand warn about viewing Obama as some kind of Messiah, because they expect him to be the one guy making demands from Europe.Demands, that will be all the more difficult to turn down, as if McCain was making them.

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