Americans are probably more conversant about Angelina Jolie than about the contents of the so-called Downing Street memo, which was leaked in London seven weeks ago to the Rupert Murdoch-owned Sunday Times. But if the chaos in Iraq continues (80 U.S. troops and 700 Iraqis died last month), the awareness gap may narrow - because the memo states that as Washington was preparing for war, "the intelligence and facts were being fixed around the policy."
This is one of the few pieces of hard evidence that supports critics who contend that Bush hyped a non-existent threat - Saddam's purported weapons of mass destruction - as his justification for waging war..
Andrew Bacevich, a retired Army colonel who is now a war analyst at Boston University, said: "The memo is significant because it was written by our closest ally, and when it comes to writing minutes on foreign policy and security matters, the British are professionals. We can conclude that the memo means precisely what it says. It says that Bush had already made the decision for war even while he was insisting publicly, and for many months thereafter, that war was the last resort.
"This is no longer a suspicion or accusation. The memo is an authoritative piece of information, at the highest level."
The meeting was conducted on July 23, 2002. One key participant was Sir Richard Dearlove, the head of MI6 (equivalent to our CIA). The minutes say:
"(Dearlove) reported on his recent talks in Washington (with CIA chief George Tenet). 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 memo's reference to "fixed" intelligence is noteworthy. It's not a new issue. It has long been clear that Bush's depiction of Saddam as a grave menace was overstated. Among many examples: Bush said, on Oct. 7, 2002, that Saddam intended to use unmanned aerial vehicles "for missions targeting the United States," a distance of 6,000 miles. It later turned out that the UAVs had a range of 300 miles.
But the Bush camp is working hard to deny the memo's fixed-intelligence passage - a sign that the White House is sensitive about the issue. Last weekend, GOP chairman Mehlman stated: "That (memo) has been discredited. Whether it's the 9/11 commission, whether it's the Senate, whoever's looked at this has said there was no effort (by Bush's war planners) to change the intelligence at all."
Mehlman's claim is undercut by the facts.
The Sept. 11 commission never looked at the administration's behavior; commission vice chairman Lee Hamilton said last year. "(Under the law) we were to focus our attention on 9/11 and those events, and not on the war in Iraq."
And while a 2004 Senate panel did criticize the prewar intelligence as "a series of failures," it didn't look at whether the Bush team had misused the material. That task was postponed until after the election; today, in the words of Republican Sen. Pat Roberts of Kansas, it's still "on the back burner."...
Bacevich, the retired Army colonel, said, "Despite our love of democracy, we as a people have bought the idea that foreign policy should be made behind closed doors, based on secret information that mere mortals can't handle, without a full national debate. This memo shows the danger of that attitude. And that we should find it unacceptable."