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Calculation, but no precaution on Iraq


As my time in Cambridge draws to a frenetic close of balls and parties last week, I went on an improvidently lengthy pub crawl with some friends of mine. In the early hours of the crawl, those of us in it for the long haul turned to one of our favorite topics: politics. We annoyed some of the other early-afternoon drinkers in a local pub by getting into a heated discussion about Iraq.


It would surprise no one that the war in Iraq has frequently been a subject of dispute, and British students in particular seem to be extraordinarily interested in and knowledgeable about the war. Iraq also seemed to get more mileage in the British elections than in American, and while I’m not sure which is the cause and which the effect, there seems to be greater coverage of and interest in Iraq as an ongoing issue in the United Kingdom. In America, hawkish right wingers have managed to cast any attempt to discuss Iraq as pointless rehashing of an old debate.

It is thus very encouraging to finally—only nine months after the story hit the front pages in Britain—see the “Downing Street Memos” get serious attention and publicity in the States. The documents themselves, a series of memos to the Prime Minister and in one case minutes of a meeting in which Tony Blair had participated, reveal a series of disturbing facts about the U.S. and U.K. decisions leading up to the Iraq war. The memos are all dated from the spring and summer of 2002 (starting about one full year before the invasion of Iraq,) and indicate very clearly that Bush and the his administration had made their minds up to invade Iraq well in advance of the larger campaign to convince the American people that Saddam Hussein was a threat to national security.

This is not, obviously, a complete surprise to anyone who has chanced to read a newspaper or flip on the television news in the past three years. The feeling of inevitability about an eventual military campaign against Iraq was concrete by the end of 2002, and the constantly morphing list of reasons for the invasion—weapons of mass destruction, funding of terrorist activity, a nascent concern for human rights conveniently discovered when it came to light that possibly Saddam Hussein might not be such a benevolent leader as our beloved President—made it obvious that the decision to invade came first, and the justification came later.

But what the Downing Street Memos make painfully clear are how calculated a decision the invasion was, and yet also how little thought the commander-in-chief and his cronies put into the larger picture. Perhaps it is the last vestiges of my idealism gasping for one last breath, but it still horrifies me to realize exactly how little care the men who supposedly are pro-soldier and pro-military have for the lives of American soldiers, military personnel of the supposed “coalition of the willing,” and Iraqi civilians, who have all died as a result of Bush’s half-baked machinations.

First, the build-up to the invasion itself. As reported here on Raw Story, Senator Kerry recently sent a letter to the Senate Intelligence Committee demanding that some of the issues of the Downing Street Memos be addressed. One of the chief concerns is that the memos indicate that, even as the White House was insisting in the summer of 2002 that war against Iraq would be a “last resort,” it seemed clear to top British officials working with the U.S. government that a military invasion was seen as “inevitable.” The memos also reference “spikes of activity” that had already begun to “put pressure” on the Iraqi government—Larisa Alexandrovna of Raw Story has pointed out an interview with Lieutenant General T. Michael Moseley, in charge of the air campaign in Iraq, who admitted that those “spikes of activity” were covert bombings of Iraq—on average, 10 tons of bombs every month from May to August of 2002—well before the American government made even the rubber stamped approval that Bush eventually secured.

And as the American military establishment began an inexorable march towards convincing the American public of a war that they had apparently already started, thoughts of long-term consequences seemed to be the furthest thing from their minds. Over and over in the Downing Street Memos, British officials express concern that Americans “underestimate[ed] the difficulties” of such a campaign, had “little discussion in Washington of the aftermath after military action,” were “virtually silent” on what the British saw as a likely “protracted and costly nation-building exercise,” and that Bush had no plans as to what would happen “the morning after” a successful invasion.

Perhaps most galling is the typical conservative response to such a blatant exposure of irresponsible and dangerous decision-making. In a rare exception to the norm, Republican Walter Jones—the politician who demanded renaming french fries “freedom fries” in the Capitol Hill dining room—has been so horrified by the military (lack of) leadership that he has reversed his previous hawk position to demanding that Bush present some sort of idea of a timeline of when American troops will be coming home. More commonplace is the attitude of Christopher Hitchens, writing for Slate, who described Jones as demanding “that we tell the al-Qaida forces in Iraq exactly when we intend to give up.”

How can they get away with this? How can the Bush White House blithely decide to invade Iraq, begin tailoring U.S. intelligence to selectively create the greatest case for a cherry-picked justification, start a covert military campaign in advance of any authorization by Congress, ignore any of the larger consequences, be it for the future of Iraqis, stability of the Middle East as a whole, or the lives of American soldiers being told to serve longer and longer tours of duty in an occupation seemingly without end, and then still use the “if you’re not with us, you’re with the terrorists!” defense?

This is an unconscionable lack of responsibility on the part of the American Republican leadership. Perhaps it’s easy for Hitchens to fire off a superficial bon mot dismissing any pretense of intelligence or accountability. But it shouldn’t be so easy for the American people to accept such carelessness from those who are charged with the lives of our soldiers.

Dara Purvis can be read each Monday, here at Raw Story. You can also visit her online at

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