Monday, March 27, 2006

More 'When Did Bush Decide On War?'

There it is.

Front page of The New York Times.

From "Bush Was Set on Path to War, Memo by British Adviser Says," by Don Van Natta Jr.:

In the weeks before the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq, as the United States and Britain pressed for a second U.N. resolution condemning Iraq, President Bush's public ultimatum to Saddam Hussein was blunt: Disarm or face war.

But behind closed doors, the president was certain that war was inevitable. During a private two-hour meeting in the Oval Office on Jan. 31, 2003, he made it clear to Prime Minister Tony Blair of Britain that he was determined to invade Iraq without the second resolution, or even if international arms inspectors failed to find unconventional weapons, said a confidential memo about the meeting written by Blair's top foreign policy adviser and reviewed by The New York Times.

But what did President Bush just say less than a week ago?

From the transcript of Bush's March 21, 2006 press conference:

Q: I'd like to ask you, Mr. President, your decision to invade Iraq has caused the deaths of thousands of Americans and Iraqis, wounds of Americans and Iraqis for a lifetime. Every reason given, publicly at least, has turned out not to be true. My question is, why did you really want to go to war? From the moment you stepped into the White House, from your Cabinet -- your Cabinet officers, intelligence people, and so forth -- what was your real reason? You have said it wasn't oil -- quest for oil, it hasn't been Israel, or anything else. What was it?

THE PRESIDENT: I think your premise -- in all due respect to your question and to you as a lifelong journalist -- is that -- I didn't want war. To assume I wanted war is just flat wrong, Helen, in all due respect --

Of course the Q is Helen Thomas, and video of Thomas discussing this exchange can be seen at Brad Blog.

More from the President that day:

THE PRESIDENT: I also saw a threat in Iraq. I was hoping to solve this problem diplomatically. That's why I went to the Security Council; that's why it was important to pass 1441, which was unanimously passed. And the world said, disarm, disclose, or face serious consequences --

But as I wrote at Raw Story:

The New York Times reports that a secret memo from January 2003 reveals that President Bush and Prime Minister Blair agreed to invade Iraq even without U.N. backing...


The article, written by Don Van Natta Jr., addresses the Jan. 31, 2003 memorandum which was leaked to a British author and referenced in February of this year. The New York Times was able to obtain a copy of the secret memo, and confirms most of the reports.


Van Natta's article contains many quotations from the memo that haven't been previously disclosed, and refers to it as "striking in its characterization of frank, almost casual, conversation by Bush and Blair about the most serious subjects."

Bush expected Iraq's army to "fold very quickly," and also told the Prime Minister that he thought the Republican Guard would be "decimated by the bombing."

"As for the future government of Iraq, people would find it very odd if we handed it over to another dictator," Blair is quoted as saying.

Other noteworthy parts from Van Natta's article:

The memo indicates the two leaders envisioned a quick victory and a transition to a new Iraqi government that would be complicated, but manageable. Bush predicted that it was "unlikely there would be internecine warfare between the different religious and ethnic groups." Blair agreed with that assessment.

The memo also shows that the president and the prime minister acknowledged that no unconventional weapons had been found inside Iraq. Faced with the possibility of not finding any before the planned invasion, Bush talked about several ways to provoke a confrontation, including a proposal to paint a U.S. surveillance plane in the colors of the United Nations in hopes of drawing fire, or assassinating Saddam.

These proposals were first reported last month in the British press, but the memo does not make clear whether they reflected Bush's extemporaneous suggestions or whether they were elements of the government's plan.

This is ludicrous: "Bush's extemporaneous suggestions."

Is there any precedent for a U.S. President to meet with a Prime Minister and riff, offer ad-libs and brainstorm? Does anyone at The New York Times actually believe that there's any chance in hell that Bush came up with those ideas all by his lonesome?

I'm not suggesting that just cause Bush said it that that means there was a government plan. Just that I've seen little evidence of Bush ever formulating policy off of the top of his head without input from a team of advisers and co-presidents.

It's too bad the Times didn't see fit to print the exact line dealing with assassination. It's too bad the memo's author didn't mention Blair's response either.

This was President Bush on February 18, 2003 speaking to the press after the swearing in of Bill Donaldson as the Chairman of the Securities and Exchange Commission:

Q Thank you, Mr. President. What do you make of the fact that millions of people across the globe have taken to the streets to protest your approach to Iraq? And if you decide to go to war, how do you wage a campaign in the face of such stiff opposition?

THE PRESIDENT: Two points, one is that democracy is a beautiful thing, and that people are allowed to express their opinion. I welcome people's right to say what they believe. Secondly, evidently some of the world don't view Saddam Hussein as a risk to peace. I respectfully disagree. Saddam Hussein has gassed his own people. Saddam Hussein has got weapons of mass destruction. Saddam Hussein has made -- defied the United Nations. Saddam Hussein is providing links to terrorists. Saddam Hussein is a threat to America. And we will deal with him.

You know, I -- war is my last choice. But the risk of doing nothing is even a worst option as far as I'm concerned. I owe it to the American people to secure this country. I will do so.

Q Have you decided how to do so yet?


Q Have you decided how you're going to deal with him yet?

THE PRESIDENT: Hopefully, Saddam Hussein will disarm.

Q Mr. President --

THE PRESIDENT: If he chooses not to disarm, as I have been saying for a long time, Ron, we'll lead a coalition of the willing to disarm him.

According to the Times, on the secret January 2003 memo:

"The start date for the military campaign was now penciled in for 10 March," Mr. Manning wrote, paraphrasing the president. "This was when the bombing would begin."

Also from the February 18, 2003 press conference (by the way, this is the same press conference when Bush quipped that dwelling on the "size of protest, it's like deciding, well, I'm going to decide policy based upon a focus group"):

Q Should a second resolution on Iraq include a deadline? And how are you going to get around the opposition from France, Russia and China?

THE PRESIDENT: We're working with our friends. As I said, a second resolution would be useful. We don't need a second resolution. It's clear this guy could even care less about the first resolution. He's in total defiance of 1441. But we want to work with our friends and allies to see if we can get a second resolution. That's what we're doing right now.

Q With a deadline?

THE PRESIDENT: We're working with our friends and allies right now to -- how best to get a resolution out of the United Nations. As I say, it would be helpful to get one out. It's not necessary, as far as I'm concerned.

From Van Natta's article:

Although the United States and Britain aggressively sought a second United Nations resolution against Iraq — which they failed to obtain — the president said repeatedly that he did not believe he needed it for an invasion.


Mr. Bush agreed that the two countries should attempt to get a second resolution, but he added that time was running out. "The U.S. would put its full weight behind efforts to get another resolution and would twist arms and even threaten," Mr. Bush was paraphrased in the memo as saying.

The document added, "But he had to say that if we ultimately failed, military action would follow anyway."

Excerpts from the transcript of President Bush's March 6, 2003 press conference (four days before the "pencilled in" date for the start of the war according to the memo and thirteen days before the official launch of the invasion, not including the "spikes of activity"):

THE PRESIDENT - In the event of conflict, America also accepts our responsibility to protect innocent lives in every way possible.


THE PRESIDENT - Across the world and in every part of America, people of goodwill are hoping and praying for peace. Our goal is peace -- for our nation, for our friends and allies, for the people of the Middle East.


THE PRESIDENT - Well, we're still in the final stages of diplomacy. I'm spending a lot of time on the phone, talking to fellow leaders about the need for the United Nations Security Council to state the facts, which is Saddam Hussein hasn't disarmed.


THE PRESIDENT - We, of course, are consulting with our allies at the United Nations. But I meant what I said, this is the last phase of diplomacy.


THE PRESIDENT - I'm hopeful that he does disarm. But, in the name of peace and the security of our people, if he won't do so voluntarily, we will disarm him. And other nations will join him -- join us in disarming him.

And that creates a certain sense of anxiety; I understand that. Nobody likes war. The only thing I can do is assure the loved ones of those who wear our uniform that if we have to go to war, if war is upon us because Saddam Hussein has made that choice, we will have the best equipment available for our troops, the best plan available for victory, and we will respect innocent life in Iraq.


THE PRESIDENT - I take the threat seriously, and I'll deal with the threat. I hope it can be done peacefully.


THE PRESIDENT - And I think you'll see when it's all said and done, if we have to use force, a lot of nations will be with us.

THE PRESIDENT - Well, I hope we don't have to go to war, but if we go to war, we will disarm Iraq. And if we go to war, there will be a regime change.

Most damning from that same conference:

THE PRESIDENT - I've not made up our mind about military action. Hopefully, this can be done peacefully. Hopefully, that as a result of the pressure that we have placed -- and others have placed -- that Saddam will disarm and/or leave the country.

The Times makes brief mention of the DSM in the article:

The January 2003 memo is the latest in a series of secret memos produced by top aides to Mr. Blair that summarize private discussions between the president and the prime minister. Another group of British memos, including the so-called Downing Street memo written in July 2002, showed that some senior British officials had been concerned that the United States was determined to invade Iraq, and that the "intelligence and facts were being fixed around the policy" by the Bush administration to fit its desire to go to war.

This is Bush from June of 2005 at a press conference he held with Tony Blair where he was asked about the Downing Street memo from July of 2002 (transcript):

THE PRESIDENT - And somebody said, well, you know, we had made up our mind to go to use military force to deal with Saddam. There's nothing farther from the truth.

(Hat tip to Democratic Underground peeps who provided information in this thread that helped with my research)


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