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Prewar British Memo Says War Decision Wasn't Made

New York Times | June 13, 2005
By DAVID E. SANGER

WASHINGTON, June 12 - A memorandum written by Prime Minister Tony Blair's cabinet office in late July 2002 explicitly states that the Bush administration had made "no political decisions" to invade Iraq, but that American military planning for the possibility was advanced. The memo also said American planning, in the eyes of Mr. Blair's aides, was "virtually silent" on the problems of a postwar occupation.

"A postwar occupation of Iraq could lead to a protracted and costly nation-building exercise," warned the memorandum, prepared July 21 for a meeting with Mr. Blair a few days later. It also appeared to take as a given the presence of illicit weapons in Iraq - an assumption that later proved almost entirely wrong - and warned that merely removing Saddam Hussein from power would not guarantee that those weapons could be secured.

A transcript of the memorandum was posted Sunday on the Web site of The Sunday Times of London, after The Washington Post, citing one of the British paper's own correspondents as a source, published excerpts. No image of the original was included, The Times said, to protect its source; a note on the Web site said the last page was missing.

Officials at the British Foreign Office in London, while insisting on anonymity, said in response to queries from The New York Times that they would not dispute the authenticity of the document. A spokesman for the White House, David Almacy, said that while he could not comment on its authenticity, it "was written eight months before the war began. There was significant postwar planning in the time that elapsed."

A British official in Washington said the British government never commented on internal documents made public in the press. But he said that "of course there was concern" in the government before the war about the need for "a full and consistent postconflict plan."

The publication of the memorandum is significant because a previously leaked document, now known as the Downing Street Memo, appeared to suggest that a decision to go to war may have been made that summer. In Washington last week, Mr. Bush and Mr. Blair denied that they made any decision in 2002, and suggested that the memorandum was being misinterpreted.

"No, the facts were not being fixed in any shape or form at all," Mr. Blair said, adding that "no one knows more intimately the discussions that we were conducting as two countries at the time than me."

The White House has insisted that Mr. Bush did not make the decision to invade Iraq until after Secretary of State Colin L. Powell presented the administration's case about Iraqi weapons to the United Nations Security Council on Feb. 5, 2003. That presentation has been discredited in postwar investigations. The White House has also argued that by the time of the invasion it had a sophisticated plan for administering Iraq, even though that plan, as Mr. Bush himself has acknowledged, failed to anticipate a postwar insurgency.

While the latest memorandum appears to have been written by a British intelligence official after a visit to Washington, the central fact reported - that the American military was in the midst of advanced planning for an invasion of Iraq - was no secret. The New York Times published details of that plan two weeks before the memorandum was written.

Still, it is revealing about what was known - and assumed - at that time. After noting the risks of a lengthy postwar occupation, the memorandum says that "U.S. military plans are virtually silent on this point. Washington could look to us to share a disproportionate share of the burden. Further work is required to define more precisely the means by which the desired endstate would be created, in particular what form of government might replace Saddam Hussein's regime and the timescale within which it would be possible to identify a successor."

On unconventional weapons, the memorandum also discloses doubts - but not that they existed.

"U.S. military planning unambiguously takes as its objective the removal of Saddam Hussein's regime, followed by elimination of Iraqi W.M.D. It is however, by no means certain, in the view of U.K. officials, that one would necessarily follow from the other. Even if regime change is a necessary condition for controlling Iraqi W.M.D., it is certainly not a sufficient one."


Last modified July 31, 2005





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