The Downing Street Dead End

For the American radical left the July 23, 2002 “Iraq: Prime Minister’s Meeting” memorandum, dubbed “The Downing Street Memo,” was the “smoking gun” that convicted President George W. Bush of manipulating intelligence to support his decision to go to war with Iraq eight months before Operation Iraqi Freedom began.  Illinois Democratic Representative John Conyers began a campaign to have the House Judiciary Committee investigate the memo. The bigger news has been the naming of “Deep Throat.”

So far the only story on the memo is that there is no story. Rants from the radical left, virtually unceasing since January 2001 when George Bush first took his oath of office continue, but to little avail. The Downing Street Memo flap had come to a dead end. Why?

For starters, the memo is not a primary document. It is, at best, a secondary source summarizing the impressions of John Scarlett who attended the meeting along with a handful of others.

The most “interesting” part of the memo states, “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 NSC had no patience with the UN route, and no enthusiasm for publishing material on the Iraqi regime’s record.”

The memo goes on to review various options for attacking Iraq, all of which were public knowledge by August 2002.

There’s no news in the memo. The phrase, “But the intelligence and facts were being fixed around the policy” does not mean that intelligence was being manufactured. In simple terms, the Bush administration was making its case for the forcible removal of Saddam. That’s not news and it’s not new.

* Beginning in March 1941, President Franklin D. Roosevelt took a number of steps to prepare the country for war, including securing the Lend-Lease Act, putting Greenland under US protection and, in July sending US troops to Iceland. By late August U.S. Navy ships were escorting convoys west of Iceland. In October two U.S. destroyers were torpedoed, and the Ruben James was sunk. Roosevelt had taken America to war.
* After his July 1961 confrontation with Nikita Khrushchev in Vienna, President John F. Kennedy ordered a feasibility study for a pre-emptive nuclear strike on the Soviet Union. In November JFK dispatched the 4400th Combat Crew Training Squadron, an Air Force “air commando” unit to South Vietnam, ostensibly to train a Vietnamese air force. Their real mission: fly covert bombing missions in South Vietnam and eastern Laos.
* In March 1964, the Johnson administration secretly ordered the Joint Chiefs to provide options for bombing North Vietnam. Following the Gulf of Tonkin Incident in August 1964, and the resulting Gulf of Tonkin Resolution, the administration decided to start bombing North Vietnam as soon as practicable after the November elections. Rolling Thunder got under way on March 2, 1965.
* According to the “9/11 Report,” planning in the immediate aftermath of the 9/11 attacks focused on a re-run of Desert Storm. The President was persuaded the real culprit was Osama bin Laden, more directly supported by the Taliban regime in Afghanistan.

The Downing Street Memo states that the Bush administration would justify military action “by the conjunction of terrorism and WMD.” Again, this is not news. The phrase is drawn almost verbatim from the National Security Strategy of the United States which states the U.S. will take action against “state sponsors of terrorism which attempt to gain or use weapons of mass destruction or their precursors.”

A viable national security strategy anticipates enemy action. This is vital where weapons of mass destruction are concerned. To be sure, the President made an easy case for war based on the purported threat Iraq WMD programs posed to the Gulf and to American security. Saddam had a WMD program and had used chem/bio weapons on Iran and the Kurds.

Disrupting the “arch of terror” running from Syria through Iraq to Iran and Afghanistan and establishing a new strategic paradigm were better reasons for going to war. Newly established democracies in Afghanistan and Iraq will affect the Middle East profoundly. Terrorism cannot flourish where freedom prevails and where free market economies provide opportunities.

The President took an easier road to war but also a necessary one given the awesome responsibilities he bears. Explaining a strategy of democratization through military action would have proven difficult if not impossible. This, however, is what President Bush must do to retain support for the war and ease problems with military recruitment and retention. On Friday, May 13, 2005, Palestinian Authority TV aired a sermon by Sheik Ibrahim Mudeiris in which the cleric stated, “The day will come when we will rule America. The day will come when we will rule Britain and the entire world.” That day must never come.

Earl H. Tilford

Earl H. Tilford

Dr. Earl Tilford is a military historian and fellow for the Middle East & terrorism with The Center for Vision & Values at Grove City College. He currently lives in Tuscaloosa, Alabama. A retired Air Force intelligence officer, Dr. Tilford earned his PhD in American and European military history at George Washington University. From 1993 to 2001, he served as Director of Research at the U.S. Army’s Strategic Studies Institute. In 2001, he left Government service for a professorship at Grove City College, where he taught courses in military history, national security, and international and domestic terrorism and counter-terrorism. Email: [email protected]

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