This is a version of an article by Michael Smith of the Sunday Times of London, rewritten for the Los Angeles Times and published last Thursday. -- In it, Smith, a journalist specializing in military matters, explains from his well-informed point of view what he considers to be the significance(s) of the Downing Street memos, which go far beyond the suggestion that the Bush administration had determined to go to war well in advance of informing the American public of the fact. -- Smith explains that he is the journalist into whose hand one of the memos was first "thrust . . . by someone who asked me to meet him in a quiet watering hole in London for what I imagined would just be a friendly drink" in September 2004. -- At the time, Smith explains, "I was defense correspondent of the London Daily Telegraph, and a staunch supporter of the decision to oust Saddam Hussein. The source was a friend. He'd given me a few stories before but nothing nearly as interesting as this. -- The six leaked documents I took away with me that night were to change completely my opinion of the decision to go to war and the honesty of Prime Minister Tony Blair and President Bush." -- Smith explains one significant thing about the memos: they demonstrate that the decision to go to the United Nations was an effort to create "the conditions in which we could legally support military action," as the documents put it. -- This demonstrates the disingenuousness of officials like U.S. Vice President Dick Cheney, who told CNN's Wolf Blitzer, on the very day this article was published in the L.A. Times, that the fact that the U.S. went to the U.N. proved George W. Bush's good faith: "Remember what happened after the supposed memo was written. We went to the United Nations. We got a unanimous vote out of the Security Council for a resolution calling on Saddam Hussein to come clean. The president of the United States took advantage of every possibility to try to resolve this without having to use military force. It wasn't possible in this case." -- (In Dante's Inferno, the circles of Hell are arranged by the gravity of the sins which the damned have committed, beginning with the least culpable, sins of incontinence, in which the evil action arises from natural appetites and desires, followed by sins of brutishness, in which evil action arises from things which repulse the healthy soul, and completed by sins of malice, in which evil action arises from abuse of reason, a human's most god-like quality. It is interesting to consider into which category fall the vice president's and the president's sins.) -- But more significant still with regard to the Downing Street memos is the revelation that, as Smith writes, "Bush and Blair began their war not in March 2003, as everyone believed, but at the end of August 2002, six weeks before Congress approved military action against Iraq," by intensifying the bombing of Iraq in the hopes that Saddam Hussein would be provoked into some act that could be represented as a casus belli. -- Given these aspects of the Downing Street memos (and there are others to be explored, like the coordinated U.S.-U.K. propaganda campaign they mention), it is difficult to know how to characterize the willful ignorance of journalists like Dave Zeeck of the News Tribune (Tacoma, WA), who wrote on Jun. 19: "Ive read all the memos and, while I think theyre an interesting window into history, I dont think they tell us anything we didnt already know: The Bush administration was spoiling for a fight with Iraq (even though they exhausted every bit of U.N. pressure before invading) and they used intelligence regarding WMD (which we now know was flawed) to support the case for war." -- Apparently evidence of ongoing wars of aggression and crimes against the peace is of no concern to these cynics, except as "an interesting window into history." ...
THE REAL NEWS IN THE DOWNING STREET MEMOS
By Michael Smith
Los Angeles Times
June 23, 2005
It is now nine months since I obtained the first of the "Downing Street memos," thrust into my hand by someone who asked me to meet him in a quiet watering hole in London for what I imagined would just be a friendly drink.
At the time, I was defense correspondent of the London Daily Telegraph, and a staunch supporter of the decision to oust Saddam Hussein. The source was a friend. He'd given me a few stories before but nothing nearly as interesting as this.
The six leaked documents I took away with me that night were to change completely my opinion of the decision to go to war and the honesty of Prime Minister Tony Blair and President Bush.
They focused on the period leading up to the Crawford, Texas, summit between Blair and Bush in early April 2002, and were most striking for the way in which British officials warned the prime minister, with remarkable prescience, what a mess post-war Iraq would become. Even by the cynical standards of realpolitik, the decision to overrule this expert advice seemed to be criminal.
The second batch of leaks arrived in the middle of this year's British general election, by which time I was writing for a different newspaper, the Sunday Times. These documents, which came from a different source, related to a crucial meeting of Blair's war Cabinet on July 23, 2002. The timing of the leak was significant, with Blair clearly in electoral difficulties because of an unpopular war.
I did not then regard the now-infamous memo -- the one that includes the minutes of the July 23 meeting -- as the most important. My main article focused on the separate briefing paper for those taking part, prepared beforehand by Cabinet Office experts.
It said that Blair agreed at Crawford that "the UK would support military action to bring about regime change." Because this was illegal, the officials noted, it was "necessary to create the conditions in which we could legally support military action."
But Downing Street had a "clever" plan that it hoped would trap Hussein into giving the allies the excuse they needed to go to war. It would persuade the U.N. Security Council to give the Iraqi leader an ultimatum to let in the weapons inspectors.
Although Blair and Bush still insist the decision to go to the U.N. was about averting war, one memo states that it was, in fact, about "wrong-footing" Hussein into giving them a legal justification for war.
British officials hoped the ultimatum could be framed in words that would be so unacceptable to Hussein that he would reject it outright. But they were far from certain this would work, so there was also a Plan B.
American media coverage of the Downing Street memo has largely focused on the assertion by Sir Richard Dearlove, head of British foreign intelligence, that war was seen as inevitable in Washington, where "the intelligence and facts were being fixed around the policy."
But another part of the memo is arguably more important. It quotes British Defense Secretary Geoff Hoon as saying that "the U.S. had already begun 'spikes of activity' to put pressure on the regime." This we now realize was Plan B.
Put simply, U.S. aircraft patrolling the southern no-fly zone were dropping a lot more bombs in the hope of provoking a reaction that would give the allies an excuse to carry out a full-scale bombing campaign, an air war, the first stage of the conflict.
British government figures for the number of bombs dropped on southern Iraq in 2002 show that although virtually none were used in March and April, an average of 10 tons a month were dropped between May and August.
But these initial "spikes of activity" didn't have the desired effect. The Iraqis didn't retaliate. They didn't provide the excuse Bush and Blair needed. So at the end of August, the allies dramatically intensified the bombing into what was effectively the initial air war.
The number of bombs dropped on southern Iraq by allied aircraft shot up to 54.6 tons in September alone, with the increased rates continuing into 2003.
In other words, Bush and Blair began their war not in March 2003, as everyone believed, but at the end of August 2002, six weeks before Congress approved military action against Iraq.
The way in which the intelligence was "fixed" to justify war is old news.
The real news is the shady April 2002 deal to go to war, the cynical use of the U.N. to provide an excuse, and the secret, illegal air war without the backing of Congress.
--Michael Smith writes on defense issues for the Sunday Times of London.