The Real Memogate

Solomon Hughes

At a 2002 G8 summit Bush and Blair demonstrate their "special relationship."

President Bush gratefully received Tony Blair’s support for the invasion of Iraq, but that relationship may now be turning sour. As antiwar feeling runs high in Britain, recently leaked secret official documents show both the U.S. and U.K. governments conspired to cook up a case for a pre-planned Iraq war.

Days before the British general election, the Sunday Times published a Secret and Strictly Personal – UK Eyes Only” document written in July 2002 by one of Blair’s aides revealing U.S. and U.K. war plans. 

The memo details a meeting between Blair and his top officials, during which C reported on his recent talks in Washington.” C” is the code name for the Chief of MI6, Britain’s Intelligence service. C”, also known as Sir David Spedding, said, There was a perceptible shift in attitude among America’s political leaders. … Military action was now seen as inevitable. Bush wanted to remove Saddam thorough military action, justified by the conjunction of terrorism and WMD. But the intelligence and the facts are being fixed around the policy.”

The memo sparked front page news in the United Kingdom. The U.S. press was slow to pick up the story, but 88 members of Congress co-signed a letter to Bush written by Rep. John Conyers (D-Mich.) demanding an inquiry into the document’s revelations.

At the 2002 meeting, the memo reveals that British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw said, It seemed clear that Bush had made up his mind to take military action.” However, Straw was also not convinced by the WMD argument, saying, Saddam was not threatening his neighbours, and his WMD capability was less than that of Libya, North Korea or Iran.” In public, Straw supported the official claim that Iraq’s WMDs posed a threat that justified war.

The memo also shows that planning for postwar Iraq was woefully inadequate and the legal case for war was dubious. The British Intelligence chief reported, There was little discussion in Washington of the aftermath after military action.” Attorney General Lord Goldsmith, the British Government’s top legal officer warned meeting attendees, The desire for regime change was not a legal base for military action.” Subsequent leaks show Goldsmith turned around and gave a legal thumbs-up for war, but only after a gruelling February 2003 session with then-presidential legal adviser Alberto Gonzales.

This is the latest in a flood of leaks undermining the war’s justification, including the 2003 revelations by British weapons inspector David Kelly that the Iraqi mobile bio-war labs highlighted by Colin Powell were really military weather balloon inflators, and by intelligence translator Katherine Gun, who revealed that GCHQ, Britain’s surveillance center, was spying on delegations to the U.N. Security Council at the request of the U. S. National Security Agency in an attempt to win U.N. support for invasion.

In September 2004, other secret documents revealing shared war planning were passed to the Telegraph. A March 2002 memo to Blair from his top aide, Sir David Manning, reported that he dined with Condoleezza Rice, and told her that Blair would not budge in [his] support for regime change” at a time when Blair was about to visit the ranch” for talks with Bush. 

In a March 2002 memo, U.K. ambassador to Washington Sir Christopher Meyer recounts to David Manning another dinner date – this time with Paul Wolfowitz. The after-dinner conversation shows that the plan for war was fixed and only the selling” of the issue remained: We backed regime change but the plan had to be clever [because] it would be a tough sell for us domestically and probably tougher elsewhere in Europe.”

These leaks occured against a background of anti-war demonstrations throughout the United Kingdom, and Iraq and the lies about WMD were a major issue in Britain’s recent general election. Labour lost votes as the Liberal Democrats promoted a left-tinged antiwar ticket. Nationally, Labour tried to avoid Iraq, a stance mocked as don’t mention the war.” George Galloway, expelled from the Labour Party because of his position on Iraq, was re-elected to Parliament as a representative of the newly formed, antiwar Respect Coalition.

On May 17, Galloway testified before the U.S. Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations. In response to a question from the chairman, Sen. Norm Coleman (R-Minn.), Galloway said:

Senator, in everything I said about Iraq, I turned out to be right and you turned out to be wrong and 100,000 people paid with their lives. … If the world had listened to Kofi Annan, whose dismissal you demanded, if the world had listened to President Chirac, who you want to paint as some kind of corrupt traitor, if the world had listened to me and the antiwar movement in Britain, we would not be in the disaster that we are in today.
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Solomon Hughes, a freelance journalist, has written on the Iraq War and its aftermath for the Observer and Independent on Sunday of London.
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