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Issue Date:  May 27, 2005

Back to the basic question on Iraq

Perhaps it is unrealistic to expect a country hip deep in a war that seems to defy explanation -- and that is going far worse than the Bush administration had ever anticipated -- to stop and ask questions at this late date about why we are there.

Asking such questions would mean retracing so many steps that feinted past so many obstacles that it would be difficult to establish what really happened. It’s much easier to simply buy the line that has evolved, the line that says the United States and its rather thin coalition are out to plant democracy, to spread freedom and liberty, and leave it at that.

The very democracy we so nobly talk of spreading around the world, however, demands that the questions be asked. The war, after all, is being fought in our name and with our money. At the same time, the evidence keeps mounting that the entire enterprise was a fabrication of falsehoods from the start.

The latest piece is the report of a British official, leaked just before parliamentary elections May 5, that British Prime Minister Tony Blair, as early as April 2002, had agreed with President George Bush during a meeting at the president’s ranch in Crawford, Texas, that he would support military action to bring about regime change in Iraq.

While knowledge of the document, reported on May 1 in The Sunday Times of London, caused a stir in England, the lack of response in this country led one U.S. paper to use a headline that declared “ ‘Downing St. Memo’ fizzling in U.S.”

The memo recounts the details of a Downing Street meeting of Blair and senior ministers and advisers July 23, 2002, “eight months before the invasion began and long before the public was told war was inevitable.”

According to the The Times, the documents reveal that at the July 2002 meeting:

  • “Blair was right from the outset committed to supporting U.S. plans for ‘regime change’ in Iraq.
  • “War was already ‘seen as inevitable.’
  • “The attorney general was already warning of grave doubts about its legality.”

Regime change is not a legal reason for going to war, according to international law.

One of those at the meeting, Sir Richard Dearlove, reported on a recent visit to Washington and talks he had with CIA director George Tenet.

“Military action was now seen as inevitable,” said Dearlove. “Bush wanted to remove Saddam, through military action, justified by the conjunction of terrorism and WMD. … Dearlove warned the meeting that ‘the intelligence and facts were being fixed around the policy.’ ”

More than two years into a war that was supposed to be quick and easy, and the justification for which has spun from removing a dictator to eliminating weapons of mass destruction to fighting terrorism and, finally, to planting democracy that would then spread across the Middle East, Iraq is in chaos.

The “symbols” of turning over to Iraqis the authority to govern and police themselves -- symbols of nascent democracy -- have become farcical charades, conducted in secret and away from cameras in hope of stemming what must be a record number of assassinations for one country during a two-year period.

In the rush to war, the memo shows, both Britain and the United States trampled international law ostensibly on the way to establishing the rule of law elsewhere.

There were no weapons of mass destruction. There were no terrorists before the occupation that has created a terrorist magnet. Any democratic tendencies have been swamped by wanton bombings and assassinations.

We are reminded once again of the severe limits of overwhelming force. The takeover of a country that had been militarily defeated in 1991, bombed constantly for the next 12 years and thoroughly compromised economically has yielded little in return for the carnage required. This has not been a quick and easy war; the results, as once presumed, are not guaranteed.

Whatever one’s view of the current U.S. occupation of Iraq -- and many reasonably believe that leaving now would open the way to far more bloodshed than Iraq has experienced so far -- our own standing as a democracy requires that we pose the difficult question: Why are we there?

National Catholic Reporter, May 27, 2005

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