Support for Bush and War Fades

Random Lengths News | July 12, 2005
Despite continued downplaying of the Downing Street Memos in the official media, a sizeable 42 percent of American voters now say that President Bush should be impeached if it is found that he “did not tell the truth about his reasons for going to war with Iraq,” according to a Zogby Poll released on June 30, 2005. This includes 25 percent of Republicans. Furthermore, a Washington Post/ABC poll the same week found that 52 percent say the Bush Administration “intentionally misled the American public” in making its case for war in Iraq and 57 percent say the Bush Administration intentionally exaggerated its evidence that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction (WMDs). Zogby found Bush’s job approval rating at an all-time low of 43 percent.

At the same time, the media is staunchly resisting and under-reporting attempts to investigate published documentary evidence that Bush lied his way into war, violating federal law in the process—an impeachable offense.

“The congressmembers willing to be brave on the issue are going to face scorn and ridicule from the media, but the people are out ahead of them,” said David Swanson, a co-founder of a growing coalition of groups and individuals pressing for a full investigation, leading to possible impeachment.

Congresswoman Maxine Waters made a similar point. “Too many elected officials know that we were lied to, they know the war is wrong, and its making our country weaker, but they think somehow they will be attacked as unpatriotic by Bush and the neocons, and they’ve got to realize its time for them to speak out,” she told Random Lengths. “That’s why we’re organizing and asking people to call them, we’re going to bring street heat,” she added.

Another co-founder, John Bonifaz, has identified two specific federal laws Bush appears to have broken.

The first Downing Street Memo (DSM), minutes of British War Cabinet meeting held on July 23, 2002, was published by the London Sunday Times (LST) on May 1, 2005. It contained a report by British Intelligence chief Richard Dearlove concerning recent talks in Washington:

“There was a perceptible shift in attitude. Military action was now seen as inevitable. 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.”

However, Michael Smith, the LST reporter who obtained the memo, actually received a whole series of memos, including a 4-page memo from Foreign Secretary Jack Straw to Blair dated February 19, 2002 discussing possible invasion of Iraq on the eve of Blair’s visit to Bush in Texas. "The rewards from your visit to Crawford will be few. The risks are high, both for you and for the Government," Straw warned.

Smith himself believes the most important revelation he obtained concerned the early launch of a bombing campaign intended to provoke Iraq into a counter-strike that could be used to justify an invasion. “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,” Smith wrote in an L.A. Times “commentary,” June 23, 2005.

Neither Bush nor Blair have denied the DSMs accuracy, but continue repeating the line that the memos expose as false -- that they were seeking peace at the UN, rather than an excuse for war.

The bombing campaign -- “effectively the initial air war” -- was their “Plan B.” Virtually no bombs were dropped on Southern Iraq in March and April, Smith noted, then an average of 10 tons were dropped each month between May and August, which “shot up to 54.6 tons in September alone, with the increased rates continuing into 2003.”

Representative John Conyers, the Ranking [Democratic] Member on the House Judiciary Committee, has taken the lead in trying to get questions answered. On May 5, he sent a letter to Bush asking a series of questions intended to confirm or deny the basic information in the Downing Street Memos. Originally 89, and eventually 128 Congressmembers co-signed Conyers’ letter, including Rep. Juanita Millender-McDonald, (D- Carson) but not Rep. Jane Harman,(D- South Bay) who has acted more as a Bush apologist.

“We’ve really only asked the President some very basic questions,” Conyers told KPFK’s Blaise Bonpane on July 3.

On June 16, Conyers convened a hearing, which Republicans confined to a basement room in the Capitol, taking several hours of testimony from lawyers, intelligence analysts and family members of soldiers killed in Iraq, along with statements and questions from a diverse group of Congressmembers. It was covered and rebroadcast on CSPAN-2.

Then on June 30, Conyers sent another letter to the White House, State Department and Department of Defense, co-signed by 52 Representatives, initiating a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request for records related to the issues raised by the Downing Street Memos, including, "All records relating to the planning and preparation for military action in Iraq...for the period from January 1, 1995 to October 16, 2002."

“We’re still building up the case, the evidence. We’re planning to go to England to investigate,” Conyers told Bonpane. “Our investigations are just beginning,” he added.

Plans are also under way to bring a discussion of the DSMs to the floor of Congress after the July 4th recess ends, Congresswoman Waters said.

A gapping chasm appears to separate public opinion from elite opinion. An analysis by Arianna Huffington found vastly more attention being paid to Michael Jackson than the DSMs on all so-called “serious” broadcast news venues. (See sidebar, “The Missing Scandal,” p. x.) The media have long known that Bush is lying, but the he-said/she-said ethos of reporting indifferently reports truth and lies on an equal footing. It thus regards the DSMs as “nothing new,” a claim that’s palpably false, since they constitute documentary evidence of a presidential crime.

Constitutional lawyer Jon Bonifaz, of, has advised Conyers that “the federal anti-conspiracy statute, 18 U.S.C. - 371, which makes it a felony ‘to commit any offense against the United States, or to defraud the United States, or any agency thereof in any manner or for any purpose...’; and The False Statements Accountability Act of 1996, 18 U.S.C. - 1001, which makes it a felony to issue knowingly and willfully false statements to the United States Congress” were both violated, if the DSMs record is true.

A prime expose of Bush’s deception was USA Today’s story, “Iraq course set from tight White House circle,” published on September 11, 2002, and coauthored by five top reporters. It reported that, “President Bush's determination to oust Iraq's Saddam Hussein by military force if necessary was set last fall without a formal decision-making meeting or the intelligence assessment that customarily precedes such a momentous decision.” The latest this article places the decision is late November, but it strongly implies the decision was made much earlier:

“The speech on Sept. 20 would make only a passing reference to Iraq. Cheney told Wolfowitz to stop agitating for targeting Saddam.

But that goal was only being delayed, Cheney assured him, not rejected. ‘First things first,’ the president told aides.”

While this was published in a national newspaper, and never denied, the Administration and media continued to pretend that no decision was made until just days before the 2003 invasion.

“I thought it was a very serious attempt to piece together what had happened in the course of going to war.... I didn’t think it told 100 percent of the story, but it was a good start,” said USA Today’s White House bureau chief Susan Page, one of the co-authors. “I believe that it stands up pretty well.” Yet, even she has no plans to revisit or expand upon her past path-breaking work, reflecting a media consensus that simply accepts the Bush Administration’s agenda setting, even as the public turns against him.

USA Today founder Al Neuharth appears to express the outer edge of respectable opinion. “The most important similarity between Iraq and Vietnam is that both Democratic and Republican presidents lied to us in wartime,” Neuharth wrote in a June 30 column, “The crucial difference between Vietnam and Iraq is that there is no Cronkite to call Bush's bluff. Without a strong, trusted, non-political voice, too many of us remain Bush-blinded.”

Neuharth, who earned a Bronze Star in World War II, ended his column saying, “I'm convinced the best way to support our troops in Iraq is to bring them home. Sooner rather than later.” But he did not call Bush’s bluff. He did not call for a serious investigation into the Downing Street Memos.

Nor do Page or Barbara Slavin, USA Today’s senior diplomatic reporter, who defends the media’s indifference to the DSMs. “Bush had already won his election. It just seemed a little gratuitous. Interesting, but gratuitous.”

But David Swanson of has a very different view.

“None of this is old to a huge percentage of the public,” he points out. “Just looking at exit polls from November showing them actually believing that Saddam Hussein had connections with al Qaeda and WMDs.”

“If it’s new news for the President to make the same lies in public,” Swanson said, referring to Bush’s televised June 28 speech, “how can it be old to news to tell them it was lies? Something’s out of whack here.” plans actions across the country on July 23, “Downing Street Memo Day.” Congresswoman Maxine Waters will be holding a town meeting concerning the memo as well as organizing to get out of Iraq.

Downing Street Memo Text sidebar

May 01, 2005

The secret Downing Street memo



From: Matthew Rycroft

Date: 23 July 2002

S 195 /02

cc: Defence Secretary, Foreign Secretary, Attorney-General, Sir Richard Wilson, John Scarlett, Francis Richards, CDS, C, Jonathan Powell, Sally Morgan, Alastair Campbell


Copy addressees and you met the Prime Minister on 23 July to discuss Iraq.

This record is extremely sensitive. No further copies should be made. It should be shown only to those with a genuine need to know its contents.

John Scarlett summarised the intelligence and latest JIC assessment. Saddam's regime was tough and based on extreme fear. The only way to overthrow it was likely to be by massive military action. Saddam was worried and expected an attack, probably by air and land, but he was not convinced that it would be immediate or overwhelming. His regime expected their neighbours to line up with the US. Saddam knew that regular army morale was poor. Real support for Saddam among the public was probably narrowly based.

C reported on his recent talks in Washington. There was a perceptible shift in attitude. Military action was now seen as inevitable. 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. There was little discussion in Washington of the aftermath after military action.

CDS said that military planners would brief CENTCOM on 1-2 August, Rumsfeld on 3 August and Bush on 4 August.

The two broad US options were:

(a) Generated Start. A slow build-up of 250,000 US troops, a short (72 hour) air campaign, then a move up to Baghdad from the south. Lead time of 90 days (30 days preparation plus 60 days deployment to Kuwait).

(b) Running Start. Use forces already in theatre (3 x 6,000), continuous air campaign, initiated by an Iraqi casus belli. Total lead time of 60 days with the air campaign beginning even earlier. A hazardous option.

The US saw the UK (and Kuwait) as essential, with basing in Diego Garcia and Cyprus critical for either option. Turkey and other Gulf states were also important, but less vital. The three main options for UK involvement were:

(i) Basing in Diego Garcia and Cyprus, plus three SF squadrons.

(ii) As above, with maritime and air assets in addition.

(iii) As above, plus a land contribution of up to 40,000, perhaps with a discrete role in Northern Iraq entering from Turkey, tying down two Iraqi divisions.

The Defence Secretary said that the US had already begun "spikes of activity" to put pressure on the regime. No decisions had been taken, but he thought the most likely timing in US minds for military action to begin was January, with the timeline beginning 30 days before the US Congressional elections.

The Foreign Secretary said he would discuss this with Colin Powell this week. It seemed clear that Bush had made up his mind to take military action, even if the timing was not yet decided. But the case was thin. Saddam was not threatening his neighbours, and his WMD capability was less than that of Libya, North Korea or Iran. We should work up a plan for an ultimatum to Saddam to allow back in the UN weapons inspectors. This would also help with the legal justification for the use of force.

The Attorney-General said that the desire for regime change was not a legal base for military action. There were three possible legal bases: self-defence, humanitarian intervention, or UNSC authorisation. The first and second could not be the base in this case. Relying on UNSCR 1205 of three years ago would be difficult. The situation might of course change.

The Prime Minister said that it would make a big difference politically and legally if Saddam refused to allow in the UN inspectors. Regime change and WMD were linked in the sense that it was the regime that was producing the WMD. There were different strategies for dealing with Libya and Iran. If the political context were right, people would support regime change. The two key issues were whether the military plan worked and whether we had the political strategy to give the military plan the space to work.

On the first, CDS said that we did not know yet if the US battleplan was workable. The military were continuing to ask lots of questions.

For instance, what were the consequences, if Saddam used WMD on day one, or if Baghdad did not collapse and urban warfighting began? You said that Saddam could also use his WMD on Kuwait. Or on Israel, added the Defence Secretary.

The Foreign Secretary thought the US would not go ahead with a military plan unless convinced that it was a winning strategy. On this, US and UK interests converged. But on the political strategy, there could be US/UK differences. Despite US resistance, we should explore discreetly the ultimatum. Saddam would continue to play hard-ball with the UN.

John Scarlett assessed that Saddam would allow the inspectors back in only when he thought the threat of military action was real.

The Defence Secretary said that if the Prime Minister wanted UK military involvement, he would need to decide this early. He cautioned that many in the US did not think it worth going down the ultimatum route. It would be important for the Prime Minister to set out the political context to Bush.


(a) We should work on the assumption that the UK would take part in any military action. But we needed a fuller picture of US planning before we could take any firm decisions. CDS should tell the US military that we were considering a range of options.

(b) The Prime Minister would revert on the question of whether funds could be spent in preparation for this operation.

(c) CDS would send the Prime Minister full details of the proposed military campaign and possible UK contributions by the end of the week.

(d) The Foreign Secretary would send the Prime Minister the background on the UN inspectors, and discreetly work up the ultimatum to Saddam.

He would also send the Prime Minister advice on the positions of countries in the region especially Turkey, and of the key EU member states.

(e) John Scarlett would send the Prime Minister a full intelligence update.

(f) We must not ignore the legal issues: the Attorney-General would consider legal advice with FCO/MOD legal advisers.

(I have written separately to commission this follow-up work.)


(Rycroft was a Downing Street foreign policy aide)

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