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President Bush, Blair and Iraq

During the presidential campaign, a pattern emerged. When John Kerry talked about Iraq, events there made it to the front page. Whenever he turned away from the subject, though, the stories of death, chaos and poor planning migrated to the back pages. With the war now old news and no presidential campaign to focus attention on the issue, Iraq has been more frequently relegated to the backs of our minds. During the British election, a hitherto secret memo on Iraq came to light that contributed to Prime Minister Tony Blair’s losing 100 seats.

During the presidential campaign, a pattern emerged. When John Kerry talked about Iraq, events there made it to the front page. Whenever he turned away from the subject, though, the stories of death, chaos and poor planning migrated to the back pages.

With the war now old news and no presidential campaign to focus attention on the issue, Iraq has been more frequently relegated to the backs of our minds.

During the British election, a hitherto secret memo on Iraq came to light that contributed to Prime Minister Tony Blair’s losing 100 seats. It created barely a ripple here — Page A26 of Sunday’s Washington Post.

The minutes of a meeting between Blair and his national-security team, the memo reveals that the White House was not telling the American people the truth about its plans and was “fix(ing)” the intelligence on weapons of mass destruction (WMD).

“C,” chief of Britain’s fabled MI6, reports on his talks in Washington during the summer of 2002, saying, “Military action was now seen as inevitable. [President] Bush wanted to remove Saddam, through military action, justified by the conjunction of terrorism and WMD. But the intelligence and the facts were being fixed around the policy. … There was little discussion in Washington of the aftermath after military action.”

Each of these sentences constitutes a damning indictment of the administration that demands investigation.

Most important, the head of the British CIA is stating bluntly to his prime minister, and Bush’s closest ally in Iraq, that intelligence on WMD was being altered to justify war. The Washington Post’s Walter Pincus added weight to that conclusion, writing that the U.S. government’s own reports show “that as war approached many U.S. intelligence analysts were internally questioning almost every piece of prewar intelligence about Hussein’s alleged weapons programs.”

I will never forget the response of one senator when I asked, before the vote, if it was certain that the Iraqis had WMD. “If they don’t,” came the reply, “it will be the biggest intelligence failure in American history.” Failure it was. But not, it seems, a failure of analysis; rather, a conscious effort to fix the intelligence around the policy. Despite this evidence, the Senate Intelligence Committee has apparently dropped plans to investigate prewar political pressures on intelligence analysis.

We now know for certain that Vice President Cheney was not telling the truth when he said, “Simply stated there is no doubt that Saddam Hussein now has weapons of mass destruction, there is no doubt that he is amassing them to use … against us.” The only question is, did Cheney know he was not telling the truth?

C, and the rest of Blair’s national-security advisers, are also clear that Bush had already decided to go to war. But that is not what the president was telling us. During that summer and fall, the president and his administration were saying that war was not inevitable, that the president had not yet decided whether military action was required and that if the Iraqis gave up their WMD war could be avoided. While telling America war was not inevitable, the White House was telling the British it was.

The final line from C’s report is also worth pondering. Even then, the British worried that we had not given sufficient thought to postwar planning. We have witnessed the devastating consequences of that failure every day for years. How could our own leaders have been so blind to a need so obvious to our allies?

Congress owes the American people a serious investigation of the prewar intelligence, the postwar planning and the truthfulness of the administration. A secret memo from our closest ally cannot be dismissed as partisan politics. Someday history will answer all the questions. Why wait?

Mellman is president of The Mellman Group and has worked for Democratic candidates and causes since 1982, including Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.) last year.