Sunday, June 19, 2005

UK memos in context: a timeline

I've put the various British memos into a timeline of events to better understand their context. The timeline draws from two published on the web, at Infoplease and Mideast Web. The memos come from Raw Story and the Times Online. You can also find copies now at Since putting this timeline together has consumed most of my weekend, I don't have time right now to write much about the analysis, but the general conclusion is that the Bush administration seems to have made up its mind to get rid of Saddam Hussein by one means or another as of March, 2002, based on a number of factors including a belief that he had a WMD program and "unfinished business" from 1991 (as one of the papers discusses.) This may well be an example of a new-ish administration, flush from a previous victory in Afghanistan, making a policy choice and then selecting the facts to match.

  • 11 Sep 2001 : Attack on World Trade Center.

  • 21 Sep 2001 : US officials tell the Washington Times that Saddam Hussein made contact with Osama Bin Laden days before the attacks.

  • 7 Oct 2001 : US invasion of Afghanistan begins with Operation Enduring Freedom

  • 13 Nov 2001 : Afghan capital Kabul falls

  • 7 Dec 2001 : Afghan city Kandahar falls

  • 29 Jan 2002 : President Bush's State of the Union address lists Iraq, Iran, North Korea, and Syria as parts of the "axis of evil"

  • 8 Mar 2002 : British memo: "IRAQ: OPTIONS PAPER" from the Overseas and
    Defence Secretariat Cabinet Office. The paper discusses the policy tradeoffs of continuing a containment policy or moving to a policy of regime change. It indicates that Saddam Hussein was continuing to develop weapons of mass distruction, but that UK intelligence about that was poor. (Para. 4) It indicates there was no greater threat of Hussein using WMDs than there had been in recent years. (Para. 9) It states that the U.S. had lost confidence in the containment policy and that some in the U.S. government wanted Hussein removed. Factors it cites include
    the success of operation Enduring Freedom, distrust of UN sanctions and inspection regimes, and "unfinished business" from the 1991 invasion. (Para. 10) It notes that the U.S. believed the legal basis for an invasion already existed. (Para. 10 and see the legal memo for more.) A full-scale ground campaign would require 4-5 months to assemble, and that the ideal time to start action would be early spring. (Para. 23) Finally, it concludes that the use of force in a ground campaign is the only option that would guarantee Hussein's removal and a return of Iraq to the international community. (Para. 33)

  • 8 Mar 2002 : British Memo: "IRAQ: LEGAL BACKGROUND" (the memo itself is un-dated, but the but the Options Paper, paragraph 28, refers to it as being attached.) The memo discusses the law governing use of force against Iraq. It covers four possibilities. The first is using resolution 678 (1990) directly, the second is 678 (1990) as authorized by 1205 (1998), the third is a theory of self-defence against a threat of WMDs, and the fourth is use of force for humanitarian intervention. The overall conclusion is that, at the present time, the legal climate does not authorize use of force against Iraq. The paper notes that the US has a different view of the law. (Para. 2) There are two governing Security Council resolutions. Resolution 678 (1990) authorized use of force in Iraq. Resolution 687 (1991) established a cease-fire with conditions. If Iraq violated the conditions of the cease-fire, that would revive the authorization for use of force. (Para. 1) The tricky bit is who gets to decide whether Iraq violated the conditions of the cease-fire. (Para. 2) The UK and most of the international community felt that was a decision the Security Council would have to make. The US felt that any member of the Security Council could make that decision by itself, without involving the rest of the Council. (Para. 2)

  • 14 Mar 2002 : British memo: "YOUR TRIP TO THE US" detailing two days of meetings between Condoleezza Rice and UK foreign policy advisor David Manning. The memo mentions a debate in Washington. It indicates that Rice's desire for regime change was "undimmed" but also that there were signs that Washington was developing "greater awareness of the practical difficulties and political risks." It goes on to describe four questions the US had yet to resolve. None of the questions involves whether or not to invade Iraq. Instead, they focus on how to persuade the international community to undertake an invasion, what resources would be available to carry it out, and what would happen afterwards. When discussing Prime Minister Blair's upcoming visit, it expresses the hope that Blair could use the UK's help as leverage both to influence the military planning, because there was a "real risk" that the US underestimated the difficulties, and to get the US to restart the Middle East Peace Process.

  • 18 Mar 2002 : British memo: "IRAQ AND AFGHANISTAN: CONVERSATION WITH WOLFOWITZ" from the British ambassador in Washington to David Manning. The conversation occurred March 17th. It also references the March 14th conversation with Condoleezza Rice. Paragraph 4 indicates that Mr. Wolfowitz differed from other administration officials, because he wanted to emphasize Saddam Hussein's barbarism rather than the weapons of mass destruction. Wolfowitz also emphasized the link between Saddam Hussein and terrorism. (Para. 5) This emphasis is noteworthy given the UK's very different beliefs about the links between Iraq and Al Qaida in the other memos. What is striking about the memo is that, as of this date, the momentum in the Bush administration seemed to be decisively in favor of getting rid of Saddam Hussein. The only alternative the memo discusses is arranging a coup. It does not mention additional weapons inspections or other diplomatic solutions.

  • 22 Mar 2002 : British memo: "IRAQ: ADVICE FOR THE PRIME MINISTER" from Political Director Peter Rickets to the Secretary of State. This memo states that the pace of Saddam Hussein's WMD programs had not changed. Instead, what had changed was "our" tolerance of them after the 9/11 attack. (Para. 4) Paragraph 5 characterizes the US attempt to link Iraq with Al Qaida as "frankly unconvincing." Finally, paragraph 6 discusses the public relations problems with having a goal of "regime change," because it sounds like a grudge between George Bush and Saddam Hussein. Instead, it suggests a goal of ending the threat of Iraqi WMDs would be more convincing, and suggests President Bush would do better by showing he was more serious about UN Inspectors as a first choice. Inspectors would be a "win/win" situation since they would either further hinder WMD programs or a refusal to allow them would provide stronger justification for other approaches.

  • 25 Mar 2002 : British memo from Jack Straw, Foreign and Commonwealth Office, to Prime Minister Tony Blair about an upcoming meeting in Crawford, TX. It advises Mr. Blair that the UK will have a difficult time convincing its "Colleagues." Paragraph 4 states that there is no credible evidence linking Iraq with Al Qaida. Instead, the main thing that has changed is the international community's, and especially the US's, tolerance for the threat Iraq poses. Paragraph 5 points out that the "axis of evil" speech linked the threats from Iraq, Iran, and North Korea, creating the public relations problem of showing that the threat from Iraq is worse enough to justify an invasion. Paragraph 8 mentions that there are others who say an attack on Iraq would be justified regardless of whether or not Iraq allowed weapons inspectors in, suggesting that views within the UK's government were not uniform.

  • 14 May 2002 : UN Security Council replaces 11 year old sanctions on Iraq

  • 23 Jul 2002 : "Downing Street Memo" summarizing a meeting in which "C reported on his recent talks in Washington." already contains considerable analysis of this memo.

  • 2 Jun 2002 : President Bush introduces defence doctrine of preemption in West Point speach.

  • Aug 2002 : Iraq invites chief weapons inspector to Baghdad for talks on resuming inspections

  • 12 Sep 2002 : President Bush addresses special session of the UN, calling for it to enforce its own resolution on Iraq

  • 22 Sep 2002 : Prime Minister Blair releases dossier showing Iraq has WMD capabilities

  • 11 Oct 2002 : Congress authorizes attack on Iraq

  • 8 Nov 2002 : UN Security Council approves resolution 1441

  • 18 Nov 2002 : UN weapons inspectors return to Iraq

  • 7 Dec 2002 : Iraq submits documentation as required by resoultion 1441

  • 16 Jan 2003 : UN inspectors discover 11 undeclared empty chemical warheads in Iraq

  • 27 Jan 2003 : Weapons inspector Hans Blix submits report

  • 14 Feb 2003 : Second report by inspector Hans Blix

  • 22 Feb 2003 : Blix orders Iraq to destroy its Al Samoud 2 missiles by March 1 due to illegal range

  • 14 Feb 2003 : US, Britain and Spain submit proposed resolution to Security Council to authorize military force. France, Germany and Russia submit a counter-resolution calling for more intensified inspections.

  • 1 Mar 2003 : Iraq begins destroying Al Samoud 2 missiles

  • 17 Mar 2003 : President Bush delivers ultimatum to Saddam Hussein to leave the country within 48 hours or face an attack

  • 19 Mar 2003 : President Bush declares war on Iraq.

  • 20 Mar 2003 : US launches Operation Iraqi Freedom with a "decapitation attack."
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