The Downing Street Memo, a British-government document on Iraq leaked in May to the Sunday Times, may be as close as the American public will get to a “smoking gun” implicating the Bush White House in manipulating this country into war.  A July 23, 2002, memo (actually, the minutes of a British cabinet meeting) written by Matthew Rycroft, a Downing Street foreign-policy aide, appears to confirm what Chronicles maintained even before the ill-fated imperial adventure in Mesopotamia: The Bush White House desired a war with Iraq and was willing to twist, distort, even fabricate “evidence” to justify an invasion.  And neither the White House nor Downing Street has denied the authenticity of the memo.

The key paragraph in the particularly infamous memo (one of a number of documents leaked to British journalist Michael Smith) reports on the impressions of “C” (Richard Dearlove, then head of MI6, the British intelligence service) after a visit to Washington.  According to “C,” the White House viewed military action against Iraq as “inevitable.”  President Bush “wanted to remove Saddam through military action” and to use the “conjunction of terrorism” and weapons of mass destruction (WMD’s) to justify war.  The White House was so intent on war that “the intelligence and facts were being fixed around the policy.”  “C” maintained there was “little discussion in Washington of the aftermath” of military action, implying that the Bush administration had no postwar plans for Iraq and no exit strategy.  (The apparent lack of U.S. postwar planning was also mentioned in other leaked Downing Street documents.)  Judging by Dearlove’s observations, the Bush administration was growing impatient and wanted to get on with the war, was willing to “fix” intelligence to justify “regime change,” and was not especially concerned with planning ahead.

Rycroft’s memo further reported that the United States was then contemplating two options for the coming war.  The first, dubbed “generated start,” would involve a slow buildup of U.S. forces, a quick air campaign and a strike at Baghdad, something like the “shock and awe” operation that was eventually launched.  The second seemed to point to possible U.S. plans to provoke an incident to justify a “running start” option.  In this option, the United States would use forces already in the region, launching an air campaign “initiated by an Iraqi casus belli.”  In the meantime, the Pentagon “had already begun ‘spikes of activity’ to put pressure on the regime” months before Congress authorized military action in October 2002.

As related in the British memos, at least some U.K. cabinet members advised against a rush to war.  British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw thought it “clear that Bush had made up his mind to take military action” but called the case for war “thin.”  The U.S./U.K. coalition needed a pretext for war since Saddam was “not threatening his neighbors” and his WMD capability “was less than that of Libya, North Korea, or Iran.”  These are important admissions, since both British Prime Minister Tony Blair and President Bush cast the alleged Iraqi threat in almost apocalyptic terms before the war.  (President Bush, for instance, told reporters in September 2002, that Iraq could launch a chemical-or biological-weapons attack in 45 minutes.)  Straw suggested posing an ultimatum to Saddam on allowing U.N. weapons inspectors back into Iraq.  Such an ultimatum would “help with the legal justification” for war, as Saddam would likely refuse.

In another leaked memo from March 25, 2002, Straw wrote that there was “no credible evidence” linking Iraq to Osama bin Laden or September 11, a connection the Bush White House was alleging at the time to manipulate U.S. public opinion.  And what would come after regime change?  Again, Straw contradicts the public line of the war party, writing that installing a democracy in Iraq seemed highly unlikely.  Straw wrote that Iraq “has NO history of democracy.  No one has this habit or experience.”

True, the Downing Street memos show us only what British-government officials were thinking.  We have no equivalent from the White House.  Nevertheless, when taken together with the mass of material readily available to anyone curious enough to log on to the internet, it seems clear that the White House manipulated this country into war.

What’s missing in all this is the question of Bush’s motivation.  Why did this president personally want a war with Iraq?  Bush was apparently obsessed with Iraq long before he became president.  During the 2004 election campaign, journalist Russ Baker interviewed the Houston Chronicle’s Mickey Herskowitz, who worked with Bush on a ghostwritten memoir (A Charge to Keep).  Herskowitz told Baker that Bush “was thinking about invading Iraq in 1999 . . . He said, ‘One of the keys to being seen as a great leader is to be seen as a commander-in-chief.’  And he said, ‘My father had all this political capital built up when he drove the Iraqis out of Kuwait and he wasted it.’  He went on, ‘If I have a chance to invade . . . if I had that much capital, I’m not going to waste it.  I’m going to get everything passed that I want to get passed and I’m going to have a successful presidency.’”  According to Baker, White House communications director Karen Hughes eventually took charge of the project, and Bush staffers took Herskowitz’s notes and tapes of conversations with Bush.

Herskowitz, Bob Woodward (Bush at War), and Richard Clarke (Against All Enemies) have all told similar stories regarding Bush’s predisposition toward war with Iraq.  It’s likely that the pro-Israeli dispensationalist views of Bush’s evangelical Christian Zionist supporters (and the Likud lobbyists in his administration) played a role in his intent to go to war. The sheer fun of imperial games and military adventures, too, may have been more than Bush II could resist.  And the oil lobby may have made arguments for the “strategic” value of Iraq.  If what Hers-ko-witz claims is true, however, it was old-fashioned political cynicism that did the trick for “W.”  Perhaps he and Karl Rove were made for each other.