The NYT tells us what we knew already regarding the President’s attempt to take down Saddam Hussein. In this breathtaking example of overhype:
In the weeks before the United States-led invasion of Iraq, as the United States and Britain pressed for a second United Nations resolution condemning Iraq, President Bush’s public ultimatum to Saddam Hussein was blunt: Disarm or face war.
But behind closed doors, the president was certain that war was inevitable. During a private two-hour meeting in the Oval Office on Jan. 31, 2003, he made clear to Prime Minister Tony Blair of Britain that he was determined to invade Iraq without the second resolution, or even if international arms inspectors failed to find unconventional weapons, said a confidential memo about the meeting written by Mr. Blair’s top foreign policy adviser and reviewed by The New York Times.
“Our diplomatic strategy had to be arranged around the military planning,” David Manning, Mr. Blair’s chief foreign policy adviser at the time, wrote in the memo that summarized the discussion between Mr. Bush, Mr. Blair and six of their top aides.
Sigh. Why is this news? The history of Saddam Hussein’s intent to deceive not just the UN but the entire international community was well known, so it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to understand why the President felt that war with Iraq was inevitable.
As usual, however, one has to read much farther into this document in order to get the context of the meeting. By January 31, Bush and Blair had already forced Saddam to allow Hans Blix back in the country for more weapons inspections, the purpose of which was to get the Iraqis to produce proof that they had destroyed their WMD stocks and equipment. That intermediate step came at the insistence of France, which wanted to delay consideration of the so-called “second resolution” wanted by Britain as political cover.
By the time Bush met Blair at the White House, Hans Blix had reported that the Iraqis would not cooperate with the inspections, only paying lip service to the inspectors. Now, thanks to captured notes of Iraqi meetings, we know that Saddam remained confident that his bribery of France and Russia (as well as their well-known economic interest in maintaining their contracts with the Saddam regime) would result in a stalemate at the Security Council over any resolution opening military force as a consequence of failure. That may be why France practically begged Blair at that moment not to pursue a “second resolution” (actually a 17th); they assured both the US and the UK that the previous sixteen resolutions gave plenty of cause for action, but that France would find it politically impossible to vote for explicit military action against Iraq.
By this time, had the US not had a plan for military action against Iraq, it would have been almost criminally neglectful. Why should it surprise anyone that two nations that faced war with Saddam Hussein would discuss the military strategy involved in that war?
In short, the Times presents us with a memo that shows the US and UK understanding that Saddam would not cooperate with the UN nor voluntarily disarm or step aside; history proved them correct on all those assertions. Given those as reality, the two nations prepared for war. If the Times finds this surprising, it demonstrates their cluelessness all the more.
As usual, the NYT is all about sound and fury, signifying — well, here I go repeating myself.