Bush-Aznar pre-Iraq war conversation exonerates Bush, contrary to the claims of the usual suspects

The leftosphere is erupting in predictable outrage after the publishing of a transcript of a conversation between the President and then-Prime Minister of Spain José María Aznar, a conversation which took place about a month before the war in Iraq began. Spain’s El País daily newspaper published it, and the Editor and Publisher has a translation of it, which is, as you’ll soon discover a very poor translation.

First, let’s get the standard-bearer for the reaction from the Nutroots left: that would be Bush-hater Juan Cole, who calls what Bush said in the conversation “grounds for impeachment”:

The transcript, it seems to me, provides a whole rack of smoking guns that could be a basis for impeaching George W. Bush. The transcript shows that Bush consciously intended to go to war without a United Nations Security Council resolution. The United Nations Charter, to which the United States is a treaty signatory (so that it has the force of American law), forbids any nation to launch an aggressive war on another country. The only two legal mechanisms for war are either that it came in response to a direct attack or that the attacker gained a UNSC authorization. The transcript shows Bush actively plotting to sidestep the UNSC if he could not, gangster-like, threaten its members into compliance.

But, as is the norm with the far left, a few facts were conveniently overlooked by Cole in his rush to condemn. Barcepundit’s Jose Guardia, writing for Pajamas Media, explains:

Several areas of interest emerge in this memo, but perhaps the most interesting is this part concerning negotiations being conducted with Saddam. Bush told Aznar:

“The Egyptians are talking with Saddam Hussein. It seems he has hinted he’d be willing to leave if he’s allowed to take 1 billion dollars and all the information on WMDs.”

All the information on WMDs? What would that imply to Bush and to Aznar? And this was coming from Egyptian Intelligence in direct communication with Saddam. Wouldn’t the normal person assume from that that Saddam had WMDs or at the very least was seriously engaged in creating them? Why would he wish to preserve this information if he didn’t have any forbidden weapons programs is something that war critics should reconcile. I guess all the people who are trumpeting this leak will now stop saying that Bush lied and mislead us on the WMD issue. Can’t have it both ways. But I won’t hold my breath.

Nor will I. Continuing:

The part being ballyhooed by them is that Bush was planning to go into Iraq under any conditions.

But even that is wrong. What the transcript doesn’t say in accurate translation, no matter the headlines, is that Bush was going to invade even if Saddam complied. What it says is that the US would be in Iraq in mid-March whether there was a second UN resolution or not, one that Bush said he would try to get by all means, which is an entirely different matter. As everybody knows, there’s certainly a debate on whether the first resolution was enough or not – many reputable experts think it was, though there’s not unanimity on this, certainly. But the issue is different.

Here’s the relevant section:

Saddam won’t change and will keep playing games. The moment of getting rid of him has arrived. That’s it. As for me, from now on I’ll try to use the softest rhetoric I can, while we look for the resolution to be approved. If some country vetoes [the resolution] we’ll go in. Saddam is not disarming. We must catch him right now. We have shown an incredible amount of patience until now. We have two weeks. In two weeks our military will be ready. I think we’ll achieve a second resolution. In the Security Council we have three African countries [Cameroon, Angola, Guinea], the Chileans, the Mexicans. I’ll talk with all of them, also with Putin, naturally. We’ll be in Baghdad at the end of March. There’s a 15% chance that by then Saddam is dead or has flown. But these possibilities won’t exist until we have shown our resolution. The Egyptians are talking with Saddam Hussein. It seems he has hinted he’d be willing to leave if he’s allowed to take 1 billion dollars and all the information on WMDs. Ghadaffi told Berlusconi that Saddam wants to leave. Mubarak tells us that in these circumstances there are big chances that he’ll get killed.

We would like to act with the mandate of the UN. If we act militarily, we’ll do with great precision and focalizing our targets to the biggest degree possible. We’ll decimate the loyal troops and the regular army will quickly know what it’s all about. … We are developing a very strong aid package. We can win without destruction. We are working already in the post-Saddam Iraq, and I think there’s a basis for a better future. Iraq has a good bureaucracy and a relatively strong civil society. It could be organized as a federation. Meanwhile we’re doing all we can to fulfill the political needs of our friends and allies.

If anything, the transcript proves precisely the opposing point that critics want to make. The conversation shows both Bush and Aznar trying to avoid war as much a possible; that they were concerned of its human toll and that they were quite confident that they would obtain a second resolution. It was the threat that they would act if there wasn’t a second resolution that made them quite confident that there would be one.

At one point Bush explicitly says: “I don’t want war. I know what wars are like. I know the death and destruction they bring. I am the one who has to comfort the mothers and wifes of the dead. Of course, for us [a diplomatic solution] would be the best one. Also, it would save 50 billion dollars.” That doesn’t sound like someone hell-bent to going to war no matter what.

The full translated transcript is at the Pajamas link (scroll down a bit to see it).

This conversation exonerates Bush on a few fronts, something I doubt the leaker of the transcript intended. As Guardia noted, Bush’s citing of Egyptian intelligence proves that Bush really did believe that Saddam Hussein had WMD – and we all know how the left has routinely tried to claim that “BUSH KNEW!” there really “weren’t” any WMD in Iraq. It also clearly shows he didn’t want to go to war, but was prepared to do what he had to in a post-9/11 world to take out someone he (and many others on both sides of the aisle going back to the Clinton admin) clearly viewed as a serious threat to our national security, and that of the international community as well.

This is supposed to be the “smoking gun” against the Bush administration? Perhaps in lefty la la land, but the actual translation clearly proves otherwise.

I await word of some shamelessly pandering Congressional Democrat to call for an “investigation” into pre-Iraq war claims once again, just in time for the 2008 elections. The loony left is simply hell-bent on “proving” that Bush sent over 150,000 US troops into Iraq for personal reasons (oil, revenge for the attempt on his father’s life, etc), rather than in the interests of our national security. 30 or 40 years from now liberal “historians” will still be trying to find that “smoking gun” that doesn’t exist, simply because the left have constructed a narrative about Bush’s rationale for the Iraq war, and they’ve already proven they’ll cheat and cut the edges around the pieces of the puzzle in order to make them conveniently “fit” that narrative.

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