Weighing a Memo on Bush, Blair and Iraq — in 2002

Senior Analyst Daniel Schorr comments on a memo recently made public that indicates President Bush was determined to attack Iraq in July 2002.

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DANIEL SCHORR:

This must rank as the under-covered story of the year.

SHEILAH KAST, host:

NPR senior news analyst Daniel Schorr.

SCHORR: Secret documents leaked to the British press indicating that President Bush was set on invading Iraq at least as early as July 2002. White House press secretary Scott McClellan has denounced this as `flat out wrong' and said the invasion decision was made only after Iraq refused to comply with international obligations. He did not, however, deny the existence of the British documents which he said he had not seen.

According to one memo, which has not been disavowed by the British government, Richard Dearlove, head of MI6, Britain's intelligence service, visited Washington in July 2002 to ascertain American intentions. A memo dated July 23rd summarized a meeting of Prime Minister Tony Blair and his top security advisers. The memo quoted Dearlove as reporting what he had learned from American officials who were not named. His report said, `There was a perceptible shift in attitude. Military action was now seen as inevitable. Bush wanted to remove Saddam through military action justified by the conjunction of terrorism and weapons of mass destruction. But the intelligence and the facts were being fixed around the policy,' he said.

This at a time when the White House was saying, `There are no plans to attack Iraq' on the president's desk. The memo was marked: `Secret' and `Strictly personal. UK eyes only.'

Another briefing paper for the Downing Street meeting referred back to the prime minister's visit with President Bush the previous April in Crawford, Texas. Blair was quoted as having told the president then, `The UK would support military action to bring about regime change.'

This although a British legal memo said, `Regime change, per se, is not a proper basis for military action under international law.' These memos first reported in the London Sunday Times on May 1st created a great stir in Britain, perhaps because they appear to support attacks on the prime minister as a lap dog for President Bush at the height of the British election campaign.

In the United States, perhaps because there have been so many stories suggesting a cynical White House decision, there was much less reaction. The New York Times did not get around to reporting it until last week and on an inside page, apparently no big deal. This is Daniel Schorr.

KAST: It's 18 minutes past the hour.

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