Let's Go to the Memo
What's really in the Downing Street memos?
The tragedy embedded in these memos is that the Brits were mistaken in their two most basic premises: first, that Saddam Hussein really had WMD and really posed a threat; second, that just because Bush needed Blair's support, Blair could somehow influence him.
Their first mistake would be revealed after the war was over. The second should have been clear before it began. Manning's memo recounts raising some issues about political support, international law, postwar stability, and so forth at a recent dinner with Rice. "Condi's enthusiasm for regime change is undimmed," he reports, adding, "From what she said, Bush has yet to find the answers to the big questions." Two months later, the July 21 Cabinet Office report cited the same worry: "A post-war occupation of Iraq could lead to a protracted and costly nation-building exercise. … U.S. military plans are virtually silent on this point."
At least the Brits clearly saw the difficulties ahead and tried to engage Bush on their implications. Had he listened, our biggest problems in Iraq today might be a great deal smaller. This is another lesson to be gleaned from the Downing Street memos.
Fred Kaplan is Slate's "War Stories" columnist and author of the book, The Insurgents: David Petraeus and the Plot to Change the American Way of War. He can be reached at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter.
Photograph by Jim Watson/Agence France-Presse.