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.
TODAY IN SLATE
The Ebola Story
How our minds build narratives out of disaster.
The Budget Disaster That Completely Sabotaged the WHO’s Response to Ebola
PowerPoint Is the Worst, and Now It’s the Latest Way to Hack Into Your Computer
The Shooting Tragedies That Forged Canada’s Gun Politics
A Highly Unscientific Ranking of Crazy-Old German Beers
Welcome to 13th Grade!
Some high schools are offering a fifth year. That’s a great idea.
The Actual World
“Mount Thoreau” and the naming of things in the wilderness.