In today’s New York Times, David Sanger tries to discredit the Downing Street Memo. His lede:
A memorandum written by Prime Minister Tony Blair’s cabinet office in late July 2002 explicitly states that the Bush administration had made “no political decisions” to invade Iraq, but that American military planning for the possibility was advanced.
Sanger presumes that “political decisions” refers to the actual decision to go to war. Based on that presumption, he concludes that the memo shows the Bush administration hadn’t decided whether or not to invade Iraq.
This is both sloppy journalism, and factually incorrect. The other instances where “political” is used in the memo suggest the memo’s author had a very different sense of the word in mind, one related to the shaping of public opinion and the construction of a legal edifice that would justify Britain’s participation in the U.S. attack.
Consider the other four references to “political” in the document. In the first, on page 1, the author speaks of the desire to “engage the US on the need to set military plans within a realistic political strategy,” which includes “creating the conditions necessary to justify government military action, which might include an ultimatum for the return of UN weapons inspectors to Iraq.”
Here are two other (even more revealing) references to “political” on page 1:
The US Government’s military planning for action against Iraq is proceeding apace. But, as yet, it lacks a political framework. In particular, little thought has been given to creating the political conditions for military action, or the aftermath and how to shape it.
And finally, the kicker, on page 3:
An international coalition is necessary to provide a military platform and desirable for political purposes.
All of these uses suggest that “political decisions” had little or nothing to do with the actual decision to go to war. Instead, they dealt with the British government’s concern that the Iraq war would be deeply unpopular and/or potentially illegal. Now, with that in mind, read again the paragraph from which Sanger quotes in today’s story (and remember, he didn’t even include this sentence — just the phrase “no political decisions”):
Although no political decisions have been taken, US military planners have drafted options for the US Government to undertake an invasion of Iraq.
Frankly, this sounds like another way of saying: the U.S. has decided to go to war, is planning military strategies to do it, but has not figured out a way to sell it to the people or justify it legally.