While the American corporate media has given little attention to it, an official British inquiry into the war with Iraq has brought to light damning testimony about the Bush administration’s deliberate launching of an invasion to overthrow the regime of Saddam Hussein and subjugate Iraq to American domination.
Former British diplomats and security officials from the 2001-2003 period began testifying this week under oath before a panel headed by Sir John Chilcot, charged with examining the entire course of the war, from its origins to the final British pullout in June 2009.
More than enough evidence has already been produced to indict top Bush administration leaders, including Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld, Powell and Rice, on the same charge for which Nazi leaders were convicted at the 1946 Nuremberg Tribunal—deliberately waging an aggressive war.
Jeremy Greenstock, British ambassador to the United Nations from 1998 to 2003, described the Bush administration as “hell bent” for a war with Iraq for more than a year before the actual invasion in March 2003. He described the US and British diplomacy to obtain a UN resolution that could be used as a pretext for war, and the impatience of US officials with the delays imposed by maneuvering at the UN Security Council.
The feedback from Washington “included noises about ‘this is a waste of time, what we need is regime change, why are we bothering with this, we must sweep this aside and do what’s going to have to be done anyway—and deal with this with the use of force,’” Greenstock testified.
The sole effect of British diplomacy was to delay the invasion by two weeks, he said. “The momentum for earlier action in the United States was much too strong for us to counter,” he said in a written statement to the inquiry.
Greenstock claimed that the US-led invasion was legal under international law, but admitted that it was of “questionable legitimacy” and did not have “democratically observable backing” either among the member states of the UN, or from the population of Great Britain. Some two million people marched in protest of the war in London in February 2003, the largest demonstration in at least a generation, and perhaps in British history.
Both Greenstock and Christopher Meyer, former British ambassador to the United States, told the inquiry that a meeting between Bush and British Prime Minister Tony Blair at the Bush ranch in Crawford, Texas was the key decision point for war. This took place in April 2002, nearly a year before the invasion and well before the discussions at the United Nations Security Council in the fall of 2002.
Their testimony confirms the notorious “Downing Street Memo,” leaked to the press in 2005, which pinpointed the April 2002 meeting and declared that all subsequent US and British diplomacy was merely posturing to delude public opinion.
Even more important is the testimony from senior British security officials that the overthrow of Saddam Hussein was being openly discussed in British-US talks two years before the invasion, even before the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001.
Sir Peter Ricketts, then chairman of the Joint Intelligence Committee, said that while regime change was discussed as desirable, an invasion for that purpose “was something that we thought there could be no legal basis for.” He said that US and British officials were concerned that the sanctions regime against Iraq was collapsing and that more direct action would be required to oust Saddam Hussein.
Ricketts added that he was “conscious that there were other voices in Washington, some of whom were talking about regime change,” citing in particular an academic article written in 2000 by President Bush’s National Security Adviser, Condoleezza Rice, which warned that “nothing will change” in Iraq until Saddam was removed from power.
Sir William Patey, a former Foreign Office official, said that he had commissioned the drafting of a paper on regime change as one of a variety of options in dealing with Iraq. He said the references to regime change were removed as the paper was moved up to the Cabinet level, because this option “was dismissed at the time as having no basis in law.”
He added that the main change brought about by the 9/11 attacks was that responsibility for US policy towards Iraq was shifted from the State Department to the Pentagon, headed by Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, a hardline supporter of war with Iraq.
Former ambassador Meyer described a conversation with then US National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice, on September 11, 2001, in which she first suggested that Saddam Hussein might be connected to the terrorist attacks—one of the principal lies used by the Bush administration to justify the US invasion.
The other major lie was that Iraq possessed vast stockpiles of “Weapons of Mass Destruction” (WMD). But Sir William Ehrman, director of international security for the Foreign Office from 2000 to 2002 and director-general of defense and intelligence from 2002 to 2004, told the inquiry that British intelligence was aware, before the US-British invasion, that Saddam Hussein’s regime had dismantled its chemical and biological weapons and hence had no WMD capability.
Meyer added that US officials also cited the anthrax-contaminated letters, which killed five people in the eastern United States in the months after 9/11, as further reason for targeting Saddam Hussein. Bush “just wanted to get over there and kick Saddam out,” he said. “The US military timetable was already in place before the weapons inspectors went in.”
In other words, the Bush administration came into office with a preconceived foreign policy agenda, which included an aggressive push for regime change in Iraq, to “finish the job” begun in the first Gulf War. The 9/11 attacks—carried out by a group formed out of the CIA-organized Islamic fundamentalist guerillas in Afghanistan—was seized on as a useful pretext for justifying an open-ended program of military aggression.
None of this will come as a shock to long-time readers of the World Socialist Web Site. From the inception of the Bush administration propaganda campaign for war with Iraq, the WSWS exposed and denounced the lies about an Iraqi role in the 9/11 attacks, Saddam’s alleged ties to Al Qaeda, and the “danger” of Iraqi WMD—this coming from the country with by far the largest stockpile of weapons of mass destruction on the planet.
But this record is worth pondering as Bush’s successor prepares to make his propaganda case for another unprovoked imperialist war of aggression—the US war against Afghanistan. Barack Obama goes on national television next Tuesday to claim that—more than eight years after September 11, 2001—tens of thousands more American troops must be sent to Afghanistan to fight those responsible for the 9/11 attacks. At the same time, the occupation of Iraq continues and none of those responsible for launching this war crime have been held accountable.
Millions voted for Obama in the illusion that he would put an end to the militaristic foreign policy of the Bush administration. Instead, more American troops are fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan than at the height of the Bush “surge” in Iraq. The “commander-in-chief” is different, the lies have been somewhat refined, but the axis of imperialist foreign policy remains: the defense of the strategic and economic interests of the financial aristocracy that rules America, served by Obama no less than by Bush.
On the eve of the invasion of Iraq, the WSWS warned: “The war itself represents a devastating failure of American democracy. A small cabal of political conspirators—working with a hidden agenda and having come to power on the basis of fraud—has taken the American people into a war that they neither understand nor want. But there exists absolutely no established political mechanism through which the opposition to the policies of the Bush administration—to the war, the attack on democratic rights, the destruction of social services, the relentless assault on the living standards of the working class—can find expression. The Democratic Party—the stinking corpse of bourgeois liberalism—is deeply discredited. Masses of working people find themselves utterly disenfranchised.” (“The crisis of American capitalism and the war against Iraq,” March 21, 2003)
Six and a half years later, this perspective has been fully vindicated. The struggle against imperialist war cannot be conducted through the election of Democrats or through putting pressure on the twin parties of big business. Putting an end to war is the task of the working class, in the United States and internationally, which must carry out an independent political struggle on the basis of a socialist program.