It's fact-checking time again.
At a press conference last week, President Bush stated: "I didn't want war. To assume I wanted war is just flat wrong.... No president wants war....I was hoping to solve this problem diplomatically. That's why I went to the (U.N.) Security Council."
But he was not stating the facts. He did want war.
And the evidence comes from his own allies, the British, in yet another revealing document from the files in London. This document has been paraphrased in recent months, notably in a January book authored by a British legal expert, but a new report today quotes it directly.
The five-page memo, written several months before the start of the Iraq war, makes it clear that Bush was determined to commence hostilities regardless of whether he was successful in obtaining U.N. approval - and regardless of whether the international arms inspectors found any dangerous weaponry inside Iraq during the final months of peace.
The memo, written by Prime Minister Tony Blair's chief foreign policy advisor in the aftermath of a Blair-Bush meeting in Washington on Jan. 31, 2003, and intended as a summary of Bush's thinking, states that "our diplomatic strategy had to be arranged around the military planning" for war, because "(t)he start date for the military campaign was now penciled in for 10 March. This was when the bombing would begin."
Bush was pushing for U.N. approval, in the form of a second resolution condemning Iraq, the memo stated, but if he failed to get that approval, "military action would follow anyway." (In the end, Bush didn't get that approval.)
Blair's advisor also wrote that, given the possibility that the arms inspectors came up empty (which, ultimately, is what happened), Bush was looking for other ways to provoke a war. In the memo's own words, again intended as a summary of Bush's thinking: "The U.S. was thinking of flying U2 reconaissance aircraft with fighter cover over Iraq, painted in U.N. colours. If Saddam fired on them, he would be in breach."
Contrast this memo with Bush's claim, on March 6, 2003, that "I've not made up our mind about military action." And his claim two days later that "we are doing everything we can to avoid war in Iraq."
White House press secretary Scott McClellan reacted to this memo today by contending that Bush's public and private comments "are fully consistent with one another." But given the current public mood about the war, I wonder whether a majority of Americans would agree.
Oh, wait...Here's one other line from the memo, a reference to the post-invasion conditions in Iraq. According to the memo, Bush predicted that it was "unlikely there would be internecine warfare between the different religious and ethnic groups."
How's that forecast working out these days?
Here's an answer, from the Associated Press today: "The latest violence came a day after 69 people were reported killed in one of the bloodiest 24-hour periods in weeks. Most of the dead appeared to be victims of the shadowy Sunni-Shiite score-settling that has torn at the fabric of Iraq since Feb. 22 when a Shiite shrine was blown apart in Samarra, north of Baghdad. Thirty victims of the continuing sectarian slaughter most of them beheaded were found dumped on a village road north of Baghdad."
(No doubt the White House would also argue that the press is just reporting the downbeat news, rather than looking for upbeat news. But that search for the upbeat can backfire. Here's a little item today from media writer Howard Kurtz at The Washington Post: "While in Baghdad, ABC's Jake Tapper was working on a light feature about an Iraqi station's sitcom. While his cameras were rolling, word came that the manager of the entertainment division had been assassinated.)
Which reminds me: Remember Vice President Cheney's asssurance last spring that the Iraqi insurgency was in its "last throes"?
Here's some fact-checking on that remark -- from none other than Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice. Yesterday on NBC, she appeared to be contradicting Cheney: "Well, the insurgency is still able to pull off violence and kill innocent children or kill an innocent school teacher, yes, they’re able to do that, and they might be able to do that for some time."
Then again, perhaps the administration would say that the remarks are fully consistent, in the sense that "last throes" could be flexible in calendar terms; hence, "for some time."
Certainly that's what Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld seemed to be arguing on Fox News last June 26: "Last throes could be a violent last throe, just as well as a placid or calm last throe. Look it up in the dictionary."
Maybe the best place to look is in the history books. Because, unless this war turns around, "last throes" might become linked in history with another memorable phrase from an earlier war: "the light at the end of the tunnel."