Video: Road to war

By Chief foreign affairs correspondent
NBC News
updated 3/27/2006 7:45:41 PM ET 2006-03-28T00:45:41

President Bush and British Prime Minister Tony Blair were officially on a diplomatic track regarding Iraq in January 2003, but a secret memo now reveals they were determined to go to war six weeks before invading.

"This issue will come to a head in a matter of weeks, not months," said Bush on Jan. 31, 2003.

Taking notes at the meeting that day in the Oval Office, Blair's National Security Adviser David Manning, now Great Britain's ambassador in Washington.

Five days later, then-Secretary of State Colin Powell made the U.S. case to the United Nations.

But Manning wrote that the president had decided on war no matter what happened diplomatically, or whether inspectors found weapons of mass destruction.

"As the memo makes clear, the diplomatic strategy was fixed around the military planning," says Philippe Sands, a professor of international law and the author of the book “Lawless World.” "The decision had been taken."

According to the memo, Bush and Blair also predicted a quick victory and vastly underestimated the challenge of creating a new government.

Key points in the memo, confirmed by The New York Times and NBC News:

  • Bush said it was "unlikely there would be internecine warfare between the different religious and ethnic groups." Blair agreed.
  • Blair asked about "aftermath planning." Condoleezza Rice, then Bush’s national security adviser, said that "a great deal of work was now in hand."

"Both Bush and Blair were prepared to move forward with military action without fully appreciating the level of difficulty they would face," says David Phillips, a former Iraq adviser at the State Department.

The memo also said the president talked about painting an American spy plane to look like a U.N. aircraft, hoping to provoke Saddam Hussein into firing and justify going to war.

Monday, the White House refused to discuss the pre-war talks but said that the president's public and private comments were "fully consistent."

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