WASHINGTON D.C. -- It's a memo based on a briefing given to British Prime Minister Tony Blair eight months before the invasion of Iraq. U.S. forces had already taken control in Afghanistan. CIA Director George Tenet and his British counterpart Richard Dearlove had just met in Washington. President bush was busy ratcheting up his rhetoric about Saddam Hussein.
The memo, labeled secret and strictly personal — UK eyes only — summarizes a meeting between Dearlove, the British intelligence chief known as "C," and “Blair."
The so-called Downing Street memo reads: "C reported on his recent talks in Washington. There was a perceptible shift in attitude. Military action was now seen as inevitable. Bush wanted to remove Saddam, through military action, justified by the conjunction of terrorism and WMD. But the intelligence and facts were being fixed around the policy. The NSC had no patience with the UN route, and no enthusiasm for publishing material on the Iraqi regime's record. There was little discussion in Washington of the aftermath after military action."
Another part of the memo refers to the perspective offered by British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw: "It seemed clear that bush had made up his mind to take military action, even if the timing was not yet decided. But the case was thin. Saddam was not threatening his neighbors, and his WMD capability was less than that of Libya, North Korea or Iran. We should work up a plan for an ultimatum to Saddam to allow back in the U.N. weapons inspectors. This would also help with the legal justification for the use of force."
Last month, five days before Tony Blair's re-election, British reporter Michael Smith obtained the document and the headlines to follow were sensational.
Critics of the war now say these documents prove Blair and President Bush were bent on an invasion of Iraq — months before they appeared to be seeking diplomatic solutions at the United Nations.
The memo also picked up steam among anti-war activists in the United States. To them, the line ‘intelligence and facts were being fixed’ is the smoking gun that contracts pre-war claims of WMDs from U.S. officials.
But the basic argument that the Bush administration was intent on an Iraq invasion has been made many times before: In Former Treasury Secretary Paul O'Neill's book, The Price of Loyalty, it says getting rid of Saddam was at the top of President Bush's agenda in his very first cabinet meeting back in January 2001; Counter Terrorism Czar Richard Clarke wrote that President Bush pressured him to come up with evidence linking 9/11 to Iraq; Bob Woodward, in his book "Plan of Attack," reported the administration was determined to invade Iraq long before the president went to the United Nations in September 2002.
But the memo doesn't offer any specifics or cite an admission from any U.S. decision maker.
At the White House recently, President Bush and Prime Minister Blair denied fixing any facts on Iraq. The leaders said the memo's allegation about a rush to war contradicts the U.S. attempt to involve the United Nations first.
Does this mean Blair's intelligence chief had it all wrong at the meeting? Or did the Bush administration use the U.N. as a cover to go to war with Iraq?
Those answers were not in the memo.
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