WASHINGTON — It started during British Prime Minister Tony Blair's re-election campaign last month, when details leaked about a top-secret memo, written in July 2002 — eight months before the Iraq war. In the memo, British officials just back from Washington reported that prewar "intelligence and facts were being fixed around the policy" to invade Iraq.
Just last week, both President George W. Bush and Blair vigorously denied that war was inevitable.
“No, the facts were not being fixed, in any shape or form at all,” said Blair at a White House news conference with the president on June 7.
But now, war critics have come up with seven more memos, verified by NBC News.
One, also from July 2002, says U.S. military planners had given "little thought" to postwar Iraq.
“The memos are startlingly clear that the British saw that there was inadequate planning, little planning for the aftermath,” says Sen. Carl Levin, D-Mich., who serves on the Senate Armed Services Committee.
And there's more. To prepare Blair for a meeting at the president's ranch in April 2002, a year before the war, other British memos raised more questions.
After a dinner with Bush’s then-national security adviser Condoleezza Rice, Blair's former national security adviser David Manning, now Britain's ambassador to the U.S., wondered, “What happens on the morning after” the war?
In yet another 2002 memo, British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw asked, “What will this action achieve? Can (there) be any certainty that the replacement regime will be better? Iraq has had no history of democracy.”
Rice, now U.S. secretary of state, told Chris Matthews on MSNBC-TV's “Hardball,” “I would never claim that the exact nature of this insurgency was understood at the time that we went to war.”
Vice President Dick Cheney also told a National Press Club luncheon Monday, “Any suggestion that we did not exhaust all alternatives before we got to that point, I think, is inaccurate.”
In fact, current and former diplomats tell NBC News they understood from the beginning the Bush policy to be that Saddam had to be removed — one way or the other. The only question was when and how.