The American people have been had

The war has taken a dangerous turn - not in Iraq but here at home. It has lost the support of a majority of Americans.

According to the latest Washington Post/ABC News Poll, for the first time since the war began a majority of the American public doesn't believe the toppling of Saddam Hussein's regime has made the United States more secure. The survey also found that nearly three-quarters of respondents say the casualty rate in Iraq is unacceptable; two-thirds believe the U.S. military is bogged down; 60 percent say the war was not worth fighting.

If we learned anything from Vietnam, it is that it's difficult to wage and win a protracted war without public support. Lyndon B. Johnson learned that the hard way; so will George W. Bush. Johnson used a North Vietnamese attack on U.S. vessels in the Tonkin Gulf to ask Congress for a blank check he used to dramatically escalate the war in Vietnam. Bush used the post-9/11 fear of terrorism and slanted intelligence to claim Saddam Hussein possessed weapons of mass destruction that threatened our security.

In both cases, the American people were had.

The growing pessimism about the war in Iraq suggests the public is not buying the upbeat assessments coming out of the Bush-Cheney administration. Americans don't need access to top secret documents to know the war is not the "cakewalk" administration hawks predicted it would be.

Bush may not realize it, but Amnesty International may have done him a big favor. The controversy the human rights group ignited over the treatment of Muslim detainees at the U.S. prison camp in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, has deflected the attention of journalists and war critics from an even more disturbing story - how all the president's talk about going to war as a last resort was just a ruse.

Seven months before the "shock and awe" bombing began in Baghdad, the Bush administration was bending intelligence to suit its purpose, which was to go to war come hell or high water.

Who says so? The head of British foreign intelligence, that's who.

It's all in the Downing Street memo, which was leaked to the Sunday Times of London just before last month's British elections. It created an uproar in Britain but has barely registered in the United States, mainly because the press was more interested in whether U.S. interrogators were desecrating the Koran at Guantanamo.

The top secret memo was written by Matthew Rycroft, a top aide to Prime Minister Tony Blair. It summarizes a report Sir Richard Dearlove, chief of Britain's Secret Intelligence Service, gave Blair and his inner circle on July 23, 2002 after returning from talks with U.S. officials in Washington.

Sir Richard told the prime minister Bush seemed determined to topple Saddam Hussein by military force and that U.S. intelligence was "being fixed around that policy," according to Rycroft's notes of the meeting. "Military action was seen as inevitable," the notes said, quoting Sir Richard as saying, "Bush wanted to remove Saddam through military action, justified by the conjunction of terrorism and WMD (weapons of mass destruction). But the intelligence and facts were being fixed around the policy."

Jack Straw, the British foreign secretary, was quoted as saying the case for war was "thin" as "Saddam was not threatening his neighbors and his WMD capability was less than that of Libya, North Korea or Iran."

At a joint White House news conference last week, both Bush and Blair denied that intelligence had been "fixed" to justify military action.

"There's nothing farther from the truth," Bush said.

"No," Blair added, "the facts were not being fixed in any shape or form at all."

Some will ask: What's the point of bringing up the Downing Street memo now, two years after the invasion and at a time when terrorist suicide bombers are making life hell not only for U.S. troops but the Iraqi people? The point is this: President Bush didn't level with the American people before going to war. And he still hasn't.

PHILIP GAILEY Published June 12, 2005

Philip Gailey's e-mail address is
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