MUCH IS BEING MADE of the scoop by pro-Zapatero's daily El País, in Madrid, of the transcript of the memo of a conversation between Bush and Spain's former PM Aznar in Crawford in March 2003 as the Iraq war was about to start. Editor and Publisher has a machine translation, which is quite atrocious. If you can read Spanish, the full text is here. I'll try to have a proper translation asap, but I am really short on time, so I don't know how soon I'll have it ready.
But what the transcript doesn't say, no matter the headlines, is that Bush was going to invade even if Saddam complied. What it says is that the US would be in Iraq in mid-March whether there was a second UN resolution or not, one that Bush said he would try to get by all means, which is an entirely different matter. As everybody knows, there's certainly a debate on whether the first resolution was enough or not -many reputable experts think it was, though there's not unanimity on this, certainly. But the issue is different.
Here's the relevant section:
Bush: Sadam Husein no cambiará y seguirá jugando. Ha llegado el momento de deshacerse de él. Es así. Yo, por mi parte, procuraré a partir de ahora utilizar una retórica lo más sutil posible, mientras buscamos la aprobación de la resolución. Si alguien veta [Rusia, China y Francia poseen junto a EE UU y Reino Unido derecho a veto en el Consejo de Seguridad en su calidad de miembros permanentes], nosotros iremos. Sadam Hussein no se está desarmando. Le tenemos que coger ahora mismo. Hemos mostrado un grado increíble de paciencia hasta ahora. Quedan dos semanas. En dos semanas estaremos militarmente listos. Creo que conseguiremos la segunda resolución. En el Consejo de Seguridad tenemos a los tres africanos [Camerún, Angola y Guinea], a los chilenos, a los mexicanos. Hablaré con todos ellos, también con Putin, naturalmente. Estaremos en Bagdad a finales de marzo. Existe un 15% de posibilidades de que en ese momento Sadam Hussein esté muerto o se haya ido. Pero esas posibilidades no existen antes de que hayamos mostrado nuestra resolución. Los egipcios están hablando con Sadam Hussein. Parece que ha indicado que estaría dispuesto a exiliarse si le dejaran llevarse 1.000 millones de dólares y toda la información que quisiera sobre armas de destrucción masiva. [Muammar El] Gaddafi le ha dicho a Berlusconi que Sadam Hussein quiere irse. Mubarak nos dice que en esas circunstancias existen muchas posibilidades de que sea asesinado.[Bush: Saddam won't change and will keep playing games. The moment of getting rid of him has arrived. That's it. As for me, from now on I'll try to use the softest rhetoric I can, while we look for the resolution to be approved. If some country vetoes [the resolution] we'll go in. Saddam is not disarming. We must catch him right now. We have shown an incredible amount of patience until now. We have two weeks. In two weeks our military will be ready. I think we'll achieve a second resolution. In the Security Council we have three African countries [Cameroon, Angola, Guinea], the Chileans, the Mexicans. I'll talk with all of them, also with Putin, naturally. We'll be in Baghdad at the end of March. There's a 15% chance that by then Saddam is dead or has flown. But these possibilities won't exist until we have shown our resolution. The Egyptians are talking with Saddam Hussein. It seems he has hinted he'd be willing to leave if he's allowed to take 1 billion dollars and all the information on WMDs. Ghadaffi told Berlusconi that Saddam wants to leave. Mubarak tells us that in these circumstances there are big chances that he'll get killed.
Nos gustaría actuar con el mandato de las Naciones Unidas. Si actuamos militarmente lo haremos con una gran precisión y focalizando mucho nuestros objetivos. Diezmaremos a las tropas leales y el ejército regular rápidamente sabrá de lo que se trata. ... Estamos desarrollando un paquete de ayuda humanitaria muy fuerte. Podemos ganar sin destrucción. Estamos planteando ya el Irak post Sadam, y creo que hay buenas bases para un futuro mejor. Irak tiene una buena burocracia y una sociedad civil relativamente fuerte. Se podría organizar en una federación. Mientras tanto estamos haciendo todo lo posible para atender las necesidades políticas de nuestros amigos y aliados."
We would like to act with the mandate of the UN. If we act militarily, we'll do with great precision and focalizing our targets to the biggest degree possible. We'll decimate the loyal troops and the regular army will quickly know what it's all about. ... We are developing a very strong aid package. We can win without destruction. We are working already in the post-Saddam Iraq, and I think there's a basis for a better future. Iraq has a good bureaucracy and a relatively strong civil society. It could be organized as a federation. Meanwhile we're doing all we can to fulfill the political needs of our friends and allies. -- note: my emphasis and translation]
If anything, the transcript proves precisely the opposing point that critics want to make. The conversation shows both Bush and Aznar trying to avoid war; that they were concerned of its human toll, and that Saddam wanted to flee with money... and WMD information. I guess all the people who are trumpeting this will stop saying now that Bush lied and mislead us on the WMD issue. Won't hold my breath, though.
At one point Bush explicitely says: "Yo no quiero la guerra. Sé lo que son las guerras. Sé la destrucción y la muerte que traen consigo. Yo soy el que tiene que consolar a las madres y a las viudas de los muertos. Por supuesto, para nosotros esa sería la mejor solución. Además, nos ahorraría 50.000 millones de dólares" ["I don't want war. I know what war is like. I know the death and destruction they bring. I am the one who has to comfort the mothers and wives of the dead. Of course, for us [a diplomatic solution] would be the best one. Also, it would save 50 billion dollars" -- again, my emphasis and translation]
Bush even wanted to soften the rivalry with Chirac, and thought he was being ill-advised. He even asked Aznar to send the French president his best wishes, since Aznar was going to meet him in the next days.
As I said, I'll try to have the full translation, but this is the gist of it. Clearly this is not an equivalent to the Downing Street memo, but a leak from a Zapatero administration official to an anti-Bush, anti-Aznar newspaper in the hope of embarrassing the two, and atrociously translated to make it all look worse. But I'm sorry to say they only embarrassed themselves. No matter how much you spin it, the memorandum shows exactly the opposite to what they say it shows. In layman terms, they got hoisted by their own petard.
UPDATE. Fausta and Jules Crittenden have more.
UPDATE II. I did some edits of the partial translation for clarity and to fix some grammar issues.
UPDATE III. And David Zincavage and Patterico too. And Flopping Aces.
UPDATE IV. Full translation, and a modified version of this post, with more comments, now available at Pajamas Media.