LBJ’s Ghost? George Bush wanted a “Gulf of Tonkin” in Iraq


British author Philippe Sands has a fascinating and important new book out, Lawless World: America and the Making and Breaking of Global Rules — From FDR’s Atlantic Charter to George W. Bush’s Illegal War.
Interestingly, the book jumped from 15,052 on Amazon’s sales rank to 3,471 today.
In Lawless World, Sands recounts a discussion between President George W. Bush and Prime Minister Tony Blair in which Bush proposed painting a plane with the identifying marks of the United Nations and prompting, hoping, that Saddam Hussein would shoot it down.
Speculation is rife that current British Ambassador David Manning wrote the memo recounting this discussion between Blair and Bush.
Here is a reminder about various other Bush-Blair pre-war discussions from Manning’s predecessor, former British Ambassador to the U.S. Christopher Meyer.
After the Downing Street Memo — written by my old friend Matthew Rycroft (now British Ambassador to Serbia); the Al Jazeera bombing memo, and a number of other memos — it is clear as day that the Brits are far better note-takers than the Americans.
The Los Angeles Times‘ John Daniszewski writes this about Sands’ book:

It was the end of January 2003. Secretary of State Colin L. Powell was five days away from giving a critical speech at the U.N. Security Council, laying out the case that Iraq was hiding weapons of mass destruction and posed a danger to world peace.
But huddled with aides at the White House, President Bush and British Prime Minister Tony Blair were not sure there was enough evidence to convince the Security Council. Without the council’s explicit authorization, their plans for an invasion to depose Saddam Hussein could be difficult to defend under international law.
Bush proposed an alternative: paint a U.S. spy plane in United Nations colors and see if that didn’t tempt Hussein’s forces to shoot at it. In any case, he said, the war was “penciled in” for March 10 and the United States would go ahead with or without a second U.N. resolution.
Blair replied that he was “solidly with” the president.
That is the gist of an account of the Jan. 31, 2003, meeting contained in the new edition of “Lawless World,” a book by British author Philippe Sands. He has not identified the writer of the memorandum on which the account is based, but British media reports say it was one of the aides in attendance: Sir David Manning, then security advisor to Blair and now the British ambassador in Washington.
A spokesman for Blair on Friday refused to address the allegations but repeated Downing Street’s insistence that there was no decision to commit British forces to war in Iraq until after it was authorized by Parliament on March 18, two days before the invasion was launched.
A spokesman for Manning said the ambassador would not comment.

Here is a thought experiment, and I don’t have the answer.
If Bush had, in fact, painted an American military plane with UN markings and had provocatively flown the plane into Iraqi combat fire and it had been shot down, with lives potentially lost — with a written record making clear the pre-meditation — would Bush have violated any laws?
I’d be interested in any thoughtful responses.
— Steve Clemons
(Ed. Note: thanks to LF for the book review link.)