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 Saturday, June 18, 2005

Iraq War: "Downing Street Memo" as Evidence Bush Misled Americans is Gathering Public and Media Attention

  from Christian Science Monitor

18 June 2005

By Tom Regan

President George W. Bush and British Prime Minister Tony Blair, and some media outlets, dismiss its importance, but the so-called 'Downing Street Memo' seems to be gathering increasing public attention.

Thursday senior Democrats held a public forum on Capitol Hill and called "for a full investigation into a memo that appears to accuse [Mr. Bush] of misleading Americans into backing the war with Iraq," as the CBC reports.

The memo [see it here] is based on a briefing given to British Prime Minister Tony Blair and his top security advisers in July 2002, eight months before the war.

Labelled "top secret," the memo summarizes a report from Sir Richard Dearlove, the head of British intelligence, who had just met senior Bush officials in Washington.

The memo says: "Military action was now seen as inevitable." That "
Terrorism and WMD [weapons of mass destruction]" would be used to justify the war. But, the memo says, "the intelligence and facts were being fixed around the policy."

Los Angeles Times editorial and opinion editor Michael Kinsley writes that the memo "is not proof that Bush had decided on war."

Of course, if "intelligence and facts were being fixed around the policy," rather than vice versa, that is pretty good evidence of Bush's intentions, as well as a scandal in its own right. And we know now that this was true.

Fixing intelligence and facts to fit a desired policy is the Bush II governing style, especially concerning the Iraq war. But [Sir Richard Dearlove] offered no specifics, or none that made it into the memo. Nor does the memo assert that actual decision-makers told him they were fixing the facts.

Although the prose is not exactly crystalline, it seems to be saying only that "Washington" had reached that conclusion.

But Joe Conason of writes that Kinsley's response to the memo is just more proof that "the leading lights of the Washington press corps are more embarrassed than the White House is by the revelations in the Downing Street memo."

Mooing in plaintive chorus, the Beltway herd insists that the July 23, 2002, memo wasn't news -- which would be true if the absence of news were defined only by their refusal to report it.
Editor and Publisher reported on Wednesday on a study prepared by "the liberal Web site Media Matters, " which found that "USA Today, The Wall Street Journal, The New York Times, and the Los Angeles Times" have "remained silent on the memo and its implications.

But the group’s survey of US newspaper coverage from May 1 to June 15 found at least 20 editorial pages across the country that addressed the memo, from large-circulation papers such as The Dallas Morning News to smaller papers such as the Charleston (W.Va.) Gazette.

It said 18 of the 20 'emphasized the importance of the document, many calling for further investigation into the explosive questions it raises.

The dissenters were editorials in The Denver Post and The Washington Post, both of which claimed that the memo merely reinforces what was already known from other sources and argued that US attention is best focused on how to win the war in Iraq."

Reuters reports on other aspects of the memo. It was produced July 21, 2002 by Blair's staff in advance of his meeting with his security staff two days later; Britain's top spy (Dearlove) said that "war was inevitable" because "Bush wanted to remove Saddam {Hussein} through military action"; and Foreign Minister Jack Straw "said the case for war was 'thin' because 'Saddam was not threatening his neighbors and his WMD (weapons of mass destruction) capability was less than that of Libya, North Korea or Iran.' "

The CBC also reports that a separate document shows that Blair urged Bush "to take his case to the United Nations to give a legal justification for the war."

Michael Smith, the Sunday Times reporter who broke the original story, said this second memo was "a brillant case of misdirection."

"The whole business about going to the UN is not to avert war, but actually to get an excuse to carry out war.

And I think that's the killer document for me. "

Neither Bush nor Blair has disputed the authenticity of the memo, but when they met earlier this month they denied that it "accurately reflected events."

On Thursday, White House spokesman Scott McClellan dismissed the memo.

He charged Democrats were "simply trying to rehash old debates that have already been addressed. And our focus is not on the past. It's on the future and working to make sure we succeed in Iraq."

Fred Kaplan, who does an extensive analysis of the memo for, writes that the memo is both insignificant and significant.

The memo doesn't really tell us anything new in terms of what we've already learned "that Bush was hellbent on war even earlier than this.

The point has been made in Bob Woodward's "Plan of Attack", Richard Clarke's "Against All Enemies", and Ron Suskind's "The Price of Loyalty", as well as in articles by Seymour Hersh in The New Yorker and Walter Pincus in the Washington Post.

On the other hand, he writes, historians will one day use it as a "primary-source documents" and will be a "key footnote in the history books."

The real story of the memo, however, is how mistaken the Brits were about what was about the happen.
The tragedy embedded in these memos is that the Brits were mistaken in their two most basic premises: first, that Saddam Hussein really had WMD and really posed a threat; second, that just because Bush needed Blair's support, Blair could somehow influence him...

At least the Brits clearly saw the difficulties ahead and tried to engage Bush on their implications.

Had he listened, our biggest problems in Iraq today might be a great deal smaller. This is another lesson to be gleaned from the Downing Street memos.

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