Sunday, June 19, 2005

Downing Street Memo?

I don't know where to come down on the Downing Street Memo. It seems to me it tells us nothting we didn't already know. We knew there were factions within the Bush Administration who thought we didn't need to prove our case in order to invade Iraq. Remember? The media would talk about how the hawk-wing of the Bush Administration, led by Cheney, was opposed to the Colin Powell-wing which wanted to go to the UN. Well, if there were those factions, then why does it surprise anyone that the memo reveals that Bush had his mind made up to go to war?

My fellow "conservatives" can't decide whether to criticize the memos because they are fake, or whether, as Michael Medved tried to make a case for, the word "fixed" means something different in English than it does in American. (Note to self; move Medved down on the credibility chart). It seems to me that's working awful hard.

Wherever one comes down, it seems to me that we must acknowledge that, if Bush attempted to fix evidence there is a problem. If there is possibly something wrong, then the memos need to be analyzed fairly.

Graham Lester, has attempted to look at the memos without the usual partisan apologetics:

Here are some key excerpts from the Downing Street Memo of July 23, 2002:

C reported on his recent talks in Washington. There was a perceptible shift in attitude. Military action was now seen as inevitable. Bush wanted to remove Saddam, through military action, justified by the conjunction of terrorism and WMD. But the intelligence and facts were being fixed around the policy. The NSC had no patience with the UN route, and no enthusiasm for publishing material on the Iraqi regime's record. There was little discussion in Washington of the aftermath after military action.

It seemed clear that Bush had made up his mind to take military action, even if the timing was not yet decided. But the case was thin. Saddam was not threatening his neighbours, and his WMD capability was less than that of Libya, North Korea or Iran. We should work up a plan for an ultimatum to Saddam to allow back in the UN weapons inspectors. This would also help with the legal justification for the use of force. Link.

Is it a smoking gun? I think it comes pretty close, but the two crucial passages are both ambiguous.

“The intelligence and facts were being fixed around the policy” seems to say that the evidence was being massaged to fit the conclusion, but it could also simply mean that the evidence was going to be presented in such a manner that its relation to the conclusion would be made clearer – a rather subtle distinction, but not one without a difference. The memo does not say that evidence or facts were going to be fabricated.

“We should work up a plan for an ultimatum to Saddam to allow back in the UN weapons inspectors. This would also help with the legal justification for the use of force.” This seems to indicate that the whole point of the ultimatum was that Saddam would reject it, but in fact Saddam agreed to allow the inspectors back in. He ended up getting invaded anyway because his record of brutality and aggression was so bad that there was widespread agreement (PDF link) that he must have weapons of mass destruction hidden somewhere. Since “Bush had made up his mind to take military action,” and Saddam could not surrender weapon stockpiles that he did not possess, it seems that the latter could not have avoided war except by fleeing the country.

Graham is a supporter of the War on Terror, but he thinks the memo comes close to being a smoking gun. I have to agree with Graham, although I do so with no passion, or conviction. So, I asked Graham a series of questions:

Hey Graham,
I appreciate your attempt at an honest assessment of that memo. I have some questions:

1) Why, in your opinion, did George Bush invade Iraq?

2) Should we have invaded Iraq and why?

3) Does Iraq fit into a larger unarticulated strategy in the War on Terror?

4) If Saddam was directing his military to shoot at our air force, and I believe that he was, why was that not used as the justification for invasion instead of WMD's?

5) You say the Downing Street Memo is not a smoking gun, but do you believe Congress ought to have hearings on the subject?

6) Do you believe Bush ought to be impeached and, if so, why?

Read Graham's answer here.

But, maybe Michael Medved is right in a way about the definition of the word "fix." Maybe the word "fix" meant to affix. As in, they were building a case by affixing the intelligence around policy. Or maybe the man who wrote the memo was opposed to war in Iraq no matter what, and so, when he wrote the memo, he gave it his negative slant. Maybe. Maybe. Maybe.

As I said, I completley lack conviction on this subject, but it seems to me that Bush may truly be in some hot water.

On the other hand, the memo may really be a fake:

The eight memos — all labeled “secret” or “confidential” — were first obtained by British reporter Michael Smith, who has written about them in The Daily Telegraph and The Sunday Times.

Smith told AP he protected the identity of the source he had obtained the documents from by typing copies of them on plain paper and destroying the originals.

Unless they can produce the originals, Bush's opponents are going to lose on this. You can't impeach the President of the United States without hard evidence.

The fact remains that the intelligence services of many of the major countries in Europe believed that Saddam still had WMD. Al Gore, Bill Clinton, and John Kerry believed Iraq had WMD. So, the question is, why? There must have been credible evidence. You know, the kind that didn't need to be fixed.

UPDATE: Ed Morrisey at Captain's Quarters is convinced the Memo itself was "fixed."