Over the past month, news of the Downing Street Memo has made the rounds, with liberals claiming it proves Bush lied about his reasons for the Iraq war, and conservatives finding it to be of little, if any, informational value. The sheer volume of commentary makes me feel compelled to state my own view on the subject.
I'll assume, for the sake of argument, that the memo is an accurate reproduction. (A reporter supposedly re-typed it from an original which he subsequently destroyed).
And I'll assume it accurately reflects the Bush administration's views at the time. (It quotes no American officials, instead summarizing a British official's assessment of "recent talks in Washington").
However, I don't find the memo's so-called "smoking gun" sentence to be anything of the kind. It states:
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.Fixing facts around a policy does not mean lies are being spun, anymore than fixing lights around a Christmas tree means imaginary bulbs are being conjured out of thin air. (Indeed, the reference to "facts" indicates that we are dealing with, well, facts, not fictions.) Rather, it appears to describe a process similar to that of a lawyer presenting a case to a jury. He cannot invent his own facts, but he can present the existing facts in the manner most supportive of his argument.
True, there have been many different interpretations of that key phrase. What is beyond dispute, however, is that if the memo's author meant to indicate that Bush was lying his way into war, he certainly could have picked a clearer way of saying it.
As it stands, the memo suggests that Bush was committed to removing Saddam via military force if necessary, and wanted to make the strongest argument possible for his position. This is hardly an earth-shaking revelation. Yet people who desperately want to believe it proves that Bush is an impeachable liar will not be deterred from doing so.