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Obligatory Downing Street Memo post

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.


Anonymous said...

I have made that point myself in comment on other blogs, although I think you explained it better than I ever have.

One thing that interests me in all this is the admition that this document was retyped on an older typewriter. Like you, I believe the reproduction is probably accurate, because it says absolutely nothing surprising, but this admission seems very important nonetheless.

The only reason to retype this on an older machine is to attempt to fool the audience into thinking that it was the original memo, not a reproduction. Simply put, it is an attempt to decieve. The correct thing to do, would be to explain up front that the document had been retyped to protect the source. If that caused you to lose some credibility, that is unfortunate but the price you pay for protecting the source.  

Posted by Dave Justus

Anonymous said...

GB writes: ``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.''

BB responds: True there are a desperate few who have tried to portray the memo as a smoking gun, which it isn't. That doesn't mean that the memo isn't important. The truth was murdered in the run up to the war in Iraq and the memo is evidence as to the motives of a prime suspect in the slaying.

The Iraqi regime had no WMDs and wasn't linked to Al Qaeda. Those are facts that are at odds with the Bush administration's prewar claims. The memo is further evidence that Bush said things that are not true and also develops a motive for why he may have lied.

If the Downing street memo is accurate, Bush told Blair's people that he had already made up his mind to attack Iraq, even though he was telling the American public that a decision had not been made and that the decision would be based on Iraq's behavior.

The context of these and other similar Bush remarks on the record are crucial to understanding what happened. That context is not in dispute. The Bush administration drew up plans to invade Iraq well before 9/11 and in the more than 18 months leading to the invasion varied its rationale for war as it looked to build support for an invasion.

Bush did not make public those plans to invade Iraq prior to 9/11. After the 9/11 attacks, as Richard A. Clarke, Paul O'Neill and other insiders have written, Bush insisted that intelligence gatherers look for links between 9/11 and Iraq, even when the geopolitics of the region make clear that such connections were extremely unlikely.

Bush could have easily said that there was some evidence of WMDs and prospects that the situation could get worse. Or, he could have said that shedding U.S. blood to liberate Iraqis was a rationale for the war.

But he did not say that. The Bush administration repeatedly asserted that Iraq was linked to Al Qaeda, that they were "certain" it had WMDs and that the security of the U.S. was at stake.

Given that Bush claimed all these things that turned out to be false, only the most desperate ideologue would try to say that the phrase ``intelligence and facts were being fixed around the policy'' could have many interpretations.

Bush's claim is that he was misinformed, but the record is not in dispute: Hans Blix, Mohammad al Baradei, Scott Ritter and many other experienced arms control insiders at the highest level said there was inadequate evidence to support the claim that Iraq had WMDs. If Bush was not aware of these facts, his negligence is as criminal as his alleged lying.

Clearly, then, Bush "fixed the facts around the policy'' meaning he deliberately ignored evidence that didn't fit his case that Iraq had WMDs and THEREFORE posed a threat.

GB, unwittingly perhaps, acknowledges that the memo shows the Bush administration behaved like ``a lawyer presenting a case to a jury.'' This is exactly right and it's exactly what the Downing memo points to and exactly why Americans have good reason to believe Bush didn't tell the truth about what he was planning for Iraq and why.

Lawyers do not seek truth, nor do they have any mandate to seek justice. Rather, they represent their clients as tenaciously as possible. They present the jury only with information that supports their view, deliberately excluding anything that may argue against their client, even if they believe or know it's true. This is exactly how the Bush administration behaved--like lawyers arguing in front of a jury!!!

The evidence that Bush lied is growing by the day. History, indeed, is unwritten, but I have full confidence that the American people will know that Bush wanted to invade Iraq as part of a wider geopolitical strategy and, lacking popular support for that view, lied about WMDs and Al Qaeda links as an expedient.

Posted by bunkerbuster

Anonymous said...


You wrote:

Or, he could have said that shedding U.S. blood to liberate Iraqis was a rationale for the war.

But he did not say that.

You're wrong.

In Bush's 2003 State of the Union address , he said the following:

And tonight I have a message for the brave and oppressed people of Iraq: Your enemy is not surrounding your country, your enemy is ruling your country.

And the day he and his regime are removed from power will be the day of your liberation.

Here's a huge roundup of links to other comments Bush made, before invading Iraq, about bringing freedom to the Iraqi people.

That's just one of several inaccuracies in your comment, but frankly, I would rather spend my very limited time adding new posts to this blog than addressing each of your claims in point-by-point fashion.

Opposing viewpoints are always welcome here — just ask Big Ben or Bojack. However, as I have suggested more than once before, your frequent, lengthy essays really belong on a blog of your own, where they can receive the attention they deserve. 

Posted by GaijinBiker

Anonymous said...

Gaijinbiker: I am well aware that Bush had on several occasion voiced support for Iraq's liberation and noted that it would be a benefit to Iraq to be rid of Saddam Hussein. This is precisely why I did not write that Bush never mentioned Iraqi liberation. I wrote that Bush did cite liberation as A RATIONALE FOR THE WAR.

Bush's 2003 State of the Union demonstrates beyond a doubt that the rationale for war was the administration's false claim that Saddam Hussein had WMDs and therefore posed a security threat. It is laughable that Gaijinbiker would try to fob off a 46-word, two sentence reference to Iraqi liberation as a rationale for the war, when the previous 1,029 words focus exclusively on the threat Iraq's WMDs posed and on precisely why only a military attack would suffice as a response to that threat. After the 46-word reference to liberation, Bush immediately goes back to the WMD theme, delivering 576 more words on the necessity and means of U.S. military action against Iraq.

More important, Bush spends 74 words--almost twice as many!--on oppression and the need for liberation in IRAN. He goes on to spend several hundred words discussing oppression in North Korea and the need for liberation there. Here's the clincher: Bush concludes that the oppression in North Korea and Iran ARE NOT RATIONALES FOR MILITARY ACTION. In fact, he argues the OPPOSITE, saying that diplomacy is the appropriate response in those cases. Immediately after that, Bush seeks to contrast those situations with the threat Iraq's WMD poses to the U.S.

Undeniably, the theme of Bush's 2003 State of the Union speech is that, while there is a lot of oppression going on in the "axis of evil'' only the Iraq situation warrants military action because of the WMD threat. Gaijinbiker's claim that Bush used the speech to build a rationale for liberating Iraqis by invading their country is 180 degrees wrong. The speech clearly attempts to address the concern that Iran and North Korea are more appropriate invasion targets by noting that human rights problems do NOT constitute an adequate rationale.

The theme is even more marked in Bush's speech to the U.N.--95 percent of which focuses exclusively on false WMD allegations and liberation is mentioned only as a footnote and is never framed as a rationale for war. The same goes for the other references to human rights found through the Instapundit links Gaijinbiker refers to. None come anywhere close to making liberation the rationale for war and almost all are shorn of all context.

Some key quotes from Bush's 2003 SOTU:

``If war is forced upon us, we will fight in a just cause and by just means -- sparing, in every way we can, the innocent. And if war is forced upon us, we will fight with the full force and might of the United States military -- and we will prevail.''

Bush's claim that war would be "forced upon us'' demolishes the notion that he was arguing for the U.S to chose to liberate Iraqis.

Here is the conclusion of the speech:

``The world has waited 12 years for Iraq to disarm. America will not accept a serious and mounting threat to our country, and our friends and our allies. The United States will ask the U.N. Security Council to convene on February the 5th to consider the facts of Iraq's ongoing defiance of the world. Secretary of State Powell will present information and intelligence about Iraqi's legal -- Iraq's illegal weapons programs, its attempt to hide those weapons from inspectors, and its links to terrorist groups. We will consult. But let there be no misunderstanding: If Saddam Hussein does not fully disarm, for the safety of our people and for the peace of the world, we will lead a coalition to disarm him.''

If, as Gaijinbiker claims, the rationale for war was liberating Iraqis, where is the reference to it in this very clear call to action and description of what the Bush administration intended to do?

Lastly, I would ask Gaijinbiker again to substantiate his claim that my post contained are inaccurate or to withdraw the claim. There is a lot of talk around here about media responsibility, or the lack thereof, and bias. Let's hope that talk will be taken to heart a little more.

Posted by bunkerbuster

Anonymous said...

correction: the last line of the first paragraph of my previous post should read: I wrote that Bush did NOT cite liberation as A RATIONALE FOR THE WAR.


Posted by bunkerbuster

Anonymous said...

I would like to draw your attention to the following page:
Letter to President Clinton on Iraq, January 26, 1998 
This is an open statement by a prominent republican thinktank. note that the letter was signed by Paul Wolfowitz, Donald Rumsfeld, and many others who have a prominent role deciding US policy. Note also that it was drafted in 1998.
I draw your attention to the following statement.
"We believe the U.S. has the authority under existing UN resolutions to take the necessary steps, including military steps, to protect our vital interests in the Gulf. In any case, American policy cannot continue to be crippled by a misguided insistence on unanimity in the UN Security Council."
I beleive that this statement signals the belief that the US could and should take military action against iraq to prevent proliferation.
When the was drafted, the sanctions system was being dismantled by among others the french, who were allowing their nationals to flagrantly break the scheme, flying civilian jets full of materials, some of which were dual use (i.e. could have a military or a civilian application. e.g. night vision equiptment).
The french and the russians are both presently selling nuclear weapons to iran.
Iraq was, unknown to the US, in talks with khan network, a system set up by high ranking members of the pakistani nuclear program to 1: earn them lots of money, and 2: arm the islamic world. we know this only because the libyans turned out to have things when decomissioning and were asked where they got them from. the head of said program is now under interigation by pakistan.
In other words it would have been easy for iraq to rearm if it wished after the break down of sanctions gave it the funding.
I should also mention that a number of sources (inc iraq survey group report), indicate that sadam liked to give his senior officers the impression that they had a chemical alternative, a so called "red line" after which they would switch to it. chemicals suites and such were issued for just this purpose. this gave US inteligence the impression that they did have WMD.

In summary, I think that the Bush government were indent on invading before they came to power, however, we should not assume that they did not genuinly believe that iraq had at least chemical weapons, and the intention of gaining nuclear ones. The iraqi generals themselves certainly beleived this (see ISG report)


Posted by Anonymous

Anonymous said...

Anon writes: ``Iraq was, unknown to the US, in talks with khan network, a system set up by high ranking members of the pakistani nuclear program to 1: earn them lots of money, and 2: arm the islamic world.''

So while the Bush administration dopes the revenge fetishists with boasts about having removed Saddam, Khan and every single one of his associates--the most directly responsible people on the planet for real WMDs in the Islamic world--walk free. There hasn't even been an ATTEMPT by the Bush administration to interrogate Khan, even though we know that Al Qaeda supporters are rife within Pakistan's intelligence forces.

Confronted with real monsters like Khan's real proliferation (wouldn't have had to lie about those WMDs), the Bush administration chose instead to kick a sick, feeble dog named Saddam Hussein, because the echo-chamber neo-cons thought it would be a "cake walk" like the first Gulf War.  

Posted by bunkerbuster

Anonymous said...

GB, the Downing Street memo is a piece of contemporaneous documentation showing what we all knew in our bones at the time - there was no real link between 911 and Saddam, but GWB and his neo-con advisers had a hard-on for Saddam, and wanted to invade come hell or high water. The memo shows exactly that the adminstration had already made up its mind, and the rest of the lead up was pure spin (scienter , for those who know their legal terms).

No question that Saddam was a bad guy, but it was clear that he was not a present threat to the US. Rather, the adminstration invaded because (i) IT WANTED TO, and (ii) IT KNEW IT COULD. Its confidence was derived from the knowledge that post-911 US public opinion could be easily twisted to strike at another "bad guy".

My problems with that? Many, but at the core I think that the adminstration has seriously weakened representative government in the US by cynically circumventing its obligation to make an honest case for the war with the American people. We see continually evolving RATIONALES, but that's what they are, and it is still nigh impossible to judge with any confidence what the adminstation's true objectives are. The adminstration wanted this war, and beat the drums long and hard. After 911, it was natural that many Americans found satisfaction in supporting that call. Those who wanted a little discussion are even now being painted as unpatriotic.

Of course 911 presented the US with many opportunities to harness the energies of the American people and the international community, but the administration has preferred to be a steamroller rather than a global leader. This has led many to question its true motivations. There is certainly a case to be made for more interventionist US policy, but we can't do everything alone. Why can we invade Iraq, but stand idly by at genocide in the Darfur or while Mugabe turns the breadbasket of Zimbawe into a basketcase?

This administration has never brooked the slightest dissention or analysis, even from its professional miltary, and the legacy of its arrogance and hubris is already proving to be extremely costly to the US and our long-term interests. What are we really doing in Iraq, and why does it justify all of the costs?

True leadership has been sorely lacking from this administration. Where is the discussion of the links and trade-offs in domestic policy and our long-term foreign policy - Iraq v. fighting terrorism, tax cuts vs. huge budget and current account deficits, growing energy dependence vs. unwillingness to discuss import taxes (to cover defense costs), resolve spent nuclear fuel repository issues, increased spending on domestic nukes v. anti-proliferation efforts, no domestic svaings v. a China-financed housing bubble, and the rise of "faith-based" politics, with a a rise in creationism and continuing denial of marked global climate change? Potential epidemics, North Korea, Iran, the need to deal constructively with China, the PATRIOT Act - the list goes on.


Posted by Tokyo Tom

Anonymous said...

I’ve never done this before—it is the first time I have read and/or participated in a blog. It may be difficult to believe, but I never (that’s true—“never”) watch broadcast news programs, and I normally read only print news of local concern. I have absolutely no faith in the news media and truly believe they would gladly sell their aged grandmother down the river if it made a good story. Having said that, I do not live in a cave, and cannot help but be aware that there is some sort of furor over something called the “Downing Street Memo.” Finally, I had to look it up to see what the “memo” actually said. Hence, I arrived here in this “blog.” After reading most of the postings, I cannot believe that so much ink has been used and so many words have been uttered about something that 1. Is not an authentic document--According to this blog, this is a re-typed copy of a document that has since been destroyed. Ergo: no one knows what the original document really said. And 2. Has countless American-English speakers trying to interpret what was meant by a British-English writer, who may or may not have “copied” correctly the original document, which also may or may not have ever existed. Yeah! That sounds about right for the news media. What a flood of anguish over the word “fix.” “Do you know about the birth of the mountain goats, watch for the birth pangs of the hinds. Number the months that they must fulfill, and “fix” the time of their bringing forth?” (Job 39:1-2 NAB) If we American-English speakers spend this much time over the word “fix” we have all been watching too many gangster shows on TV.


Posted by NOBODY



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