Monday, June 13, 2005

Downing Street Memo Inflames Passions

On Friday, we posted a criticism of MoveOn.org’s biased interpretation of the so-called Downing Street Memo. Our main contention was that those on the left are inflating the meaning and significance of the memo (memo’s full text available here).

The line in the memo “but the intelligence and facts were being fixed around the policy” does not necessarily mean that facts were being manipulated. When I first read the memo and every time since, I’ve read that line to mean “the facts were being put in place around the policy.” And that’s not, in-and-of-itself, too alarming. That is how most policy is made. The administration has a goal and then makes sure the facts back up the policy.

I thought I was presenting a legitimate, potentially more plausible interpretation to the one being offered up by MoveOn and other Bush critics Many readers thought otherwise. The general consensus was that I was being dishonest, trying to invent a meaning that isn’t there. I will admit that I was too quick to latch onto an “expert’s” remark that “fixed around” means “bolted on” in Britain. The turmoil this story has caused in the UK shows that there is no substantial difference in how Americans and Brits might use such a phrase as “fixed around.”

Nevertheless, I still feel my interpretation of the memo is as plausible as the interpretation of the far left. Despite what so many have said, fixed does not mean fixed. Fixed has multiple definitions. Pointing this out is not just playing with words. Knowing the meaning of “fixed,” more than anything else in the memo, is essential to understanding if this is a damning memo or just an overly opinionated communiqué.

But what I have learned is that many on the left are absolutely convinced that Bush lied us into a war and believe the evidence proves their conclusion. In short, they are convinced Bush is treasonous and they are finding facts to fix around that belief.

Here’s a sampling of a few comments I received…

Actually, the way I see it, The Yellow Line is the one being deceptive. I believe that the Right Wing wishes that the Left was as naive and gullible as they are. When they say "the results were fixed", it simply means that Bush and Friends lied their evil asses off. I mean, damn! This is simple sh**. – Anonymous

It *is* sufficient, I think, to initiate a full investigation, subpoenas, cross examination, etc. In any reasonable system of government that should and would be undertaken. While it is not sufficient for conviction, it doesn't have the status of a random unsubstantiated allegation either - it is far more serious than that. – Anonymous

Alan your views and points are eloquently pointed out but they have no merit. Your defense of a criminal who fabricated evidence to support his personal reasons, not for war, but for the removal of Sadamm (sic). -- Chris J.

Like it or not: Intrusive authoritarians like President George W. Bush and his cadre of primitive, licentious masters of deceit always lie. Even an occasional truth is intended only to cover up a bigger falsification and is therefore, itself, a deliberate untruth. -- Anonymous Retired Marine

Obviously I hit a nerve. Now I have always said the memo, taken as a whole, does raise some questions. But all we have is a memo, when what we need is the writer of the memo to tell us what he meant. Pressuring Bush for an answer is certainly within anyone’s right, but given that Bush was not in attendance at the meeting the memo covers, he can very legitimately point out that this is a British communiqué and something he can't comment on except to say he never “fixed” intelligence.

Nevertheless, I think the media should investigate the facts behind the memo. It’s probably not going to lead anywhere (after all, a Congressional committee already found no evidence that intelligence was manipulated—which is not conclusive enough for many but, to me, clearly puts Bush a few steps ahead of his critics). But maybe a robust investigation will satisfy some of those on the left who are clearly slipping past the edge in their anger over this. And, who knows, I could be wrong and this memo could be solid proof of something nefarious.

All I know for sure is that the media’s choice to ignore this story has been wrong—if nothing else, it’s left all the interpretation up to left-wing blogs and those who have a vested-interest in “proving” Bush is a liar. There has been, as far as I can tell, no unbiased interpretation of the memo by any expert. I think this memo has enough momentum and raises just enough questions to warrant investigation. But that investigation has to start with the writer of that memo. What did he really mean?


For a blog that has exceptional on-going coverage of this issue, check out A Little Left of Centrist.

13 Comments:

At 12:36 PM, Blogger Robert Rouse said...

Alan,

Thanks for the props on my coverage of the DSM. But as much as I think the press needs to be taking a harder look, I think your earlier post on the Patriot Act is a much more vital issue to our citizens. Due process should never be bypassed. Our rights should not be diminished. Others have talked about this, but the man who had the greatest mind in US history (in my humble opinion) said it best. "They that can give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety deserve neither." - Ben Franklin

 
At 2:14 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

From A Retired Marine Vet with a Mind!


Dear Sir:

Why do I feel I am in the spin cycle of a Maytag washer?

Above at 11:18 AM you posted a selected portion of a statement I made over here at 1:33 AM...

Be it that text without context is error: The full context of that particular post should be posted - so I will take the liberty to do so now . . .
======================

At 1:43 PM, Alan Stewart Carl said...

: : This is the last I'll say on this, but feel free to continue to
: : demean my intelligence and attack my character.

Drop the victimized bullcrap Alan Stewart Carl and toughen up butter cup . . . what can one expect with your nitpicking word play and massaging of the facts!

Like it or not: Intrusive authoritarians like President George W. Bush and his cadre of primitive, licentious masters of deceit always lie. Even an occasional truth is intended only to cover up a bigger falsification and is therefore, itself, a deliberate untruth. As a parting thought, remember that George W. Bush's purpose is never to enlighten, but to deceive.

Plain and simple, the Bush Administration cannot be trusted any further. Answers on the record must be provided for the clarification for sending our finest young minds into harms way. As was said much better than I could ever put it - from the words of Smedley Butler:


: : "It would have been far cheaper (not to say safer) for the
: : average American who pays the bills to stay out of foreign
: : entanglements. For a very few this racket, like
: : bootlegging and other underworld rackets, brings fancy
: : profits, but the cost of operations is always transferred to
: : the people – who do not profit."

: : From: WAR IS A RACKET

: : Smedley Darlington Butler
: : Major General - United States Marine Corps [Retired]
: : Born West Chester, Pa., July 30, 1881
: : Educated Haverford School
: :
: : Awarded two congressional medals of honor,
: : . . . . . for capture of Vera Cruz, Mexico, 1914,
: : . . . . . and for capture of Ft. Riviere, Haiti, 1917
: : Distinguished service medal, 1919
: : Retired Oct. 1, 1931
: :
: : Republican Candidate for Senate, 1932
: : Died at Naval Hospital, Philadelphia, June 21, 1940

Oh! And before I forget:

Don't miss reading today's Sunday Times Online:

: : Ministers were told of need for Gulf war 'excuse'

Add that to your ongoing cerebral debate of what - or what not "fixed around" means . . .

=====End Linked Post=====

Thanks for this blog forum . . .

 
At 2:25 PM, Blogger Alan Stewart Carl said...

Retired Marine Vet:

I pulled snippets out of all the comments I quoted for reasons of space. I didn't think the section I pulled from your comment in anyway altered your point. Nor was choosing the comment meant to provide my readers with anything more than a look into the criticisms my previous post received. Your was well written so I selected it. My appologies if you felt your words were misused.

I do, however, appreciate you posting the previous comment again in full. If nothing else, it reminds me of the buttercup comment which was the only bit of levity on that original thread.

 
At 6:40 PM, Blogger Robert Rouse said...

Look, some of you are a getting a little out of hand on this. Alan and I have agreed to disagree on some points of the DSM. I think it may have some merit, Alan does not. That is no reason to attack him so bitterly. It's one thing to state your opinion, it is quite another to bash someone for taking an opposing view. Do I think George W. Bush lied? Yes. Do I think Alan Carl is a bad person for disagreeing with me? Of course not. It would be churlish to believe otherwise.

 
At 8:12 PM, Blogger Alan Stewart Carl said...

Thanks, Robert. We need more voices like yours on the web.

 
At 8:41 PM, Blogger KMSweet said...

Alan,
I don't want to sound like some of the bloggers who have been getting pretty vicious, but I do want to make one, simple comment.

“the facts were being put in place around the policy.”

You would think that any sound and just policy would be designed around the facts, and not the other way around? A governmental policy is supposed to be based on factual data (like a nations Environmental policy) or based in part on the actual situation at hand. This realist approach is what makes for good, sound policy.

When policy is simply thought up and based on anything other than the cold, hard facts, that's when you run into problems.

So in the end, I think that the quote you cited means exactly what it says; Nothing more, nothing less.

 
At 8:43 PM, Blogger Ted Carmichael said...

Well said, Robert.

Alan - Just thought I should point out a few things for (possible) correction. You stated: "After all, a Congressional committee already found no evidence that intelligence was manipulated." I don't believe the way the white house interpreted intelligence has been investigated. IIRC, the congressional committee was not allowed to look into that aspect of the pre-war intelligence. I may be remembering that wrong, but a quick-and-dirty search on Google found this quote: "'The commission is charged with looking at prewar intelligence assessments on Iraq, but apparently not at exaggerations of that intelligence by the Bush administration,' said the Senate Intelligence Committee's ranking Democrat, Carl Levin of Michigan."' (Original from the NYTimes from about a year ago.)

I would like to see a Congressional investigation, and others have pushed for one, but I'm pretty sure that hasn't occurred yet.

Also, you stated: "But all we have is a memo." Not to belabor the point, but don't we also have other sources that point to the administration "fixing" the intelligence to match the goal? Richard Clarke's statements to that effect are the most famous, but a lot of other evidence indicates a consistant pattern of slant and exaggeration, if not outright deceit. There was the disagreement between the DOE and the CIA on the aluminum tubes, with clear objections to a 'worst-case' interpretation getting pushed out of the reports. Condi Rice evoked images of a "mushroom cloud" even as the British report on yellowcake was being discredited. Rumsfeld set up his own intelligence assessments in the military when the CIA's position wasn't to his liking.

There's other key pieces that fit the general pattern of deception as well. Treasury Secretary Paul O'Neill charged that the Bush Administration was making plans to get rid of Saddam just days after taking office. Joe Wilson's wife was famously 'ousted' as a CIA operative after Wilson - who investigated the uranium connection - had charged that the Bush Administration "twisted" intelligence to "exaggerate the Iraqi threat." Larry Lindsey was forced out after giving the WSJ an honest estimate of how much the war would cost.

And let us not forget the constant drumbeat of President Bush, Vice-President Cheney, and others, connecting Saddam to al-Qaeda and the 9/11 attack ... a connection that has been thoroughly discredited.

I didn't mean to get on a rant there. But I think that the memo reinforces and adds credibility to charges that the Bush Administration had consistantly skewed whatever evidence was at their disposal to make it fit their pre-determined view (in some cases to the detriment of those who dared put forth opposing viewpoints).

In other words, I think it's clear that the Downing Street memo does not stand alone.

Cheers.

 
At 9:58 PM, Blogger Alan Stewart Carl said...

Ted, thanks for the good comments. Let me see if I can offer my opinions succinctly.

1) it obvious that Bush and his administration was very interested in removing Saddam. So was Tony Blair. I think they were overeager and that overeagerness led to them rushing to war before they had to. I do not, however, think that the fact that they want to oust Saddam proves that they lied to make it happen. O’Neill, Clarke and other evidence only ever suggested this eagerness but not willful distortion. Wilson is just one lower-level guy and while his words shouldn’t be dismissed they can’t stand up on their own because he hardly had anything but a sliver of the whole picture.

2) I also think Bush, Rice, Cheney and the rest oversold the case for war. That is something they should be criticized for but, again, I don’t
think overselling is criminal.

3) The congressional committee did not explicitly investigate if there was distortion of the facts, but that obviously came up in the course of the hearings. Their final conclusions (which I link to in the post) are best summarized in this quote: “The Intelligence Community (IC) suffered from a collective presumption that Iraq had an active and growing weapons of mass destruction (WMD) program. This "group think" dynamic led Intelligence Community analysts, collectors and managers to both interpret ambiguous evidence as conclusively indicative of a WMD program as well as ignore or minimize evidence that Iraq did not have active and expanding weapons of mass destruction programs. This presumption was so strong that formalized IC mechanisms established to challenge assumptions and group think were not utilized.” So, yes, there was distortion but it wasn’t willful and it was the IC who was doing it and not the administration

O.k., this probably seems to you like I’m forcing my conclusion. But, no offense, it sounds to me like you’re forcing yours. We have a set of facts and we interpret them differently. For me, I see nothing close to conclusive evidence that Bush lied, but I do see plenty to criticize (enough that I didn't vote for him). If there is ever a smoking gun, I’d have no problem changing my mind. But until there is conclusive evidence, I just can’t say there is any proof Bush lied.

 
At 10:21 PM, Blogger Alan Stewart Carl said...

KM--

Optimally you'd want to have the facts before the policy, but that doesn't always or even usually happen. Most often, a leader has a vision, whether it be that another nation is a danger or that the welfare system is broken or whatever and then has his people work on developing policy along those lines. They will adjust their ideas if the facts don't line up, but, generally the idea does come first (think Hillarycare--there's no doubt that Bill and Hillary had a pretty clear vision about where they wanted to take healthcare before they even began the full research).

Should this be the way we go to war? Well, I think the whole idea behind the Bush Doctrine is that Sepetember 11th taught us it's not always wise to wait until we have all the "facts" before going to war because those facts can be American lives lost.

Bush believed Iraq was a real and honest threat and wanted to stop that threat. He couldn't just invade and so he made sure he had enough facts to support his conclusion. Does that mean he cherry-picked facts or manipulated them? I don't know and I don't think there's any solid evidence that he did.

I dunno. You probably disagree. But let me leave with this: do you think we should have invaded Afghanistan before 9/11? I think it's easy to see why Saddam was perceived as a grave threat. He had invaded two neighbors and, if he did have WMD, he could have seen 9/11 as an ingenious way to attack us, whom he clearly hated. Anyway, I do think reasonable people can disagree on this.

 
At 10:21 PM, Blogger Robert Rouse said...

The only "lie" I think anyone can prove at this point is during the State of the Union Address, Jan. 28, 2003 "

The British government has learned that Saddam Hussein recently sought significant quantities of uranium from Africa."

The administration knew at the time Bush made the statement that it was false, yet Bush kept it in.

 
At 11:47 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

From A Retired Marine Vet with a Mind!

Alan:

No need to apologize but I do recognize the kind act. I understand the space limitation - although I do NOT fully agree with your opinion that the section you pulled from my comment altered the point I was making. Water under the proverbial bridge.

Thanks for seeing my reason for reposting it for the true context.

Now on this question?

: : But let me leave with this: do you think we should
: : have invaded Afghanistan before 9/11?


On what grounds? Without hindsight - was there unquestionable intelligence and solid facts supporting a policy to do so pre-9/11?

Thanks for this blog forum . . .

 
At 12:07 AM, Blogger Alan Stewart Carl said...

Retired Marine Vet:

Depending on how hawkish you are (and I'm going to guess you are not particularly hawkish), there were some reasons to go into Afghanistan, the most obvious being that they were hiding Bin Laden and permitting terrorist training camps to run. Al Qaeda was a known threat and had attacked us on several occassions.

Add to that the Taliban's absolutely evil human rights abuses and one could have made a case for, if not an invasion, some form of serious military action. But I don't think any President would have made that decision. It took 9/11 to make pre-emptive military action a political reality (for better or worse). However, knowing what we know now, it would have been a pretty decent idea--and yet, if it had prevented 9/11, we would have never known how important the action was.

20/20 hindsight is useless but it'll twist your brain. I'm not really making a point, btw. Just rambling.

 
At 1:40 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

From: A Retired Marine with a Mind

Rambling is good - allow me to indulge you.

: : I'm going to guess you are not particularly hawkish

Actually I'm more gorilla-like than hawkish Alan: The word hawkish is a political catchword. I've never operated in the political environment. But I was very gorilla-like when the situation was warranted. When I allowed it - my hypothalamus endocrine system has a mind of it's own. Still gets a wee bit active today. Three deep breaths and thank you very much.

Under the operating rules of engagement at the time and although allowed by various governments to train within their respective borders al Qaeda was and remains to this very day a non-state sponsored loosely organized multi-cell type terror group. Pre-9/11 the DOD did not have the authority nor the option for the military to invade Afghanistan no matter the humanitarian issues or the training camps. In fact, the specific target was bin Laden, and key individuals, not the organization per se. I find it's best to recognize where we were and the limitations that were in place then - so as to better understand where we are today.

The only internationally recognized legal trigger for a boots-on-the-ground military action that I see during the proceeding time leading up to 9/11 was the USS Cole bombing. Why Clinton didn't when he finally had the hard intelligence to do so? Not really an excuse but his plate was quite full if you remember. And I know you do. Add to that his future-image factor. In addition to short-timer's-disease .... so he dumped it in his successor's lap. Bush took out Gore, so Bush pulled the short straw. And there really wasn't enough time that passed for Bush to open the Cole can of worms.

One thing is for sure - Rumsfeld's notes: "Go massive. Sweep it all up. Things related and not." have come to be a reality. Except where the hell is Osama?

Now please enlighten me as to what your understanding is to the current legally recognized prerequisites for 'preemptive' military action.

Thanks for the blog forum . . .

 

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