Monday, June 06, 2005

Downing Street Memo is No Smoking Gun

This week, Senator John Kerry (D-MA) will reportedly present congress with the so-called Downing Street Memo. Foreign media are even reporting Kerry will seek President Bush’s impeachment, although the Senator has not actually indicated that this is his plan.

Since first appearing in The Times of London on May 1st, the British memo has gained more and more media attention. Detailing the meeting between high level British and American officials in July of 2002, the memo's most intriguing passage is:

Bush wanted to remove Saddam, through military action, justified by the conjunction of terrorism and WMD. But intelligence and facts were being fixed around the policy.

Most Bush critics focus on the word “fixed," interpreting it to mean “to influence the outcome or actions of by improper or unlawful means.” But that is hardly the most common definition of the word fixed. It's important to note that the memo doesn’t say “fixed” but actually says “fixed around” which would indicate that the writer meant “to set in place.”

With that more likely interpretation, the memo doesn’t prove that facts were manipulated but that the Bush administration was still working out how the facts would be presented. Now, this still raises some interesting questions but not to the level Kerry and others seem to think.

The real importance of the memo is the insight it offers not into how policy is made but to how it is presented. The Bush administration was convinced that war was the proper action and obviously desired the support of the American people and foreign allies. They had to determine which of the multiple justifications they should emphasize. Looking back, weapons of mass destruction seemed to be the primary justification.

But were WMD really the primary justification or were they just the primary selling point? That’s the real question we should be asking. This is not about whether the Bush administration deceived us but whether they over-relied on marketing techniques to present the case for war. Marketing techniques are not conducive to good government and we need to work toward curtailing such practices. But they aren’t by any means criminal.

I think the way in which the Bush administration presented the war left a lot of confusion as to why the invasion was necessary (or wasn’t necessary). So we do need to go back and address how the Bush administration made their case and what should be done differently the next time war is considered. But there’s no evidence that facts were manipulated and the Downing Street memo doesn’t provide anything new.

Kerry would do well to avoid following in the path of Ralph Nader. Many on the left believe with all their heart and soul that Bush is a crook or worse. But they don’t have any solid evidence and so they take titillating but entirely inconclusive bits like the Downing Street memo and claim (or perhaps pray) that they are the smoking gun that proves some preconceived notion of Bush’s villainy. It’s not a winning strategy and only serves to further remove the left from the realities of mainstream America.

The memo should be discussed. But there is a big difference between reasonable analysis and reckless conspiracy theories.

Thanks to AubreyJ for the tip on Kerry’s memo intentions.


At 2:48 AM, Blogger Robert Rouse said...

Many of us who are wanting questions answered about the DSM have no idea what will become of the siuation. We simply want some answers. The Bush administration (along with most of the MSM) have chosen to remain mostly silent. If it isn't a big deal, then why not come forward and say so. Alan, you (and your readers) may be interested to know that another thorn in Bush's side, the John Bolton nomination, may provide some of the answers we're looking for. Back in 2002, just two short weeks after the meeting mentioned in the DSM, Bolton flew to Europe to confront the head of a global arms-control agency and demand he resign, then orchestrated the firing of the unwilling diplomat in a move a U.N. tribunal has since judged unlawful. Bolton felt Jose Bustani "had to go." Bolton thought Bustani's Chemical Weapons inspection team might have helped defuse the crisis over alleged Iraqi weapons and undermined a U.S. rationale for war.

The more I find out, the more certain I am that the Bush administration was determined to invade Iraq even if evidence showed it wasn't necessary. You can read my post on Bolton and The Downing Street Memo called When
scandals collide
for more details.

PS: Alan, knowing how stronly I feel about this issue, actually predicted I would respond. He was right!

At 2:51 AM, Blogger Robert Rouse said...

Sorry, that last link I left doesn't work Try this one . . . When
Scandals Collide

At 8:14 AM, Blogger Alan Stewart Carl said...

I certainly have no problem with the media questioning the administration on this--even if it's not very important, it still should rank above Michael Jackson in terms newsworthiness.

As for Bolton, most likely he had the UN guy fired because the UN guy was trying to use his authority to go around the U.S. and mess up U.S. plans. I don't think it means Bolton was trying to cover anything up--but I do think it shows, once again, that Bolton is not the right guy for the UN post. Bush couldn't find someone with just a wee bit more tact?

Was the Bush administration convinced that war was by far the best answer? Yes. Did they manipulate the facts to convince us to go there? Well, there's simply no evidence of that.

I find it very odd that Kerry, who voted to give Bush the authority to invade Iraq, has never acknowledge his own culpability in this. Kerry has always been very anti-war, which is fine. But rather than take to the senate floor and vigorously question Bush's desire to use military force, he voted FOR the war to make himself look strong. He manipulated his own core belief system for a perceived political gain. That doesn't mean he doesn't have the right to bring the memo up now, only that, well, anti-war folks should ask where the heck he was when the vote for war originally came to the floor.

At 10:30 AM, Blogger SherAn said...

Oh, dear, dear. Apparently you've fixated on the DSM and missed the rest of the most recent controversy. The DSM was followed up a week later with another leaked document which laid out the extensive bombing campaign the U.S. and U.K. conducted for eight months prior to the actual "start" of the war. Forget the No-Fly Zone. They bombed indiscriminately throughout Iraq, hoping to provoke Saddam.

And then there's the other stuff that Murdoch's London Times has been publishing since early May. It's time for you to get beyond the U.S. press if you want the news; you won't get the story in this country.

As for Kerry calling for impeachment, that's really a stretch! That rumor was floated in Europe and taken up by newspapers here, not the other way around.

Don't get hung up on semantics. Forget parsing, the "what the definition of 'is' is" stuff. Fixed takes on the standard everyday meaning in present context. Do read the actual DSM itself before you jump on that bandwagon.

If the discussion does nothing but draw up Bush-Cheney's reins a bit and slows down their radical transformation of the U.S., so be it. It's long past time. TV freak-show preachers are literally running this country --> into the ground. So I'm all for a discussion of the memo, particularly since Cheney dissembles enough to allege that the Iraq insurgency is in "its last throes." Pahleeze!

Wake up, wake up, wake up. We're in deep do-do here.

At 10:41 AM, Blogger Alan Stewart Carl said...

You have to talk semantics when people are willfully misreading a statement. I can't tell you how many times I've heard said that the memo says that "the facts were fixed." That's just not what it says and that needs to be made clear.

Secondly, I have read the whole memo--many times. It's a stretch, a rather big one, to think it in any way "proves" facts were manipulated.

As far as Kerry calling for impeachment, I think I made it pretty clear that the story appeared only in foreign press and that there is no real reason to believe it. But it has been reported enough to deserve a mention.

At 12:24 PM, Blogger Robert Rouse said...

As far as the word fixed goes, here's the actual statement:

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.

You're right, Alan, it doesn't say the FACTS were FIXED. It shows they were still in the process. As you can clearly see, the document states the FACTS were being FIXED.

Still this is not a smoking gun without answers. But I'd have to admit the barrel is warm.

At 12:47 PM, Blogger AubreyJ said...

Robert, Alan, good debate… Sheran, help me out here…
You say there is another leaked document which laid out the extensive bombing campaign the U.S. and U.K. conducted for eight months prior to the actual "start" of the war. I’m not saying it isn’t so… I’d just like to read up on this one. So my question is what is the name of this memo and where did you read it at????


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