A Telling Indifference:

On the Downing Street Memo

 

We now have it in black and white--in fact we've had it for more than a month: a British government document that proves George W. Bush lied to the American people about the reasons for the Iraq war. 

 

We have it, but what's to be done with it?  It exists in the mere and ineffectual realm of fact.  As such it may be nearly useless.  In Bush's America, facts aren't nearly as important as rousing rhetoric: instead of facts we have the knit brow of sham concern, the proud scoff at world opinion, the gesture that says "We do things our way--and that's that." 

 

Faced with Americans' indifference to the Downing Street Memo, faced with the shamefully tepid response of the American press, one begins to think that having proof in black and white may be no big deal.  After all, the truth about these things--namely the decision to commit our troops to war--doesn't seem to matter any more.  What matters is not how the course was set or where it's leading, what matters again is only the gesture, the rousing rhetoric: "We will stay the course."  Facts and analysis be damned. 

 

It's obvious that those who voted for Bush don't care about such proof one way or another.  Like those of us who voted against him, the Bush supporters knew all along they were being bamboozled.  The difference is that the Bush supporters willingly, gleefully even, let themselves be bamboozled.  The Hollywood movie excitement of an all new glorious war in an exotic place against a real bad guy was just too good to give up.  So the more "patriotic" Americans weren't going to look askance at a few big lies to get excitement drummed up.  Besides, in launching this newfangled "pre-emptive" war we could thumb our noses at Europe and the "liberals" all at once.  And what could be better than that?  "Pass me a brew to wash down those lies with.  Yeehaww!"

   

Now we have proof that the reason for attacking Iraq was not Saddam's WMD.  As Britain's highest intelligence official put it in his behind-closed-doors explanation to Blair and the rest: "the intelligence and facts were being fixed around the policy."  So if an Iraqi threat was not the reason for the war, what was?  Duhh.  That's been obvious all along too, just as the lies have been obvious.  But America has apparently become a country that proudly accepts being lied to.  It's patriotic to be able to swallow a few big lies. 

 

The science of global warming, by the way, is not at all solid enough to justify any plan of action.  Certainly it isn't solid enough to justify getting rid of your SUV.  So crack open another cold one, belt out a hearty Yeehaww! and thank God you live in a country whose love for freedom extends even to the freedom from facts.

 

"Downing Street what?  What do those Brits know about it anyway?  They're basically Europeans.  It's all a bunch of liberal lies is what it is."

 

Eric Mader

June 2005

Taipei

 

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The following is the opening of the best article I've found on the Downing Street Memo.  It's from the June 9, 2005 issue of The New York Review of Books.

 

The Secret Way to War

 

By Mark Danner

 

It was October 16, 2002, and the United States Congress had just voted to authorize the President to go to war against Iraq. When George W. Bush came before members of his Cabinet and Congress gathered in the East Room of the White House and addressed the American people, he was in a somber mood befitting a leader speaking frankly to free citizens about the gravest decision their country could make.

 

The 107th Congress, the President said, had just become "one of the few called by history to authorize military action to defend our country and the cause of peace." But, he hastened to add, no one should assume that war was inevitable. Though "Congress has now authorized the use of force," the President said emphatically, "I have not ordered the use of force. I hope the use of force will not become necessary." The President went on:

 

Our goal is to fully and finally remove a real threat to world peace and to America. Hopefully this can be done peacefully. Hopefully we can do this without any military action. Yet, if Iraq is to avoid military action by the international community, it has the obligation to prove compliance with all the world's demands. It's the obligation of Iraq.

 

Iraq, the President said, still had the power to prevent war by "declaring and destroying all its weapons of mass destruction"-but if Iraq did not declare and destroy those weapons, the President warned, the United States would "go into battle, as a last resort."

 

It is safe to say that, at the time, it surprised almost no one when the Iraqis answered the President's demand by repeating their claim that in fact there were no weapons of mass destruction. As we now know, the Iraqis had in fact destroyed these weapons, probably years before George W. Bush's ultimatum: "the Iraqis"-in the words of chief US weapons inspector David Kay-"were telling the truth."

 

As Americans watch their young men and women fighting in the third year of a bloody counterinsurgency war in Iraq-a war that has now killed more than 1,600 Americans and tens of thousands of Iraqis-they are left to ponder "the unanswered question" of what would have happened if the United Nations weapons inspectors had been allowed-as all the major powers except the United Kingdom had urged they should be-to complete their work. What would have happened if the UN weapons inspectors had been allowed to prove, before the US went "into battle," what David Kay and his colleagues finally proved afterward?

 

Thanks to a formerly secret memorandum published by the London Sunday Times on May 1, during the run-up to the British elections, we now have a partial answer to that question. The memo, which records the minutes of a meeting of Prime Minister Tony Blair's senior foreign policy and security officials, shows that even as President Bush told Americans in October 2002 that he "hope[d] the use of force will not become necessary"--that such a decision depended on whether or not the Iraqis complied with his demands to rid themselves of their weapons of mass destruction--the President had in fact already definitively decided, at least three months before, to choose this "last resort" of going "into battle" with Iraq. Whatever the Iraqis chose to do or not do, the President's decision to go to war had long since been made.

 

On July 23, 2002, eight months before American and British forces invaded, senior British officials met with Prime Minister Tony Blair to discuss Iraq. The gathering, similar to an American "principals meeting," brought together Geoffrey Hoon, the defense secretary; Jack Straw, the foreign secretary; Lord Goldsmith, the attorney general; John Scarlett, the head of the Joint Intelligence Committee, which advises the prime minister; Sir Richard Dearlove, also known as "C," the head of MI6 (the equivalent of the CIA); David Manning, the equivalent of the national security adviser; Admiral Sir Michael Boyce, the chief of the Defense Staff (or CDS, equivalent to the chairman of the Joint Chiefs); Jonathan Powell, Blair's chief of staff; Alastair Campbell, director of strategy (Blair's communications and political adviser); and Sally Morgan, director of government relations.

 

After John Scarlett began the meeting with a summary of intelligence on Iraq-notably, that "the regime was tough and based on extreme fear" and that thus the "only way to overthrow it was likely to be by massive military action," "C" offered a report on his visit to Washington, where he had conducted talks with George Tenet, his counterpart at the CIA, and other high officials. This passage is worth quoting in full:

 

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.

 

Seen from today's perspective this short paragraph is a strikingly clear template for the future, establishing these points:

 

1. By mid-July 2002, eight months before the war began, President Bush had decided to invade and occupy Iraq.

 

2. Bush had decided to "justify" the war "by the conjunction of terrorism and WMD."

 

3. Already "the intelligence and facts were being fixed around the policy."

 

4. Many at the top of the administration did not want to seek approval from the United Nations (going "the UN route").

 

5. Few in Washington seemed much interested in the aftermath of the war.

 

. . .

 

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The rest of this article is at:

 

http://www.nybooks.com/articles/18034

 

Smell the Coffee Already: a correspondence on the memo and America's case of terminal denial:

 

Smell the Coffee Already

 

 

 

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