I will say this once, and only once. The Downing Street Memos mean nothing. They are, outright, a non-event. As someone who opposed the war, and who skimps on no opportunity to criticize Bush, this is the kind of overwrought reaching that lost the election for John Kerry in 2004 when he spent the final days of the election talking about those bombs in Al-Qaqaa. (You remember that? Neither did I until this, and I guarantee about 100% of Americans don't). These memos suggest a lot of things, that somehow intelligence was carefully assembled into a package that told a certain story, that there was a lack of postwar planning, that America was bent on use of military force. This has caused a lot of the left-flank of the blogosphere to go, quite simply, bananas. To anyone else, it sounds really, really familiar. In fact, too familiar. In fact, so familiar and so old-hat that's it's not even news, and even so much that the Downing Street Memos are close to useless and meaningless in this debate.
Two great sources from Slate
partially explain why: Hitch
, and Kaplan
. In a rare moment of lucidity Hitch says this:
I am now forced to wonder: Who is there who does not know that the Bush administration decided after September 2001 to change the balance of power in the region and to enforce the Iraq Liberation Act, passed unanimously by the Senate in 1998, which made it overt American policy to change the government of Iraq? This was a fairly open conspiracy, and an open secret. Given that everyone from Hans Blix to Jacques Chirac believed that Saddam was hiding weapons from inspectors, it made legal sense to advance this case under the banner of international law and to treat Saddam "as if" (and how else?) his strategy of concealment and deception were prima facie proof. The British attorney general—who has no jurisdiction in these 50 states—was worried that "regime change" alone would not be a sufficient legal basis. One appreciates his concern. But the existence of the Saddam regime was itself a defiance of all known international laws, and we had before us the consequences of previous failures to act, in Bosnia and Rwanda, where action would have been another word for "regime change."
Kaplan sums it all up:
Read in conjunction with the six other British documents, the case weakens further. The memos do not show, for instance, that Bush simply invented the notion that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction or that Saddam posed a threat to the region. In fact, the memos reveal quite clearly that the top leaders in the U.S. and British governments genuinely believed their claims.
But they're not the only ones to weigh in on this. Sullivan
zeroes in on the post-war planning aspect, but dismisses a lot of the WMD hysteria. The others, are countless. Kevin Drum
is a good example of the hyperbole coming out of this when he talks about "criminal neglect."
These memos are not a big deal, or not noteworthy, for three reasons. The first, addressed by Sullivan, Kaplan, and Hitch, is that this is nothing new. We already knew there was minimal postwar planning. This has been clear from the get-go, from what members of Congress have said, from what former Pentagon officials have said, even from what the neocons said before we went to war about being greeted as liberators. Not to mention the fact that it was blatantly obvious from the Jay Garner-Bremer switcheroo in the immediate Post-War Coalition Provincial Authority and the wrangling with Sistani over interim governments. They assumed there wouldn't be a need for extensive post-war operations, as people like Wolfowitz and Perle assured us. They were wrong. It's true, but it's not a new story. The memo says this, but you could infer it yourself at the time, and we know it. So what vindication do the memos provide? Nothing really, they pretty much provide evidence of something most people already knew was the case. We also knew Bush was fully ready to use the military, from Clarke's Against All Enemies
and Suskind's The Price of Loyalty
Second, they are nothing definitive. This business about "fixed" intelligence is, as I said, overwrought reaching. Never did Bush lie, never was he deceptive. I believe, as Kaplan and others do, that the salesmen believed in their product. I believed in their product. Hans Blix even seemed to believe in their product. Everyone involved thought Iraq had some weapons capability. The evidence may have been cherry-picked, but that's what you do in politics. When's the last time anyone saw any politician sit there laying out their case to do anything, and actually bring up the "con" evidence to their "pro?" NEVER, and I'm not going to hold Bush to a different standard. Only show that they were engaged in this kind of typical political exercise. Does it ever say the evidence was fabricated? Does it ever claim that it was deceptive? No. Only that they were assembling a sales pitch. And, as stated above, this is nothing we didn't know already. The memos don't prove their was any counterfeit evidence. Boooring. Let's move on.
The last thing, and the most damning as to the significance of these memos, is best summed up in a Big Lebowski
quote: "That's just like. . .your opinion, man." That's exactly what these memos are. A set of opinions, a set of "what ifs." Nothing in them is new or enlightening, because there's no evidence, there're no specifics, there're only some vague concerns and some political hand-wringing. These memos are grief sheets, inner demons and doubts made public. This is instructive in the fact that it shows some British people had some second thoughts about it, but really it's so familiar because it shows they only had the same concerns that were voiced both before the war and after the war. But what they don't do is show any evidence or proof beyond these doubts, they are merely speculative. Perhaps some feel this is important because some British officials had the same thought or doubt about something they did. Me? I don't need a British officials doubts to mirror my own to boost my self-esteem. And that's all this is, self-aggrandizement. But I'll stick with my statement: these are nothing new, nothing definitive, and nothing factual. . .just some old opinions that have become pretty much conventional wisdom by now. There's no need for alarm. If you still feel passionate about it, put down those British documents and focus on something productive, like how to prevent the next Iraq from happening.