Sunday, June 12, 2005

The Real Significance of the Downing Street Memo

If you haven’t heard of the Downing Street memo click here for a site dedicated to it. In short, the memo is the minutes of a meeting of top officials of the British government months before the Iraq War that includes many serious allegations with regards to the Bush Administration. The key charge is that Bush had already decided to invade Iraq months before publicly acknowledging his decision, and that the intelligence was being purposefully filtered and manipulated to strengthen the case. Many have taken this as final “proof” that Bush lied in the lead-up to the Iraq War and the internet has been abuzz with many discussions on this topic. One doesn’t have to be a conspiracy nut to believe there may be hints of truth in these allegations, but the point of this piece is to identify something much more fundamental concerning the Iraq War that surfaced in a recent press interview when Bush was asked about the contents of the memo.

Below are select passages from the transcript of this press conference on June 7th directly from the White House’s official website:

Q: Thank you sir. On Iraq, the so-called Downing Street memo from July 2002 says intelligence and facts were being fixed around the policy of removing Saddam through military action. Is this an accurate reflection of what happened? Could both of you respond?

PRESIDENT BUSH: Well, I -- you know, I read kind of the characterizations of the memo, particularly when they dropped it out in the middle of his race. I'm not sure who "they dropped it out" is, but -- I'm not suggesting that you all dropped it out there. (Laughter.) And somebody said, well, you know, we had made up our mind to go to use military force to deal with Saddam. There's nothing farther from the truth.

My conversation with the Prime Minister was, how could we do this peacefully, what could we do. And this meeting, evidently, that took place in London happened before we even went to the United Nations -- or I went to the United Nations. And so it's -- look, both us of didn't want to use our military. Nobody wants to commit military into combat. It's the last option. The consequences of committing the military are -- are very difficult. The hardest things I do as the President is to try to comfort families who've lost a loved one in combat. It's the last option that the President must have -- and it's the last option I know my friend had, as well.

And so we worked hard to see if we could figure out how to do this peacefully, take a -- put a united front up to Saddam Hussein, and say, the world speaks, and he ignored the world. Remember, 1441 passed the Security Council unanimously. He made the decision. And the world is better off without Saddam Hussein in power. (emphasis mine)

So what is Bush referring to when he says “how could we do this”? What is it that he wanted to do? Bring democracy to Iraq? Of course not, to disarm Saddam. As I and many others have repeatedly pointed out, the case for the invasion of Iraq was premised on removing the threat of WMD; democracy was an afterthought. In Bush’s own words just this week he once again returned to the original and principle reason for the Iraq War, which had nothing to do with democracy. When Bush states that “he (Saddam) made the decision” he is saying that if Saddam had fully cooperated the U.S. would not have invaded. No democracy, no end to the death camps, no domino theory about draining the terrorist swamps. So if we are to believe Bush now, we must take issue with how this war has been sold to the American people since its commencement.

Let us assume that Bush did in fact believe the Saddam had WMD and that this was a threat to America. Even though Saddam turned out not to have any, an honest administration could have stated that it took the invasion to discover the truth about Saddam’s WMD, and that the world is now safer with this knowledge. Reasonable people could disagree, but at least the story would be consistent and truthful. In addition, Bush could have made the case that since we decided to topple Saddam that it was only right that we help the Iraqis form a new stable government as an example that the U.S. exercises its power with a sense of justice and responsibility. Even I, who was opposed to this war, would have at least felt some minimum level of respect for an administration that could level with the American people in difficult times.

But as we all know, this is not the course the Administration took. Once it became clear that Saddam did not have WMD, the rationale for the war almost completely shifted to the promotion of democracy above all else. This from a President who stridently campaigned against nation-building just three years prior during the 2000 Presidential Election. To add insult to injury, high-level members of the Administration, including both Bush and Cheney, continued to make erroneous statements about supposed WMD’s that were found in Iraq months after these claimed had been refuted, and continued to associate Saddam with elements of Al Queda despite a complete lack of evidence. In short, the Administration refused to level with the American public about the most serious actions any country can embark on.

In summary, the Downing Street Memo and Bush’s response to it confirm that this Administration allowed short-sighted political calculation to determine its rationales for war, instead of sticking to an honest and consistent justification. This is simply wrong and an affront to all Americans.

And you don’t need to believe in conspiracies, be a liberal, or to hate Bush in order to recognize this sorry truth.

P.S. The Washington Post today reports on another British memo detailing how unprepared the U.S. military was for the post-war phase in Iraq. In addition, the London Time just published another report showing how the British government also needed to find the proper way to "sell" the war to the people.

J.S.’s Novel: As It Was In The Beginning

J.S.

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