The Downing Street Memo

24 MB MP3

I was asked to go along to a meeting with a friend…and he asked me whether there were still people interested in what had happened with the Iraq War…He gave me one document, I looked at it, and I said it was very interesting. He said there were a number of others and I said ‘Can I have a look at the others?’

Michael Smith, 6/21/05 on Open Source

Chris’s Billboard

What Tony Blair’s Cabinet in London knew in July three years ago—eight months before the assault on Saddam Hussein began—was that a war on Iraq might not be legal; it might not be necessary to protect the US, the UK, or the Middle East neighborhood; it might not produce a better regime for Iraq, much less a democracy; it might not be good for Tony Blair and his Labor Party in England. Overriding all else, however, was the word from Washington, received as unalterable fact, that military action was inevitable. The case was thin, the Foreign Secretary said. But the deed would be done. There you have the main lines of the inside story that Michael Smith broke in the London Sunday Times this Spring: about a pre-packaged war waiting for time and a trigger to get it started. A story that British voters and American media thought wasn’t much of a story at all. So: was it? Wasn’t it? And who decides anyway?

Michael Smith

defense correspondent, The Sunday Times,

broke the story on the Downing Street memo

[on the phone in Henley-on-Thames, England]

Bob Fesmire

Spokesman, Downing Street Memo

[by phone in Silicon Valley]

Jay Rosen

media pundit, NYU School of Journalism,

blogger: PressThink

[via studio in NYC]

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  • (By the way, while I was ok with the Iraq war, at the time, at this point I think it was a disastrous mistake.)

    I’m in the middle of reading “Plan of Attack” (Woodward, Admitedly I have not finished it but common sense confirms the point, IMHO… Which is that:

    It shouldn’t be a great surprise that “eight months before the beginning of the war itself it was already understood — by the planners at least — as inevitable?”

    Of course planning and discussion in great detail about conducting a war with Iraq started many many months ahead of time, and proceeded with all realism by the military. Of course President Bush asked for planning to include many different scenarios, including starting the war immediately (for example if Sadam did something provocative) to not starting at all. Bush wouldn’t possibly have wanted the planning to go forward in anything other than utmost seriousness, even if it was a just-in-case scenario.

    So I say, this is a lot of fuss over nothing.

  • Pingback: Mark in Mexico()

  • Chris Williams

    Mark in Mexico, you question whether the memo is real, since the Times of London only obtained the retyped text, not an original copy. But if we had the original, it wouldn’t settle any questions about the meaning, and it wouldn’t automatically result in Congressional hearings.

    To me the surface question is: did Bush lie about his intention to avoid invading Iraq? However, I think there’s a deeper question that isn’t being asked: Is it even OK to suggest that we should not have invaded? If the decision to invade was truly not set in stone, then Bush was presumably willing to accept an outcome that stripped Saddam of his weapons yet left him in power. But if we consider how Americans have been attacked for suggesting just that– Joe Lieberman said, “If Howard Dean had his way, Saddam Hussein would still be in power today”– perhaps we can understand our reluctance to push the issue. We’re not confident that we hold the moral high ground. How can we object to a pre-determined course of action when it’s considered un-American to suggest anything but?

    So the deeper question must be addressed first. If Bush did not lie about his intentions– if he was truly willing to accept a peaceful disarmament that left Saddam in power– then it’s acceptable for other Americans to suggest the same. And once that becomes acceptable, and even, as Bush himself reassured us, preferable, it matters a whole lot more what the Downing Street memo has to say about Bush’s honesty. Unfortunately, I don’t think it says quite enough.

    To me, the most important lines in the memo are not the ones quoted at the very top of this page– they’re too vague, and more opinion than fact– but lines such as:

    The Defence Secretary said that the US had already begun “spikes of activity” to put pressure on the regime. No decisions had been taken, but he thought the most likely timing in US minds for military action to begin was January, with the timeline beginning 30 days before the US Congressional elections…

    It seemed clear that Bush had made up his mind to take military action, even if the timing was not yet decided. But the case was thin… We should work up a plan for an ultimatum to Saddam to allow back in the UN weapons inspectors. This would also help with the legal justification for the use of force.

    The Attorney-General said that the desire for regime change was not a legal base for military action. There were three possible legal bases: self-defence, humanitarian intervention, or UNSC authorisation. The first and second could not be the base in this case.

    But even these don’t strike me as smoking guns– there’s no Nixon-Tapes moment where Bush is directly quoted saying, I don’t care what it takes, lie to the UN, lie to the public, but get me Saddam. I do find these lines suggestive that war was decided in advance, but frustratingly, no more than that.

    [On edit, Robin’s notes say that the “spikes of activity” refer to bombings that took place even before Congress voted to authorize force in October 2002. That perhaps is something, but hadn’t the US and UK done similar unauthorized bombings on numerous other occasions since 1991?]

  • I’m so sorry to keep posting comments about this, but your feed is still seriously screwed up. The podcast feed is a whole week behind. I’m begging to resubscribe. You should do something about it.

  • First off– agreed with Chris Williams re: the bombings.

    On the overall point. It’s standard blogger SOP (that stands for Sloppy Opinion Posturing) to vent all rage at the New York Times. Who says they’re bored by it? If they believe the memos tell us nothing new, they have supporters in: Fred Kaplan in Slate, writer and USC journalism fellow Marc Cooper, who relays the opinion of Michael Kinsley of the LA Times.

    Hmm. There’s a curious pattern developing in a number of these stories where the bloggers are beating the drums… most of them involve memos. The Killian memos; the Senate memo on Terry Schiavo; the DSM. Is the Blog jealous that its paper counterpart– the Memo– still holds so much importance?

  • Perhaps nobody cares because we’ve found out so much shit in recent months that we’re getting immune to it? After all, it has to be a very slow news day for anyone to bother reporting a suicide/car bomb in Iraq.

  • Chris Williams

    On second thought, maybe we should reframe the question. Instead of asking whether Bush decided months in advance that we would invade, we should ask whether Bush actually hoped to avoid military conflict. That gets a lot more traction, because it sets aside the question of when a decision was made. The Bush administration can now truthfully say the final decision wasn’t made until March 17, 2003, but that doesn’t matter anymore. Because at every step along the way, we can find signs that they were looking for an excuse to invade. The memo is full of such signs. How do we create a scenario that will allow us to invade with legal backing? The return of UN inspectors is good in this context not because it will help find WMD but because it will “help with the legal justification for the use of force.”

    Sigh. It shouldn’t even be a serious question that Bush wanted a legal excuse to invade, and looking back, we knew this before the war. On March 6, 2003, Bush held a press conference:

    Q Thank you, Mr. President. As you said, the Security Council faces a vote next week on a resolution implicitly authorizing an attack on Iraq. Will you call for a vote on that resolution, even if you aren’t sure you have the vote?

    THE PRESIDENT: Well, first, I don’t think — it basically says that he’s in defiance of 1441. That’s what the resolution says. And it’s hard to believe anybody is saying he isn’t in defiance of 1441, because 1441 said he must disarm. And, yes, we’ll call for a vote.

    Q No matter what?

    THE PRESIDENT: No matter what the whip count is, we’re calling for the vote. We want to see people stand up and say what their opinion is about Saddam Hussein and the utility of the United Nations Security Council. And so, you bet. It’s time for people to show their cards, to let the world know where they stand when it comes to Saddam.

    No matter what, said the President. No matter what. But when he knew the Security Council was against him, HE DIDN’T CALL FOR THE VOTE. How is that the action of a man hoping to avoid military conflict? We knew Bush wanted it, we knew it before the war, but it’s never been a scandal because millions of Americans, including our political leaders and our newspaper columnists, wanted it too.

  • Listening in now. Again, I agree with Chris Williams here. There are tons of contradictions between the President’s words and actions. The focus on over documents shouldn’t be the story.

  • A what in the oval office??? Just remember, NPR funding is on the docket this week…

    Another thing– this isn’t new news, but it’s a new totem. A symbol. A semiotic paperweight to pin all of our evidence down. A year ago, the totem was Fahrenheit 9/11… but the trouble with it was that it was too much a kaleidoscope of information. (and neither the Clarke nor Woodward books, while vastly informative, were not totems) Bringing this back to my hypothesis earlier, I think why the bloggers attach themselves to the memos is because they are in plain black-and-white. The simpler the totem, the more compelling it is.

  • shpilk

    It’s a given that the Downing Street Memo is factual; why is it that the Mainstream Press {MSM} in the US refuses to deal with it? Who owns the MSM today? I have seen stuff on the net that says they are all corporate owned, and perhaps this is the source of the reticence to uncover these things?

    Is the problem with internet ‘news story’ and blogging like Andy Warhol’s “everyone is famous for 15 minutes”? Is every possible point of view published on the ‘net to be treated with equal respect?

    What criteria does one use to vet the veracity of what is published ont he web {for that matter, even in print?} Is truth itself getting buried by the sheer wall of noise from the blogoshpere?

  • ERoustom

    Maybe the Press isn’t to blame. The given evidence moving to the war was thin at best. There is no reaction to any of this in the US because we all knew this was phony – and collectively we didn’t care at the time, or we’ve given up hope we can do anything about it now. Americans voted for the Bush administration not caring about the truth – just as long as some Arab ass was smoked – and gay marriage was beaten down. It was the people’s choice.

    Look at all that is fake about the Bush admin. All of it was reported on some level. The guy still won. It’s not the press.

  • “I have seen stuff on the net that says they are all corporate owned, and perhaps this is the source of the reticence to uncover these things?”

    As that is often the case, both Steve Lovelady and I have argued that liberals should not use the vague phrase “MSM” but should instead use Corporate Media.

  • ERoustom

    Lack of interest in the war’s legality was among the public. The press could have gone blue in the face telling it.

  • shpilk

    MSM, Corporate Media – whatever. “Mainstream Media” AKA ABC, CBS, NBC, Fox, CNN, MSNBC – most magazines and newspapers.

    The point is {and this affects NPR as well} is that these companies all owe their existence to advertising revenue or ‘sponsorship’ .. how effective is NBC reporting on issues related to GE or Microsoft, for instance? Can we be sure they are totally free of influence?

    ADM {Archer Daniel Midland}, GE and other giants have been supporters of NPR shows .. any influence there?

  • Just to answer another couple of points from shpilk– I quoted him above.

    “That is often the case”– I meant often the case that the media is corporate owned. But not always corporate-driven. But there is a general corporate-culture of the media this country now, and that could be what your after.

    as explained, the reason the major news yawned at this was because it was already known to reporters, journalists, foreign policy junkies. The Times rode on the Wen Ho Lee case as an exercise in investigative journalism, and paid for it…

    How do we filter the signal from the noise in the blogosphere? That’s the big question. Brendan and Chris, perhaps discuss in another show!

  • shpilk

    “Lack of interest in the war’s legality was among the public. The press could have gone blue in the face telling it. ”

    The press has ignored people being rousted out of Bush campaign appearances for having a button or teeshirt on with a opposing views, gross distortions of environmental policy, fiscal policy, foreign policy ..

    Lack of interest in the public? Perhaps by some – those who don’t have a relative serving, the rest of us that have not been asked to make any sacrifice.

    But there are plenty of people in this country who actually care about democracy, and the legacy we leave for the future – and they want to know the truth.

  • shpilk– these questions have been asked and discussed. Every media beat reporter in the land has tackled conflict-of-interest issues. So here you’d have to connect the dots as to whether any corporate interests are pushing the story one way or another. That doesn’t seem to be the case.

    If my “totem” theory has any merit– I don’t know, I just synthesized it listening to this show– perhaps it’s that big media is leery of associating too closely with such a symbol/crusade/etc. Smaller players– alternative media, bloggers– have much more to gain and less to risk.

  • shpilk

    “How do we filter the signal from the noise in the blogosphere? That’s the big question. Brendan and Chris, perhaps discuss in another show!”

    Like I posted earlier, I agree with that 100%

    The problem I have is sorting through ALL of ‘it’: the blogs, .. including the ‘MSM’ or corporate media .. what is real, what is fantasy – and why when presented with hard cold facts, traction seems so hard to find?

    There are precious few news outlets I continue to place some trust in.

    One is NPR, of course – but I am concerned as the emphasis veers towards shallow magazine type reporting as evidenced by the noontime shows.

    Reuters, BBC and some other non-US sources seem to be able provide the whole story. Is ure seems like most Americans have not heard of these, and sit mesmerized, wallowing in a vast wasteland of pop culture.

  • wl.peat

    I grew up in a Connecticut represented in the Senate by Prescott Bush. I have known cousins of “Poppy” (who, incidentally, didn’t think much of him). And I have thought since 2002, based on what I know of the Bush family, that the sole motivation for George Bush’s fixation on Saddam Hussein was intensely personal — very simply, that Saddam had threatened his father. I have waited three years to see any mention of this in any medium — print or electronic — or even by a Democrat in an intensely partisan political campaign. Tonight, for the first time, I heard this idea aired — by. of all things, a British journalist. Did Lydon or anyone pick up on it? Apparently not.

    If pursuing a personal vendetta, on the basis of phony intelligence and out-and-out lies, at the cost of 1,700 American lives, countless Iraqi dead, and thousands wounded on all sides of the conflict isn’t grounds for impeachment, perhaps we should rewrite the constitutional definition of “high crimes and misdemeanors.”

  • Chris Williams

    Jon, your totem idea is interesting. There does seem to be something special about memos– several special somethings, I think, having to do with what the object itself means, and perhaps not so much what it symbolizes:

    1) A memo is authoritative. It’s not the anonymous analysis of a blogger or the word of an unnamed “senior official.” It’s got a name and an office attached. We feel we can trust it (most of the time).

    2) Someone didn’t want us to see it. Almost by definition, that makes it important. The other famous memos that spring to mind were leaks of classified documents, or recovered items previously thought lost or destroyed.

    3) It’s compact. (Simple, as you describe it.) A short memo can be read in a few minutes, it’s easy for laypeople to digest, and it can be cut and pasted all over the web in its entirety. All those things help it reach a lot of people quickly.

  • Chris Williams

    wl.peat, I’ve heard that suggestion several times, that George Bush was motivated by a personal vendetta, but I can’t bring myself to talk about it because I don’t have any evidence to point at. I think it’s perfectly plausible, but I’m afraid to commit myself to a “conspiracy theory,” by which I simply mean, a theory without evidence. It is so so easy to get carried away in the absence of facts. I cringe in exactly the same way when I hear people say “it’s all about the oil.” I can’t talk about that either, even though I know that *of course* oil is part of the picture. I just don’t know *how* it’s part of the picture.

  • Yes, let me agree with Chris Williams once again here. There were a lot of motivations going into the war. Was the personal vendetta overlooked? Search the net for “guy who tried to kill my dad”– this was well reported after Bush described Saddam Hussein at a political fundraiser in September 2002, and repeated in Michael Moore’s movie. As I said in my opening post to this thread, there’s a kneejerk reaction to assume that something isn’t being covered by the Times.

    I should get to work on that semiotic paperweight now.

  • I am glad the press wasn’t anti-Roosevelt or Anti-Truman, both Democrats, during WWII to second guess whether or not they had an “exit strategy” or a “plan for the peace”. Do you honestly think that they just sat by and thought nothing of Hitler at the time? No, they were thinking, as was the rest of the country, “What are we going to do if we have to go to war with Germany or Japan?” You folks on the left don’t understand Evil or what to do about it. “If you leave it alone long enough maybe it’ll go away.” But it doesn’t. Evil is relentless and must be confronted headon without hesitation or it will destroy you. Wake up!

  • Potter

    Let’s get to work impeaching this President. For whatever “reasons”, he took us to war after misleading us, lying to us, and excercising little to no restraint. He rode the horse of panic and fear that he fed after 9/11. And he was aided by the “corporate media” trying to catch our interest through these emotions.

    I agree that this DSM is only another piece of a thousand piece puzzle. But we have the picture. It’s as plain as day.

    This President should be impeached. The harm he’s done, worse than Nixon, will have us repairing for years.

    In the meantime we are all fiddling here about memos. I’m mad as hell.

  • Chris Williams

    Bruce, I hope you’ll agree that the Iraq war today is different from WWII. Back then, Germany had been marching all over Europe for two years, and we didn’t even enter the war until we were directly attacked. Now, if Saddam had spent two years invading Saudi Arabia, Iran, Turkey, Syria, Jordan, and Israel, lauched a direct attack on the United States, and *then* we invaded Iraq, I think you’d see a much different attitude from “folks on the left.” Don’t you agree that would be a different situation?

    I’m not so worried about understanding Evil– I think I need to spend more time understanding history. You mention Truman, saying that the press didn’t oppose him or second-guess him in WWII. Well, let’s look at another conflict: Korea. Here’s a short but interesting article I found, and I’m gonna quote much more of it than I should, but Bruce, you simply can’t tell me that Americans stood uncritically behind their President:

    To be sure, the Korean War was an unpopular war here at home. It was the first war that the United States did not win….

    Republicans and even some Democrats began to question and publicly criticize the president’s handling of the war and the homefront. Americans began to panic and as Christmas 1950 approached a pall of defeatism and doom descended. An editorial in Life magazine, surrounded by a giddy blitz of Christmas ads, warned darkly that “the news is of disaster; World War III moves ever closer… our leaders are frightened, befuddled, and caught in a great and inexcusable failure to marshal the strength of America.”

    In addition, [Truman] had to search for a way to rally the American people around an unpopular, undeclared, and limited war; stabilize an economy poised at a meltdown; and mobilize even faster an industrial and defense establishment that was already near the breaking point. Such were the challenges and vicissitudes of limited war in the nuclear age. By December, the Korean War had become “Truman’s War,” and he alone would come to shoulder the enormous burden of governing a people and political process that had become breathless with fear and rife with criticism and chicanery…

    Throughout the remainder of his term in office, Truman would contend with growing criticism of his handling of the economy and homefront, some of which went so far as to accuse him of socialism and outright despotism…

    Then, of course, came what was surely one of the biggest crises of the entire war: Truman’s decision to fire General Douglas MacArthur on 11 April 1951. Although MacArthur had clearly undermined his commander-in-chief, had engaged in essentially insubordinate behavior, and had made repeated strategic and tactical blunders in prosecuting the war, Truman was mercilessly lambasted by the press and excoriated by his opponents for dismissing the vainglorious war hero. McCarthyites, conservative Republicans, and other foes of Truman used the MacArthur dismissal to launch a fresh barrage of abuse at the president, who nonetheless stood firm by his decision. Be that as it may, the crisis further crippled Truman’s ability to respond to changing circumstances on and off the battlefield and, of course, his approval ratings were by then in a virtual free-fall…

    Clearly, America’s homefront during the Korean War reflected a house divided. It engendered bitter rhetoric and partisan infighting, encouraged the continued antics of Senator McCarthy and his minions, fostered a poisonous atmosphere of paranoia and fear, and created two separate constitutional crises: the MacArthur Affair and the Steel Crisis…

    Finally, the Korean War unseated the Democratic party’s nearly uninterrupted hold on power in Washington, one that went all the way back to 1932. In 1952 Americans elected a Republican president for the first time since 1928, and turned over control of the House and Senate to the Republicans as well.

    Bruce, don’t tell me that the press stood behind their Democratic president. Don’t tell me that the Republicans stood behind their Democratic president. Don’t tell me that the people stood behind their Democratic president.

  • Brendan

    You folks on the left don’t understand Evil or what to do about it. … Evil is relentless and must be confronted headon without hesitation or it will destroy you. Wake up!

    First of all, you have no idea what our politics are. I happen to be a bitterly disappointed ex-Republican, but I shouldn’t have to be in the position of telling you that. Try to avoid indulging in assumptions that make your life easier. Second, perhaps the press went easier on Roosevelt because he was doing a good job.

    Third, let’s take another look at what you wrote up there:

    You folks on the left don’t understand Evil…

    You may be right. Perhaps I was too busy on the afternoon of September 11 cleaning someone else’s blood off of my shirt to understand evil. Or maybe I was distracted washing off the grit of the cloud of debris that killed several people close to where I was standing. Or maybe it was later when I forgot about evil, when I sank into a year-long depression because I couldn’t get what I had seen out of my head.

    Again, I shouldn’t have to be in the position of having to tell you any of this. I’m a producer for this show, so I’ll stop at that and let the rest of you hash out George Bush among yourselves. But nobody gets any points for saying the terrorists are the bad guys and, frankly, the suggestion that perhaps I don’t understand how bad the bad guys are is insulting and has no place on this comment thread.

  • Chris Williams

    Bruce, I want to apologize for the harangue. I wish I hadn’t said it that way.

    Brendan, wow, I didn’t know that.

  • KenLac

    Bruce, Bruce, Bruce…. (shaking head sadly…)

    You take out your magic wand (the word “evil”) and expect everyone on the left to melt like a wicked witch. Dude, I know just a bit about evil. The cat’s name is Osama, and I want him bad. But you’ve taken the bait on the switch, and now you have the nerve to continue to lecture us.

    Let me tell you something loud and clear: Saddam didn’t have a dirty Kleenex to wave at us, never mind tons and tons of biological agents. If you consider “evil” to be idle threats by a paper tiger, then you’ve lowered the bar on evil quite a bit.

    You quite conveniently forget that Saddam was contained. That’s pretty much an established fact now. The administration’s greatest fear was that the containment would be recognized by the electorate before W had a chance to launch his personal war. So, yes, there are multiple ways to skin a cat. I don’t quite comprehend your preference for the method involving the most blood and gore possible, other than to attribute it to some kind of stunted intellect that is all-too-common-nowadays.

    You also quite conveniently forget that one of the reasons Saddam was able to be evil to his own populace was because our government helped him. And many of the same players are running the current administration.

    So, go ahead Bruce, continue to lump every single strawman in the Mideast into one caricature named “evil”, and then claim that only you know what to do about it. In the meantime increasing numbers in this country have stopped being mesmerized by the man behind the curtain cynically preying on their Sept. 11 trauma. Your kind of simple-mindedness is finally in eclipse again. I’m sure it’s not the last we’ll see of it, but at least the pendulum is swinging back.

  • Brendan

    That goes for you, too, Kenlac. This is a new show, and I want the comment threads to be of value; I’ve read too many blog threads that degenerate into boring strings of insults. It’s not that name-calling is bad; it’s that it’s pretty useless as a form of discourse.

    So make your points, please, everyone, without using “simple-mindedness” or “stunted intellect.” I care deeply about this blog and its community; despite my own outburst, the tone of which I already regret, Bruce and everyone else should feel welcome to comment. I am a red-stater by birth and tradition, living in a blue state and stock out of reasons to vote for Republicans. I suspect we’re all a little like that — caught somewhere in the middle — and I want to capture it on the comment threads of this show.

    There is enough Crossfire in our lives; let’s try something different.

  • KenLac

    Brendan: okay, point taken. I’ll try to play nicer from now on. (BTW, I fired off my reply before I saw yours — the dangers of monitoring threads via RSS, I guess…)

  • The Downing Street memo documents the invincible ignorance (an arrrogance) of those who still want to deny culpability in making the case for war.

  • Accepted. Just don’t cut me off. I hate being cut off during debate. No one wins an argument by yelling louder than the other. I disapprove of that in talk radio or here at work. Please excuse me if I am harsh sometimes; I am at work and don’t have any time to go over this much, just bang it out and send.

    Afghanistan was a result of 911, Iraq was not. Iraq was a result of a tyrant not abiding by a sees fire agreement with the UN, which the UN was unwilling to enforce after many years. The two are connected in that when Hussein was toppled, Al Qaeda encouraged radical Islamists to stream into the vacuum with promises of virgins if they just go to Iraq and die. Al Qaeda and radical Islamists realize that if they cannot take Iraq, the rest of radical Islam throughout the Middle East is in danger of falling. Similar to WWII in that a violent ideology is trying to take over country by country, this time with no central figure, however. It is a world wide struggle however with only the US with the stomach for the fight.

  • crabbydog

    The story had little impact in the press because most people who think baout this at all knew all this soon after the invasion, if not before. The documents that have been found confirm what we already knew. What is sad about it though is that despite hard evidence Blair and co will not face impeachment or any other punishment.