Friday, June 10, 2005

Addressing the Downing Street Memo

The notion that the Downing Street Memo is cause for concern, or even grounds for impeachment, is laughable. Here's why...

The Allegation:

From the Downing Street Memo, dated July 23, 2002:

C [Richard Dearlove, Head of MI-6] 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 Facts:

  • The memo was published three years ago; at that time, July 23, 2002, regime change had been the stated policy of the United States since 1998, when Bill Clinton officially declared it.
  • As far as using the military goes, Bush began contingency planning for the Iraq War very soon after 9/11; this is common knowledge, and was well-known prior to the 2004 election (Bob Woodward covered the process extensively in Bush at War, a book that was actually recommended by the Bush/Cheney '04 website). The preeminent military historian of our times, John Keegan, notes in his excellent book The First World War how the necessity of long military buildups, military timetables, and the sheer enormity of moving mass quantities of men and material can, indeed, cause events to reach a point of no return, but that is less true today then it was under the older technology of WWI, and that point had certainly not been reached by the summer of 2002.
  • I concur with the critics of Bush (though I am not particularly troubled by it) that diplomacy was largely considered a remote possibility. This does not mean the United States has a policy of 'shoot first, ask questions later'. Instead, we must consider the totality of circumstances. Saddam Hussein was a proven serial liar, he repeatedly refused to cooperate with inspectors, and he was in defiance of several UN resolutions. It's not surprising that diplomacy was not given much weight.
  • The WMD information used largely as a rationale for war, though wrong, was widely believed, by those inside and outside of the Administration. Virtually every foreign intelligence agency and head of state concurred. The intelligence failure was indeed a fiasco, hurting our credibility and pointing to the need for reform, and quickly; but does it follow that the Bush Administration was insincere, or that they lied about it? That's not the conclusion of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, which found: evidence that "administration officials attempted to coerce, influence or pressure analysts to change their judgments related to Iraq's weapons of mass destruction capabilities" or that "the Vice President's visits to the Central Intelligence Agency were attempts to pressure analysts, were perceived as intended to pressure analysts by those who participated in the briefings on Iraq's weapons of mass destruction programs, or did pressure analysts to change their assessments."

The biggest issue, of course, is whether intelligence was politicized in a rush to war. From the Weekly Standard:

...Just two months ago former Democratic Senator Charles Robb, co-chairman of the commission that assessed the intelligence failures related to Iraq's weapons of mass destruction, stated:

We looked very closely at that question. We--every member of the commission was sensitive to the number of questions that had been raised with respect to what we'll call politicization or however you want to describe it, and we examined every single instance that had been referred to in print or otherwise to see if there was any occasion where a member of the administration or anyone else had asked an analyst or anybody else associated with the intelligence community to change a position that they were taking, or whether they felt there was any undue influence. And we found absolutely no instance, and we ran to ground everything that we had on the table. . . . We got a fair amount of information that didn't provide us anything more in this area.

UPDATE 1:14 p.m. central: Unsurprisingly, Ryan James was ahead of the curve, and offered his own excellent analysis a week ago...

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