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Secret Downing Street Memo Fails To Sizzle

Political opponents of the President and those opposed to the war in Iraq have been trying, with spectacularly poor results, to make a secret July 2002 memo by British foreign policy aide Matthew Rycroft a "smoking gun" proving the White House was intent on war with Iraq earlier previously indicated.

Douglas Jehl, in The New York Times, reports that the memo still riles critics of Iraq war.

WASHINGTON, May 19 - More than two weeks after its publication in London, a previously secret British government memorandum that reported in July 2002 that President Bush had decided to "remove Saddam, through military action" is still creating a stir among administration critics, who are portraying it as evidence that Bush was intent on war with Iraq earlier than the White House has acknowledged.

Eighty-nine House Democrats wrote to the White House to ask whether the memorandum, first disclosed by The Sunday Times on May 1, accurately reported the administration's thinking at the time, eight months before the American-led invasion.

The letter, drafted by Rep. John Conyers Jr. of Michigan, the top Democrat on the House Judiciary Committee, said the British memorandum of July 23, 2002, if accurate, "raises troubling new questions regarding the legal justifications for the war as well as the integrity of your own administration."

...The British government has not disputed the authenticity of the British memorandum, written by Matthew Rycroft, a top foreign policy aide to Mr. Blair. A spokesman for Mr. Blair has said that the memorandum does not add significantly to previous accounts of decision making before the war.

The White House spokesman, Scott McClellan, told reporters on Tuesday that the White House saw "no need" to respond to the Democratic letter. Current and former Bush administration officials have sought to minimize the significance of the memorandum, saying it is based on circumstantial observations and does not purport to be an authoritative account of American decision making.

You can read the memo in its entirety at The Times Online. [Note: The person identified as "C," is Sir Richard Dearlove, the chief of Britain's Secret Intelligence Service.]

As near as I can tell the peculiarly British phrasing of the following paragraph is what has set off war critics:

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.
The "intelligence and facts were being fixed around the policy" line appeals to the conspiracy minded, but more likely indicate a British intel speak spin on the intelligence gathering and analysis related to Iraq's WMD program and terrorist ties. The " wanted to remove Saddam, through military action" (which it should be remembered is, at best, 4th-hand reported in the memo), doesn't seem to rise to the level of "smoking gun." It's worth remembering that a non-military option, encouraging Shiite revolt after the first Gulf War, had previously been half-heartedly attempted and hundreds of thousands of Shiites paid with their lives.

Critics contend the memo proves that the decision to go to war was already made prior to the meeting, and many months before Congressional authorization. Ironically the memo itself provides the best evidence that while war may have seemed "inevitable," it was most certainly not decided on. Why? This line: "The US saw the UK (and Kuwait) as essential," kicks off the major section of the memo where British options are discussed. What follows is a pretty accurate foretelling of the conditions upon which the "essential" involvement of the UK could be cemented. While UK support for a winning military strategy was indicated, "on the political strategy, there could be US/UK differences. Despite US resistance, we should explore discreetly the [UN] ultimatum."

The rest is history, but it's worth noting that the political strategy adopted was that proposed by the British. Had the US decision to go to war actually have been pre-ordained, there would have been no benefit to pursing these time-consuming British strategies.

Interestingly you don't see critics address this section of the memo.

For instance, what were the consequences, if Saddam used WMD on day one, or if Baghdad did not collapse and urban warfighting began? You said that Saddam could also use his WMD on Kuwait. Or on Israel, added the Defence Secretary.
If Bush and Blair were "lying" about WMD, why would they be looking for contingencies to address the use of WMD's against US and UK troops?

Update: The new public editor at The New York Times, Byron Calame, looks at the memo story. It appears that the "story" at this point is the e-mail campaign aimed at editors around the nation questioning the lack of coverage on the memo. That campaign appears to have caught a whiff of success.

Calame then quotes NYT Washington bureau chief Phil Taubman on the newsworthiness of the memo.

"As I read the minutes, they described the impressions of the head of MI6, who had recently returned from Washington, where he had met with George Tenet. It is mighty suggestive that Lord Dearlove, the chief of MI6, came home with the impression, or interpretation, that 'the intelligence and facts were being fixed around the policy.' However, that's several steps removed from evidence that such was the case. The minutes did not say that Mr. Tenet had told that to Lord Dearlove or that Lord Dearlove had seen specific examples of that. The minutes, in my estimation, were not a smoking gun that proved that Bush, Tenet and others were distorting intelligence to support the case for war."
Which is why the story of the left pushing the "where's the coverage" angle is the only legs left on this one...


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Comments (30)

I am shocked the US press h... (Below threshold)

I am shocked the US press has not pushed this harder. I bet they will wait a year then push it next summer.

I love the last part of the post:
"If Bush and Blair were "lying"..."
Perfect

While at the same time the ... (Below threshold)
bill:

While at the same time the press ignores this article -- http://interestalert.com/brand/siteia.shtml?Story=st/sn/05190000aaa06dbf.upi&Sys=rmmiller&Fid=WORLDNEW&Type=News&Filter=World%20News

The old media is useless. They simply haven't got over the fact their monopoly to twist, distort and control what the public has for news sources is gone, gone for good. The new media allows you to find sources, and get those stories into the public arena.

That British memo that doesn't sizzle is nothing more than what Clinton stated in 1998, or what the Congress voted on when they said regime change in Iraq. It really is NO NEWS. Maybe that's why no one but the NYSlimes cares.

I have to say -- It sure is fun to watch the old media go nuts.

This memo, and the circumst... (Below threshold)
M Paulding:

This memo, and the circumstances leading to its creation, must be investigated. As to the facts and intelligence being fixed around the policy, that language seems clear enough. Bush decided to go to war, and it was up to his poodles to find facts and intelligence, true or not, that would support his decision, then deride anything that didn't support it. Simple, and no paper trail.

A few facts. Shinseki told... (Below threshold)
M Paulding:

A few facts. Shinseki told Rumsfeld that several hundred thousand troops would be required to secure and pacify Iraq. Shinseki RETIRES. We haven't heard anything from him lately. The Department of Energy debunked the idea that the aluminum tubes (remember those) were being used for enrichment centrifuges. The analysis was IGNORED. It just kind of disappeared in Condi Rice's office. Hans Blix's team was IGNORED. State's initial analysis of the alleged yellocake sale (remember that) didn't fit, so it was IGNORED, then Mr. Bolton stepped in to sex it up. Valierie Plame was OUTED because her husband, Ambassador Wilson, dared suggest that the yellowcake story was so much crap. Secretary Powell RESIGNS, I guess to work on old Volvos. Like Shinseki, we haven't heard anything from Powell either. And to think that I once hoped to have the opportunity to vote for that guy.

The fact is this: if a genuine threat were to now present itself, the United States would be sorely pressed to respond. The armed services are stretched to the limit, and we'll be in Iraq for years to come. Don't take my word for it, look at Efraim Hahlevy's (former Chief, Mossad) recent article in Haaretz.

Just because it's not being... (Below threshold)
Clive Tolson:

Just because it's not being teased every commercial break like the Newsweek story on Fox, does not mean people are not reading about it elsewhere. Plus, taken with the already wealth of evidence corroborating Bush's intentions, what other reason are his approvals so bad?

Politicians and officials r... (Below threshold)

Politicians and officials retire all the time. Are you insinunating some kind of conspiracy over that? If so, please come out and say it, and state for the record who is responsible for having someone like Colin Powell 'retired'.

And Hans Blix was ignored for a very good reason - he is a blithering idiot.

Wow! What a scoop!!! Rep. J... (Below threshold)
Jim:

Wow! What a scoop!!! Rep. John Conyers can actually write a letter. I met Rep. Conyers in his younger days and my impression then was he's the dumbest person in the House of Representatives -- an incredible feat considering Rep. Maxine Waters, Rep. Al Waxman, etc. also serve in the House.
And I believe Conyers still retains the title "Dumbest Person in the House of Representatives.

So, let me get this straig... (Below threshold)

So, let me get this straight in my head. In 1998 the US Congress and the Clinton Administration declare, together, that it was the official policy of the United States of America that Saddam must go.
Fast forward about four years and a Brit memo is written that reflects that policy.
This memo is now marked as Exhibit #1, or perhaps #984, as evidence of the nefariousness and duplicity of the eeeevilll bushshripymchitler regime.
Y'all will have to pardon me for having some trouble getting all excited about it.

[email protected] "M Paulding... (Below threshold)
ed:

Hmmm.

@ "M Paulding"

Shinseki retired because he wanted to retire. His career was basically over since there wasn't anything else he could do that he hadn't either already done or was now too high a rank to do. Trying to imply, in a rather absurd and juvenile way, that this was a ploy by the Bush administration is just ridiculous.

The rest of your various postings are frankly just a tad beyond bizzare.

"For instance, what were th... (Below threshold)
frameone:

"For instance, what were the consequences, if Saddam used WMD on day one, or if Baghdad did not collapse and urban warfighting began? You said that Saddam could also use his WMD on Kuwait. Or on Israel, added the Defence Secretary."


Bush decided to go to war when at the time he was clearly telling the American people that all options were still on the table. The British are informed of Bush's decision and they raise doubts about its wisdom. If Kevin bothered to quote the paragraph above in context, his readers (at least those "free thinkers" who take everything posted here at face value) would have known that these questions weren't being asked by "Bush and Blair" they were being asked by the British military alone:

"The two key issues were whether the military plan worked and whether we had the political strategy to give the military plan the space to work.

On the first, CDS said that we did not know yet if the US battleplan was workable. The military were continuing to ask lots of questions.

For instance, what were the consequences, if Saddam used WMD on day one, or if Baghdad did not collapse and urban warfighting began? You said that Saddam could also use his WMD on Kuwait. Or on Israel, added the Defence Secretary."

That of fource would be the British Defence secretary not Rumsfled. Interestingly, the British answer to these question was to force the weapons inspectors back in:

"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. Saddam was not threatening his neighbours, and his WMD capability was less than that of Libya, North Korea or Iran. 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."

Not here is a huge difference between using the threat of war to get inspectors in and using inspectors as a cover for a decision to go to war that was already made. The British argued for the former, the US, apparently, was planning on the latter.

This paints a picture of a British government acting in good faith and with reasonable doubt while the Bush administration was acting in bad faith (essentially lying to the American people about its intentions) and fixing intelligence to fit decisions already made.

Furthermoe, Kevin suggests that critics of Bush are wrong because even if the US had made up its mind to go to war it needed the reluctant British to execute its plan so there's no justification for the idea that Bush considered war inevitable. That's just great.

"Don't worry that your president lies to you about his intentions because there will always be others of reason and honesty to reign in him."

Guess what? Blair caved, as honest well-intentioned men sometimes do in troubled times, and Bush got his war. Fan fucking tastic.

Dear "Am I a Pundit," et al... (Below threshold)
M Paulding:

Dear "Am I a Pundit," et al:

Conspiracy? I didn't say that, you did.

Bush's strategy is clear: don't tolerate any view other than your own. The poodles get the message quickly: make the boss happy; give him what he wants or find another lap. By the way, I forgot to mention a whole lot of senior CIA people who've been retiring. The calculus is something like this: should I be a poodle, or take the retirement check and enjoy the Florida sunshine?

Ed, Shinseki did not want to retire. He retired because Bush would not nominate him for another tour as JCOS Chairman. Sure, he could have stayed around the Pentagon sharpening pencils, but I don't think that is his style. It's on the record, look it up.

Jim, Representative Conyers may be the dumbest guy in the House, but Paul Wolfowitz holds the distinction of being "the dumbest f-----g guy on the planet." I didn't say that, Gen. Tommy Franks did. Look it up. It was Wolfowitz who testified under oath at the hearings leading up to the war that there was no history of ethnic tensions in Iraq.

The United States is stuck in Iraq, and will be for years to come. Bill Kristol (you should know that name), is talking about a U.S. presence in the Middle East for at least a generation. Look it up.

They squandered what was the finest army on earth to overthrow a two-bit butcher without regard as to whether it was in our strategic interests to do so.

On a personal note, I think Ann Coulter is cute. She's also still young enough to carry a rifle. If you know her, please tell her that if she is willing to put her pretty booty where her mouth is, I'm willing to get out my fatigues again.

PauldingYou seemed... (Below threshold)

Paulding

You seemed to fixed on the word "fixed."

Darleen, I would like to su... (Below threshold)
M Paulding:

Darleen, I would like to suggest, to you and some of the others on this post, that you get your facts straight on the timeline.

Frameone, earlier in this post, has it almost dead on. I accept the Downing Street Memo as FACT. Why? The Blair Government didn't deny ANY of its contents when they were confronted with it. In fact, Blair's spokesman said it contained "nothing new."

So, it means that, by July 23, 2002 (the date of the memo), Bush had decided to go to war. At the same time, he was telling the American people, and the U.S. Congress, that he hadn't made a decision. That's called a LIE.

Bush accepted the intelligence and "facts" that supported his policy, and that aspect of the intelligence failure, the administration's USE of the intelligence, has NOT been investigated by Congress. Remember Paul O'Neill, the former Alcoa Chairman who was Secretary of Treasury? He says that Bush was planning this war from the very beginning. Look it up. Of course, O'Neill resigned and his views on Iraq were derided by the White House Poodle Pool.

You are absolutely correct that I am "fixed" by this, because I have friends who are in various places around the world at this very moment putting their asses on the line to cash the checks that Bush's mouth wrote.

You people call yourselves conservatives, but in reality you are super-nationalists. Let's look at some of Dubya's principal achievments:

1) FACT: Largest fiscal deficit in United States history, now being financed largely by the governments of China and Japan;

2) FACT: Largest current account deficit in the history of the world, expected to reach $720 to $750 billion this year;

3) FACT: Chip-implanted national identity cards;

4) FACT: RFID (Radio Frequency ID) U.S. passports;

Somehow, I think that Barry Goldwater, who was a real conservative, is probably tossing in his grave right now.

There was an error in my pr... (Below threshold)
M Paulding:

There was an error in my previous post.

Paragraph 2:

"In fact, Blair's spokesman ..." should read

"In fact, Blair's spokespoodle ..."

"Had the US decision to go ... (Below threshold)
frameone:

"Had the US decision to go to war actually have been pre-ordained, there would have been no benefit to pursing these time-consuming British strategies."

Hmmm no benefit, uh? How about making the whole fucking war legal? That's what the British were after some real legal justification for the war. Bush obviously could have gived a fuck but this memo is just the kind of thing that turns up as evidence in war crimes tribunals.

From the memo:

"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. Relying on UNSCR 1205 of three years ago would be difficult. The situation might of course change."

What changed? Bush decided screw it and Blair ignored his own attorney general. So they never got the UN Security Council authorization that would have made the invasion legal. Again, fan fucking tastic.

The only legality to be con... (Below threshold)

The only legality to be concerned with when it comes to war, is whether the mobilization of U.S. troops is approved by Congress. Since that did occur, any other considerations of "legality" are pure fantasy on the part of those who imagine there's more to international "law" than a wish list.

McGehee apparently thinks t... (Below threshold)
M Paulding:

McGehee apparently thinks that international law is nothing more than a "wish list," making it perfectly acceptable for one government to steamroller another if it has the means and the urge to do so. All that's required is a legislative rubber stamp, legally obtained or not.

If that's the case, you also probably don't have any respect for the laws governing land warfare, Geneva Convention, etc. You would have fit in well at Abu Ghraib.

Clinton lied...yet nobody d... (Below threshold)
Pacal:

Clinton lied...yet nobody died! Bush lied big time about the Iraq war and many of us knew it when it was happening real time, only now it is confirmed by the Downing St. Memo.

Not even a smoking gun seems to wake the mainstream press -- they seem much more interested in run-away-brides. This is evidence that our "democracy" is officialy dead - there can be no democracy without a vibrant press. Yet W goes around the world preaching democracy whilst it dies in the US. 1984 is here. 1984 is now.

"any other considerations o... (Below threshold)
frameone:

"any other considerations of "legality" are pure fantasy on the part of those who imagine there's more to international "law" than a wish list."

This is classic neanderthal speak. It's in the interest of America for countries to act in accordance to international law and that, if they don't, legal procedures and due process are followed before punishment is meted out. Some call it civilization.

Go back to the caves dipshit.

Pacal, don't despair, at le... (Below threshold)
M Paulding:

Pacal, don't despair, at least not yet. Democracy is always under threat from hardliners on both the left and right.

I can still recall my own outrage when reading about the Watergate break-in. The story was buried in the Metro section of the Washington Post.

As I recall, it took over six months for that story to boil over. I suspect that, with the Internet, it won't take that long this time around.

The Downing Street memo sto... (Below threshold)

The Downing Street memo story has not yet found proper coverage, as FAIR.ORG (Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting) has pointed out.

The comparative silence of the media is a shame for a democracy, as this story is really about president George Bush and Tony Blair CONSPIRING to wage an illegal war by manipulating facts and evidence "to fix them around the policy". A clear abuse of voters' trust.

Incidentally, this had already been proved by Ron Suskind book "The Price of Loyalty" centred on info supplied by Paul O'Neill. But the Downing Street memo shows the shameful lies that have lead to an illegal war with even more clarity, as it comes from one of the party of the conspiracy (yes, conspiracy because it was done in SECRET behind people's back, while showing a fake facade of diplomacy).

In this period of timid US media, bloggers and smaller media have a role to voice the demand for truth. Only after thousands of people have sent enraged emails to NYT and Washington Post, have these papers given more coverage to what has also been defined the "Memogate".

Last news on this issue on today's Sunday Times: http://www.timesonline.co.uk/article/0,,2087-1622378,00.html

"Which is why the story of ... (Below threshold)
frameone:

"Which is why the story of the left pushing the "where's the coverage" angle is the only legs left on this one..."

Oh for crying out loud. So an editor at the New York Times doesn't think that it's news that one of our staunchest allies had the impression that intelligence was being fixed to support a particular policy? I guess that makes sense. I mean it isn't like the impressions or interpretations of the HEAD OF BRITISH INTELLIGENCE should mean anything. I mean what the fuck would the HEAD OF BRITISH INTELLIGENCE know about making reasonable interpretations based on the behavior of others and the evidence presented him? Probably nothing.

At the very least we will now never again have to hear Kevin or anyone else on the Right, bitch, bitch, bitch, bitch that the NY Times is a filthy liberal rag trying to destroy America.The next time you want trash the New Times coverage of anything I'm sure you'll recall the brilliant insight of Phil Taubman and think again. Right? Right, Kevin?

Nice try at downplaying the... (Below threshold)
deccles:

Nice try at downplaying the story. Won't work

Anyone wanting to see this ... (Below threshold)
Mr Happy:

Anyone wanting to see this go further should pop over to http://www.johnconyers.com and sign his letter. He's looking for 100,000 signatures to take the letter to Bush and get a personal answer!

Regards the word "fixed" - you don't get to be head of MI6 by not knowing how to choose your words. If he said "fixed", then that's what his understanding was: "fixed", as in purposefully distorted to suit.

For more on the story of "M... (Below threshold)
censored:

For more on the story of "Minutes, not Memo" see:

A Matter of Minutes -- DOWNING STREET DOSSIER, and

OF MINUTES & MINISTERS -- Legal Considerations of Downing Street Minutes

Minutes, not memo. Down With Bushspeak!

CHIMPEACHMENT 2006... (Below threshold)

CHIMPEACHMENT 2006

The real question story is:... (Below threshold)

The real question story is:

WHAT/WHO gave Dearlove the impression that facts were being fixed around the policy?

I'm laughing pretty hard ri... (Below threshold)

I'm laughing pretty hard right now.

This is basically someone saying, in 2002, they think the U.S. is going to invade Iraq. NEWS FLASH: So did a lot of other people. So what?

Why is this considered news again?

excuse my igmorance on this... (Below threshold)
charlotte:

excuse my igmorance on this subject, after reading EVRYONE's 2-bits, I'll throw mine in the ring too.
The memo said C "But the intelligence and facts were being fixed around the policy."
Isn't that the way most policys are implemented? Could that statement be true about almost anything that comes out of our policy makers mouths?
travelgate? terri shivo? the mayor of the oregon town who was outed?
C states "there was a perceptible shift in attiude"
he is right, we are getting ready to goto war with countries who harbor really bad people who want us (as in Unted States) dead.
"the NSC has no patience with the UN route"... lets see the UN is a genocide haven. The UN does not look out for our ( US) interest. never has never will.
Interesting how 20/20 vision is only good for looking at the past.

KevinSaw you on C-Sp... (Below threshold)
Fran:

Kevin
Saw you on C-Span.
Too bad you didn't have a decent argument.
1. 1998 policy of US to get rid of Saddam. True
What is not stated is that the policy called for using Iraqis.
2. WMD…all intelligence agencies believed Saddam had…True.
-No invasion was planned.
-N Korea and Iran had demonstrably larger arsenals.
3. 9/11…Bush et al continually linked 9/11 to Saddam and Iraq.
Emotions rule…the country was mad and wanted a target.
4. Saddam's atrocities…
Check policies of previous admin's…Reagan and Bush I. They had more contact with Saddam than al Qaeda did.
5. Democracy…what a great guy Bush is, spreading democracy.
Unfortunately he's doing it with lies and other people's kids.
6. OIL…??? Absolutely not.
What a canard. Oil is only the primary concern of US foreign policy.





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