I posted this on my personal blog at www.davidcorn.com and thought I should share it here as well.
I taped a television program on Friday, and the subject turned to the Downing Street memo–that now-famous memo that recorded a July 23, 2002, meeting between Prime Minister Tony Blair and his chief aides in which Blair was told by the head of England’s CIA that the Bush administration had already decided to go to war and that “the intelligence and facts were being fixed around the policy.” Right away, the two conservatives on the panel–columnist Linda Chavez and radio host Michael Graham–issued a joint defense: the memo was nothing new, this had all been reported before (including at the time), even Bill Clinton supported regime change in Iraq, and a variety of reports have concluded that the WMD intelligence, while wrong, was not intentionally rigged. They really hammered that last point.
Much of this was wrong or misleading. Clinton may have supported the notion of regime change in Iraq; he did not back the particular war Bush launched. And while two reports–one produced by Senate Republicans; the other written by a panel appointed by Bush–reported no evidence of intelligence-tampering had been found, there were numerous media reports in which intelligence analysts claimed (yes, anonymously) that pressure was applied. Moreover, Democrats on the Senate intelligence panel did not agree with that committee’s nothing-there finding on this matter. In other words, it’s not a closed case.
But this discussion made me realize that perhaps those Bush critics waving the DSM around as gotcha evidence have placed too much emphasis on the “fixed” sentence. I suppose one could read it to mean that Richard Dearlove (aka C), the head of the British MI6, was telling Blair that the Bushies were “gearing” intelligence and facts toward their desire for war. Or perhaps he was indicating that they were building a case for war with whatever facts and intelligence they could find. All of these possibilities come across as somewhat dodgy. But maybe C did not mean “fixed” as in “rigged.”
There might be some wiggle room here for the Bushies. But the true impact of the DSM–which Chavez and Graham danced around–is that it shows that Bush was not being straight with the American public. At that point in time–the summer of 2002- Bush and his advisers were claiming that Bush had not yet decided to go to war, that he saw it as a last option, that he would try other alternatives–even diplomacy!–first. The obvious goal was to persuade the public that he was a reasonable fellow who would not rush to such a momentous decision. Yet the DSM, as many readers of this blog already know, discloses that C came back from Washington with quite a different impression: