The Logic Lifeline

A logical approach to sorting out world events. Where logic, opinion and speculation are combined to produce a reasoned, but entertaining reading experience. The unofficial hometown conservative blog of Woodridge, Il

Saturday, October 22, 2005

Downing Street Memo - old news - my take

I hear all the time about the Downing Street memo and now bkln has left a comment referring to it. I had read a few things about it and perhaps even seen snippets of it. With the link bkln provided I have read the memo in its entirety as well as doing a google search on the topic to get the take of others on it. I mostly found comments from the left on it while the right seems to be ignoring it for the most part. After this review I find that in order for this memo to be a conclusive smoking gun against the Bush administration it would need:

  • It would need to be proven to be a genuine document
  • The offending comments would need to be proven and not an expressed opinion
  • Even if contents are proven facts they would need to be provably linked to the Bush administration.
In this Newsmax link the authenticity of the memos is called into question. According to Newsmax the only 'surviving' memo is a manual recreation of the 'original'.

The story states:

'British reporter Michael Smith, who broke the memo story in the London Times on May 1, revealed to The Associated Press over the weekend that "he protected the identity of the source he had obtained the documents from by typing copies of them on plain paper and destroying the originals."'

Right after the memo first surfaced, I recall quite a lot of news coverage and Democrats including John Kerry touting it as damning evidence. Once it was discovered that the memo's original was destroyed the story seemed to evaporate overnight except among the left leaning blogs. After the Dan Rather forged document story, the news media knew they could not take another such hit. Without the original memo to ensure there were no changes or typos there was no story and it was appropriately dropped. For any potential legal action, no forensic evidence could be performed on the documents either. The left is not likely to accept a Newsmax story any more than I would accept a story from Daily Kos. The British government also has not denied or confirmed the authenticity of the memo, merely stating it "looks authentic". Assuming for the sake of argument that the memo is authentic, are the contents truly that convincing and damning? I don't think so.

First, I would point out that if this document is authentic, it was illegally leaked to the press. With all of the criticism swirling around about leaking high level security matters, you would think the same individuals currently angered by the Plame leak would be outraged by the leaking of such a high level security document. The memo begins with:

"This record is extremely sensitive. No further copies should be made. It should be shown only to those with a genuine need to know its contents"
Second, the memo is not a recorded transcript of a meeting. It is the summarizing minutes of the meeting taken by Matthew Rycroft. So during the meeting, various individuals are speaking and Rycroft is taking minutes. To emphasize the point these are minutes, not quotes. To illustrate, the first sentence of the minutes state:

"John Scarlett summarized the intelligence and latest JIC assessment"
Nobody in the meeting stood up and uttered the words "John Scarlett summarized the intelligence and latest JIC assessment". So we see that what minutes are written may be related but are at the discretion of Rycroft. I do not know anything about Rycroft. I do know that different people can hear the same things and conclude differently. While I would not expect Rycroft to willy nilly change things at will to reflect his own views and continue functioning in this fashion, but a few subtle differences between what is said and what is written is entirely feasible.

Third, the content itself is not damning even if recorded accurately. The following are what might be considered the most suspicious excerpts of the memo:

"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 Foreign Secretary said he would discuss this with Colin Powell this week. 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."
In excerpt 1, Sir Richard Dearlove, head of British Secret Intelligence Service (notated as 'C'), comments on discussions he recently had in Washington. He reports that the Bush Administration is intent on going to war to remove Saddam on the basis of terrorism and WMD. The statement about the intelligence and facts being fixed around the policy are being pounced upon by the left. Here because this is a summary by Rycroft of statements by 'C' using the word 'fixed' it is not clear that we can be sure of the context and intensity of the statement. I am not an expert on the British version of english, but am aware that we can use the same word as they do with different meaning. Does the word "fixed" have the same usage and meaning there or is it used in a softer context than say the American charge of "fixing a boxing match". Food for thought. We don't know if C actually used the word fixed, but we can glean that he was commenting that Bush has seen enough in intelligence reports to make a decision and in the light of that fact care should be taken to factor the Bush policy into their discussions. In fact when C resigned in August '04 according to this story he made it clear his resignation had nothing to do with Iraq and that he still maintained the highest regard for Tony Blair. Additionally, the memo does not subsequently reflect any adverse reaction to the comments of C. It should be pointed out the Bush and Blair are on different sides of the political spectrum and Blair had nothing to gain by following Bush to war without justification. To believe this room of liberal oriented people from Blair's side of the isle would hear this interpreted as the war critics now interpret it and decide to kiss Bush's ring does not make sense.

The second excerpt also shows taking the facts at hand and trying to push policy through the UN to make smoother path if we went through the UN. I don't see anything sinister here. While it shows that Saddam had less WMD than his neighbors, less in the hands of an enemy willing to use them is more dangerous than more in the hands of one hesitant to use them.

Fourth, the contents of the memo shows that all in the meeting believed that Saddam had WMD. In the second excerpt as pointed out above, Saddam admittedly has less WMD than his neighbors. What this shows clearly is that all in that room believed that Saddam did have WMD. Their own intelligence was telling them the same thing that US intelligence was claiming. Even if that intelligence was wrong, it does not allow a conclusion that WMD was lied about. If Bush and Blair believed faulty intelligence, that is not a lie, it is faulty intelligence.

Fifth, the US Senate security committee had the same intelligence information that the president had. This is not directly related to the memo, but links to the Bush lied conspiracy that is feeding off the memo. This committee includes both GOP and Democrats. If the intelligence was being cooked or skewed by Bush, the Democrats on that committee would know about it and have an opportunity to intervene. At the very least, they would have been in a position to notify their fellow Democrats that they saw a discrepancy and prevent them from voting for authorization to go to use military force. This memo was well before the authorization vote.

My conclusion is that the Downing Street Memo is constantly touted as some trustworthy, fool-proof smoking gun against Bush and the Iraq war. My points show that its authenticity is in doubt, the contents were summarized interpretation of the discussions in that meeting and that the contents of the memo itself are not conclusive evidence of wrongdoing on the part of Bush or Blair. Yet the left will continue to put faith in what points to their preconceived notions.

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