Tuesday, June 28, 2005
Washington Post spins the Downing Street memos
I confess that I am ignorant of many things, but the nature of an "insight" is not among them. When something lands on my plate calling itself an insight, but smells to high heaven and flops around on the plate, I know a red herring when I see one.
Here's how Frankel blithely sails past what he calls "a so-called smoking gun of evidence against the White House"—
Critics of the Bush administration contend the documents -- including the now-famous Downing Street Memo of July 23, 2002 -- constitute proof that Bush made the decision to go to war at least eight months before it began, and that the subsequent diplomatic campaign at the United Nations was a charade, designed to convince the public that war was necessary, rather than an attempt to resolve the crisis peacefully. They contend the documents have not received the attention they deserve.
What critics of the administration contend is that the President committed impeachable offenses and that his administration collectively is guilty of war crimes, which is why the documents have not received the attention they deserve.
Supporters of the administration contend, by contrast, that the memos add little or nothing to what is already publicly known about the run-up to the war and even help show that the British officials genuinely believed Iraq had weapons of mass destruction. They say that opponents of Bush and Blair are distorting the documents' meaning in order to attack both men politically.
"Supporters of the administration" would include, of course, the Washington Post. The issue for Americans does not rest upon what British officials did or did not believe. We can leave that matter to the British public for now.
But beyond the question of whether they constitute a so-called smoking gun of evidence against the White House, the memos offer an intriguing look at what the top officials of the United States' chief ally were thinking, doing and fearing in the months before the war.
Frankel is so coy. While speaking of a "smoking gun of evidence" he doesn't bother to tell us what the memos may be evidence of—such as impeachable offenses and war crimes. No, Frankel is not intrigued by this; he is intrigued by what the British were thinking—as should we all, n'est-ce pas?
Frankel, perhaps by accident, lets slip one back-handed condemnation of the Bush administration—
"Blair comes back from Crawford with a clear sense that the Americans are preparing for war," said Michael Clarke, director of the International Policy Institute at King's College, who met with policymakers at key points during the year. "But the British approach is slightly different -- that we are preparing for war as a means of forcing Iraq to comply so that we don't actually have to fight."
I'm afraid that Frankel is short on insights and long on fish but is quite accurate in one respect—his descriptions of Tony Blair's groveling and fawning—1
Blair defended his approach, Cook reported, by saying Britain's national interest lay in staying closely allied with the United States. "I tell you that we must steer close to America," Blair said, according to Cook. "If we don't, we lose our influence to shape what they do."
These themes would be repeated regularly in the first six Downing Street memos, composed between the March 7 cabinet meeting and Blair's trip to Crawford a month later.
In a post-summit speech at the George Bush Presidential Library in College Station, Tex., Blair offered a cryptic criticism of his own advisers. His commitment to democratic values, Blair said, "means that when America is fighting for those values, then, however tough, we fight with her -- no grandstanding, no offering implausible and impractical advice from the touchline."
When Blair sat down with Bush at Camp David on Sept. 7, 2002, the president told him he had decided to seek a Security Council resolution demanding Iraqi compliance. Blair looked greatly relieved, according to Bob Woodward's book, "Plan of Attack," which was published last year. But then Bush looked Blair in the eye and warned that dealing with the Iraqi threat would still likely entail war.
"I'm with you," Blair replied, according to Woodward's book.
"No doubt from the British point of view Iraq has been a strategic blunder -- not just a mistake, but a mistake that we're still paying for," said Clarke, of King's College. "Still, while no one in government would ever say it, the rationale from the British point of view is that our strategic relationship with the U.S. is more important than any single campaign we fight on its behalf. The basic calculation was: Right or wrong, it is in our interest to stand with the United States."
It has yet to be revealed what benefit the British have gained—either then or now—by blindly following the American war criminals into battle. Could this be a clue?—
"In the end, only Blair and Bush know what they said to each other at Crawford and what they agreed to," said a senior British official. "They spent a long time together with no one else around, which was most unusual."
Say it isn't true, Tony!
A slight shudder and a pulling-away (5/16/05)
PBS NewsHour claims credit for Downinggate; may deserve some after last night (6/17/05)
1There's a fascinating and so far unremarked exchange between Bush and Blair that Ray McGovern described recently on the PBS NewsHour. McGovern attributes his knowledge of the conversation to the book by former British Ambassador Christopher Meyer, who was present.
Here's how McGovern repeated it—
The conversation went like this. President Bush: "Tony we're going to Afghanistan in a week or two, but that won't take long and we get out of there and go right into Iraq, are you with me Tony? Are you with me?"
And Christopher Meyer says my goodness, it was really, that Tony was sort of nonplused but he said "Yes sir, I'm with you, Mr. President."
I haven't read Meyer's book, but from a quote given in the Observer it is clear that Meyer has Bush addressing Blair as "Tony." In the McGovern account above, Blair responds with a "Mr. President."
Can this be true? That Bush was calling Blair "Tony," but Blair was responding with "Sir" and "Mr. President"?
If anyone has read the Meyer's book The Heart of the Matter, I'd be interested in knowing if McGovern has accurately narrated this conversation. [back]