Tuesday, June 14, 2005

Advocates of a Downing Street Memo Investigation are humbugs trying to be bugbears

To answer Mat’s query (and title of the linked story): “Could memo sink Bush?” Well, based on previous gotcha memos, no. To the contrary, the Downing Street Memo (produced here in full by anti-Bush factions) provides some information that exonerates Bush of the most egregious charge laid against him that he lied about WMDs. While the picture painted by the memo does reveal differences between the British and American approach to Saddam, it also shows that in life, we often have to plan and react to things we do not fully know – or as Donald Rumsfeld would say (and I paraphrase): there are things you know, things you know that you don’t know and things you don’t know that you don’t know.

I’m guessing that when the Downing Street Memo site highlights something in red, it means I’m supposed to raise an outraged eyebrow and demand answers.

In talking about the shift in the administration’s attitude during the summer of 2002 the conspiracy theorists underline a phrase they feel is damning to the president:

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.

But what does that mean, fixed? Nothing else in the memo suggests that the word “fixed” would imply changing data or creating evidence – so it is more than reasonable to assume that it simply means that they were gathering available evidence to support their position, carving raw intelligence to form an argument. This is what every good diplomat, CEO, project manager….in short, anyone trying to achieve anything, would do.

Another point in the memo that is highlighted in red and partially underlined:

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.

….the case was thin. The statement means little on its own, less when taken in context. Out of context, it implies that the case was weak. After all, the intelligence we had was circumstantial (exiles telling their stories, satellite photos or very suspicious Iraqi phone conversations) or old (previous WMD that are still unaccounted for). For a leader, lack of information over a specific problem does not mean that inaction is the best course or even an option. And the evidence that did exist pointed to one responsible conclusion: that Saddam had had, probably still had and seeked more WMDs. It also showed that he had ties to terror and was a bad influence on the region. Taking Saddam out was essential in defeating Islamic terrorism. No other assessment on the president’s part would be reasonable. In context, the memo goes on:

Saddam was not threatening his neighbors

This is a misleading statement that differs from some hard facts at the time (2002). First, Saddam was funding terrorism – no doubts there. The extent of his ties can be debated, but he did support terror. Second, one reason that he was not threatening the Kurds or Kuwaitis is that we maintained a purse draining No Fly Zone over those areas, in which Iraqis exchanged fire with US forces on a pretty routine basis. It’s like we were holding the arm of a threatening man behind his back. He’s temporarily disabled but better not let him go, lest he become a threat again. Meanwhile, the containment effort was slowly eroding, thanks, in part, to French influence (and others) which pressed to lift sanctions for the better part of 12 years. To these folks, it seems that the Kurds were of no concern.

….and his WMD capability was less than that of Libya, North Korea or Iran.

This point undercuts the Bush-lied-about-WMDs because it assumes that Saddam had them. Otherwise, the memo wouldn’t say his WMD capability was less than the others, but would say something like, while Iraq has no WMDs….these other countries do, etc. The reason for highlighting this portion of the memo is to suggest the following: country A has less WMD than country B, C, or D. Therefore, country A is the lesser threat. Now that is not necessarily so, but let’s assume for a moment that it is. The subsequent conclusion seems to be: since countries B,C, & D are greater threats than country A, no action should be taken against country A (or action should first be taken against B,C, D before A). This argument is used again and again by anti-Bush factions. Yet, it is over simplistic and makes for poor foreign policy. First, it assumes that the only difference in each problem is in terms of the level of danger, not the nature of the danger. In reality, the aims and ambitions of Libya are different than Iran or N. Korea or Iraq. Therefore, the way that each country would use their WMD programs will vary in accordance with those aims. The simplistic argument also assumes that each problem posed by countries A – D are completely isolated from each other, which is certainly not the case. Action taken on any one of these countries will affect the other countries, since they all have some level of relations with each other. The point is, attacking the greatest threat first is not necessarily wise.

As an aside, consider this often used argument: 15 of the highjackers were Saudi, why didn’t we invade them? Well, there are several reasons (which I’ve cited before): Saudi Arabia, as bad as their government is, is solidly within the community of nations. If its UN support your after, good luck getting that resolution to topple the house of Saud. Also, and I’m not believer in the Arab street, but if you did take action against Saudi Arabia, what better way to mobilize Arabs against America than invading the country with the most sacred Muslim sites, include the very big Kabba Stone? You’d be attacking the only country that receives millions and millions of pilgrims each year. Whereas going after Saddam splits Muslims, confuses the Arab Street and keeps jihad at bay. Arabs have hated Saddam for so long that it’s hard to rise up in his defense regardless of what they think about the US. Sometimes attacking the direct root of a problem is not the best course. Surround it, isolate it – make it change. And we’ve seen the beginning of change in the Middle East. Can you imagine Saudis arguing for the women suffrage in 2001, 2002 or even 2003?

In regards to threats of Libya, Iran and N. Korea – as previously mentioned, the administration rightly recognizes that they are each different in nature, as is stated in an un-highlighted portion of the memo:

There were different strategies for dealing with Libya and Iran.

We’ve seen progress in Libya. Iran and N. Korea are tougher nuts to crack and the Iraqi approach is necessarily adequate. These problems will be resolved in time.

Another point that is highlighted in the memo is this statement:

The Attorney-General said that the desire for regime change was not a legal base
for military action.

The scope of the Attorney-General’s assessment is narrow and focuses merely on legalities. The un-highlighted sentence that follows reveals just how legal the war was:

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.

And change it did, especially in regards to the relevant UNSC resolutions. Self-defense issues are defined by our elected leaders. If Bush failed, then the people would not have reelected him. Mass graves alone back up the humanitarian justification for the war, and so does the massive Oil for Fraud scandal. Finally, 1441, however spun, justifies the war because Saddam did not comply with it and subsequently faced “serious consequences” as called for in the resolution. For Bush supporters, he achieved 3 out of 3 of the criteria for a legal war. For Bush haters, they are deceiving themselves if they don’t grant Bush 2 out 3 (in a fit of generosity, I’ll not include the self defense reason). If the criteria for a just war as set in this memo are accepted, then the memo justifies the war.

The rest of the highlighted portions deal with the difference between approaches. The US did not want to go the U.N. route. That was clear enough at the time. Bush correctly saw problems in doing so. Blair wanted diplomatic cover. Neither felt that Hussein would ever comply with the U.N. resolutions – which turned out to be a dead on prediction. One reason why Bush was already resolved towards going to war is that he knew that Saddam could and would not change his ways. That doesn’t betray a thick-skull shortcoming on the part of Bush, but does towards Saddam. Even the Brits in the memo acknowledge that Saddam wouldn’t even accept inspections unless he felt the military threat was real. In this case, it was very real. If you’re going to blame the war on bad leadership, then Saddam is your man, not Bush.

But of this difference between Blair and Bush with ultimatums and diplomacy, one thing is strikingly clear: Bush’s willingness to compromise and listen. Bush didn’t want to go the U.N. route because it would slow everything down, but he did so. And it slowed things down. In fact, Bush has a record of accommodating differing points of view: he went to congress and the UN even though he didn’t care to do either. He started the Dept. of Homeland Security amidst Dem cries that we need a new department (I still don’t like that one), he allowed for the 9/11 Commission, and so on and so forth.

But back to the memo.

One of the most interesting portions of the memo was not highlighted by the conspiracy theorists:

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.

Again, its clear that the Administration did believe Saddam had WMDs. So much so that they even worried about it.

And then there’s this underlined part raising questions about the administration’s timing in the march to war:

The Defence Secretary said that the US had already begun "spikes of activity" to
put pressure on the regime. No decisions had been taken, but he thought the
most likely timing in US minds for military action to begin was January,
with the timeline beginning 30 days before the US Congressional elections.

Within 30 days of US Congressional elections? Egad! An elected official factoring in elections with his policy – the outrage! It’s a vague statement, but lets apply the worst possible motive – that Bush wanted a majority in Congress for the war and his domestic agenda. Is that wrong? Woe to the democratically elected official (and all his efforts) if he doesn’t consider the politics of it all. Of course, if we lived in the theocracy that so many Bush haters think we do, he could’ve simply postponed or discarded elections and paid little heed to political implications – you know, like Saddam would do.

One would think that with the left’s recent experiences with memos that they’d be gunshy about this one. This particular memo is interesting because it shows a delicate issue debated and handled in a professional way. It also shows that while Bush is open minded to the views of Blair, he was also resolved to handle Iraq – from start to finish. But Bush opponents are so overwhelmed with the desire to see the man destroyed that they would endeavor to petition for a full investigation of the facts in and around this memo. Think of the consequences if they achieved their wildest aim – that somehow Bush was found to use false pretenses for the war. Not only would it compromise support for the Commander in Chief, it would undermine the whole War on Terror. Our military would hemorage morale and our enemies will be further emboldened to continue the war. Trying to bring Bush down, no matter how much you hate him, would hurt the U.S. (and U.S. credibility) in so many ways. This war is hard enough to fight as it is, we don’t need such a development. In reality, such an investigation would merely be a waste of tax dollars that go to create (or add to) a perception of wrongdoing where none exists.

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