Downing Street Memo Hits the Press
The mainstream press is suddenly all over the so-called Downing Street Memo, which purports to show that the Bush Administration was hell bent on war with Iraq and willing to invent any excuse to achieve that end. I shan’t do the usual blogospheric “We’ve been talking about this on the blogs for days!” bit, since I have reacted to the story with a yawn as well.
Indeed, two writers on the reasonable Left today express reactions quite similar to mine. Michael Kinsley begins a detailed column thusly:
After about the 200th e-mail from a stranger demanding that I cease my personal cover-up of something called the Downing Street Memo, I decided to read it. (By mentioning 200 e-mails, I do not intend to brag. I’m sure Tom Friedman got many more.) It’s all over the blogosphere and Air America, the left-wing talk-radio network: This is the smoking gun of the Iraq war. It is proof positive that President Bush was determined to invade Iraq a year before he did so. The whole “weapons of mass destruction” concern was phony from the start, and the drama about inspections was just kabuki: going through the motions.
Although it is flattering to be thought personally responsible for allowing a proven war criminal to remain in office, in the end I don’t buy the fuss. Nevertheless, I am enjoying it, as an encouraging sign of the left’s revival. Developing a paranoid theory and promoting it to the very edge of national respectability takes ideological self-confidence. It takes a critical mass of citizens with extreme views and the time and energy to obsess about them. It takes a promotional infrastructure and the discipline to settle on a story line, disseminate it and stick to it.
The bit about the e-mails is particularly amusing, as I’ve gotten my share of such communiques as OTB has gotten more popular–although I get far fewer of them than Kinsley, let alone Friedman.
Kinsley’s major thesis is that one can prepare for war as if it were inevitable without actually hoping for war. His minor thesis is that the Downing Street Memo tells us nothing new–numerous contemporary press accounts told the same story, including a cover piece in Time magazine.
Kevin Drum believes that Bush was in fact raring for war but agrees with Kinsley’s second point:
One of the reasons the previous Downing Street Memo hasn’t gotten much traction Ã¢€” and the reason these new memos will probably get limited attention as well Ã¢€” is that I don’t think anyone really finds any of this a surprise.
Quite right. As someone who opposed war with Iraq until shortly before it began, I certainly believed it was essentially inevitable. It was clear from over a decade of playing cat and mouse with Saddam that he was ultimately not going to meet all of the demands that we had set as conditions for triggering a restart of the war. Still, had he done so, war would not have happened.
The most damning aspect of the Memo is detailed in a long piece by Walter Pincus fronting today’s Washington Post.
Memo: U.S. Lacked Full Postwar Iraq Plan (WaPo, A1)
A briefing paper prepared for British Prime Minister Tony Blair and his top advisers eight months before the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq concluded that the U.S. military was not preparing adequately for what the British memo predicted would be a “protracted and costly” postwar occupation of that country.
The eight-page memo, written in advance of a July 23, 2002, Downing Street meeting on Iraq, provides new insights into how senior British officials saw a Bush administration decision to go to war as inevitable, and realized more clearly than their American counterparts the potential for the post-invasion instability that continues to plague Iraq.
In its introduction, the memo “Iraq: Conditions for Military Action” notes that U.S. “military planning for action against Iraq is proceeding apace,” but adds that “little thought” has been given to, among other things, “the aftermath and how to shape it.”
Of course, as the piece shows, while “little thought” may be an exaggeration, the crux of this assessment is hard to dispute:
The Bush administration’s failure to plan adequately for the postwar period has been well documented. The Pentagon, for example, ignored extensive State Department studies of how to achieve stability after an invasion, administer a postwar government and rebuild the country. And administration officials have acknowledged the mistake of dismantling the Iraqi army and canceling pensions to its veteran officers — which many say hindered security, enhanced anti-U.S. feeling and aided what would later become a violent insurgency.
Testimony by then-Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul D. Wolfowitz, one of the chief architects of Iraq policy, before a House subcommittee on Feb. 28, 2003, just weeks before the invasion, illustrated the optimistic view the administration had of postwar Iraq. He said containment of Hussein the previous 12 years had cost “slightly over $30 billion,” adding, “I can’t imagine anyone here wanting to spend another $30 billion to be there for another 12 years.” As of May, the Congressional Research Service estimated that Congress has approved $208 billion for the war in Iraq since 2003.
Still, as Cori Dauber points out,
By this time it’s clear that the project run by State was, in fact, pretty much ignored by Defense when the occupation began. Of course, you can’t run history as an experiment, so that’s allowed everyone to position those studies as if they contained all the answers. It’s also permitting people to suggest that somehow putting State in charge (although the problem was not immediately stepping in and providing adequate security by getting the looting under control) would have solved all problems.
Quite so. That State and Defense tend to have different objectives and mindsets and view each other with suspicion is not news and certainly not unique to this administration.