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 — and the reason these new memos will probably get limited attention as well — 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.

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James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm veteran. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. Beverly McClain says:

    Sure, it isn’t unusual for a government to plan for a war before actually deciding to start one. But you ignore the most damning portion of the Downing Street Memo: that the Bush administration was “fixing intelligence” to fit their objectives. Another word for that is LYING. Impeachable lying. War crimes-style lying. They lied us into a war. Period. If that’s a “yawn” to you, more than 100,000 Iraqi and “coalition” deaths later, then you are cynical indeed.

    As for State’s assessments of postwar strategies, those studies were based on factual aftermaths in similar situations experienced in recent times. To have ignored their hard work was hubris personified. Now, I anxiously await the inevitable aftermath of all Greek tragedies: a huge, well-deserved fall of those on high.

  2. schar says:

    How come a lie about a private consentual sexual dalliance led to a huge and costly GOP led impeachment procedure, but a lie by this President which led us to a $206 billion war with thousands of dead and injured Americans, and many more dead Iraqi’s is a ‘yawn’?

  3. Hal says:

    James isn’t ignoring the fixing of intelligence. He knows exactly what it implies.

    A bachelor who lived at home with his mother and pet cat went on a trip to Europe. Before he left he told his best friend to inform him of any emergencies.

    A few days after his departure, his cat climbed up on the roof, fell off and was killed. His friend immediately wired him with the message: “Your cat died!”

    In a few hours he was back home, having cut short his trip in grief and anger at his friend, whom he told “Why didn’t you break the news to me gradually? You know how close I was to my cat! You could have sent a message ‘Your cat climbed up on the roof today’, and the next day you could’ve written, ‘Your cat fell off the roof’ and let me down slowly that he died.”

    After a quick memorial service, the bachelor left again to continue his trip. A few days later he returned to his hotel and there was a message waiting for him from his friend. It read, “Your mother climbed up on the roof today.”

  4. Kirk Muse says:

    When the Watergate scandal was unfolding, our nation was justifiably outraged. We were justifiably outraged that the Nixon
    Administration was involved in the burglary of the offices of their political opponents. We were justifiably outraged that the Nixon Administration was attempting to cover up this crime.

    However, it seems to me that the Watergate scandal pales in comparison to the George W. Bush Administration’s lying to the American people and
    the world about the reason to attack and invade another sovereign country.

    Where is the outrage?

    Where is the outrage that the so-called weapons of mass destruction had absolutely nothing to do with why the Bush Administration wanted to invade Iraq?

    The Bush Administration was not deceived about weapons of mass destruction: the Bush Administration did the deceiving.

  5. schar says:

    I read about the outrage. I sign the petitions which are generated by the many organizations which hold the Constitution up as their guide for the behavior of our legislators.
    The outrage is out there, just ask your own congressman and senator about how many letters they receive wanting them to DO something to bring home our men and women in Iraq. George Stephanopolis had the Congressman from Raleigh on his show this AM who wrote his own personal letters of condolence to more than 1300 families of the men and women who have already died in Iraq. He wants the war stopped. He wants Iraq to take over their own government NOW. He is a Repubiican with a conscience who wants no more Americans to die in Iraq. He believed Bush and the neocons in’ “03, and he is outraged by the lies which led to this war.

  6. marie says:

    I spy a RIGHT word game “so-called”

    The Downing Street Memo

  7. Cheryl Locke says:

    So, All it does is make you yawn?

    So, concerned people are reduced to “critical mass with extreme views and paranoid theory”?

    Who in the hell are you people and what planet are you from?

    You are not responsible for the war criminal in office (unless you were ignorant enough to vote for him), however apparently you think of yourself as some kind of journalist.

    As a journalist you have a responsiblity to report malice without your opinion creeping in.

    This is the first time I have read anything that you have written and frankly, after I yawned, I became aware that it is people like you that genuinely scare the crap out of me.

    If you can yawn at a memo that verifies this administration is as sinister as I, and multi-millions of other people, have always known, then you have become complacent, have lost touch with what makes you human and, thus you have become part of the problem.

    And further more, I am one of millions of people that have know this Dictator “fixed” both elections to win office. This is not an extreme view of paranoid theories. Just ask the 60,000+ people who filed formal complaints, because, they were denied their constitutional right to vote or better yet just open your eyes when you are done yawning.

    I visualize world peace several times a day.

    I, also, take the time to visualize Bush and his band of scary men in orange jumpsuits, with shackles around their ankles, and their hands handcuffed behind their backs, while they are all being lead to prison for war crimes against humanity.

    You might want to wake up from your slumber and do the same!

  8. Jim says:


    It seems like the leftists took to this article like flies on ****. In a more serious note, the Downing Street Memo looks like it will be Bush’s version of the JFK’s Magic Bullet. For believers it will be the proof that justifies all their beliefs, for the majority it will be something that makes them scratch their head and for those who support the war 100% something to be scoffed at.

    That being said there are two things that tend to cast doubt on this being proof of the fact that Bush lied and people died mentality.

    1) Context: What was the relationship of the writer to U.S. policy. Did Colin Powell tell the writer that President Bush will do anything it takes to wage war or is that the writer’s opinion? The article doesn’t really say.

    2) I don’t think the word means what you think it means…or wish fullfillment 101: What does fixed the facts and intelligence? Most of the commentors seem to believe it meant the Bush lied. It could very well mean that the Bush administratin decided to emphazie anti-Iraqi information.

    Here is what the left needs to convience the vast majority of Americans that President Bush may have done something impeachable rather then make a mistake:

    1) Some sort of memo or somesuch saying that the President wanted war soo badly that lying to Congress was acceptable.

    2) Another offical piece of coorespondance that shows that the US government knew ahead of time there were no WMDs.

    Until you have that, the memos is a lot of smoke with very little fire.

  9. James Joyner says:


    I say “so-called” because 1) there is no memo with that title of which I’m aware and 2) given that the PM lives on Downing St., one presumes there are thousands of memos written there.

  10. Michael Chance says:

    OK. The Bush administration used exactly the same intelligence information that the Clinton administration used to justify a massive bombing campaign, but the Bush administration engaged in “impeachable lying”, while the Clinton administration didn’t. Oh, and just this past week the U. N. weapons inspectors were screaming about missing stockpiles of materials for the building of WMDs that they’d documented as existing before the Iraq invasion, but they can’t find now. The same non-existent WMD material that the Bush administration supposedly “lied” about in an “impeachable” fashion.

    Don’t you just hate it when the left hand doesn’t know what the far left hand is doing?

  11. marie says:

    Americans aren’t dumb. They’ve just been distracted. It’s time, I believe, for the MSM to focus our country. It’s time for some truth. They’ve just need a little nudge. People, Americans, like you and I, are here on this site doing what needs to be done, writing what has to be said and leading our country back to the values and principles, Americans both right and left, hold dear to our hearts; TRUTH, JUSTICE, HONOR, and always LOVE THY NEIGHBOR as one loves thy self.

    James my friend you’re not alone. The Right I Spy Word Game “So-Called” just doesn’t fool anyone anymore. People died. This isn’t a game, this is real life with real consequences. At a cost dear to our hearts. I don’t hate Bush or anyone in his administration. But the time has come for accountablity. Game over.

    best wishes marie

  12. Paul Dillon says:

    It’s about time this memo was covered in the US…What a sham our media is~~!!

  13. Cheryl Locke says:

    I find this web site very interesting.

    It is not about the right or the left or republicans or democrats or the word fixed or terrorism.

    It is about the responsibilty of the Presidency

    How many “mistakes” is the President allowed?

    I don’t care who is in office, whether that person is a Republican or a Democrat, I hold the President and Commander-in-Chief of the military responsible for his actions and the actions of his/her staff, administration, and underlings.

    It is his JOB to know what is going on, to make absolutely sure his data is correct, and that the United States Constitution as well as the law of the land and the world body, with which we are a member, are upheld.

    After years of investigations and millions of tax payer dollars spent, They accused Bill Clinton of getting a blow job in the oval office.HE said it the accusation was mistaken.However they did hearings found out he indeed did lie and HE was held accountable.

    George W. Bush has had at least 8 people, who were on the inside, come forward disclosing that Bush is lying about several things that are impeachable offenses. HE says they are mistaken. So, HE is not held accountable.

    George W. Bush has had valid document after valid document surface indicating his intentions in relation to and his financial relationship with, the Middle east. HE says they are mistaken. So, HE is not held accountable!

    He said we bombed Iraq, because of WMD. When none were found, he said we are there because Iraq is in bed with Bin Laden. When that was proven incorrect, he said we are there to “liberate the people”, to promote Democracy. That is not manifesting, most women can’t even leave their homes, because of the instability of the country’s security. HE is mistaken, but HE is not being held accountable.

    He said major combat was over, and more soldiers and innocent Iraqi’s die now than ever. HE was mistaken. But, HE is not being held accountable.

    Daily accounts surface of prisoner abuse and misconduct by our military(last week American ex-military-personel-now contractors came forward to disclose they were abused when falsely arrested). The Commander-in-Chief is not being held accountable!

    So, I ask every thinking person on this website, how many mistakes is the President of the United States and Commander-in-Chief allowed not to be accountable for?

    This is the question I want every person, no matter what party you are affiliated with, to ask yourself and most importantly to ask your representatives.

    If a CEO conducted business like Bush does, he would bankrupt his company, just like Bush did with several companies he headed and just like he has done to our country! And that CEO would be held accountable. So, why isn’t the current President of the United States being held accountable?

  14. tescht says:

    Re; Michael Kinsley”s article,

    “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, desseminate and stick to it.”

    “Developing a paranoid theory and promoting it…”…”It takes a promotional infrastructure….”….”settle on a story line, desseminate and stick to it”….

    Gee Mr. Kinsley… That sounds like the “Project for a New American Century”.. They achived “critical mass” (of support for invading Iraq) By desseminating lies. (and sticking to it)

    Oh What A Tangled (and contemptible) Web They Weaved

  15. Doug Anarino says:

    Of course, no one even wants to touch the real issue here. Why DID Bush invade Iraq? You know the answer.

  16. ljd says:

    MSM coving for GW? Now I’ve heard it all.

    Many reasons were given for the war. The case was made in Congress and in the U.N. YOUR elected officials actually AUTHORIZED the President to take action. Now they change their mind? How politically convenient. Kooks focus on ONE- WMD. Please remove tin-foil hat now.
    The U.N. failed as an organization, with countries holding veto power deeply implicated in VIOLATING U.N. sanctions with Saddam (FOR MONEY) Thereby supporting HIS war crimes.

    You have all been brainwashed by Move-On. Please remove your craniums from the collective left-wing posterior. This Downing Memo proves nothing, and actually emphasizes the hysteria on the left. Just look at Howie Dean- Yeearrrggghhhhhh!

  17. RattlerGator says:

    My God, sometimes it is good to be reminded of just how dense these Bush-haters are.

    As for not fully preparing for the aftermath, I refuse to blame any American for that. In my opinion, ANY plan would have met a similar fate. To not admit this is hubris of the worst sort.

    Things are going as well as could be hoped in Iraq and BETTER than could be expected in the Middle East. I know that’s driving Democrats crazy but those are the facts.

  18. Chuck says:

    “Saddam…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
    If you really believe that, you are an unbelievably credulous soul, still giving dubya and his minions the benefit of the doubt. Tell me, why do you think Doug Feith’s Office of Special Plans was created in the first place? Why was its focus Iraq and not Al Quaeda? Because they needed to (read my lips here) FIX THE [INTELLIGENCE] FACTS AROUND THE POLICY. The same thing they do when they trash science to promote their pro-pollution policies. Their policy is all about politics.

  19. Alvin Wilson says:

    It is incredible to read these posts. It reminds me of the German philosopher Arthur Schopenauer
    opining that “A person convinced against his will is of the same opinion still”.

  20. John Thacker says:

    Another word for that is LYING.

    Hmm. However, the memos in quite a few places also show very real concerns on the part of the British and US governments about adequate preparation for the biological and chemical weapons that they thought the Iraqis possessed. Reading the documents, it becomes apparent that both governments did honestly believe that Saddam possessed such weapons; not surprising as many Iraqis, even in the military, did so, and Saddam wanted to convince surrounding nations that he did.

    So I think it becomes extremely difficult to actually sustain the “lying” accusation that one hears so much of, aftering reading the memos. It is possible to believe that they were wrong, certainly, or that they viewed the data in a way as to confirm their own preconceptions.

  21. Kit Hill says:

    I see neocons or their supporters here say that Bush didn’t lie when we see incident after incident that questions his or his administration’s integrity time and again.
    If it’s not Downing Street, it’s the outing of that ambassador’s CIA agent wife when he discounted Administration assertions about Iraq and Nukes.
    If that doesn’t fit your fancy there’s Dick “If you repeat a lie long enough it becomes the truth” Cheney blabbing on and on and on about connections between Iraq and Al Queda or Iraq and WMB. Several NSA, AEC and CIA analysts said it was not a slam-dunk on WMB at all.
    Or how ’bout changing the global warming info coming out of the governments own scientific research to fit Bush policy.
    Call it what you like: “Mistakes”, “Deletions”, “Spin”, “BS”. I don’t care. At the end of the day it all adds up to fundamental dishonesty and it’s clear that the American people are getting tired of it.
    Bush and his cronies are interested in two things: Money and power for them and their rich friends. America stop pretending that it’s anything different. Almost makes me ashamed to call myself a Evangelical Christian.

  22. S. Johnson says:

    to write a comment of “yawn,” when thousands have died..
    you need a visit from Marley’s ghost.