What is the Downing Street Memo? Is it a smoking gun or just another ember from the flaming pants pyre of Tony Blair and George Bush?
Have your well meaning liberal friends deluged you with emails lately bemoaning the lack of news coverage of the DSM? Have you found yourself at a dinner party bemused, yet determined to play along, when someone mentions the total lack of media interest in what's surely the equivalent of the Watergate police blotter? You frown and look concerned, afraid to admit you're as clueless as the media.
You consider yourself informed, yet you have a life too. You read the occasional blog—Atrios and dKos, maybe What Do I Know for the recipes—but somewhere you missed this particular boat, mainly because you heard the words Downing Street and assumed it had to do the British election, and you're still recovering from your own bruising encounter with American politics.
Now you're in a muddle, and don't know where to start unraveling the text from the tease.
What Do I Know? understands your confusion, having been somewhat preoccupied when the DSM first hit the blogosphere herself. But prepare to be enlightened: here's the DSM FAQ, an acronym-free guide to the Downing Street Memo.
Who wrote the memo, and should I trust a guy who spells defense with a "c"? Matthew Rycroft, foreign policy adviser to Tony Blair, wrote the "eyes only" memo, actually the minutes of a Downing Street cabinet meeting held in July 2002, eight months before the invasion of Iraq.
What exactly does the memo say, in American English, please? Some guy named "C" (Richard Dearlove, the head of Britain's spy agency MI6) reported on his recent visit to America. "C" said George Bush "wanted to remove Saddam Hussein through military action" and that "intelligence and facts were being fixed around the policy." This is a fancy way to say they were cooking intelligence, which, in even plainer language, means lying.
Anything else, or was that it? There were other damning statements, too, like the fact that the evidence was "thin," and that "Saddam was not threatening his neighbours and his WMD capability was less than that of Libya, North Korea or Iran." (Opponents of the war were saying this at the time, too, but no one was listening...if only they'd had this "C" fellow at those peace rallies!) There was also talk about whether the war was legal, but those at the meeting agreed this fine point didn't bother the Americans.
Surely that's all there is...right? 'Fraid not. The memo also talks about the need for creating political cover by giving Saddam a UN ultimatum which they (mistakenly) thought he would ignore. It was Tony Blair who raised this point, not surprisingly. There was further discussion about goading Saddam into taking military action (perhaps even using those WMDs they couldn't otherwise prove existed!) by increasing bombing in the no fly zones. Plus "C" reports there was little planning taking place for the aftermath of war.
Why is this guy called "C" and why are his memos written in green ink? The head of MI6 is traditionally known as "C" and likewise traditionally writes memoranda in green ink. (Another interesting fact: This "C" was educated at Monkton Coombe School, in the village where I stayed recently.)
Where'd this guy "C" get his information? Isn't it all hearsay, and does the glove fit? "C" aka Richard Dearlove got his info straight from the horse's mouth...in this case, his counterpart at the CIA, George Tenet (remember Colin Powell and George at the UN presenting "evidence" that turned out to be rubbish?) as well as members of the National Security team in Washington. Rules against hearsay evidence don't apply, since no one's on trial (yet) nor does the memo fit the definition of hearsay evidence. (Conversations "C" participated in are not hearsay per se.) Plus, "C" didn't become head of MI6 by distorting conversations in meetings with his superiors, or by wearing gloves that don't fit.
The Bush administration has denied this, right? What if it's another Rathergate forged memo, and my hair gets singed for nothing? The British government has not denied the memo is authentic. A former senior American official has said the document is "an absolutely accurate description of what transpired during 'C's' visit to Washington." (Tenet, remember, is a former senior American official.) The press has failed to press George Bush on whether or not "C's" statements were accurate.
So why isn't the media paying attention? Aren't they supposed to be liberal? Probably for the same reason you didn't pay attention at first. It seemed like old news; similar claims were made by Paul O'Neill in his book "The Price of Loyalty" and by Richard Clark in "Against All Enemies" as well as Bob Woodward in "Plan of Attack" (books most Americans didn't bother reading). The decision to go to war was made three years ago, and the media hates to be accused of flogging a dead horse. They also hate to be called liberal, hence their tendency to bend as far to the right as they can in a dance they call "objectivity."
Is anyone in Congress concerned about the DSM, or is it only the flakes in the blogosphere whose hair is on fire? Rep. John Conyers and 88 of his colleagues have sent a letter to George Bush and to Defense Secretary Rumsfeld. Members of congress generally follow the lead of their constituents, (aka "voters") as long as this doesn't interfere with their biggest donors (aka "special interests").
I'm concerned about the exploding deficit. Should we spend money investigating this when we could, say, be building bridges in Alaska to small near-deserted islands? We spent $70 million investigating a bad business deal called Whitewater. Why not spend a few bucks and find out whether our country was led into war under false pretenses?
Where is Downing Street anyway? I've looked at a map of London and it's nowhere to be found. Just up from Big Ben, off Whitehall to the left (west) before you get to the statue of Charles I that marks the spot where he lost his head after losing his iron grip on his British subjects. One day there'll be a similar statue of George Bush marking the spot where he lost his iron grip on the media.
Hasn't happened yet, but when even "dummies" like you and I know the truth about the Iraq war as revealed in the Downing Street Memo, a real revolution can't be far behind.