Sunday, June 12, 2005

Yet Another Leak - The Downing Street Briefing

There's been yet another leak made to the Times of London by it's anonymous source - this time it's the briefing paper for the meeting which resulted in the minutes known as the Downing Street Memo. The papers reveal that Ministers were warned in July 2002 that Britain was committed to taking part in an American-led invasion of Iraq and they had no choice but to find a way of making it legal. They also make it clear that Tony Blair had already agreed to back military action to get rid of Saddam Hussein at a summit at the Texas ranch of President George W Bush three months earlier and that since regime change was illegal it was "necessary to create the conditions" which would make it legal.

The Times writes:

The document said the only way the allies could justify military action was to place Saddam Hussein in a position where he ignored or rejected a United Nations ultimatum ordering him to co-operate with the weapons inspectors. But it warned this would be difficult.

"It is just possible that an ultimatum could be cast in terms which Saddam would reject," the document says. But if he accepted it and did not attack the allies, they would be "most unlikely" to obtain the legal justification they needed.
The suggestions that the allies use the UN to justify war contradicts claims by Blair and Bush, repeated during their Washington summit last week, that they turned to the UN in order to avoid having to go to war. The attack on Iraq finally began in March 2003.

You can read what the Times has published of the Downing Street Briefing here. The Times notes that "The paper, produced by the Cabinet Office on July 21, 2002, is incomplete because the last page is missing. The following is a transcript rather than the original document in order to protect the source." That source is obviously highly placed - either one of those who were at the meeting or a top-level member of the British intelligence services.

Meanwhile, Michael Kinsey in the LA Times is just a couple of steps behind events with his defense of the Bush administration. While many bloggers are focussing on his opening snark that "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," this is really just puff. The real core of his apologist piece is further down the page where he writes:

Even if "Washington" meant administration decision-makers, rather than the usual freelance chatterboxes, C was only saying that these people believed that war was how events would play out.

Of course, if "intelligence and facts were being fixed around the policy," rather than vice versa, that is pretty good evidence of Bush's intentions, as well as a scandal in its own right. And we know now that this was true. Fixing intelligence and facts to fit a desired policy is the Bush II governing style, especially concerning the Iraq war. But C offered no specifics, or none that made it into the memo. Nor does the memo assert that actual decision-makers told him they were fixing the facts. Although the prose is not exactly crystalline, it seems to be saying only that "Washington" had reached that conclusion.

Well, I've dealt with this before, but I will do it again. The Memo clearly says Sir Richard Dearlove had recently returned from talks in the U.S.. The Head of Britains foreign intelligence service, a man who was a professional spook not a political appointee with no time "in the cold", does not fly across the Atlantic to have "talks" with the "usual freelance chatterboxes". His listeners at the meeting wouldn't need specifics on possibly secret sources (i.e. British agents within the U.S. government) because this was C saying it!

Further, as a Brit I can tell you that traditionally, even to the media, the British government always refers to the top flight of the current U.S. administration as "Washington". The President and his cabinet. Any Brit would know this automatically from generations of useage. The question of who is being referred to doesn't even come up. To suggest that "Washington" means anything other than the highest levels of the administration is ludicrous and relies on a hoped-for ignorance about standard British terms.

No, the Downing Street Memo and the Downing Street Briefing cannot be easily dismissed. I see from the Times that Congressman John Conyers has written to Sir Richard Dearlove asking him for a clarifying statement. It's quite possible that C will decline, citing the Official Secrets Act (to which he will be beholden for the rest of his life) and National Security. Tony Blair could give him permission to respond, however, and it will be interesting to see if he does so. There is certain to be public pressure for him to make a statement along those lines.


One last thought. The Times of London is owned by Rupert Murdoch's News International corporation. Murdoch is a shrewd political barometer and has always supported both Blair and Bush through his various outlets, which in the U.S. include Fox News and the Weekly Standard. Then again, Murdoch was a staunch supporter of the Conservative Party in the U.K. right through the Thatcher years and beyond before deciding to support Balir. He is credited with much of the media push that put Blair in power in the first place.

So here's the rub. Given the Times' actions in publishing these leaks, it looks very like Murdoch has decided that Blair is a dead duck. Yet his U.S. outlets still seem staunchly behind Bush. So it is likely significant that the Times report ends with these words:

The complaints of media self-censorship have been backed up by the ombudsmen of The Washington Post, The New York Times and National Public Radio, who have questioned the lack of attention the minutes have received from their organisations.

Does Murdoch really think that what his newspapers in Britain report won't make it across the pond when they concern such momentous stories, or is he working a double bluff on Karl Rove and has actually decided that Bush and the Republican Party are also dead ducks when it comes to supporting his Corporation's needs? If the latter (and yes, Murdoch is that smart) then expect a gradual but definite move towards supporting one particular Democrat over the next 24 months as Murdoch acts as Kingmaker yet again. My money is on Joe Biden, any takers?

Update 13th June Harkonnendog brought to my attention that the New York Times has run a report on the briefing paper pointing out (correctly) that it says "that the Bush administration had made "no political decisions" to invade Iraq, but that American military planning for the possibility was advanced."

Of course, as a quick glance at will show, the Right are all over this in full gloat mode, claiming it debunks the Downing Street Memo. It doesn't. Shall I explain why for those hard-of-thinking on the Right?

The second document is the briefing for the meeting to be held, based on knowledge to hand when the briefing was written. The first, which was actually written after it in the timeline, is the minute of the meeting as held which includes the new information from Sir Richard Dearlove which has been the point all along. It is therefore impossible to use the briefing to debunk the memo which came at a later date. Even the Right can't time travel.

There. Logic 101 for the Right. My pleasure folks. I will be here all week, try the veal.

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