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OTHER VOICES: The Downing Street memos
Detroit Free Press
June 22, 2005
Excerpts of commentary on the Downing Street memos:
Another confidential British memo has surfaced to fan fresh criticism about the run-up to the 2003 Iraq war. This time, the issue is whether the Bush administration ignored warnings to plan for the war's complicated aftermath. ...
The force of the British memo comes from the clarity of its language. It was written July 21, 2002, and its warning -- that "a postwar occupation of Iraq could lead to a protracted and costly nation-building exercise" -- now looks prophetic. ...
A White House spokesman said the memo was off base. "There was significant postwar planning," said David Almacy. "More importantly, the memo in question was written eight months before the war began; there was significant postwar planning in the time that elapsed." ...
Taken together, the blunt statements revealed in the 2002 memos portray a perilous course with ominous consequences. The ongoing violence in Iraq and the frustrating struggle to rebuild the country and install a viable government make the poor prewar planning a continuing concern.
To some analysts, these memos document how the White House was intent on war in Iraq only months after the terror attacks of Sept. 11, and manipulated intelligence to fit its preconceptions.
To others, the information in the memos is vague. ...
If nothing else, the memos do provide a rare glimpse into the process of policymaking at top levels, and provide the sort of quotes and conclusions that historians may cite for years to come.
Peter Grier, Christian Science Monitor
The notion that the president led the country into war through indirection or dishonesty is not the most damaging criticism of the administration. The worst possibility is that the president and his advisers believed their own propaganda. ...
How else to explain the fact that the president and his lieutenants consistently played down the costs of the endeavor, the number of troops required, the difficulties of overcoming tensions among the Sunnis, the Shiites and the Kurds? ...
Those who still see the invasion of Iraq as a noble mission don't need to protect the policy from the war's critics. They need to rescue it from its architects.
E.J. Dionne, Washington Post
Ah, but the "intelligence and facts were being fixed around the policy." Well, so says one man. But that's not what the 9/11 Commission and other probes have concluded. It's not what Bill Clinton's administration believed about Iraq's alleged possession of WMDs, or what the Germans or French thought, either.
The Downing Street memo is an interesting document and more grist for historians. But it is no smoking gun.
Rocky Mountain News, Denver
But whatever the Downing Street memo and related documents tell us about the decision to go to war and several newspaper voices and the Associated Press now agree the story was mishandled there's a whole other message coming from the memos:
The British not only knew war in Iraq was coming. They knew our current disaster in Iraq was coming. ...
David Sarasohn, Oregonian
We probably should hold some hearings. ... The Republicans were very reluctant to hold hearings when we learned that there was $8 billion missing from the Coalition Provisional Authority before administrator (Paul) Bremer left. If there's no truth to this, we shouldn't allow the rumor to swirl.
U.S. Rep. Harold Ford Jr., D-Tenn., in the Memphis Commercial Appeal
I don't know if these memos represent an impeachable offense -- although I must say, I don't want to bring up the Clinton comparison again. But they strike me as a hell of lot worse than anything Richard Nixon ever contemplated. He used the government for petty political vindictiveness. Heck, I'd settle for that again, over what we're looking at now.
Molly Ivins, Creators Syndicate
C's focus on the dog that didn't bark -- the lack of discussion about the aftermath of war -- was smart and prescient. But even on its face, the memo is not proof that Bush had decided on war. It states that war is "now seen as inevitable" by "Washington." That is, people other than Bush had concluded, based on observation, that he was determined to go to war.
There is no claim of even fourth-hand knowledge that he had actually declared this intention. 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.
Of course, you don't need a secret memo to know this.
Michael Kinsley, Los Angeles Times