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Downing Street Memo should be today's Watergate scandal


Duluth News-Tribune (Minnesota), June 5, 2005 Sunday
SECTION: EDIT
Ethics issues by EVE BROWNING

In a document known as the Downing Street Memo, released by the London Times in early May, evidence is given the George W. Bush and Tony Blair spoke frankly about cooking the intelligence reports on Saddam Hussein's weapons of mass destruction, to make them appear to justify a war effort.

Ah, Watergate! Those were the good old days! Last week the identity of "Deep Throat" was revealed at last. Former FBI official W. Mark Felt stepped forward at the age of 91 to admit he provided inside information to the media concerning the misdeeds of the Nixon administration.

This necessitated explaining the ins and outs of the Watergate scandal to a whole generation who had heard of it only in the vaguest terms. Those of us who lived through it remember the excitement, the outrage, the suspense, the unforgettable image of a president leaving the White House before his term expired, covered in shame and still claiming pathetically, "I am not a crook!"

When we explained Watergate to the youngsters, some of us got this reaction: "What was the big deal?" And it is true: The events that brought down the Nixon administration seem almost trivial to our contemporary eyes. A bungled robbery of the Democratic Party's campaign headquarters? Who thought there would be valuable strategic information to be found in that place?

I have been a Democrat all my life but I would never accuse my party of being strategically sophisticated. But at least they didn't plan a robbery by putting masking tape on a doorlock. Robber technology doesn't get any sillier than that. In hindsight, the misdeeds of the Nixon administration have a quaint nostalgic quality; in those days, we had scandals that were innocent and foolish, Norman Rockwell scandals.

Yet Watergate ended many careers and sent several high-ranking politicos to prison. It cast a permanent shadow over Richard Nixon and his entire family. It launched a new generation of investigative reporters hot to the scent of political blood. That generation is now retiring.

Since Watergate we have had a few more presidential scandals, notably President Clinton's notorious sexual improprieties in the Oval Office and elsewhere. This too, if you will pardon me for saying so, is a childish kind of scandal. A president with his pants down, a president whose appetite for sexual release rivals his appetite for junk food. While I was shocked to learn of Monicagate, I was not frightened for the future of our nation. Clinton's antics were more embarrassing than horrifying.

Now here is a horrifying scandal: a president who lies to Congress, lies to the country, and drags us into a war of aggression that shows no sign of having an end. A president who wastes the lives of more than 1,600 young Americans and slaughters uncounted non-combatants, destroys their cities and their countryside, to even a score with Saddam Hussein and procure yet more wealth for Bush's already obscenely wealthy friends. A president who offers a personal hug of condolence to every mother whose child dies in this war, while knowing in his own heart that his regime conspired to cause these children's deaths.

In a document known as the Downing Street Memo, released by the London Times in early May, evidence is given the George W. Bush and Tony Blair spoke frankly about cooking the intelligence reports on Saddam Hussein's weapons of mass destruction, to make them appear to justify a war effort. The faked reports would then be given to Congress and the Senate, and a moral justification for war would appear, like magic, out of a web of lies.

This, to me, is a real scandal. Americans are dying, Iraqui people are dying, because of these lies. Years from now, when we are the subjects of history books rather than their readers, I imagine people finding us rather puzzling. We get all indignant about a president who plans a silly burglary to get re-elected, or a president who fondles nubile interns, but we don't bat an eye at a president who lied so that thousands of children died.

How strange we are indeed.

EVE BROWNING is an associate professor in the Philosophy Department at the University of Minnesota Duluth.

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