The News Tribune (Tacoma, Washington)
June 19, 2005, Sunday
SECTION: SOUTH SOUND; Pg. A02
LENGTH: 645 words
HEADLINE: Downing Street memos don't tell us anything new
BYLINE: David Zeeck, The News Tribune
Perhaps you've heard of the Downing Street memo.
The Times of London first published it in May, shortly before Prime Minister Tony Blair's re-election. The memo consists of minutes from a July 2002 meeting between Blair and his national security team, eight months before the war began in Iraq.
At the meeting, British officials who had just returned from Washington reported the Bush administration believed war was inevitable and that Bush would use intelligence about Saddam Hussein's weapons of mass destruction and sketchy ties to al-Qaida to justify an invasion. ". . . Intelligence and facts were being fixed around the policy," said the minutes.
The memo created a political row in Britain during the elections. It became a story in the U.S. this month, when Bush and Blair, appearing together at the White House, were asked about it.
The memo seems genuine, but both men say it reveals nothing. Both say they still did everything possible to avert war and did not rig, spin or hide intelligence to justify an invasion.
The memo (now a series of memos; see stories on pages A10 and Insight 6) also has become a media issue. Conservatives ignore them. Liberals see in them proof that Bush ginned up a war that was completely unnecessary.
I've gotten precisely four e-mails and two phone calls asking about the memo(s). I appreciate the readers who ask for more information; they're entitled to a fair accounting of what's in the memo and what it means.
Here's a sampling of reader comments about the memo:
"Please help the citizens of the United States to be informed so that they can make informed decisions," wrote Kevin Manley in an e-mail, asking us to report about the memo. "It is your job."
An anonymous caller requested more Downing Street memo stories in a call June 7. "This is the biggest news in London and all over Europe," she said. ". . . This is the smoking gun that will get Bush impeached for war crimes. You're going to get left behind if you don't start reporting the news. We need to get our country back."
"Downing Street is a HUGE story, and you are not doing anyone a favor by ignoring it," Paula Galloway wrote in an e-mail. ". . . You are not living up to your obligations to inform the public. Please try to do a better job."
Before today, we've published three stories about the Downing Street memo. There's plenty there for anyone to understand the memo and what it means.
I've read all the memos and, while I think they're an interesting window into history, I don't think they tell us anything we didn't already know: The Bush administration was spoiling for a fight with Iraq (even though they exhausted every bit of U.N. pressure before invading) and they used intelligence regarding WMD (which we now know was flawed) to support the case for war.
Nothing in the Downing Street memos proves the U.S. had determined war was inevitable in July 2002 or that it knew at the time the intelligence was wrong.
We'll keep you posted.
The highlight of my week was being with hundreds of others who heard historian David McCullough speak on Thursday evening at the Urban Grace Church in downtown Tacoma.
He talked about writing, about the importance of Americans knowing our history, and read and told stories from "1776," his new book, which is currently atop The New York Times nonfiction list.
A memorable part of the evening was when Tacoma Mayor Bill Baarsma introduced McCullough. The mayor noted that the Squaxin tribe selects one of its members to be "the rememberer," the one who memorizes the tribe's stories, its wisdom and traditions.
He called McCullough, who has written on subjects as varied as Harry Truman, the Brooklyn Bridge, the Panama Canal and John Adams, "America's rememberer."
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Dave Zeeck: 253-597-8434