DOWNING STREET MEMO
The Miami Herald
Do you want to know?
That's the only popular division that matters in the United States today: Those who want to determine once and for all if President Bush knowingly ''fixed the facts'' regarding Iraq, thereby misleading Congress and the American people into supporting an unnecessary war, and those who will cover their ears and hum loudly in order to maintain their belief that Bush and his advisors remain above reproach.
You're in one camp or the other. Either you want to know if you've been lied to, or you don't.
The American public is inching tentatively toward a reckoning unlike any this nation has ever experienced. The oh-so-clever Bush administration strategists and their quasi-media acolytes, who have kept the reckoning at bay with a deft combination of we're-at-war patriotic fervor and fear-the-evil-liberals rhetoric, are running out of parlor tricks.
Rep. John Conyers of Michigan last week held an unofficial public briefing -- despite being forced into a tiny Capitol Hill basement by GOP leaders -- to talk about the so-called Downing Street Memo. The July 2002 memo, published in the Times of London May 1, recounted the views of top advisors to Prime Minister Tony Blair that the Bush administration had already made up its mind to invade Iraq despite an absence of justification, and that it appeared facts were being manipulated to support the policy.
Since its publication, other information has surfaced revealing that the Americans and the British tried unsuccessfully to provoke Saddam Hussein into giving them a justification for war -- first by launching an unauthorized bombing campaign in 2002, then by pushing the United Nations to demand weapons inspectors return to Iraq -- a gambit Hussein trumped by agreeing to do so.
After the briefing, Conyers carried a letter to the White House, signed by more than 120 House members, asking for answers to questions provoked by the Downing Street Memo.
Not only was Conyers rebuffed, he was slighted.
White House Press Secretary Scott McClellan, in a press briefing that day, dismissed Conyers as ``an individual who voted against the war in the first place and is simply trying to rehash old debates that have already been addressed.''
Did you catch the irony? Conyers has no credibility to challenge the president's actions toward Iraq, the White House argues, because Conyers has opposed the war from the beginning. Yet just a few months ago, the Bush people ridiculed Sen. John Kerry because Kerry allegedly supported the war before being against it -- remember all the giddy supporters chanting ``Flip-flop! Flip-flop!''
Clearly, whether you've always opposed Iraq or recently reached that conclusion, Team Bush thinks you're irrelevant.
That's not leadership; that's obstinacy. McClellan's comment helps to bring into focus why, for example, no one at the White House listened to then-National Security Council advisor Richard Clarke's warnings about al Qaeda before 9/11, nor his arguments afterward that Iraq had nothing to do it. We can see now why then-Secretary of State Colin Powell, who warned about getting mired in Iraq, had to go. It becomes more clear why no White House insider has been disciplined for leaking CIA operative Valerie Plame's name to the press, after her husband, former Ambassador Joseph Wilson, revealed that Bush used an already-discredited whopper about Iraq's efforts to buy uranium ore in his 2003 State of the Union speech. It explains why Bush is standing by his nomination of John Bolton to the U.N. despite Bolton's alleged attempts to pressure intelligence agents into supporting White House policies.
Do you want to know if the president's people misled America into war? Conservative pundits are trying desperately to jump-start the sputtering media-distraction machinery that worked so well during Bush's first term. In recent weeks, I've heard them dusting off 17-year-old plagiarism stories about Delaware Sen. Joe Biden. I've heard ostensible outrage about Illinois Sen. Richard Durbin's comments about Guantánamo Bay, and Democratic Party Chairman Howard Dean's characterizations of Republicans. I've heard relentless trashings of New York Sen. Hillary Clinton just for being Hillary Clinton. Even the Runaway Bride and Terri Schiavo -- the latter with the help of Gov. Jeb Bush -- have enjoyed revivals lately.
But I get the sense this strategy isn't working as reliably as it once did. Even the Michael Jackson trial hype fizzled quickly after the verdict. The president's poll numbers have plummeted since November 2, suggesting more and more Americans are tiring of the bluster and blather that had entertained them like an endless summer action flick.
I never hear anymore from the conservative readers who once admonished me for not trusting that Bush had secret intelligence about weapons of mass destruction. Or who said the British wouldn't have joined us if the case for war wasn't solid. Or who insulted the French and Germans for not going along with the madness.
I do miss those spirited exchanges. But if it means that at long last, a reckoning is under way, I'll manage.