John Podhoretz tells us in today's New York Post that the Downing Street Minutes are old news, because he, Mr. Podhoretz, was out there urging Bush to ignore international law, the Constitution, and public opinion and start the dang war to eliminate the weapons of mass destruction, BEFORE the meeting on Downing Street. But the DSM actually tell us that the arguments about WMD and terrorism were false excuses for a war, not reasons so strong that they justified a war at all costs. And Podhoretz's having to urge the President on to war doesn't seem the strongest proof that the President's decision to go to war was already public knowledge.
MY VERY OWN DOWNING ST. MEMO
By JOHN PODHORETZ
The New York Post
THE Left is has gone all Captain Renault on us.
Captain Renault, you might remember, is the gleefully cor rupt cop in "Casablanca" who shuts down a casino by saying he's "shocked, shocked to discover gambling going on here" — even as he stuffs his winnings in his pocket.
Well, now the Left is "shocked, shocked" that George W. Bush was determined to go to war with Saddam Hussein in the summer of 2002. The object of their shock: The Downing Street Memo, the name given to some notes of a senior-level meeting in Tony Blair's government on July 23, 2002, that purportedly prove there was hope a secret plan to do something everybody was discussing in public already.
My proof? Seven days earlier, on July 16, 2002, I published a column in this newspaper entitled "October Surprise, Please."
That 2002 column was plain and unambiguous in its acceptance of the notion that Bush was committed to taking this nation to war against Saddam Hussein and that the only real question was when and how.
This is important, because what I was writing at the time was a reflection of the common discussion among those interested in these matters.
"You've made it clear for 10 months now that you want to rid the world of Saddam Hussein's rule in Iraq," I wrote. "It is vitally important that the rogue states seeking to blackmail the world by acquiring weapons of mass destruction be taught a dramatic lesson." I wrote this with absolutely no inside knowledge of discussions at the White House or anywhere else - just from reading newspapers, magazines and the like.
I continued: "You, Mr. President, know you have no option but to end the war with Saddam Hussein out of office, Iraqi weapons of mass destruction safely in American hands and a new type of government in Baghdad. If you fail at that, it won't matter when you start the war - you'll be toast anyway, like your father was."
Again, this wasn't an eccentric opinion on my part. It was conventional wisdom in certain quarters that the Bush presidency had to bring Saddam's regime to an end. Why? Because if he failed to act against Iraq, a Democratic rival in 2004 might well be able to run to his right, claiming that he hadn't done enough to deal with the threat of weapons of mass destruction in the hands of rogue states.
The column, which was a conscious act of political mischief, tried to make the crassest political case for the war with Iraq - that it would help the president politically.
My point was that opponents of an effort to remove Saddam Hussein from power would accuse the president of all manner of foul crimes anyway, so why shouldn't he act on the basis of crass political calculations?
"Go ahead, Mr. President," I wrote, "wag the dog."
That was a reference not only to the 1998 movie about a phony war with Albania fought to get a president out of a political jam, but also to President Bill Clinton's conduct on the eve of his grand-jury testimony in the Monica Lewinsky affair. Clinton, I pointed out, "used cruise missiles twice in response to Osama bin Laden at crucial moments during the Lewinsky scandals," in part to change the subject from his own domestic woes.
Yes, Clinton probably did what he did out of base motives. But so what? The problem wasn't that Clinton struck against al Qaeda, but that he did so in a half-hearted and incompetent manner - hitting a factory in the Sudan that turned out to have no connection to bin Laden. "Think of how the world would have been different, and better, had Bill Clinton made a serious effort against al Qaeda in 1998," I wrote. "He would have done the world a profound service, even though he was doing it to save his own skin."
The crass, Clintonite political reason for Bush to start the war was, I said, to change the subject from Enron and other corporate scandals. "Incautious Democrats and liberal pundits will shriek that you've gone to war solely to protect yourself from the corporate-greed scandal," I speculated. Their incaution would hurt the Democrats in the midterm elections.
As it turned out, Bush did not follow my advice. Instead, he began an arduous process that led to the onset of the Iraq war eight months - eight very long and very difficult months - after the Downing Street Memo was written.
"Military action," according to the memo, "was seen as inevitable" in Washington in July 2002. It was seen as inevitable because the Bush administration held out little hope that the United Nations or the world community would prevail upon Saddam to leave without being forcibly removed.
Despite believing this, Bush and Co. took the hard road, not the easy road, in attempting to convince the world to join with the United States and Great Britain in the effort to rid the world of Saddam Hussein's tyranny and belligerence without a war. Their effort didn't work, but it wasn't for lack of trying.
As for the Capt. Renault Leftists and their continuing skepticism about the American military's ability to prevail in Iraq: They should remember Renault's comment after a big Nazi says Humphrey Bogart is just a blundering American: "We mustn't underestimate American blundering. I was with them when they blundered into Berlin in 1918." E-mail: