Thoughts of an American Centrist

Monday, June 13, 2005

The Downing Street Memo

First of all, I have to get it off my chest. "The Downing Street Memo" is a really dumb term for this scandalous document. All memos coming from the British PM's office originate from Downing Street! Whew, I feel better.

Now, on to more serious issues. Dean's World has some pretty good points about this Memo and what it really means:
Simply apply Occam's Razor here. Which is more likely?

1) Hundreds of intelligence agents and officials and politicians at all levels of the US and British government conspired to forge and falsify intelligence documents in order to justify a case against going to Iraq, and this mid-level guy casually revealed the whole thing in a passing reference in an open, unclassified memo, or,

2) Evidence was being gathered and put into place in support of a proposed policy.
Thanks to The Yellow Line for pointing this one out.

The American Centrist's Thoughts
While I fully agree that the "Bush lied, people died" revelers are patently tilting at windmills, I think it would be a mistake to simply write off the infamous memo as sheer fabrication and fallacy.

Is it possible that the memo is authentic and, if not literally accurate, is at least helpful in trying to get a grip on the mood of people responsible for making the case to go to war. I don't believe that Bush fixed evidence. I have far too much respect for the man. Obviously, the writer of the memo believed so, but we don't know much about his credibility. However, there are still points that ring true. The line that states "There was a perceptible shift in attitude. Military action was now seen as inevitable," seems to be a likely case. After all, there is a point in the lead up to every war where the President needs to finalize and harden his resolve to commit troops.

I do not believe that any "perceptible shift in attitude" justifies the charge of "fixing" evidence. What I see is a state of mind where the administration felt that they knew the truth, and had entered the stage of building an airtight case for war. When entering into this mode, people have the tendency to highlight supporting facts, while simultaneously downplaying opposing evidence. We all do it, and so did the White House.

The real question is: did the administration enter this stage too early, and therefore dismiss potentially enlightening information about Sadam's true capabilities as mere anomaly? The resulting search for the white stag that was Sadam's WMD stockpiles should answer that question with a resounding "duh."

In Summary
I don't think the administration engaged in a broad propoganda campaign. I don't think the CIA is The Ministry of Truth. What we have is a garden variety case of invalid assumptions. Everyone assumed that Sadam has WMD's; any evidence to the contrary was simply more proof of how good our quarry was at hiding his trove. With that initial mindset at the White House (percolating down into the CIA) crucial facts were missed and objective reasoning was sacrificed. If anything, the Downing Street Memo is evidence of sloppy work, not a grand conspiracy.

7 Comments:

  • I think your analysis is right on. The Congressional committee found pretty much the same thing...except, of course, they said the problem originated in the intelligence community. Maybe it did, but the White House bought into it awfully fast.

    By Blogger Alan Stewart Carl, at 8:34 AM  

  • Decent analysis, Jon; I love Occam's Razor! But isn't it peculiar that the question we are pondering (while people die daily) is whether we were told things that were not true were undeniably true (a) by accident or (b) by intent? Wouldn't we all feel better about the prospects for the next 3 1/2 years until we have a different administration if the answer were (b)?

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 8:14 PM  

  • Anon, personally, an honest mistake would make me feel much better than an indentional distortion.


    Alan, I'm very wary of laying all responsibility for faulty intelligence at the CIA's feet. First of all, it seems too scape-goat-esqe. Secondly, I'm not convinced that the CIA does their work in a bubble free from all political pressure. The White House really wanted to find culpability on Sadam, and that desire percolated down through the ranks from President and top aids, to DCI, to regional offices, to analysts. Call it trickle down atmosphere.

    Remember, the CIA reports to the executive branch, and the executive is therefore responsible for the ultimate performance of the CIA. I agree with Harry Truman's famous mantra: the Buck Stops Here.

    By Blogger Jonathan C, at 8:55 AM  

  • Certainly, if Steven Levitt's Freakonomics is any guide, incentives operate regardless of the claims of participants. His example of an increase in the number of (more costly) C-sections performed by ObGyns in areas of declining birth rates is telling.

    That the CIA may have been actively gaming the White House *and* the White House gaming the CIA may be false if one looks at the individuals invovled. That things could turn out as if they did is entirely plausible.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 10:44 AM  

  • The memo isn't silly, it's the way it's being used that's silly.

    We know exactly who wrote it--Tony Blair's executive secretary. And all it was was a summary of the conversations that were being had between a number of high-power government officials. The very idea that all of these people--including the head of British Intelligence--would all be sitting around casually discussing how evidence was being forged and falsified and not a single one would object or say anything about it is utterly absurd.

    And for anonymous: no, we "all" would not feel better with another administration; some of us--the majority of us--voted this administration a second term, and look at this memo flap and are disgusted that some people are so cheap, tawdry, and partisan that they'd use it in a desperate attempt to slam that administration. Just like we were disgusted by some of the worst excesses of attacks on the Clinton administration.

    By Blogger Dean Esmay, at 3:32 PM  

  • Ask yourself this in fact: what proof would possibly be acceptable to anyone who thinks this memo DOES NOT mean that the highest officials in the British government all sat around and took it as a given that evidence was being forged and falsified? What could POSSIBLY convince you that it's not the case?

    The answer is obvious: it's inherently impossible to prove a negative, especially if you're already inclined to believe. Tony Blair has openly answered this charge and said it's bullshit. His other government members have said it's bullshit. They've said, clearly and distinctly, that they meant data was being gathered in support of the policy, and that "fixed around" does not mean "forge and falsify."

    What more do you want? What investigations could possibly satisfy you that haven't already been done? Or do you just want to keep this witch hunt going and going and going and going for the next four years?

    By Blogger Dean Esmay, at 3:36 PM  

  • By Anonymous Anonymous, at 11:45 PM  

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