Thursday, June 16, 2005

The Downing Street memos

Howard Kurtz provides a very helpful summary of MSM coverage of the DSM, and how the blogosphere has helped keep the issue alive. (For some of the original coverage, see the London Times reportage.)

The administration and its media hacks have offered a multi-prong defense of the memos:

  1. "Old Hat" Dept. Everyone knows BushCo was planning the war way in advance, even though he kept insisting that peaceful resolution was possible; so what's the big deal? This point of view was most cogently expressed by Michael Kinsley. This argument is a classic example of Harry Frankfurt's "bullshit principle," which is that you can get away with saying things that are utterly untrue, so long as everyone knows you're not serious and the image it projects of the speaker is salutary. In other words, the argument here is: what the hell, everyone knew Bush had already decided to attack Saddam at the time (even though he denied it), so why are you getting your panties in a wad?
  2. "Water under the bridge" Dept. The decisions were what they were; the real question now is to deal with the situation at hand in Iraq, and how we got there is not relevant. (The official White House line: "In terms of the intelligence, it was wrong, and we are taking steps to correct that and make sure that in the future we have the best possible intelligence, because it's critical in this post-September 11th age, that the executive branch has the best intelligence possible.")
  3. "Just Opinion" Dept. The DSMs aren't proof that the Bushies lied to the public about their intent in Iraq and then sexed up the intelligence to sell it. Rather, to quote Andrew Sullivan, the DSMs are "one individual's take on what was going on in Washington." (Okay, yeah yeah yeah, he's the head of the MI6 -- but what do those guys know? We already know that you can't trust those directors of intelligence.) Kevin Drum demolishes this argument.
  4. "Deny, deny, deny" Dept. That intelligence was "fixed" is nothing but a politically-motivated calumny. Tony Blair's line: "I can respond to that very easily. No, the facts were not being fixed in any shape or form at all. And let me remind you that that memorandum was written before we then went to the United Nations. Now, no one knows more intimately the discussions that we were conducting as two countries at the time than me."
I think part of the reason why progressives are fixing on the DSMs is that they provide a chance to refight some media battles that progressives lost over the last couple of years. For example, the DSMs shed interesting light on the kerfuffle two summers ago regarding BBC reporter Andrew Gilligan's alleged "liberal bias" in reporting that the MI6 had "sexed up" intelligence reports on Iraqi WMDs. As we know, the BBC ended up taking the blame for that "mistake" -- a "mistake" which now seems likely to have been entirely accurate. In the meanwhile, progressives were left to whine about a "whitewash."

As things continue to head south on the ground in Iraq, moreover, the question of how we got into the mess in the first place becomes ever more relevant. Unjustified wars that you win don't cost you much politically; it's the unjustified ones that you lose that are a political disaster. We're losing this war, and now the question is, who's going to take the political blame. Unfortunately for the Republican Party, it won't be able to blame President Kerry....

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