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Kerry, Bush, and the Downing Street memo

From the moment the so-called Downing Street memo was revealed by the Sunday Times of London on May 1, anti-war voices — especially on the Internet — have complained about the lack of attention it’s received in the United States. The memo, which strongly suggests that the Bush administration had decided to go to war with Iraq a good seven months before hostilities actually commenced, has been cited by Ralph Nader, in a Boston Globe op-ed piece, as proof that George W. Bush should be impeached. Yet the document has received little attention in the mainstream media.

So expectations were raised when the New Bedford Standard-Times reported last week that John Kerry would soon broach the matter on the floor of the Senate. "When I go back on Monday, I am going to raise the issue," Kerry was quoted as saying. "I think it’s a stunning, unbelievably simple and understandable statement of the truth and a profoundly important document that raises stunning issues here at home."

But despite hyperbolic claims made by some that the memo constitutes "smoking gun" evidence that Bush lied about his reasons for going to war, there’s actually not much new in it. Written in July 2002 by Matthew Rycroft, a foreign-policy aide to British prime minister Tony Blair, the document says, "It seemed clear that Bush had made up his mind to take military action, even if the timing was not yet decided. But the case was thin. Saddam was not threatening his neighbours, and his WMD capability was less than that of Libya, North Korea or Iran." Rycroft also wrote that "the intelligence and facts were being fixed around the policy," and that there "was little discussion in Washington of the aftermath after military action."

This is important and disturbing, but it’s hardly a breakthrough. After all, Time magazine reported in March 2003 that one year earlier — that is, one year before the war — Bush stuck his head into a meeting that Condoleezza Rice was holding with three senators to announce, "Fuck Saddam — we’re taking him out." Ron Suskind, in his book on former treasury secretary Paul O’Neill, The Price of Loyalty, wrote that Vice-President Dick Cheney talked about overthrowing Saddam Hussein from the first days of Bush’s presidency. And James Robbins recently noted in National Review Online that London’s Observer carried a story on July 21, 2002, quoting anonymous British-government sources, that was remarkably similar to the Downing Street memo, which was written two days later.

In a statement e-mailed to the Phoenix on Tuesday, Kerry spokesman Setti Warren said, "Senator Kerry believes every American deserves a thorough explanation of the Downing Street memo. The Administration and the Washington Republicans who control Congress insult Americans by refusing to answer even the most basic questions raised in this memo about pre-war intelligence and planning for the aftermath of war. That’s unacceptable, especially with the lives of America’s sons and daughters on the line. John Kerry will demand answers in the Senate. Stay tuned."

Kerry is right to demand answers. And though the Downing Street memo tells us little we didn’t already know, maybe it will prove to be the catalyst to finally holding the Bush administration to account. On Tuesday, both Bush and Blair attempted to play down its importance during a joint news conference, a sign that the issue may finally be gaining traction. Kerry — like a majority of senators — made a mistake when he voted to give Bush the authority he needed to go to war. But it was Bush who failed to follow through on the diplomatic front by building a genuine international coalition around the issues of Iraq’s alleged weapons capabilities and terrorist ties, as he had promised to do. The memo is further evidence, if any were needed, that Bush never even intended to try.

Issue Date: June 10 - 16, 2005
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