The truth in the Downing Street Memos

If you read the whole memo, it vindicates Bush

Dateline 24 June 2005

The so-called Downing Street Memo confirms a great deal of what we already know. A reading of the whole document, rather than just the odd sentence or two, far from justifying the impeachment of the President, clarifies a great many things which his critics have sought to confuse.

The most significant thing this reveals is that the charge ‘Bush lied’ cannot be justified. That Bush and Blair were mistaken, no-one has ever denied. But the charge that they accused Saddam of having weapons of mass destruction (WMD) knowing this to be false is categorically shown to be nonsense. British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw reported that Iraq’s WMD capacity was believed to be less than that of Libya or North Korea, but no-one seems to have doubted the existence of Saddam’s WMD.

Indeed, the memo records concern as to how an invasion of Iraq would proceed if Saddam used his WMD on day one.

None of this should be a surprise to anyone who recalls the debate of the time, or who has checked the contemporary sources. UN Security Council Resolution (UNSCR) 1441 – which came after the memo – found as fact that Saddam was in ‘material breach’ of several previous resolutions, including those calling for an end to his WMD programs. The resolution was passed unanimously, with Syria and France voting for it. Syria, because at the very time Saddam was denying to the UN that he had WMD, he was telling Arab countries that he did. France because French intelligence services, like British and American, believed that he did.

Another point clarified is the legal basis for war. Attorney General, Lord Goldsmith, set out three conditions under which it would be legal for Britain to go to war. (American law is less restrictive). 1. For self-defense or to defend an ally. 2. To alleviate humanitarian crisis. Or 3. Authorized by a UNSCR. He considered all of these were inapplicable at the time, but this was before Resolution 1441, which explicitly threatened Saddam with ‘serious consequences’ if he did not comply.

No-one suggests that Saddam ever did comply with 1441 in the 45-day timescale and Iraq was already under comprehensive sanctions. It is clear that the ‘serious consequences’ were triggered by Saddam’s non-compliance and that the phrase must have referred to military action. This is precisely what Lord Goldsmith eventually concluded.

It is widely pointed out that at the time of the memo President Bush was still pursuing diplomatic means to achieve America’s long-standing policy of regime change. Yet the memo says he was already resolved on war. Does this indicate any level of dishonesty? Not in the least. There is no doubt in the minds of anyone but the wildest of conspiracy theorists that the President would have preferred to achieve his goals by diplomatic means, and hoped to do so into 2003. That he had already concluded this was unlikely to work is not surprising. That he was prepared to keep trying in any case is to his credit.

The only phrase that makes this supporter of the war a little uncomfortable is the line that “intelligence and facts were being fixed around the policy”. This is a vague phrase and is reported not direct speech, so it isn’t clear what words C (the Head of MI6, M’s boss) actually used. Does it mean, as critics would love to suggest, that intelligence was being distorted? Or does it mean intelligence was being gathered to justify the policy. Or being selectively quoted? It implies that this ‘fixing’ was going on in Washington, but it could also mean in London.

It is not clear, if intelligence was being distorted, which intelligence or what it said. It could not refer to WMD since the British government seemed convinced at this point that Saddam did have WMD. Furthermore, we know from Bob Woodward – hardly one to participate in a Presidential cover up – that President Bush grilled the Head of CIA on WMD and was assured “it’s a slam dunk”.

We can only conclude that if any distortion was going on it was of something quite minor. Perhaps including evidence of human rights abuses which could not, at the time, be confirmed from a second source. This discovery is therefore insignificant, because there was a catalog of evidence as to other human rights abuses at the time, and a great deal more has subsequently come to light.

Copyright (C) Quentin Langley 24 June 2005

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