Fraysters react to the Downing Street memo.

Fraysters react to the Downing Street memo.

Fraysters react to the Downing Street memo.

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June 16 2005 2:10 PM

Idées Fixes

Fraysters react to the Downing Street memo.

In response to Fred Kaplan's war stories on the Downing Street memo, Montfort issues a lengthy rebuke for "glossing over the main accusation against Bush" through questionable semantic parsing:

Either way—"fixed" or "fixed around"—Bush and his aides had decided to let policy shape intelligence, not the other way around; they were explicitly politicizing intelligence.

But that doesn't necessarily mean they thought their claims were false. ... They just knew Saddam had WMD, and if the facts didn't quite prove he did, they would underscore and embellish the tidbits that came close. ...

Does this distinction matter? If all you want to know is whether Bush was deceptive, no; he was deceptive. If you want to know how government works, how officials make bad mistakes, yes; it matters a lot.

See how Kaplan minimizes the crux of the issue? "If all you want to know is whether Bush was deceptive..." If all you want to know... The subtext: well shoot, is that all? Big whoop. Oh you simple little unsophisticated citizen. Look, we should be talking about more important things than whether he lied. Like, how government makes mistakes. So he lied (shrug). What else is new?

Being concerned about how government officials make bad mistakes is not the crux of the charge against Bush. The crux is what Kaplan euphemistically calls "deception" - i.e., lies. Bush had a policy of war against Iraq long before he implemented it, and he "fixed" the intelligence to support the policy. Kaplan understands this, but somehow he seems to think it doesn't really matter because Bush thought, wrongly, that Saddam had WMD.

So he couldn't prove it. So what. He thought the WMD were there. So he repeatedly and passionately told the American people what amounted to lies, and had his cabinet officials do the same. He enlisted the support of rightwing radio and TV talk show hosts, had an entire network at his disposal, sent his Secretary of State off to the UN to repeat the lies.

They were lies because they were not facts; the intelligence simply did not support his beliefs. So he fixed the intelligence to fit his beliefs. That's beyond mere deception because of the result: war.

Bush was in a state of cognitive dissonance - he lied to himself and lied to us - and in thrall of such willful delusion he led us into war and is directly responsible for the deaths and maiming of tens of thousands of people, and made all of our citizens complicit in this mass murder.

I can't tell from all the hemming and hawing whether Kaplan thinks the memos say "anything new," which requisite the mainstream media pundits are using to judge the memos' worth - and many are saying there's nothing new (shrug), we've known all this for a long time (Kaplan reiterates this) and so ... so what?

The so what is that the American citizens did not know. That is Bush's great malfeasance, his crime. He lied, half of the nation believed him, and on this basis gave him permission to send 1,700 American soldiers and thousands of Iraqi civilians to their deaths.

If he thought there were WMD and Saddam was an imminent threat, but he knew the intelligence didn't support his belief, he had the solemn duty to inform the citizens of this. He would have had to say, "Look, I think he has WMD. Yes, I know the facts we have don't back me up, but I'm really really sure of it anyway." Do you think that Congress or the media would so readily have followed him into war?

That is what's new, Mr. Kaplan. That "deception" is an impeachable offense.

ThinkMan also expresses outrage at Kaplan's apologist stance:

I am furious that the first article (I think) Slate publishes that really takes a hard look at the Downing Street memo simply reinforces the media's reluctance to have a backbone about this issue. Kaplan writes, "Many critics see the memo as the ultimate proof of Bush's duplicity—and, given that no U.S. newspaper picked up the story for two weeks (and then buried it deep inside), as further evidence of the mainstream media's cravenness." Kaplan does nothing to change this fact. In the face of a smoking gun (some politicians are calling for impeachment), Kaplan makes excuse after excuse for Bush and Blair. Poor guys, he says, "they seemed to believe in their product at the time," even while admitting weak evidence and ulterior motives. Is this the standard we want for going to war? And why should the media make excuses and explanations for Bush when he has essentially refused to do so for himself?

J_Mann, for his part, finds no smoking gun:

As a Bush supporter, my belief has always been about what Kaplan assumes here:

1) Bush assumed, by early 2002, that war with Iraq was inevitable, or almost inevitable;

2) Bush, Blair, and everyone else with access to intel believed that Saddam had WMD;

3) Bush agreed, for diplomatic reasons (largely to pick up Britain and the possibility of other coalition members), to give Saddam "one last chance" to cooperate fully with inspections.

Given that, I have a hard time seeing the President's comments about his intention to go to war as a lie. Yes, Bush said that he hoped war wouldn't become necessary, but that doesn't strike me as a lie, just diplomacy.

As an example of Bush's public comments, see his October 16, 2002 comments on signing the use of force resolution. Some highlights:

- In an unfortunate choice, the White House Staff have titled the page: "Iraq: Denial and Deception." They are obviously referring to Saddam, but still, I wish I was a lefty, so that I could make more fun of it.

Bush's key comments that conflict with his supposed intent to go to war include:

- "I have not ordered the use of force. I hope the use of force will not become necessary."

- "On the commands of a dictator, the [Iraqi] regime is armed with biological and chemical weapons, possesses ballistic missiles, promotes international terror and seeks nuclear weapons."

- "Iraq's combination of weapons of mass destruction and ties to terrorist groups and ballistic missiles would threaten the peace and security of many nations."

- "Our goal is to fully and finally remove a real threat to world peace and to America. Hopefully this can be done peacefully. Hopefully we can do this without any military action."

- "If we go into battle, as a last resort, we will confront an enemy capable of irrational miscalculations, capable of terrible deeds. As the Commander-in-Chief, I know the risks to our country. I'm fully responsible to the young men and women in uniform who may face these risks."

The bottom line is that, while I'm sure a lefty could make hay with this thing, Bush's comments strike me as fundamentally true. I'm sure that he "hoped" that Saddam would comply with his demands without war. I'm also sure that Bush didn't believe that Saddam would, and therefore assumed that war was almost certainly necessary.

The Downing Street Memo supports this idea, but since it's what I already believed, I can't see it as a revelation.


awestruck2 questions here whether, in exonerating Bush from the charge of deception, sincerity of belief should trump absence of evidence.

Could it all just be a transatlantic malentendu? Patlowa says it "depends on what the meaning of 'fixed' is":

In the Downey St. Memo..the serious 'bone of contentions' circles around the 'intellegence' around regime change and WDM's being 'fixed'. The assumption is this refer's to definition #7, which is the decidedly American definition/terminology for 'fixed'. However, this is a British memo, thinking and terminology, my guess is a combination of #1,#2 is #5a, although with BUsh and his Vulcans...#5b is entirely possible...this could refer to a combination of these three, I think it is highly unlikely that the Brit was referring to #7 since [this is a] rather unique American concept.

fixed (fkst)


1. Firmly in position; stationary.

2. Determined; established; set: at a fixed time; a fixed price.

3. Not subject to change or variation; constant: pensioners on a fixed income.

4. Chemistry

a. Not readily evaporating; nonvolatile.

b. Being in a stable, combined form: fixed nitrogen.


a. Firmly, often dogmatically held: fixed beliefs.

b. Persistently occurring in the mind; obsessive: a fixed, delusive notion.

6. Supplied, especially with funds or needs. Often used in combination: a well-fixed bachelor.

7. Illegally prearranged as to outcome: a fixed election.