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Saturday, June 11, 2005 

Corn: Even the bad intelligence was a "thin case"

David Corn of The Nation writes that both sides of the aisle are focusing too much on the word "fixed" and not enough on the other disturbing revelations in the memo:

Conservatives like Chavez and Graham now like to hide behind the CIA, blaming bad intelligence for the missing WMDs. Bush didn't screw up, they argue, he merely relied on inadequate intelligence. But the Straw section of the Downing Street memo kills that argument. Straw presumably had access to the best intelligence on the topic, and still he wasn't sold. The bottom-line: even the bad intelligence led to a "thin" case. The problem was not merely the crappy intelligence; it was how Bush used the bad intelligence and stretched it beyond its limits to ease the way to war.

Put aside the question of "fixed" intelligence. The DSM demonstrates that Bush was dishonest with the public about his intentions and that the intelligence he did have in hand--fixed or not, faulty or not--did not support the case for war. I can understand why conservative cheerleaders of the war don't want such matters being discussed. But to call the Downing Street memo an item of no importance is to descend into the land of total spin.


Distorting The Plain Language of the DSM

Those who have tried to discredit the DSM have done so on various grounds. GOP Chairman Ken Melhman falsely claimed the memo was discredited (even though its contents are accurate, according to U.S. and British officials). The President has tried to insinuate that the timing of the document's release in some way lessens its importance.

Yet perhaps the most desparate--and ill-founded--attempts to avoid the reality of the document is the language-parsing that has been taking place. In a separate world live those who insist the word "fixed" in "the facts were being fixed around the policy" means "bolted on". Today, courtesy of Tod Lindberg from the Weekly Standard, we get another failed attempt to twist the word "fixed" into something more benign--and less damning--for the President:

Read more...
Those who have tried to discredit the DSM have done so on various grounds. GOP Chairman Ken Melhman falsely claimed the memo was discredited (even though its contents are accurate, according to U.S. and British officials). The President has tried to insinuate that the timing of the document's release in some way lessens its importance.

Yet perhaps the most desparate--and ill-founded--attempts to avoid the reality of the document is the language-parsing that has been taking place. In a separate world live those who insist the word "fixed" in "the facts were being fixed around the policy" means "bolted on". Today, courtesy of Tod Lindberg from the Weekly Standard, we get another failed attempt to twist the word "fixed" into something more benign--and less damning--for the President:

For smoking-gun enthusiasts, the key to the plot is that word "fixed," as in, the fix is in. As in, the intelligence and facts weren't what Bush needed, so he fixed them. The problem with this analysis, if you can call it that, is quite simple: If what is being described is chicanery and wrongdoing in the form of the Bush administration fabricating intelligence, how come nobody in the room with Blair when C drops this bombshell is sufficiently perturbed to do so much as ask a follow-up question? How come Blair's "sofa cabinet" just goes on earnestly discussing the military options?


Lindberg sets up a strawman which is easily knocked down. The DSM is not a word-for-word transcription of everything said at the meeting. It summarizes the main points made by the parties to the discussion. So an attempt to discredit the memo based on what it doesn't say is way off the mark. Linberg goes on to do a dance around the word "fixed":

The point is that the Bush administration seems bent on going to war based on the terrorism/WMD case without going to the U.N. (thus obtaining a legal justification in the Security Council--a point on which C turned out to be wrong) and without "publishing materialon the Iraqi regime's record" (thus making a humanitarian case--which Blair would subsequently emphasize). The "policy" decision was that the case was going to be made on the basis of terrorism/WMD, with the evidence "fixed"--made fast, set in order, arranged--to buttress that case, notwithstanding that, in the view of some present, other cases might be stronger (hence Straw's point about Libya, North Korea, and Iran).


So the word "fixed" here means to "arrange" or "buttress"? Just like others have claimed it means "bolted on"? I assume that refers to using the evidence that supports your position, while ignoring or not using the evidence which conflicts your policy.

But as ukiyo below has noted, "What makes this argument so preposterous is that it is based on acceptance of the idea of selectively choosing intelligence that supports the policy of invasion. Adulterating intel is bad, but cherry picking the good parts is OK? This distinction amounts to little more than a bald-faced lie versus a lie of omission. Either way, we've been misled."

It is important to note that while several commentators have tried to minimize the memo based on their interpretation of the word "fixed," the President has yet to properly address exactly what transpired at that meeting in July of 2002. At the very least, he should tell the American public what his interpretation of the word "fixed" really is.

President Bush stumbles badly at Tuesday press conference

I fancy that yesterday's press conference will come to be considered one of George Bush's greatest PR disasters. He bungled the DSM question in a way that I think will come back to haunt him.

The recently developed Republican talking-points were never great. By necessity, they tend to avoid what the Downing Street Memo (DSM) actually says and try instead to convince the public that it is inaccurate or not credible. But the talking-points are going to be much less use now in getting Bush clear of this scandal. For one thing, he failed to challenge the validity of DSM directly. Thus hereafter it will be very difficult for his apologists to argue that DSM is forged, or 4th hand, or incompetently drafted. The first, of course, is what his most ardent supporters have wanted to argue (in so far as they're willing to acknowledge the existence of DSM at all).

Worse yet, Bush made an unforced error that will help the truth brigade to wrap this scandal around his shoulders. He made a statement so egregiously at odds with the entire tenor of DSM, and with many of its specific statements, and so implausible on the face of it, that it focuses attention almost inevitably upon Bush's credibility. It should suck the air out of the remaining talking-points pretty effectively, and concentrate attention on how Bush can explain this exceedingly implausible statement.

Worse still for President Bush's reputation, in this statement he claimed to have worked for what many Americans now yearn for--a peaceful resolution of the Iraqi situation. Peacemaking is Bush's weakest suit, and it has been since the first mutterings about an Iraq war in the spring and summer of 2002. Yet Bush now has made his weakest suit the focus of what is likely to become a story about whether George Bush has any credibility left. At least, we need to ensure that the story turns in that direction.

The facts are striking. Bush, standing next to Tony Blair, claimed that their conversations, before the July 23, 2002 meeting recorded by DSM, had ALL been about how to find a peaceful solution (to what exactly is unclear--non-existent WMDs?). To borrow the President's own words, 'nothing could be farther from the truth.'

The discussions recorded on DSM have virtually nothing to say about any possible peaceful resolution to the standoff with Hussein. Instead, they are entirely about how to get the impending war started, how to wage it, and how to justify it to the public. There is no hint in any of the reports by British officials at this meeting to suggest that any of them had discussed a peaceful resolution with their American counterparts. Even the 'U.N. route' is seen by the British (who conceived it and want to push it on the Bush administration) as a way of backing Hussein into a corner so that he will presumably refuse to admit any new weapons inspectors--and voila, a pretext for war.

So the American public will have to wonder, once they've read DSM for themselves, where all the talk of peace is. The sad truth appears to be that President Bush continues to do what he has been doing since early 2002: He's deliberately deceiving the nation about his policies on Iraq.

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