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Wednesday, June 15, 2005 

Model journalism on the ‘new’ UK documents

John Daniszewski, who wrote the outstanding article on DSM for the LA Times on May 12, has today produced what is clearly the best report yet to appear on the six 'new' documents from Britain. NBC authenticated these documents two days ago, though they are not really 'new.' They had been quoted extensively last year in two British newspapers, The Daily Telegraph and The Times of London. When he was given the originals , reporter Michael Smith (of The Times) typed up a copy of the six texts on a typewriter, and later returned the originals to the leaker(s). Sometime later a Cambridge University don (with whom I've corresponded) received faxed copies of the typed transcriptions. These made their way into the hands of a Cambridge doctoral student, Michael Lewis, who scanned them and in September 2004 posted them as PDF documents on These PDFs are widely available on the internet now, and has posted (slightly inaccurate) html versions of the PDF texts.

Four of the documents date to March 2002, the other two are undated (but nearly contemporary to the others). They portray the Blair government trying to come to grips with the push for war against Iraq coming out of D.C.; and Blair himself preparing for a meeting with George Bush at Crawford in April 2002. These six documents are deep background to DSM, whereas the Military Action Memo (published last Sunday by The Times) is immediate background to DSM (it dates from July 21, 2002, two days before the DSM meeting).

Much of the reporting in the US thus far on the Military Action Memo has been depressingly shallow. Both the NYT article by David Sanger and the WaPo article by Walter Pincus focus perversely on what the Military Action Memo tells us about the poor state of planning in July 2002 for post-war Iraq. The subject arises in the six 'new' documents as well, and nowadays it will seem topical. But it scarcely deserves the kind of attention both articles give it. Surely the Bush government did further planning on post-war Iraq in the eight months before the outbreak of war, so how much can we actually infer from the absense of serious planning in July 2002? A certain amount, of course, but only because it is characteristic of what was to come. The real scandal about post-war planning is not where it stood eight months in advance of the war, but how bad it was in March 2003.

That is why it is particularly gratifying to see this well-researched, thoughtful, and penetrating analysis of all six 'new' documents by John Daniszewski. It is a must read, so I will not quote it extensively. The second half of the article, appropriately, quotes large chunks of the texts as it analyzes them. Daniszewski's choice of quotations is astute; you can get the gist of them from his summary here.

From the article’s first half, this is perhaps the most important paragraph:

The documents contain little discussion about whether to mount a military campaign. The focus instead is on how the campaign should be presented to win the widest support and the importance for Britain of working through the United Nations so an invasion could be seen as legal under international law.

Thus does Daniszewski flatly contradict the frankly preposterous claim that President Bush made at last Tuesday’s press conference with Tony Blair: There the President stated that all his conversations with Blair before July 2002 had been about finding a peaceful resolution to the Iraq standoff. On the troubles this now creates for the President’s credibility, see my post far below on the Bush/Blair press conference.

 posted by smintheus  # 7:10 PM  
Check This piece by Scahill from The Nation.
If people can't be convinced on the issue of deliberate duplicity, perhaps they can be convinced on the issue of incompetence.

Read the 4 "big questions" posed in the memo below, fully a year before the war started, and tell me this -- how would you, in hindsight, grade the Administration on them?

In one memorandum, dated March 14, 2002, and labeled "secret — strictly personal," Blair's chief foreign policy advisor, David Manning, described to the prime minister a dinner he had had with Rice:

"Condi's enthusiasm for regime change is undimmed. But there were some signs, since we last spoke, of greater awareness of the practical difficulties and political risks…. From what she said, Bush has yet to find answers to the big questions:

• How to persuade international opinion that military action against Iraq is necessary and justified;

• What value to put on the exiled Iraqi opposition;

• How to coordinate a US/allied military campaign with internal opposition (assuming there is any);

• What happens the morning after?"

Let's see...
1) Persudade international opinion? Gross failure, which leaves the bulk of the burden paying this mess on you and me (thank God Bush gave his biggest supporters massive tax breaks before running up $3 trillion in IOUs).

2) What value to put on the exiled Iraqi opposition? Gross failure. At Bush's famous 2002 State of the Union, Ahmad Chalabi was sitting next to Laura Bush. 18 months later, he was arrested and accused of selling US state secrets to Iran. Downing documents refer to him as a "proven fraudster."

3) Coordinate with internal opposition? Gross failure.

4) Morning after? Gross failure. Even Congressional Republicans are now bailing on the Administration over this issue.

I'm sick of the Administration claiming that they've done the best job they can. It's clear that even our closest ally was raising red flags ont these issues, not just US columnists and elements of our own government. The neocons ignored Colin Powell, our closest ally, and the Pentagon's own original war plans (which called for as many as 400,000 troops) to do a war on the cheap. As Friedman calls the "Rumsfeld Doctrine," "just enough troops to lose."
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