June 22, 2005

Hitch on the Downing Street Memos

To be perfectly honest, I haven't had much to say about the whole Downing Street Memo business. I tried preparing a long-ish analysis digging into the formation of our "Europe First" policy in World War II (I mean, why did we invade North Africa, Italy, France and Europe when they had nothing to do with Pearl Harbor?), but rather than put up something crappy, I passed to let it stew some more.

In the meantime, Christopher Hitchens has something to say on the whole matter which jibes with my perspective and is laced with useful warnings for the right as well as the left as to what all this means:

I am now forced to wonder: Who is there who does not know that the Bush administration decided after September 2001 to change the balance of power in the region and to enforce the Iraq Liberation Act, passed unanimously by the Senate in 1998, which made it overt American policy to change the government of Iraq? This was a fairly open conspiracy, and an open secret. Given that everyone from Hans Blix to Jacques Chirac believed that Saddam was hiding weapons from inspectors, it made legal sense to advance this case under the banner of international law and to treat Saddam "as if" (and how else?) his strategy of concealment and deception were prima facie proof. The British attorney general—who has no jurisdiction in these 50 states—was worried that "regime change" alone would not be a sufficient legal basis. One appreciates his concern. But the existence of the Saddam regime was itself a defiance of all known international laws, and we had before us the consequences of previous failures to act, in Bosnia and Rwanda, where action would have been another word for "regime change."

Many in the British Foreign Office, like many in the American State Department and the CIA, felt more comfortable with the status quo as they knew it (which might explain the hapless references elsewhere in the memos to Iraq's "Sunni majority"). But theirs is only one opinion among many. How odd that the American left, when it is not busy swallowing the unpunctuated words of the CIA, follows this with another helping of wisdom from the most reactionary institution of the British state.

If such a "left" is not careful, it will end up consoling itself in futile bitterness and resentment in the way that the Old Right used to do: by brooding on the hellish manner in which FDR told the Japanese to "bring it on" at Pearl Harbor. (The anti-war right of today, led by Pat Buchanan, was raised and nurtured on this very fantasy, as were Gore Vidal and the other Charles Lindbergh fans.) I am in favor of taking such theories at face value, as a thought experiment, to see how they pan out. It is clear that Roosevelt hoped that the Japanese empire would make a mistake and furnish a pretext for war: The plain evidence of this hope is what keeps the conspiracy theory alive. I myself rather doubt that he would have wanted to start such a war with the loss of the Pacific Fleet, but still, he did think a confrontation was inevitable, as indeed it was.

Plus, any essay that can link Dan Brown's Da Vinci Code o' crap to this topic ranks high in my book.

LBBuddy, take it away....

Posted by Steve at June 22, 2005 01:24 PM

You might wish to read "The New Dealer's War" by Thomas Fleming for more insight on FDR's "Europe First" policy. Roosevelt's machinations put LBJ's Gulf of Tonkin Resloution to shame.

Posted by: jd watson at June 22, 2005 09:14 PM

I did ask Steve's opinion on this memo as spokesman for the rational right. I have to disagree with Hitchen's arguments however. The premise is that everyone knew what the administration's true intensions were immediately after 9/11 and that most of the general population would agree with the war based on those intensions. Polls show clearly that this was not (and is not) the case. The majority of Americans believed that Saddam had WMD and was in part responsible for 9/11. The administration's drumbeat was steady on both counts well beyond when both arguments were completely discredited and the public believed them. Polls indicated if these two points were not true, the majority of the population would not be for the war. The memo demonstrates that while the president was pretending to do everything to avoid a war, they were setting up conditions where war was inevitable (even that didn’t work and they had to pull the inspectors before one of them said there were no weapons to find, Ritter did that as soon as he was pulled). It is definitive proof of a broad deception played out on the American people.
The apparent strategy is now to pretend that nothing new is learned in this memo. For political junkies this may be true, but the memo represents a level of proof that is rarely achieved in the media and people are willing to make important conclusions based on much weaker evidence (WMD in Iraq are a SLAM DUNK). Yet when our timid media finally gets up the nerve 6 weeks later to ask about the memo, McClelland is up there saying there is nothing new in them. To me this is amazing.
Some may agree with a Straussian philosophy of leading the unwashed masses to the desired conclusion by whatever means necessary, then these actions are justified. I believe that if you cannot honestly garner the necessary public support for something as profound as war, you should not act. The memo proves they faked the intelligence (intelligence was being fixed around the policy), which means they lied to us. I don’t see any other interpretation.

Posted by: LB buddy at June 23, 2005 01:02 AM
Post a comment

Remember personal info?