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Daily Howler: Info is scarce on those Downing Street memos. We return to Bob Woodward's odd book
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DOWNING STREET INFO (PART 1)! Info is scarce on those Downing Street memos. We return to Bob Woodward’s odd book: // link // print // previous // next //
TUESDAY, JUNE 21, 2005

THE HUNTING OF THE SENATOR: We agree with something Craig Crawford said on last Friday’s Imus in the Morning. “Why does anybody ever compare anything to the Nazis?” the droll pundit asked, discussing the ludicrous Dick Durbin flap. “I don’t know why anybody ever brings up the Nazis—it always goes wrong...There’s just no percentage in talking about the Nazis.” But Crawford went on to suggest the obvious—that the flap about Durbin is fake and insane. “All the opponents, the Bush administration backers, are saying that he’s calling all the troops Nazis. This is just nuts,” Crawford said, early on, when few others were doing so. Later, Crawford said something else that is obvious—except in the bizarro world of the American “mainstream” press corps. “This is what’s happening,” Crawford told Imus. “You can’t criticize anything about this war without being accused of not supporting the troops.” Crawford got it right that morning (more below)—and the fakery and lunacy have only grown in the four days that have passed.

Indeed, the lunacy of the flap about Durbin shows the disturbing point we’ve now reached; if you’re a Democrat, a “firestorm” can quickly spread around you if you make remarks which are perfectly accurate. In this case, a Democrat actually did say something that’s about as mundane as “the sky is blue.” Have you read that FBI report—the report which Durbin was discussing? No one would associate the conduct it describes with the nation described in our civics texts, with the country you were taught to believe in as school kids. But given our modern press culture, Crawford was right; it’s foolish for Dems to mention Hitler, and it’s amazing that major Dems like Durbin still haven’t grasped this fact. Yes, it’s only foolish because our discourse is now in the hands of fakers and crackpots. But then, this unpleasant fact has been fairly plain at least since early in Campaign 2000. At THE HOWLER, we’ve written about this every day—every day for the past seven years! And as we’ve done so, fiery “career liberals” have hid from this fact, because it might hurt their careers.

In the lunatic attacks on Durbin—in the lunatic attacks on average citizens disturbed by the troubling Downing Street memos—we finally see what these years of silence have, at long last, brought us. How crazy has our press culture become? McCain and Russert disgraced themselves in the hunting of Durbin this Sunday, and it’s astounding to see a man like Bill Kristol carry on in the way he did on Fox News Sunday. Until recently, Kristol has almost never stooped to this type of idiocy. But he participated enthusiastically on Sunday—along with his disgraced host, Chris Wallace, who played the fraud, faker and clown.

But let’s return to the basic point; this situation has been growing for years. We have written about it daily, and fiery “career liberals” have refused to follow. When they came for Gore, these self-dealers kept quiet. Now they have come for our sanity.

Although you’ve surely read it elsewhere, here’s the report Dick Durbin discussed. Does this sound anything like the America described in your children’s civics texts? Does this sound anything like the America adult citizens would present to the world?

FBI REPORT (7/29/04): On a couple of occasions, I entered interview rooms to find a detainee chained hand and foot in a fetal position to the floor, with no chair, food, or water. Most times they urinated or defecated on themselves, and had been left there for 18-24 hours or more. On one occasion, the air conditioning had been turned down so far and the temperature was so cold in the room, that the barefooted detainee was shaking with cold...On another occasion, the [air conditioner] had been turned off, making the temperature in the unventilated room well over 100 degrees. The detainee was almost unconscious on the floor, with a pile of hair next to him. He had apparently been literally pulling his hair out throughout the night. On another occasion, not only was the temperature unbearably hot, but extremely loud rap music was being played in the room, and had been since the day before, with the detainee chained hand and foot in the fetal position on the tile floor.
Durbin asked an obvious question: If you’d read that report, would you ever have thought that it was describing American conduct? Or would you have thought what Durbin said—that it must describe an evil regime, the type we have long denounced? The answer to that is perfectly obvious—and so is the state of our fallen culture, the culture being trampled under by the Russerts, the McCains and the Wallaces.

But we’ve now reached a miraculous point in the crumbling of our discourse. We’ve reached the point where citizens are mocked by major scribes for wondering if we were lied into war—and where United States senators are told to apologize for denouncing the conduct described in that report. But then, lunacy has spread throughout our discourse over the course of the past dozen years. And your fiery “career liberals” have known to be silent. They looked away again and again. Now we see what that has bought us.

Remember: If you’re troubled to think that we may have been lied into war, that makes you a “wing nut” to today’s “mainstream” press corps. And if you think that FBI report sounds un-American, you need to apologize to the Senate! McCain, Russert, Kristol, Hume, Wallace? They’ve turned their backs on sanity itself. Everyone has to fight this spreading press culture—and you have to ask more from those who kept quiet while this culture of insanity was born.

“This is just nuts,” Crawford said. But then, your public discourse was already nuts in March 1999, when the mainstream press began assembling the scripts it would use to take down Candidate Gore. And from that day to this, career liberals kept quiet, every step of the way. When they came for Gore, career liberals clammed up. Now they have come for our sanity.

WHY THEY KEPT QUIET: In case you don’t know why career liberals kept quiet, let’s get Jack Shafer back out here again! We have written, for the past seven years, about the press corps’ spreading lunacy. Why did your fiery career liberals kept quiet? Take it away, Cactus Jack:

SHAFER (4/8/05): I started writing press criticism at Washington City Paper back in 1986, because as editor I couldn't get anybody else to do it. Writers were frightened that if they penned something scathing about the Washington Post or the New York Times they'd screw themselves out of a future job.
Yep! When the Post and the Times came for Gore, careerist liberals knew to keep quiet. Today, in the lunatic hunting of the senator, we see what their self-dealing bought us. More on this topic to come.

MUST-READ NYT: In today’s Times, Anthony Lewis discusses the hunting of the senator. You know what to do—just click here.

RUINING A GOOD MAN’S CAREER: We don’t know why Crawford wants to ruin his budding career by displaying residual logical skills, but here’s another troubling exchange between himself and Imus:

IMUS (6/17/05): Back to Senator Durbin for a moment. A case can be made that these rants from these guys can’t help the morale of troops or provide some motivation maybe to some of these terrorists, although it doesn’t appear that they need much, does it?

CRAWFORD: Oh, I don’t know. I mean, this is democracy. I mean, we’re over there spreading democracy. This is democracy. We debate these things...I just get irritated with the idea that when somebody complains about the policies, it’s immediately connected to, that they’re complaining about the troops and that they’re demeaning the troops. I just don’t think it goes that way.

Uh-oh! For the record, we go all the way back to the days when Crawford, then editor of the Hotline, would engage us for hilarious evenings of comedy. Here at THE HOWLER, the analysts cheered when Crawford gave this admirable answer to Imus’ question. But for ourselves, we don’t understand why a dude would imperil his career by displaying this capacity for logical thought. Good Lord! In an age of total cracked pottery, why display this residual grasp of the American system?

Special report—Downing Street info!

PART 1—IT’S HARD TO GET REAL INFORMATION: It’s hard to find a real discussion about those Downing Street memos. On Sunday, George Stephanopoulos asked Condi Rice to discuss the memos on This Week. ABC has now posted its transcript. Let’s marvel as Rice, a flim-flam star, refuses to honor his request:

STEPHANOPOULOS (6/21/05): As you know, there's also been a lot of talk back here in the United States about these Downing Street memos, the minutes of a meeting with Prime Minister Tony Blair in the spring and summer of 2002 where they discussed their meetings with the United States. I want to show you what one mother, Cindy Sheehan, the mother of a U. S. soldier, had to say about that memo this week.

SHEEHAN (videotape): The so-called Downing Street memo, dated 23 July 2002, only confirms what I already suspected. The leadership of this country rushed us into an illegal invasion of another sovereign country on prefabricated and cherry-picked intelligence.

STEPHANOPOULOS: How do you respond to Mrs. Sheehan?

RICE: Well, I can only say what the president has said many, many times. The United States of America and its coalition decided that it was finally time to deal with the threat of Saddam Hussein. There had been multiple resolutions against Saddam Hussein and his activities, everything from concerns about his weapons of mass destruction programs and his continued unwillingness to answer the legitimate questions of the international system about those programs, his having used weapons of mass destruction in the past, everything concerning the way that he treated his own people—after all, we found more than 300,000 people in mass graves. You know, people are talking about, in the UN reform, a responsibility to protect? We happen to think that the Security Council is the place that that discussion ought to take place. When you consider what the Iraqi people had gone through in the Saddam Hussein regime's reign, what about the responsibility to the Iraqi people? We finally undertook an action that got rid of one of the worst dictators in modern times sitting in the center of the world's most troubled region and sitting here today in Jerusalem, I can tell you, George, that this region is far better for it and we now really have a chance to build a different kind of Middle East with a different Iraq in the center of it with potentially a Palestinian state that is democratic and with changes taking place all over this region that are democratizing that will be more stabilizing and that will bring greater security to the American people. Saddam Hussein is gone and that's a good thing.

“How do you respond to Mrs. Sheehan?” How else? By completely ignoring the question she raised! Go ahead. Try to find a single word that actually “responds to Mrs. Sheehan.” Did our leadership rush us to war using “prefabricated and cherry-picked intelligence?” Rice wasn’t willing to discuss it this day. Instead, she ran a minute and 43 seconds off the clock with a rambling, prefabricated non-answer—“I can only say what the president has said”—and Stephanopoulos allowed her to do it. After her rambling filibuster came to its end, he politely asked Condi a whole different question (see THE DAILY HOWLER, 6/20/05). Lesson for the Bush Admin? When Stephanopoulos asks a question, there’s no reason to answer it. None.

But so it goes when normal citizens question the Downing Street memos. Millionaire “journalists” mock their concerns—Michael Kinsley calls them “extremists” with “a paranoid theory,” even as he says that everyone knew Bush was faking all along. And Rice won’t even show them the courtesy of pretending to answer their questions. But this has long been Rice’s approach. When she is challenged on serious questions, she takes big chunks of time off the clock and talks her way, smiling sweetly, to the end of the session. For this she’s rewarded with icon status by the foppists now in charge of your “press.”

So yes—for normal people, it’s hard to come up with real information about those Downing Street memos. And that’s a bad thing, because the memos raise questions which go straight to the heart of our struggling way of life. The original memo—dated 23 July 2002—comprises, as Stephanopoulos almost got right, “the minutes of a meeting with Prime Minister Tony Blair in the spring and summer of 2002.” And those minutes, though murky, raise troubling concerns. Here’s the section most often quoted by the “extremists” who have found this memo disturbing. For the record, “C” is Sir Richard Dearlove, head of British intelligence:

DOWNING STREET MEMO (7/23/02): C reported on his recent talks in Washington. There was a perceptible shift in attitude. Military action was now seen as inevitable. Bush wanted to remove Saddam, through military action, justified by the conjunction of terrorism and WMD. But the intelligence and facts were being fixed around the policy. The NSC had no patience with the UN route, and no enthusiasm for publishing material on the Iraqi regime's record. There was little discussion in Washington of the aftermath after military action.
In short, the memo seems to suggest three troubling possibilities. It suggests that Bush had decided on war with Iraq by July 2002—a time when he was still insisting that war would be his last resort. (“Bush wanted to remove Saddam through military action,” the minutes say, and “the NSC had no patience with the UN route.”) It seems to suggest the possibility that the Bush Admin was faking intelligence on Iraq. (“The intelligence and facts were being fixed around the policy.”) And it suggests that the Bush Admin had given little thought to the aftermath of a successful invasion. Years later, it’s abundantly clear that this last problem never got “fixed.”

But what about Bush’s decision on war? And what about the “fixing” of the intelligence? Those were the questions Cindy Sheehan tried to ask—questions the contemptuous Rice wouldn’t even pretend to answer. And yes, even putting Rice to the side, it’s amazingly hard for normal people to get information about these concerns. The mainstream press corps calls them names, and shows a disinclination to speak; and the reigning liberal/Democratic establishment has long proven itself inept at framing these critical questions. Did Bush decide early on for war? Did he then start faking the intel? Information is all around us, but the mainstream press doesn’t want to discuss it, and libs and Dems have been too inept to bring forth the relevant stuff.

We are not the leading experts on this pair of questions. But we do know how to read a book, and we know how to read a magazine article, and we know that a good deal of relevant info has gone unexplored and undiscussed. Therefore, over the next few days, we’ll read back through one source of information—Bob Woodwarde’s Plan of Attack, a book which every pundit praised and almost no pundit seems to have read. Woodward’s book is extremely puzzling, a matter we have discussed in the past, but it also sheds a good deal of light on the questiuons raised by the Downing Street memos. By 23 July 2002, had Bush decided to go to war? And was the Bush Admin faking the intel? Dems and libs have failed to frame that second question in a helpful, informative way. At THE HOWLER, we’ll try to flesh those questions out in an incomparable series.

TOMORROW—PART 2: Had Bush decided?

VISIT OUR INCOMPARABLE ARCHIVES: Rice made an absolute joke of her oath before the 9/11 commission. For all four parts of “Rice Under Oath,” see THE DAILY HOWLER, 4/17/04. To see Icon Condi take time off the clock, see THE DAILY HOWLER, 4/16/04.

Ifill rolled over for Home Cookin’ Condi. See THE DAILY HOWLER, 8/1/03 and 8/11/03.

We wrote at length about Woodward’s puzzling book. For one highly relevant example, see THE DAILY HOWLER, 5/3/04. For more examples, enter “Plan of Attack” into our whirring search engines.