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June 12, 2005

Liberal Logic And The Downing Street Memo

Via It'sA Pundit, for some inane reason I went down the rabbit hole this morning and ended up here.

Sadly, the DSM seems to have more lives than a catsup-smeared Zombie from some low-budget 70's drive-in flick. All over the blogosphere, it pops up from dark corners to scare the daylights out of wicked Republicans and set the pulses of liberals racing with a mixture of the kind of righteous anger, glee, and sheer, heart-pounding emotion they haven't felt since the election. But how much of a Bogeyman is it, really? Even this poster wasn't terribly impressed at first:

My first reaction to the Downing Street Memo was "so what?" It didn't tell us anything that we hadn't already figured out from the many lines of circumstantial evidence about how intelligence was handled, and it didn't provide any new context or give us any new leads to follow up either. As a "smoking gun," as many have called it, it has two fundamental flaws.
1) It's hearsay. I don't dispute paperwight's analysis that it's very important hearsay. The fact that it is an official government document written at the time by people involved in the incident makes it legally significant, but nonetheless the best we can say is that the minutes purport to say what some British officials said that some unnamed Americans said that Bush said.

Well first of all, I don't know why minutes of a foreign cabinet meeting should be "legally significant", but I have to congratulate the gentleman for getting the bolded part right. His honesty and lack of hyperbole are refreshing. Unfortunately they never stop while they're ahead:

2) It's foreign. The fact is many Americans don't care what foreigners have to say about us, our country, or our President. Or at least they can be convinced that they don't care. "Freedom Fries" -- need I say more?

Well let's see... absent evidence of wrongdoing, disapproval of our foreign policy from minor British functionaries is not actionable. It's that simple.

This is where he really lost me:

That's not to say that the memo is worthless. It's chilling to see our so-called public servants scheming to concoct a rationale to attack a country which they acknowledge is not a danger. The key statement about the intelligence being fixed around the policy will be quoted for years to come.

Quote it all you want. Is there some evidence to back this up? Say, to refute the conclusions of the Butler Report, the Senate Select Intelligence Committee, or the 9/11 Commission, which all concluded that there was no improper manipulation of intelligence? Or are we now willing to disregard the conclusions of three official inquiries on the strength of one unattributed set of minutes from a single foreign staff meeting? What kind of standard is that? Would it hold up in court?

But wait.... there's more!

But as a specific indictment of the Bush administration it's not up to the high standard set by the Wilson/Plame affair. That one had everything. It involved people in the U.S. intelligence service and members of the current administration. The facts in question were known to be false and yet Bush used them himself as a justification for war in nothing less than his state of the union address. Wilson blew the whistle and the administration tried to cover it up by committing a federal crime.

The "high standard" set by the Plame/Wilson affair? Would that, by any chance, be the standard of being completely false? Do you bother to read the newspaper? Oh... I forgot. The MSM, for the most part, is still lying about Joseph Wilson. I suppose I can give you a partial pass:

Former ambassador Joseph C. Wilson IV, dispatched by the CIA in February 2002 to investigate reports that Iraq sought to reconstitute its nuclear weapons program with uranium from Africa, was specifically recommended for the mission by his wife, a CIA employee, contrary to what he has said publicly.
Wilson last year launched a public firestorm with his accusations that the administration had manipulated intelligence to build a case for war. He has said that his trip to Niger should have laid to rest any notion that Iraq sought uranium there and has said his findings were ignored by the White House.
Wilson's assertions -- both about what he found in Niger and what the Bush administration did with the information -- were undermined yesterday in a bipartisan Senate intelligence committee report.

The panel found that Wilson's report, rather than debunking intelligence about purported uranium sales to Iraq, as he has said, bolstered the case for most intelligence analysts. And contrary to Wilson's assertions and even the government's previous statements, the CIA did not tell the White House it had qualms about the reliability of the Africa intelligence that made its way into 16 fateful words in President Bush's January 2003 State of the Union address.

And as a well-informed citizen, Jack, I'm sure you have read the Butler Report

We conclude that, on the basis of the intelligence assessments at the time, covering both Niger and the Democratic Republic of Congo, the statements on Iraqi attempts to buy uranium from Africa in the Government's dossier, and by the Prime Minister in the House of Commons, were well-founded. By extension, we conclude also that the statement in President Bush's State of the Union Address of 28 January 2003 that: The British Government has learned that Saddam Hussein recently sought significant quantities of uranium from Africa was well-founded.

It never ceases to amaze me what lengths people will go to "prove" a foregone conclusion.

In this case, someone who appears to me to be quite reasonable and rational is either very sadly misinformed, or knows and is willing to completely ignore the following facts:

1. There is not a single shred of "evidence" (as you readily admit) in the DSM. It is unattributed hearsay. Furthermore, the supposedly damning "facts were fixed around the policy" statement must be weighed against the official findings of not one, but three investigations already conducted regarding exactly the same question.

2. Intelligence is by nature uncertain. It is the President's duty to weigh the seriousness of all information presented to him. He has no way to verify it.

Second-guessing his decisions based on information learned at a later date is not grounds for impeachment. It would indeed be irresponsible if, in the wake of the 9/11 attack the President chose to disregard evidence the Saddam might have WMDs (and it turned out that he did). Keep in mind that at that time we did not know the truth. If in doubt, the responsible decision was to assume the worst, not hope for the best.

3. The Plame/Wilson case was not covered honestly by the media, something conservative bloggers objected to last year. You weren't even aware that Wilson had been discredited by the Senate! By the way, the NY Times buried the story on page A17. I remember - I complained about it when it happened. And you'll notice the WaPo story is on page A9 - it should have been front page news for weeks, as Wilson's allegations were.

Just last week I heard two journalists refer to Bush's "phony uranium claims" and Wilson's "whistleblowing" without ever mentioning that Wilson was discredited. They're still lying about this case, and it's wrong.

4. You state that "a federal crime was committed" (no doubt referring to the disclosure of Plame's identity), but there is considerable doubt that the elements of a crime are present:

As two people who drafted and negotiated the scope of the 1982 Intelligence Identities Protection Act, we can tell you: The Novak column and the surrounding facts do not support evidence of criminal conduct.

When the act was passed, Congress had no intention of prosecuting a reporter who wanted to expose wrongdoing and, in the process, once or twice published the name of a covert agent. Novak is safe from indictment. But Congress also did not intend for government employees to be vulnerable to prosecution for an unintentional or careless spilling of the beans about an undercover identity. A dauntingly high standard was therefore required for the prosecutor to charge the leaker.

At the threshold, the agent must truly be covert. Her status as undercover must be classified, and she must have been assigned to duty outside the United States currently or in the past five years. This requirement does not mean jetting to Berlin or Taipei for a week's work. It means permanent assignment in a foreign country. Since Plame had been living in Washington for some time when the July 2003 column was published, and was working at a desk job in Langley (a no-no for a person with a need for cover), there is a serious legal question as to whether she qualifies as "covert."

The law also requires that the disclosure be made intentionally, with the knowledge that the government is taking "affirmative measures to conceal [the agent's] relationship" to the United States. Merely knowing that Plame works for the CIA does not provide the knowledge that the government is keeping her relationship secret. In fact, just the opposite is the case. If it were known on the Washington cocktail circuit, as has been alleged, that Wilson's wife is with the agency, a possessor of that gossip would have no reason to believe that information is classified -- or that "affirmative measures" were being taken to protect her cover.

5.And we now know Richard Clarke has lied, under oath to the 9/11 Commission, on at least one occasion. Which would seem to put the credibility of at least two of Bush's accusers in a very bad light.

You state:

The difficulty is not getting clearer evidence or stronger facts. Facts and evidence mean nothing unless they can stand up to the truth-toxic political environment created by the radical right. Ironically the problem really isn't their dissembling, it's what they've been disassembling.

The Senate Intelligence Report.

The Butler Report.

The Washington Post.

They all say Wilson was lying. They all say Bush had a reasonable basis, based on what he knew at the time, for his statements. They all say the intelligence was NOT fixed around the facts.

You can throw incendiary allegations around, or you can engage in careful fact-checking and do your homework. I didn't see much of the latter in your post, although the tone was, for the most part, reasonable. But you still have to make your case.

I'm still waiting for you to show me one single fact. One shred of evidence to the contrary. Otherwise, this all starts to look like ill-informed partisan backbiting during a time when we are at war.

UPDATE: Cluebat #1: even Michael Kinsley isn't buying it.

Previous Downing Street entries here and here

Posted by Cassandra at June 12, 2005 05:48 AM

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Liberal Logic: Beep Beep Beep!!! "Oxymoron alert."

Posted by: KJ [TypeKey Profile Page] at June 13, 2005 01:46 PM

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