News & Politics

Don't Dismiss Downing Street

I don't know if these memos represent an impeachable offense. But they strike me as a hell of lot worse than anything Richard Nixon ever contemplated.
I hope this is not too insider baseball, but I am genuinely astonished by what the bloggers call "mainstream media." (In my youth, it was quaintly called "the Establishment press.")

The New York Times, the Washington Post and the Los Angeles Times have all gone way out of their way to deny that the Downing Street Memos (it's now plural) are news. Like many of you, during the entire lead-up to the war with Iraq, I thought the whole thing was a set-up.

I raise this point not to prove how smart we are, but to emphasize that I followed the debate closely and probably unconsciously searched for evidence that reinforced what I already thought. Most people do that. I read some of the European press and most of the liberal publications in this country. I read the Times, the Post, the Wall Street Journal and several Texas papers every day. It's my job.

But when I read the first Downing Street Memo, my eyes bugged out and my jaw fell open. I could not believe what I was reading. It was news to me, and as I have tried to indicate, I'm no slouch at keeping up. Yes, it has long seemed to me the administration had been planning the war for months before it began its pubic relations campaign to scare a skeptical public.

That was no easy task. Public opinion was still evenly divided at the time we invaded. The administration actually said it could invade another country without even consulting Congress or the United Nations. Pretty much everything that followed was a charade.

It was always weird that the White House kept saying it knew Saddam Hussein had WMD, but it would never tell the U.N. inspectors where. Yes, I suspected all that, but I was not the head of British intelligence in the summer of 2002, for pity's sake.

Here are some aggravating factors. Thomas Friedman, columnist for the New York Times, recently wrote that "liberals" no longer want to talk about the war because we were against it to start with and probably hope it ends in disaster. Good Lord, who does he think we are? Does this man actually think we are out here cheering every time another American is killed?

Mr. Friedman, real, actual, honest-to-God American liberals are out here in the heartland, and we know the kids who are dying in Iraq. They are from our hometowns. We know their parents. That's why we hate this war. That's why we tried to tell everybody else it was a ghastly idea.

We are not sitting here gloating because it is the horrible mess we said it would be. We're in agony. There is nothing pleasurable about being a Cassandra. I have said from the beginning that if this thing worked out the way Rumsfeld, Wolfowitz and Cheney all said it would, I would be perfectly happy to get down on my knees and kiss George Bush's feet.

The second aggravation is that the very prestigious papers that are now dismissing the Downing Street Memos have already themselves admitted that their pre-war coverage was -- I don't know, you pick the adjective. Slack? Inadequate? Less than rigorous? Wrong? And now they're saying, oh hell, this isn't news, we knew it all along.

Michael Kinsley out at the Los Angeles Times, which has certainly done some commendable reporting on this war and taken the heat for it, too, also dismisses the memos. I don't get it. You suddenly get evidence -- I don't know if it proves or just strongly suggests -- that this administration lied to all of us about war, and your reaction is not to go after the administration, but to dismiss the evidence? And to put down the people who are calling you screaming about why you haven't bothered to mention it? What is wrong with this picture?

Also aggravating, the Republicans in Congress refuse to allow hearings. Rep. John Conyers of Michigan held "Democratic hearings," without the R's, in a room described as a large closet, because they were not allowed to use an actual hearing room. Under these difficult circumstances, 30 Democratic representatives persisted in asking the important question, "Were Americans deliberately misled in the lead-up to this war?" When did we come to the point where the minority has no place?

I don't know if these memos represent an impeachable offense -- although I must say, I don't want to bring up the Clinton comparison again. But they strike me as a hell of lot worse than anything Richard Nixon ever contemplated. He used the government for petty political vindictiveness. Heck, I'd settle for that again, over what we're looking at now.

The irony of Deep Throat surfacing after all these years in the midst of this memo mess is almost too precious. Does the Washington Post have any hungry young reporters on Metro anymore? I'd say, start with: Who did Dearlove meet with besides George Tenet?
Molly Ivins writes about politics, Texas and other bizarre happenings.