"You Make Me Wanna La-La"
My good friend Rob at Rob's Blog (who is also a contributor at the group submarine blog Ultraquiet No More, now featuring a new image banner!) has had several posts on the "Downing Street Memos" ("DSM" for those who lurk around at DU) and what they mean. Rob has been significantly more restrained than many on the left regarding the significance of this memo (which I first blogged about over five weeks ago), but he asks a question that I believe deserves an answer:
"Interesting...the right wing so much as says "yep, the Downing Street Memo is nothing new...shows what you figured all along, Iraq was a preconceived war"...yet that is considered OK by them.
"The mindset over there in rightwing nutjob land just amazes me. When something comes out lending real credence to what many of us on the left felt was the case all along (the "fixing" of intelligence to fit Bush's agenda, truth be damned), the right not only acknowleges it, but implies that said practice is acceptable." [Emphasis mine]
For those who are interested, the supposed actual text of the "Downing Street Memos" can be found here. As Rob points out, which many on the left don't understand, this memo is not a "smoking gun" that could lead to impeachment. After all, if the memo is sooooo clear that the WMD intelligence was to be "fixed" (implying that the Brits and Americans knew he had no WMDs, and would fake the intel needed) why does the same memo then discuss potential military/humanitarian problems associated with the use of these "non-existent" WMDs? (Para. b.iii; Intel Source: the beautiful and talented Cassandra). They didn't exist, but we have to plan for how to handle their potential employment against our troops?
My point of posting here is to give my answer to Rob's question on why "the right" doesn't think that the concept of a U.S. President deciding to move towards war with an adversary before he gets Congressional authorization is not that big of a shock; and, more broadly, discuss the gulf that exists between what I refer to as the "idealists" and "realists". ("Idealists" is a nicer phrase than "moonbats" -- please note that I am opposed to moonbats of all stripes, be they the "an American sub sank the Kursk" moonbats on the left or the "Bill and/or Hillary killed Vince Foster" moonbats on the right -- they all live in "la-la" land as far as I'm concerned.)
First off, I'll start with a blatantly unprovable fact: The only people who truly believed that Iraq didn't have WMDs were the same people who believed that an American overthrow of the Taliban would result in hundreds of thousands of civilian deaths during the next winter from famine -- basically, there weren't any reliable nay-sayers. (And don't bring up Scott Ritter -- how is that prediction of a U.S. attack on Iran this month looking?)
Here's another one: The only people who didn't believe that President Bush hadn't already made up his mind to overthrow Saddam if given the opportunity when he started threatening to do so really don't understand how the world works. Now, if some Senator believed that in voting for the use of force resolution in October 2002 that he wasn't giving authorization to the President to use force without another vote, do we really want someone that gullible to be President? What should the President have done? Rob blogged earlier this week about the current difficulties with North Korea. At this point, we haven't decided to go to war with North Korea, but you can be sure we're looking at options. Should President Bush get a congressional authorization for war with North Korea now, and then decide later whether or not to attack? How do you think Pyongyang would react to this little piece of political theater? Remember some of Rep. Conyers complaints in his letter on the DSM: "...the United States and Great Britain had secretly agreed to attack Iraq in the summer of 2002, well before the invasion and before you even sought Congressional authority to engage in military action." Whoa, they agreed to invade before they even invaded? I'm sure the Rep. Conyers would have been happier had we invaded first, and then decided to invade. Jeez... Does he honestly think that anyone not already a committed Democratic voter will give a rat's ass that the President doesn't go around willy-nilly asking for congressional authorizations to attack any country that he might someday decide to attack, but hasn't yet?
See, that's the way the world works; when international diplomacy is involved, people say one thing, and do another. Everyone is Washington understands that... in fact, everyone in positions of responsibility throughout the world understands that. Rep. Conyers and now Sen. Kennedy are making a big deal out of this memo, not because they believe that this will prove the President is guilty of impeachable offenses, but because it energizes their base. (Rep. McKinney, on the other hand, probably does believe all the crap she spews out...) Now, I know it'd be nice if we could live in a world where all diplomacy is completely above-board, but this world ain't it... yet. (Even today, when President Bush is still claiming that he hadn't made up his mind to invade until early 2003, is a form of politically-expedient double-speak that everyone should understand is done because it's expected. Be honest, Rob -- do you really think Sen. Clinton hasn't decided if she's going to run for President in 2008? If it comes out that she has already decided to go that direction -- will you call her a liar?)
Here's another thing that everyone who had studied the relationship between Iraq and the U.S. knew: We had several reasons (from our perspective, not necessarily what the world at large would agree to) for going to war with Iraq; the WMD was decided on as the most easily explainable to the largest number of people. They didn't have to "fix" the intel; the intel they had, including the U.N. report that contained the Iraqi-provided list of WMDs they said they had in the mid-90s, all said he hadn't destroyed them all since then. (It looks like now, of course, that they lied when the Iraqis said they had them in the mid-90s; we were looking for evidence of them destroying things that didn't exist; no wonder we couldn't find it. An understandable mistake, though; in any intelligence estimate, you have to start with certain assumptions; we assumed the Iraqis wouldn't put themselves on report for things they didn't do -- more proof that we didn't understand the Arab mindset). The reasons we had for going to war, some of which I personally witnessed, included: A complete disregard of the oil embargo imposed by the UN, continuing to shoot at our planes patrolling the No-Fly zones, and kicking out the UN weapon's inspectors in 1998. We could have, in response to any of those, simply declared the cease-fire ending the 1991 war null and void, and marched in. In retrospect, that probably would have been more useful than what we did; on the other hand, I'm not sure we could have gotten British support for that move.
Only history will tell if we did the right thing by going into Iraq; who knows if a dying Saddam, still in power, with his dreams of becoming the next Nebuchadnezzar unfulfilled, would have reached out in a last spasm of violence? I've written before about why I think that opening an Iraqi theater in the Global War on Terror was the right thing to do from the standpoint of deterrence; I still think it was right, although I do think we've dropped the ball on the follow-through by showing weakness that tends to mitigate any fear we had gotten from our enemies.
So this, Rob, is my answer: I don't think the "Downing Street Memos" are a big deal because they don't tell us anything that people who really understand how politics work didn't already know; all administrations have said one thing on matters of war and peace and done another behind closed doors, and they'll continue to do so until some future Wilsonian leader changes the way the whole world does business. That time isn't now... Besides, what would an investigation into the DSM show? That the President doesn't conduct all diplomacy in a completely above-board manner when we're at war? Remember, Rob, you're trying to change the mind of the 20% or so who might conceivably vote for either candidate in an election; having Democrats saying things to the effect of "we shouldn't have any secrets from our potential enemies" won't help you out there.
The leaders on the left understand this as well as do the leaders on the right. Democrats who are bringing this up now are playing to their base; those in the rank-and-file who invest time, money, and effort in trying to see their dreams of the neo-cons all doing a perp-walk come to fruitition are, I'm sad to say, delusional at best. It won't happen. What does Rep. Conyers get out of having all these people sign some petition? A whole bunch of "live" E-mail addresses to use for subsequent fund-raising efforts. While there are those "idealists" who think that a world built along the lines of John Lennon's "Imagine" would be a utopia, I believe that such sentiments are along the order of "from each according to their abilities, to each according to their needs" -- an unrealistic pipe dream that totally overlooks the realities of human nature. Democrats are playing for the votes of these people, plain and simple. Whether this will help them get the votes of enough "realists" to return to being a viable force in American politics is yet to be seen -- but I don't think this is the way to do it.