Nearly 20 days after the Downing Street Memo was leaked, and after the Los Angeles Times and the Washington Post already previously wrote stories on it, the New York Times today finally joined the fray. The Times reports that the leaked memo is “creating a stir among administration critics” because it provides “evidence that Mr. Bush was intent on war with Iraq earlier than the White House acknowledged.” And with that sentence, the Times buried the lede and the most damning criticism found in the British memo.
What really roils “administration critics” more than the concealment of the original decision to attack Iraq (which journalists seem to care more about because it directly relates to what they were told by the Administration) is the intelligence behind the justification for the war itself. Were the Iraq intelligence accurate, critics probably would not have as great an issue with the White House having concealed the timeline. In the 8th paragraph, the NYT story finally gets it: “‘But the intelligence and facts were being fixed around the policy,’ Sir Richard was reported in the memorandum to have told his colleagues.” If the intelligence and facts were known to be wrong (which the Bush White House has never acknowledged), then the post-9/11 WMD justification for attacking Iraq as a national security threat was based on a deliberate falsehood. And thus, the timeline for Iraq would appear more to have been an attempt to deceptively shove the falsehood down the throat of Congress and the American public.
So where does the story go from here? At least three possible ways.
First, McClellan has said the memo was “flat-out wrong” and is not an authoritative account of the Administration’s decision-making. Yet, the British have not disputed the authenticity of the memo. Because the memo was based on a meeting that the British held with Tenet and other “senior American officials,” don’t you think someone on our side was taking notes? To resolve this case of he-said-she-said, doesn’t it make sense to find out whether the U.S. notes of the meeting contradict those of the now-public British notes?
Secondly, the mere passage of the presidential election does not absolve the White House from answering questions of great import such as whether the White House was being completely truthful in selling the Iraq war to the public. Representative Conyers and the other 88 members of Congress deserve a thoughtful response to their letter.
And third, the White House should ensure the Senate Intelligence Committee does not drop its investigation into the pre-war intelligence, as has been previously suggested by Pat Roberts.