Wednesday, July 20, 2005

Connecting the dots

To his great credit, Mark Danner has been one of the most consistent champions of truth in the media regarding the Iraq debacle. He's been on board with the torture stuff from day one, and he's been the quickest to the trigger on explicating the importance of the Downing Street Memo in the US.

Here he undresses Michael Kinsley, who, by writing a rather notorious piece downplaying the significance of the DSM, stands in for the multitude of apologists for Bush's fraudulent Mesopotamian adventure. Writes Danner:

What is most deadening and in the end saddening about Kinsley's letter and earlier article is the attitude they exemplify toward history; we see here a deliberate impoverishment, a turning of inquiry and, at bottom, of curiosity into a dull and sterile game of black and white, played by rules that fail to reflect what anyone actually believes. Such rules dovetail perfectly with the grim and gray shutting down of information elsewhere in the Republic, as evidenced most prominently by the Republican-controlled Congress, which, having endorsed a war in the name of destroying weapons that turned out not to exist, has responded by forbidding any thorough investigation into precisely how such a strange set of events could come to pass. Kinsley, like many others in the American press, wants to judge the memo's "worth" on whether or not it contains, as he says, "documentary proof that President Bush had firmly decided to go to war against Iraq by July 2002." As I have written, such "documentary proof" -- if we are talking about firm and incontrovertible evidence of what was in Mr. Bush's mind at the time -- is destined to prove elusive; the President can always claim, all appearances and outward evidence to the contrary, that he "hadn't made up his mind." And so he has claimed.

The fact is that this is not what is most important about the memo and about the documents that have accompanied it. What the memo clearly shows is that the decision to "go to the United Nations" was in large part a response to the British concern that "the legal case for war" was "thin," in the words of British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw. In other words, securing the blessing of the United Nations Security Council was thought to be the only way to give the war a legal clothing. It is worth quoting this passage in full, for Straw puts the matter with admirable concision:
"It seemed clear that Bush had made up his mind to take military action, even if the timing was not yet decided. But the case was thin. Saddam was not threatening his neighbours, and his WMD capability was less than that of Libya, North Korea or Iran. We should work up a plan for an ultimatum to Saddam to allow back in the UN weapons inspectors. This would also help with the legal justification for the use of force."
The original idea of "the UN route," as set out by the foreign secretary and prime minister, was to issue an ultimatum to Saddam that he allow into Iraq a new team of UN inspectors and then, when he refused the ultimatum, to use his refusal as a justification to invade the country under Security Council mandate. It "would make a big difference politically and legally," as Prime Minister Tony Blair observes in the meeting, "if Saddam refused to allow in the UN inspectors." What the memo made clear, as I wrote, is that "the inspectors were introduced not as a means to avoid war, as President Bush repeatedly assured Americans, but as a means to make war possible."
Damn straight.