The Guardian’s Jonathan Freedland today tries to give some legs
to the Downing Street Memo controversy with his “Yes, they did lie to us” commentary. Essentially Freedland is trying to shame his countrymen into caring about the DSM by suggesting that Americans – yes Americans
, of all people – are starting to take a serious look at the implications of the DSM.
But in the course of his attempt to get the Brits on side, Freedland shows a remarkable ignorance of the US. First Freedland has to set the stage by reminding his audience just how incurious and uninformed Americans generally were about the prospects of war in Iraq.
Before the war on Iraq, Britain witnessed a ferocious debate over whether the case for conflict was legal and honest. It culminated in the largest demonstration in the country's history, as a million or more took to the streets to stop the war. At the same time, the US sleepwalked into battle. Its press subjected George Bush to a fraction of the scrutiny endured by Tony Blair: the president's claims about Saddam Hussein's weapons of mass destruction and links to al-Qaida were barely challenged.
Well, I suppose if the US was “sleepwalking” in the run-up to the war, all those protests
that we heard tell about across the US
must have just been a dream. Yet another reason, I suppose, not to trust the BBC
. And the irritating NotInOurName.com must have just been making things up
But of course this is bunk. The notion that the US press unquestioningly accepted Bush administration assertions prior to the war is a ridiculous claim. No honest person who pays any attention to the far-from-Bush-loving US press could possibly believe that they docilely accepted what was coming out of the White House, especially regarding Iraq-al Qaeda links. As far back as August 2002, CNN was already raising questions
about those links. In November of 02, Daniel Schorr
, of National Public Radio (the US’s downsized version of the BBC, both in funding and in political orientation), was arguing that the case for an Iraq – al Qaeda link was unconvincing.
And of course we have America’s so-called paper of record. The NYT unfortunately does not allow free internet access to its archives. But you can run a search and see the headlines along with a short abstract for any article dating back to 1996. In running a search for “iraq al Qaeda link” between September 02 and March 03, I managed to discover Elusive Qaeda Connections
, Iraq’s Ties to Terror; The Threat Isn’t Easy to Read
, The Illusory Prague Connection
, and Saddam Hussein and Al Qaeda Are Not Allies
, among others. I even managed to find the whole text of CIA,FBI Staffers See No Link Between Iraq, al Qaeda
. And this is not a comprehensive list.
Clearly Freedland is selling a fictional past. But what about his view of the present?
Yet now the picture has reversed. In Washington Iraq remains close to the centre of politics while in Britain it has all but vanished. So the big news on Capitol Hill is he Democrats' refusal to confirm John Bolton, the man Bush wants to serve as US ambassador to the UN, in part because of suspicions arising from the lead-up to War.
As my British friends might say, that's bollocks. The lead up to the war has nothing to do with Democratic obstruction of Bolton’s nomination, and anyone with an ounce of political sense knows it. Oh sure, Harry Reid might now say
it has something to do with that, but that’s only because that’s one of the few excuses the Dems have not already used in their never-ending quest to deny Bolton’s appointment. First it was his apparent hostility towards the UN itself. Then it was his overly brusque manner with subordinates. Then it was his supposed manipulation of intelligence data. Then it was suspicion that he “improperly” sought the identities of US citizens named in intelligence communications. Now, as Freedland puts it:
[The DSM] had established that "hyping intelligence" happened and [Reid] wanted to know if Bolton had ever been involved in similar exercises.
I’m kind of surprised that Reid hasn’t asked for the Warren Commission to be re-formed to look into allegations that Bolton was in Dallas in November of ’63. In taking this claim seriously, Freedland is either naïve or disingenuous.
And what of this newfound interest in the DSM in the States?
In Britain they have scarcely made a dent, but in America they have developed an unexpected momentum. Initially circulated on left-leaning websites, they have now broken out of the blogosphere and into the mainstream. The big newspapers have editorialized on the topic; last week Democratic congressmen held unofficial hearings into the memos...
Freedland should let the left-wing media watchdog Media Matters know about those “big newspapers”, given that, far from the DSM capturing the American imagination, it thinks there’s a mainstream media coverup
And he should take a look at Bush-hating Washington Post reporter Dana Millbank’s take
on these, um, “unofficial hearings".
In the Capitol basement yesterday, long-suffering House Democrats took a trip to the land of make-believe. They pretended a small conference room was the Judiciary Committee hearing room, draping white linens over folding tables to make them look like witness tables and bringing in cardboard name tags and extra flags to make the whole thing look official.
These were "unofficial" hearings in the same sense that my golf round last weekend was the "unofficial" British Open.
It’s fair enough, I suppose, for Freedland to implore his fellow Brits to take the DSM more seriously. But if he’s going to use the American political scene to help make his case, he at least ought to know a little bit about it.