June 25, 2005 | Commentary on International Organizations

Memo manipulation

You've got to ask yourself: How many times are the Bush-bashers going to throw the same infamous Downing Street memo at the wall of public opinion hoping it'll stick?

If politics is the art of transferring blame, I'm betting we haven't seen it for the last time.

For those of you who have (wisely) taken the summer off from politics in favor of following the Nats or perfecting your tan, let me clue you in on "Memo-gate."

Eight months before the Iraq war began in March 2003, an aide to British Prime Minister Tony Blair wrote a memo stating that the Bushies were going to war with Saddam Hussein come hell or high water - and no matter what the UN said.

After reading the memo, which is only one person's analysis of the situation in Washington, most reasonable people agree that such an interpretation - in all fairness - is debatable. Blair and Bush deny any manipulation of the facts or intelligence in support of the case for war.

Where the memo becomes a sticky political wicket is that it has provided a possible "smoking gun" for those who opposed the war before it started as well as for those who supported the war, but who now have cold feet as the war moves into its third year.

The current state of play is similar to the old adage: "When the going gets tough, the tough get going." But in this case, it's: "When the going gets tough, the politicians run for cover."

Memo-gate has nothing to do with the war as it stands today, but it has everything to do with politics and next November's midterm congressional elections when, by the way, all of the members of the House and one-third of the Senate will stand for re-election.

Even those who have had their noses buried in the sports pages know that the war has been tough going of late, especially since the spring. Lots of Americans are wondering if the expense of American blood and treasure has been worth it.

Both the president and Congress' approval ratings have dropped significantly in the last few months, some of it undoubtedly due to the Iraqi situation. President Bush's approval numbers have dropped to some of the lowest levels in his presidency (42 percent in a recent poll).

In the same poll, Congress came out worse than the president at 33 percent approval - an eight-year low.

Could it be that some members of Congress are resurrecting the Downing Street Memo in hopes of covering their political derrieres?

Could their re-election strategy be to throw themselves on the mercies of their constituents by proving that the president duped them with fixed intelligence and misdirection about Iraq policy?

Of course, only each memo-waving member can answer that question for him/herself …

But political motivations aside, we went to war to remove a dictator from power and we must see to it that Iraq can stand on its own two feet before we leave. We have a tremendous amount at stake in winning in Iraq, including the war on terror, Middle Eastern democracy and the lives of American fighting men and women.

Losing - or cutting and running - in Iraq could mean turning it over to al Qaida as a replacement for Afghanistan or proving to our potential adversaries - from China to North Korea to Iran - that the U.S. is weak.

We can all agree that's fundamentally a bad idea, so let's leave the war's origins to the historians. That's their job and, from what I understand, they really like poring over old, dusty memos in their research.

In the meantime, let's spend our political energy on winning the war instead of post facto finger-pointing. Doing so will not only bring our brave men and women home as soon as possible, it'll bring them home as victors.

A small token, indeed, for their great sacrifices.

Peter Brookes is a Heritage Foundation senior fellow.

About the Author

Peter Brookes Senior Fellow, National Security Affairs
Douglas and Sarah Allison Center for Foreign and National Security Policy

First appeared in The Examiner