Fixing the Facts

There are many lessons to be learned from the increasingly famous Downing Street memo and the related documents now emerging in its wake. First of all is the most obvious: a categorical report by Sir Richard Dearlove, the chief of British intelligence, that President Bush was determined to go to war against Iraq in mid-2002 (and probably much earlier), that there was insufficient intelligence data to justify military action, and that the Bush administration intended to "fix the facts around the policy" so as to justify military action.

Dearlove had been invited to Washington to participate in high-level planning sessions in the wake of 9/11. He held talks with George Tenet, director of the CIA, and other high-ranking administration officials. The memo was his no-nonsense summary of those sessions, prepared for subsequent scrutiny by the government of Bush's war partner, Prime Minister Tony Blair. "Military action was now seen as inevitable," wrote Dearlove. "Bush wanted to remove Saddam through military action, justified by the conjunction of terrorism and WMD."

Dearlove wrote further that there was no evidence either of weapons of mass destruction at Saddam Hussein's disposal or of any prior complicity between Saddam, a secular despot, and the jihadists of al-Qaeda, his natural enemies. Subsequent documents released to the British press revealed plans to "wrongfoot" Saddam on inspections and increased (and illegal) airstrikes on Iraq in an attempt to provoke him into an attack.

Dearlove was a senior intelligence operative and, as such, belonged to the profession that has since been widely scapegoated for the foolish and deadly Iraq venture, both by the Bush administration and by members of Congress in both parties, who have taken the self-serving game of Let's Pretend to shameless degrees.

If there was a problem in the intelligence community, it was that high-ranking members of it were all too willing to do what President Bush and Vice President Cheney and their delegated "fixers" pressured them to do. God bless Richard Clarke, the former national intelligence czar, who served under both Republican and Democratic administrations and resisted such pressure. And God bless all those lower-level grunts who said "hell, no" to that obstreperous suborner John Bolton, who tried to get them fired for exercising independence of judgment.

The American public appears to finally be tiring of an administration that all too often fixes facts to fit its policies. Public opposition to war in Iraq is now at around 60 percent, according to the latest ABC News poll. Even some in Congress, like Representative Walter Jones, the North Carolina Republican who coined the term "freedom fries" on the war's front end, have had their eyes opened. Jones has now joined a bipartisan group that insists on immediate extrication from Iraq and, during a recent hearing, had enough chops to call out neocon warhawk Richard Perle for lying. Perle, one of the theorists who got us into Iraq in the first place, had the chutzpah to blame the ongoing debacle there on the intelligence community -- the same intelligence community whose arms Perle and other administration hacks had twisted to come up with preordained conclusions!

We have this advice for those other elected officials and ambitious politicians who perversely just won't add two plus two to get four (or 20,000 -- the number of American dead and wounded who have been sacrificed so far in Iraq): Either you're devious to a degree that makes you unworthy of anyone's trust, or you're stupid beyond redemption. In the wake of the Downing Street memo, there is no third option.

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