The Memo That Won't Quit

By Dan Froomkin Staff Writer
Tuesday, May 17, 2005; 12:27 PM

Some two weeks after it was first leaked in London, a British memo about the run-up to war in Iraq is finally generating a serious amount of attention from the American media.

The memo, which is the report of a high-level meeting in July 2002, contains the assertion that the Bush White House was set on invading Iraq long before it was ready to say so publicly, and that it was in fact "fixing" the intelligence around its policy goals.

Yesterday, White House press secretary Scott McClellan was asked about the memo and weighed in with a passionate but generic denial. And this week's New York Review of Books is out with an exegesis of the memo, sure to incite the intellectual left.

The liberal blogosphere has been insisting that the memo comprises a "smoking gun" -- which, of course, it doesn't. It's basically hearsay, albeit high-level hearsay.

But while that's not enough to convict, it's certainly enough to cause the press to revisit the issue.

Here's Brian Todd telling Wolf Blitzer yesterday that CNN asked White House press secretary Scott McClellan for his reaction.

McClellan's response: "I don't know about the specific memo. I've seen the reports, and I can tell you that they're just flat out wrong. The president of the United States in a very public way reached out to people across the world, went to the United Nations, and tried to resolve this in a diplomatic manner."

In the Chicago Tribune, Stephen J. Hedges and Mark Silva have this quote from McClellan: "Anyone who wants to know how the intelligence was used only has to go back and read everything that was said in public about the lead-up to the war."

I think we should take that challenge.

Hedges and Silva write that the memo's "potentially explosive revelation has proven to be something of a dud in the United States. The White House has denied the premise of the memo, the American media have reacted slowly to it and the public generally seems indifferent to the issue or unwilling to rehash the bitter prewar debate over the reasons for the war."

But it's possible it's less a dud than a bomb with a long, slow fuse.

In the New York Review of Book story, currently available on the and Web sites, author and Bush critic Mark Danner writes that the memo shows "that even as President Bush told Americans in October 2002 that he 'hoped the use of force will not become necessary' . . . the President had in fact already definitively decided, at least three months before, to choose this 'last resort' of going 'into battle' with Iraq. Whatever the Iraqis chose to do or not do, the President's decision to go to war had long since been made."

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