washingtonpost.com
The Second Memo

By Dan Froomkin
Special to washingtonpost.com
Monday, June 13, 2005 4:00 PM

A second British memo from 2002 emerged over the weekend chronicling how senior officials there saw the Bush administration as bent on war in Iraq and inattentive to postwar consequences.

Just last week, the MSM (that's mainstream media) turned its attention to the first DSM (that's Downing Street Memo) in earnest. (See my June 8 column for background.)

The new memo (can we call it DSM-II?) comes at a particularly bad time for Bush, as polls show that public sentiment is turning sharply against the war.

Whether you read the memos as a reminder of how the Bush administration was relentless in its drive to confront Saddam Hussein -- or whether you read them as evidence of cynical, deliberate and misguided manipulation -- the White House would much rather you weren't thinking about Iraq at all this week--it is focusing public attention on domestic issues instead.

About the Memo

Walter Pincus writes on the front page of Sunday's Washington Post: "A briefing paper prepared for British Prime Minister Tony Blair and his top advisers eight months before the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq concluded that the U.S. military was not preparing adequately for what the British memo predicted would be a 'protracted and costly' postwar occupation of that country.

"The eight-page memo, written in advance of a July 23, 2002, Downing Street meeting on Iraq, provides new insights into how senior British officials saw a Bush administration decision to go to war as inevitable, and realized more clearly than their American counterparts the potential for the post-invasion instability that continues to plague Iraq. .....

"The July 21 memo was produced by Blair's staff in preparation for a meeting with his national security team two days later that has become controversial on both sides of the Atlantic since last month's disclosure of official notes summarizing the session."

The Sunday Times, as with the first DSM, Web-published the memo.

Reuters notes the official reaction: "The White House said on Sunday there was 'significant' postwar planning for Iraq and disputed the characterization of a memo produced for British Prime Minister Tony Blair eight months before the invasion that expressed concerns about a long occupation. .....

".'There was significant postwar planning,' David Almacy, a White House spokesman, said.

".'More importantly, the memo in question was written eight months before the war began -- there was significant postwar planning in the time that elapsed,' he said."

Michael Smith writes in the Sunday Times of London: "Ministers were warned in July 2002 that Britain was committed to taking part in an American-led invasion of Iraq and they had no choice but to find a way of making it legal.

"The warning, in a leaked Cabinet Office briefing paper, said Tony Blair had already agreed to back military action to get rid of Saddam Hussein at a summit at the Texas ranch of President George W Bush three months earlier.

"The briefing paper, for participants at a meeting of Blair's inner circle on July 23, 2002, said that since regime change was illegal it was 'necessary to create the conditions' which would make it legal."

In the New York Times this morning, David E. Sanger finds the White House a possible verbal loophole: "A memorandum written by Prime Minister Tony Blair's cabinet office in late July 2002 explicitly states that the Bush administration had made 'no political decisions' to invade Iraq, but that American military planning for the possibility was advanced."

Sanger also writes off the memo's central point. "While the latest memorandum appears to have been written by a British intelligence official after a visit to Washington, the central fact reported -- that the American military was in the midst of advanced planning for an invasion of Iraq -- was no secret. The New York Times published details of that plan two weeks before the memorandum was written."

But signs are that the blogging community, which kept plugging away at the DSM story even while the MSM was largely ignoring it, will also keep plugging away at this one.

Meanwhile, in the Philadelphia Inquirer, Dick Polman mulls the significance of the first memo: "Shortly after his November triumph, President Bush declared that voters had endorsed his prosecution of the war in Iraq. In his words, 'We had an accountability moment, and that's called the 2004 elections.'

"But today, with U.S. casualties rising and military recruitment falling, it is clear that Bush's accountability moment has been extended. Even though he won't run for office again, voters continue to assess the signature decision of his presidency; in growing numbers, they are voicing dissatisfaction.

"And amid all this unease -- for the first time, a majority of Americans say that the war launched in March 2003 has not made this nation safer -- a growing grassroots movement is spotlighting a once-secret British government memorandum, written in the summer of 2002, that depicts Bush as having already decided to wage war, even though the case against Saddam Hussein was 'thin.'."

Flashback

The Left Coaster blog, by the way, reminds me of this March 2003 Time magazine story by Michael Elliott and James Carney: ".'[Expletive] Saddam. we're taking him out.' Those were the words of President George W. Bush, who had poked his head into the office of National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice.

"It was March 2002, and Rice was meeting with three U.S. Senators, discussing how to deal with Iraq through the United Nations, or perhaps in a coalition with America's Middle East allies. Bush wasn't interested. He waved his hand dismissively, recalls a participant, and neatly summed up his Iraq policy in that short phrase.

"The Senators laughed uncomfortably; Rice flashed a knowing smile. The President left the room. A year later, Bush's outburst has been translated into action, as cruise missiles and smart bombs slam into Baghdad."

Poll Watch

Susan Page writes in USA Today: "Nearly six in 10 Americans say the United States should withdraw some or all of its troops from Iraq, a new Gallup Poll finds, the most downbeat view of the war since it began in 2003. .....

"The poll is consistent with other recent surveys that show growing concern about the war. .....

"Bush's approval-disapproval rating was 47%-49%, a tick worse than it was two weeks earlier but in the same range it has been for a year."

Here are the poll results.

About Those 400 Terror Suspects

Dan Eggen and Julie Tate write in The Washington Post: "On Thursday, President Bush stepped to a lectern at the Ohio State Highway Patrol Academy in Columbus to urge renewal of the USA Patriot Act and to boast of the government's success in prosecuting terrorists.

"Flanked by Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales, Bush said that 'federal terrorism investigations have resulted in charges against more than 400 suspects, and more than half of those charged have been convicted.'

"Those statistics have been used repeatedly by Bush and other administration officials, including Gonzales and his predecessor, John D. Ashcroft, to characterize the government's efforts against terrorism.

"But the numbers are misleading at best.

"An analysis of the Justice Department's list of terrorism prosecutions by The Washington Post shows that 39 people -- not 200 -- have been convicted of crimes related to terrorism or national security.

"Most of the others were convicted of relatively minor crimes such as making false statements and violating immigration law -- and had nothing to do with terrorism, the analysis shows. Overall, the median sentence was just 11 months."

Gitmo Watch

Paul Richter writes in the Los Angeles Times: "Some Bush administration officials have come to believe the U.S. detention camp at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, should be closed because reports of abuse have created a public relations problem, a senior Republican lawmaker said Sunday."

Richter writes that on Fox News Sunday, Rep. Duncan Hunter (R-Calif.), chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, "said the administration was divided on the issue, with some officials taking the view that if the facility was shut down, 'you shorten the [news] stories, you shorten the heated debate, and you get it off the table and you move on.'."

It's not hard to guess which side of the divide Vice President Cheney is on.

Marc Kaufman writes in The Washington Post: "Vice President Cheney said yesterday that the administration has no plans to close the detention facility at Guantanamo Bay. .....

"In remarks to be broadcast today on Fox News, Cheney said the administration was reviewing its options at the prison 'on a continuous basis.' But he defended its track record, saying, 'The important thing here to understand is that the people that are at Guantanamo are bad people.'."

Cooney Quits

Agence France Presse reports: "A senior White House official involved in a damaging controversy over his deleting of dire climate change warnings from US government reports has abruptly resigned, but the White House denies his departure had anything to do with the flap.

"Philip Cooney, chief of staff of the White House Council on Environmental Quality, stepped down Friday without disclosing his future employment plans, announced presidential spokeswoman Erin Healy.

"'He has accumulated many weeks on leave, and so he decided to resign and take the summer off to spend some time with his family,' Healy told AFP.

"She added the resignation was 'completely unrelated' to the release of documents this past week that show Cooney had given a thorough editing to US government documents on global warming -- in what appeared to be an effort to make them look less dramatic."

Denver Three Update

Ann Imse writes in the Rocky Mountain News: "Three congressional Democrats used the word 'cover-up' Thursday in complaining about lack of results in the Secret Service investigation into the forced removal of three people from a presidential speech in March.

"The Secret Service and the White House both know, but refuse to reveal, the identity of the man who looked and acted like a Secret Service agent, and ousted the three from the president's Denver appearance solely because of a 'No more blood for oil' bumper sticker."

Domestic Week

In his radio address on Saturday, Bush tried to turn the nation's attention to domestic issues.

"Next week, I will talk about some of my plans to help American families achieve long-term economic security.

"On Tuesday, I will discuss Social Security reform with young people in Pennsylvania. .....

"On Wednesday, I will address the Energy Efficiency Forum here in Washington, and renew my call for Congress to act on the energy plan I proposed four years ago. .....

"On Thursday and Friday, I will discuss a key element of ensuring health care security for our nation's seniors. The Medicare modernization bill I signed into law in 2003 created a new prescription drug benefit, so our seniors could have more choices and receive the affordable modern health care they deserve."

Africa Week

It's also Africa Week at the White House, starting with this morning's Oval Office meeting with the presidents of Botswana, Ghana, Mozambique, Namibia and Niger.

Jim VandeHei and Nell Henderson write in The Washington Post: "President Bush is intensifying efforts to help Africans suffering from war, famine and AIDS by agreeing to erase billions of dollars in international debt, dispatching two key White House officials to the region, and planning to announce more direct aid for Africa as early as next month, administration officials said.

"Under pressure from world leaders, including British Prime Minister Tony Blair, to do more, Bush has signed off on a deal with the British to forgive billions of dollars African nations owe to international organizations such as the World Bank, the officials said yesterday. .....

"In anticipation of the G8 meetings, Bush sent Michael J. Gerson and Kristen Silverberg, two of his top domestic policy advisers, to Africa for 10 days to review his AIDS initiative and other humanitarian efforts."

William Douglas writes for Knight Ridder Newspapers about Bush's Africa record.

And here is a Message by the President to the People of Africa, for broadcast on Voice of America.

Cheney on Dean

The Associated Press reports: "Howard Dean is 'over the top,' Vice President Dick Cheney says, calling the Democrats' chairman 'not the kind of individual you want to have representing your political party.'

".'I've never been able to understand his appeal. Maybe his mother loved him, but I've never met anybody who does. He's never won anything, as best I can tell,' Cheney said in an interview to be aired Monday on Fox News Channel's 'Hannity & Colmes.'."

Cheney on War

From his speech in Tampa at the closing ceremonies for Special Forces Week:

"Looking across this room, I see the diversity of our planet, but an identity of interests. None of us wants to turn over the future of mankind to tiny groups of fanatics committing indiscriminate murder and plotting large-scale horror."

At Ford's Theater

Juan-Carlos Rodriguez writes for the Associated Press: "President Bush thanked U.S. service members and their families at a pretaped Fourth of July celebration Sunday night at Ford's Theatre."

Ron Hutcheson of Knight Ridder Newspapers writes in his pool report that Laura Bush was a center of attention.

".'I like to joke that I'm a desperate housewife, but this is one night a year when George is happy to stay up late and spend a night on the town,' Laura Bush told the audience."

And the president offered show host Jeff Foxworthy a job. "Listen," he said, "if you're ever looking for work, Laura's looking for some new material."

Foxworthy said he was thrilled to perform before "the leader of the free world and her husband."

On the Couch

Washington Post's Names & Faces column on Saturday notes: "Yesterday's White House pool report noted that South Korean television sound men rattled President Bush during a joint news conference with South Korean President Roh Moo Hyun in the Oval Office.

"During the conference, several members of Bush's Cabinet stood behind the press corps, which left a couch near Bush empty. The quick-thinking sound men, seizing the opportunity for a good angle, laid on the couch to the president's left and extended their boom mikes -- 'apparently upsetting Bush's sense of decorum,' the report said."

Here is a Reuters photo. Here's the transcript. And there's nobody on the couch in the official White House photos.

Old College Ties

Elisabeth Bumiller writes in the New York Times: "It's a long way from sharing a one-bedroom garage apartment as hard-partying bachelors in Houston to welcoming prime ministers to the Oval Office. But that's what Donald B. Ensenat and George W. Bush have done ever since the president made his old pal, 'Enzo,' the nation's chief of protocol. .....

"Mr. Ensenat declined to be interviewed for this article, citing busyness. He is one of the official sociable faces of the administration, but he rarely speaks to reporters. (He has, however, spilled a few stories. As he told The Washington Post in 2000 of his time with Mr. Bush in Houston: 'It's not like we were living in a commune and smoking dope all day long. But I guess we were living the 60's life in our own way, drifting through life, doing what we felt like doing, thinking only about where we were going to have our fun next.')"

Cavuto Redux

On his CNN show on Sunday, Howard Kurtz asked Washington Post political editor John Harris about Fox News anchor Neil Cavuto's interview with Bush last week. (See Thursday's column.)

"KURTZ: Talking about the Social Security plan was hurt because Michael Jackson is getting all this coverage and runaway bride, et cetera. Would you regard that interview as being a little bit on the soft side?

"HARRIS: Yeah. I thought it was a little bit of slurp, slurp, to be honest. You know, I don't know, certainly probably if you and I did the interview, we would have come up with different questions.

"KURTZ: Maybe you and I wouldn't have gotten the interview.

"HARRIS: I think there's something to that."

Kurtz and his panel also discussed Hillary Clinton's charge that reporters are wimping out in covering the Bush White House and the delayed coverage of the Downing Street Memo.

Rove on Reagan

The Associated Press reports: "Karl Rove said critics are wrong to portray the president as a good-natured bumpkin.

"George W. Bush's top political adviser wasn't talking about his boss. He meant the late President Ronald Reagan, who like the current White House tenant was mocked by some comics and critics as being intellectually shallow.

".'Reagan was a man of ideas' who had 'a first-rate mind,' Rove said during a guest lecture Saturday at the Reagan Presidential Library and Museum.

".'He was a great communicator because he had great ideas to communicate' and was right in his view that communism would fail, said Rove."

Kevin Clerici writes in the Ventura County Star: "The day's biggest laughs arrived when Rove was asked about his thoughts on Democratic New York Sen. Hillary Clinton, and he launched into an uncanny and pinpoint impression of Clinton's husband and former president Bill Clinton.

"The shenanigans didn't surprise former California Gov. Pete Wilson, who introduced Rove.

".'He's often depicted as an evil genius and a manipulator, a charge he dismisses with a wry smile,' said Wilson, who also described Rove as a keen intellect, student of history and prankster."

Bush Bulge Watch

The folks over at isbushwired.com would like you to take a look at this clip from Bush's April 28 press conference, when Bush looks down, pauses in the middle of a sentence, mutters, "in a minute," then resumes his answer.

Just who is he talking to?

© 2005 Washingtonpost.Newsweek Interactive