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Tonight Hardball on MSNBC did a Special Report on the Downing Street Memo, and contrary to expectation of many, including myself, who predicted yet another lame white-washing of the issue similar to the recent Washington Post Editorial by Dana Milbank - this story, I dare say, may have been a breakthrough moment.
Rather than throwing cold water on the issue as did CNN when it first mentioned the memo (Calling the London Time a "Tabloid"), Hardball with host David Gregory - temporarily sans Faux-macrat Chris Matthews - handled the story in a very sober and serious manner, starting with primary guest Michael Smith (the original author of the London Times piece), and moving on to former CIA Director Jim Woolsey as well as UN Weapons Inspector David Kay.
Instead of the standard right-wing claims that the information within the Memo's is "Second Hand", this report gave I think a fair estimate that either MI6 head Sir Richard Dearlove was wrong in his assessment that the "facts were being fixed", OR the United States simply used the UN as a "pretext" to give legal authority to the Iraq War.
For his part, Michael Smith did an good job of expaining exactly why the original documents were photocopied, transcribed by a secretary, afterwhich the originals were returned to the source and the photocopies were destroyed : On the advice of attorneys to protect the anonymity of the source.
There was also the arguement that, "fixed means something different in England" and that this is "old news", however it seemed quite obvious even to a casual viewer that the first option (Dearlove is wrong), is a rather strange position in conjunction with "this is old news", when Richard Clarke, former Treasury Secratary Paul O'Neill and even Bob Woodward (although not mentioning former Pentagon insider Lt. Col Karen Kwaitkowski) are all called upon as examples of how "Bush was focused on Iraq and Saddam from day one".
Could all of these people be wrong in exactly the same way?
Jim Woolsey provided the most damaging commentary, stating his opinion, in contrast to Britain's Attorney General, that Saddam's repeated violations of UN Security Resolution #1205 already provided ample ammunition to go war.
As it turns out UN Resolution #1205 dates back to 1998, when the Weapons Inspectors were pulled out in the wake of continued resistance by Saddam to their continued work in detecting and destroying chemical and biological weapons. This resolution, among others, was used by then President Clinton to begin a massive bombing campaign of Iraq specifically targetting all known and suspected WMD sites. (In fact, it may be because of the work of weapons inspectors up to this point in conjunction with Clinton Administration bombing that WMD's have to date not been found in Iraq.)
When asked whether or not the efforts by the US and UK to seek UN support for the war, subsequent to the events of the DSM, are indeed a debunking of the information contained in the memo/minutes - Michael Smith pointed out twice that the key element of the minutes is the apparent plot to use the UN as a pretext to create a legal justification for the war when none currently existed. The expectation was the Saddam would resist the re-insertion of weapons inspectors - as he had prior to the passage of resolution #1205, But how after going to the UN and getting the passage of resolution #1441, the weapons inpectors were indeed allowed back into Iraq, and contrary to UK and US expectations - as outlined by the DSM's - Saddam submitted completely to their intrusion, and thereby completely abrogated the hoped for justification for military intervention.
Inspectors did not find WMD's, but they did find and destroy hundreds of Iraqi missles which were in violation of UN Resolutions. Saddam did not resist. At this point Saddam was in complete and total compliance with resolution #1205 and #1441 as well as all relevent resolutions.
What then, was the continued justification for War?
The fact is, there wasn't one. Saddam and Iraq was in compliance and had provided thousands of pages of documentation to that effect. Weapon's inspectors were back in place and doing their job.
Yet we still went to war? Why?
Apparently because President Bush decided he didn't trust Saddam, and decided to forgo further diplomacy in direct violation of the October 2002 Resolution (H.J. 141) authorizing War in Iraq as a last resort.
Tonights excellent report on Hardball - as well as a similar report and the immediately following Countdown with Keith Olbermann (Transcript), may have been the first serious examination by the MSM on Downing Street: The Series (as it was described in the Countdown crawl), and the first real MSM attempt to explain why we are in the midst of a war that didn't need to occur.
During the report Woolsey futher argued, deftly I must admit, that Saddam was certainly a danger to security in the region as well as to his own people - and that "We are certainly better off now - without Saddam". That may indeed be true, even John Kerry was forced to admit this many times during the election, but what is also clear is that Saddam's continued resistance to inspections was tied directly to his ability to remain in power. If weapons inspectors had been allowed by the Bush administration to finish their job and had confirmed in 2003 that Saddams WMD's were in fact either exhausted or destroyed (as the ISG eventually did report in 2004), it's certain that as Woolsey puts it he wouldn't have become "Philosopher King" - but without any real way to again repel an insurection by the Kurds from the north (as was openly supported by the Iraq Liberation Act of 1998), it may also be equally argued that he may not have remained the leader of Iraq either.
Imagine that - Saddam gone without the blood of a single American soldier, or $322 Billion (and counting) of the American Treasury having been spent? Wouldn't that be a far more preferable situation to the one we have now?