Cross posted on my blog.

Two days ago, Steve Holland of Reuters asked Tony Blair and George W. Bush about the so-called “Downing Street Memo.” You know, the leaked transcript from a secret British government meeting held during summer 2002:

“C reported on his recent talks in Washington. There was a perceptible shift in attitude. Military action was now seen as inevitable. Bush wanted to remove Saddam, through military action, justified by the conjunction of terrorism and WMD. But the intelligence and facts were being fixed around the policy.”

Lots of bloggers have commented about the lack of US coverage of this memo, despite the fact it came to light almost 6 weeks ago during Blair’s re-election campaign.

Here’s Holland’s question at the press conference:

On Iraq, the so-called Downing Street memo from July 2002 says intelligence and facts were being fixed around the policy of removing Saddam through military action. Is this an accurate reflection of what happened? Could both of you respond?

How did they respond? The world has been waiting.

As might be expected, Blair succinctly challenged the memo’s claim by referring to his first-hand experience. Bush spoke almost inarticulately for a few sentences before repeating Blair’s point.

Blair directly denied the key charge: “the facts were not being fixed in any shape or form at all.” However, he also claimed that the motivation for war was the failure of Saddam Hussein to comply with the UN resolutions:

And the fact is we decided to go to the United Nations and went through that process, which resulted in the November 2002 United Nations resolution, to give a final chance to Saddam Hussein to comply with international law. He didn’t do so. And that was the reason why we had to take military action.

But all the way through that period of time, we were trying to look for a way of managing to resolve this without conflict. As it happened, we weren’t able to do that because — as I think was very clear — there was no way that Saddam Hussein was ever going to change the way that he worked, or the way that he acted.

Bush too claimed that Hussein brought the war on himself, even as Bush was trying his darnedest to avoid war:

And so it’s — look, both us of didn’t want to use our military. Nobody wants to commit military into combat. It’s the last option. The consequences of committing the military are — are very difficult. The hardest things I do as the President is to try to comfort families who’ve lost a loved one in combat. It’s the last option that the President must have — and it’s the last option I know my friend had, as well.

And so we worked hard to see if we could figure out how to do this peacefully, take a — put a united front up to Saddam Hussein, and say, the world speaks, and he ignored the world. Remember, 1441 passed the Security Council unanimously. He made the decision.

Typical of these sorts of presidential press conference, nobody asked a followup question. Indeed, the leaders took just one more question.

Given that inspectors were working relatively unfettered, that most of the world wanted to give them more time, and that Iraq had no WMD, the national leaders are making a pretty silly claim in June 2005. It was a weakened argument even in early 2003, after the IAEA and UNSCOM reported their major findings.

Unlike Dan, I’m not at all ambivalent about the Iraq war.

Filed as: Iraq, Downing Street Memo.

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