...It seemed like to me they based some of their decisions on the word of — and the allegations — by people who were held in detention, people who hate America, people that had been trained in some instances to disassemble — that means not tell the truth. And so it was an absurd report.
My first reaction to the Downing Street Memo was "so what?" It didn't tell us anything that we hadn't already figured out from the many lines of circumstantial evidence about how intelligence was handled, and it didn't provide any new context or give us any new leads to follow up either. As a "smoking gun," as many have called it, it has two fundamental flaws.
1) It's hearsay. I don't dispute paperwight's analysis that it's very important hearsay. The fact that it is an official government document written at the time by people involved in the incident makes it legally significant, but nonetheless the best we can say is that the minutes purport to say what some British officials said that some unnamed Americans said that Bush said.
2) It's foreign. The fact is many Americans don't care what foreigners have to say about us, our country, or our President. Or at least they can be convinced that they don't care. "Freedom Fries" -- need I say more?
That's not to say that the memo is worthless. It's chilling to see our so-called public servants scheming to concoct a rationale to attack a country which they acknowledge is not a danger. The key statement about the intelligence being fixed around the policy will be quoted for years to come. But as a specific indictment of the Bush administration it's not up to the high standard set by the Wilson/Plame affair. That one had everything. It involved people in the U.S. intelligence service and members of the current administration. The facts in question were known to be false and yet Bush used them himself as a justification for war in nothing less than his state of the union address. Wilson blew the whistle and the administration tried to cover it up by committing a federal crime.
And yet the story has gone nowhere. What's the state of play in the Wilson/Plame investigation? Journalists who leaked in the White House-approved manner are still spewing slime on the cable networks, while the journalists who embarrassed the White House are going to prison. The perps in the administration probably got the Presidential Medal of Freedom. If clear cut "fixed" intelligence plus a criminal cover-up can't get traction, what chance does the Downing Street memo have?
The difficulty is not getting clearer evidence or stronger facts. Facts and evidence mean nothing unless they can stand up to the truth-toxic political environment created by the radical right. Ironically the problem really isn't their dissembling, it's what they've been disassembling.
Futurists envision an ultimate form of technology called Universal Assemblers. Working like a cross between an industrial robot and a ribosome, the Universal Assembler will exploit the natural affinity of atomic bonding to create anything you desire, atom by atom. Well, probably not. But the right has stumbled on to its intellectual inverse -- the Universal Disassembler. They have been spreading a kind of epistemological gray goo which indiscriminately dissolves the bonds which hold our democracy together.
They are attacking nothing short of the very concept of truth itself. Truth forms the link between observed reality and our beliefs, between what happens to us and what we think it means. To the extent that our beliefs are true we have the power to make correct decisions about how to achieve our common goals. Managing our shared future is the whole point of democracy, and it requires as Jefferson opined an educated and informed electorate. But that assumes, as the founders certainly would, that it's possible to reach agreement on truth or at least a fruitful compromise when the truth is hard to know.
But this basic Enlightenment principle has been turned on its head. Following the post-modernists, the Rove administration decries all truth as relative. They warm up for their attack with relentless framing, wordsmithing and propagandizing of their agenda, spewing it forth as talking points to be amplified by the right wing echo chamber. This makes what something is called, and what media shills say about it, far more important than any real facts about it. They shift into high gear by deflecting any criticism or critiques as partisan.
It's not just a question of individual motives, however, but the facts themselves that are dismissed as biased. We see this everywhere. If you try to argue that things are going badly in Iraq your personal patriotism will of course be challenged. But if you present facts to back up your case, your conservative opponent will go beyond just your interpretation and will challenge the facts themselves. They are being collected and compiled by people who "hate America" and are therefore biased to hide the "positive progress" happening in Iraq. Koran Desecration? Only if you're stupid enough to believe lying ragheads who hate America. Global Warming? A system of belief made up by a conspiracy of tree-hugging, business-hating commie scientists. Evolution? An unsupported theory elevated to mystical status by atheists and the ACLU.
The acid of post-modernism doesn't attack all the bonds in society, only the most progressive ones. The social links of tribe, class and creed are strengthened by the insistence that all truths are biased. Thus your point of view, your peers and self-interests can trump inconvenient facts. We are freed to believe what we want to believe. Vicious black-is-white victimologies thrive in such an environment, like the risible idea that rich people are an oppressed minority. Or that white people are targets of discrimination. Or that American Christians are subject to religious persecution. The enemy in all cases is some form of liberalism, but that does not have to be the case.
Many have argued that we on the left need to adopt the techniques of the radical right in order to fight them. The pull of the dark side is strong, but we must resist it. Post-modernism started in the academic left, after all, but it should be clear by now that its corrosive effects are far more damaging to our democratic ideals than any supposed benefits of believing what we want to believe just because we want to believe it. We must restore truth to the public square. This is both a matter of tactics, of wresting the megaphone of the public airwaves away from those who would abuse it for their own self interests, and a matter of philosophy. We must embrace the Enlightenment principle of verifiable external truth, and we must be unflinching in its application. If we can rehabilitate that brand we may yet save our democracy.