The Lincoln Plawg - the blog with footnotes

Politics and law from a British perspective (hence Politics LAW BloG): ''People who like this sort of thing...'' as the Great Man said

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Saturday, June 18, 2005

Downing Street Memo: cultural misunderstandings

When I first mentioned the original DSM back on May 1, it was to allay any suspicions that the document would spoil Blair's victory party the following week.

It didn't, of course. It may have taken a point or two off his share of the vote but any effect, I suspect, would have been well within the polling margin of error.

As the Sunday Times' Michael Smith pointed out in his Post webchat on June 16,
We at the Sunday Times are not going to let it go but no-one else is interested in the U.K. press.

There is a strange assumption that when the public of Country A get interested in some facet of Country B, they expect the Country B folks to be equally if not more riveted. Ain't necessarily so.

In the UK, the fact that the opposition Conservatives have been in PVS for the last eight years - and were enthusiastic supporters of the war - deprived the memo of any political juice this side of the pond.

Stateside, for all of the Dem's ongoing woes, the voices against the war are far more numerous and vociferous (though, to date, not much more effective). So the DSM was grist to the mill.

Analysing the coverage (or the lack of it) in the US media is work for someone with Nexis and a lot more patience than I have (Media Matters has done some work).

One theme that might inspire research is that of US misunderstandings about the significance of the documents [1]. There is the red herring much in use by the VRWC that fixed does not mean what Americans think it means.

And, reading John Conyers' tirade against Dana Milbank's derisive piece on his session yesterday on the DSM, I see that, after complaining about supposed factual inaccuracies in the piece, he says
By the way, the "Downing Street Memo" is actually the minutes of a British cabinet meeting.

No, it wasn't.

In fact, the first paragraph of the wretched thing says
Copy addressees and you met the Prime Minister on 23 July to discuss Iraq.

The clear implication is that neither Conyers nor his staff dealing with the matter have chosen to read the document they're fuming about.

But probably they did not give their mind to the precise meaning of Cabinet meeting. There were three members of the Cabinet present - the confusion is understandable.

In an eight grader from Gopher Prairie.

The golden rule with language translation is that you get it done by a native speaker of the target language. Or, at the very least, checked by one.

I suspect DC is heaving with British polisci academics there on one excuse or another. Half an hour's chat between a Conyers staffer and one such guy might have saved public embarrassment, at the cost of a little private ditto.

My guess is that every effort to get accountability on the way that the war was started is necessarily doomed to failure until the Dems get control of one house of Congress.

Will the spirit of revanche inform their approach (once such minor miracle has occurred)? Or will they prefer to move on, to make a show of trying to enact a programme without a bitter partisan circus dragging attention away at ever turn?

  1. More have appeared.


On the merits of the Conyers DSM session, I only saw fragments via C-SPAN streaming. But on that very limited basis, I got an impression of lack of focus that Milbank evidently did.

Whereas a synthesis of what we know and suspect about the abuse of intel before the war would have been useful and on point, the affair seems to have been more of an indigation meeting designed to provide heat rather than light. (What was bereaved mother Cindy Sheehan supposed to add on the intel handling question?)

There doesn't seem to be a transcript available, unfortunately.

One other slightly galling thing - Conyers' site has failed to be updated for the Congressional signatories to his letter to Bush. A list of 123 is at Raw Story.

Nancy Pelosi, notably, does not appear on the list at Conyers' site, but is in the Raw Story list.

(It's hard to avoid comparison with the latecomers to the list of cosponsors of the Landrieu antilynching apology resolution S Res 39!)

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