Wednesday, November 23, 2005

Another Downing Street Memo

Somewhere between “Why I’m Paying for My Daughter’s Boob Job” and “I Used to Be a Desperate Bulimic,” Britain’s Daily Mirror managed to report on a five-page memo leaked from Tony Blair’s office that claims Blair dissuaded Bush from bombing the headquarters of Al-Jazeera last year. Bush and Blair in fact met at the White House on April 16, 2004 to talk over Iraq. Blair’s office kept a transcript of the conversation. Someone from the prime minister’s office passed it on to a member of parliament. Whether the member of parliament passed it on to the Mirror is unclear, though the claim isn’t: Bush wanted to bomb Al-Jazeera’s headquarters in Qatar, Blair, who might have suggested the same about a much wider campaign now in its third year, told him it wouldn’t be a good idea.

The White House, which has cornered the market on the outlandish and inconceivable in the last five years, yesterday called the claim “outlandish” and “inconceivable.” Logic is on its side. A bombing in Qatar, a U.S. vassal state of the first rank, would make no sense, least of all a bombing that directly targets a news organization already suspected of having been targeted by the U.S. military. But logic isn’t Bush’s guiding principle as much as his gut, knots and all. Still: While Bush may very well have joked with Blair that he’d like Al-Jazeera wiped off the map (and who in this administration hasn’t seriously fantasized about having all media but Fox and the Washington times wiped off the map?) this sounds too much like Ronald Reagan’s stupid, and stupidly recorded, joke on August 11, 1984, about signing “legislation that will outlaw Russia forever; we begin bombing in five minutes.” (Reagan was prepping for his weekly radio address.)

Then again, there’s the impulse to cover up: Britain’s attorney general has gagged the Daily Mirror and other papers in Britain from further reporting on the memo, and of course Tony Blair will never reveal its contents or the context of Bush’s remarks, joking or otherwise. Downing Street has a new memo to suppress.