Exactly a week ago Britain’s Daily Mirror reported that in April 2004 George Bush had threatened to take “military action” against Arab television station al-Jazeera in a conversation with Tony Blair, quoting an alleged leaked memo that had come into its possession.
Today we publish, for the first time anywhere, the relevant excerpts of the infamous memo that has got blogs and traditional media abuzzing. This is just days after the UK’s attorney general Lord Goldsmith effectively gagged newspapers here from publishing it by invoking the Official Secrets Act. Two men – one a civil servant, the other a parliamentary researcher – have already been charged under the Act and will appear in court today. They face years in jail if convicted.
According to the memo of the conversation – which allegedly took place at the height of the US assault on the then besieged Iraqi city of Fallujah, the president’s enthusiasm for, as it were, silencing the messenger because he did not like the message, was only quelled after the British PM countered that such an act would lose the “coalition” huge political capital.
While the White House has deigned to not respond to the leak, and Downing Street says Mr Bush was “only joking”, sundry critics point out that the reports have an eerie ring of truth about them, not least because the US military had previously bombed the Qatar-based pioneering news station’s premises in both Baghdad and Kabul. It has also been noted that during the war in Kosovo Uncle Sam bombed an off-message TV station and a highly critical Chinese embassy.
As readers will note from the text below, the conversation in the White House is mainly one-sided, the UK premier – seemingly seduced by the omnipotence of earth’s executive presidency – hardly being able to get in a word in edgeways:
Bush: Hey, Tone, howya doin’? God, it’s good to see y’again.
Blair: Hi, Mr President. Thanks. It’s good to be back. You know, this Iraq thing…
Bush: C’mon, Tone. We agreed the last time we had you at the ranch – it’s Dubya to ma friends, of and which you sure are.
Blair: Yeah, right. Okay, Mr President. I mean Dubya. Yeah, I’ll still call you George. You know, I am a straight sort of guy.
Bush: Don’ ah know it! Call me George – however. But let me say this: Tone, you’re doin’ ah heck of a job – Ah’ll give that to you. You’ll sure have a good night’s sleep on the soil of a friend tonight. Take our hospitality and enjoy it.
Blair: Thanks, George. Mr President, George, I was saying about this Iraq situation…
Bush: Our work for spreading freedom and democracy in Iraq and the world will be rewarded in history – you mark that sentence. You see, the best way to defeat a society that is – doesn’t have hope, a society where people become so angry they are willing to become suiciders, is to spread freedom.
Blair: You know I agree with you on that, but…
Bush: Just as we agree on the way forward with regardance to Israel and Africa…Take Africa, we spent some time talking about Africa, as we should. Africa is a nation that suffers from incredible disease. You teach a child there to read, and he or her will be able to pass a literary test.
Blair: That’s true, but the attack on Fallujah, if it continues further in this way, it will lose us a lot of goodwill in Europe and the international community. And you know the French will just love that.
Bush: Ah hear ya, Tone. You know we always look forward to hearing your vision. That’s what am telling ya, ya hear?
Blair: Yes, George. Mr President. Let me say this, though. I appreciate all that. Like I said, I’m a straight sort of guy. People are not happy with the killing, the war - no,of the anti-terrorist measures our boys are using in Fallujah. International opinion is very important, you have to agree. Bush: Ah hear ya loud and clear and audible, Tone. Ah like the way you said “our boys” there, ‘cos that’s a fact. But let me just say this: I’m the commander – see, ah don’t need to explain – I do not need to explain why Ah do things. That’s the interesting thing about being president. But you can be sure of one thing also – you can bet your bottom dollar on it. All this hullaballyhoo is the fault of those towel-heads al-Jazeera crowd – those terror sympathiers and buddies Bin Laden. They just tell tell their bad A-rab lies and give out the wrong truths.
Blair: But they are the media, you know…
Bush: Hang on there a minute, Tone. Let me say this. Fallujah folks, al-Jazeera – they are all the same, they are our enemies. They are innovative and resourceful and so are we. They never stop thinking about new ways to harm our country and our people, and neither do we.
Blair: You really can’t mean that. Bomb al-Jazeera again. They are respected by many as pioneers of news reporting in the Middle East. We can’t just do that, George. There will be an international outcry. That will be seen as going too far, for the third time. Insurgents – I mean terrorists – are one thing, but al-Jazeera! No, George, I don’t think that’s such a good idea. Those other times, we said it was by accident, but people won’t believe it this time.
Bush: Ha ha ha ha. I was just pulling your leg there, good ol’ buddy. You don’t really think I’ll do that again, do ya? C’mon, do ya? It’s like this old saying in Tennessee – I know it’s in Texas, probably in Tennessee – that says, fool me once, shame on – shame on you. Fool me – you can’t get fooled again.