July 07, 2004

Sixteen Words?

Do you remember them? They caused quite a stir during the SOTU – leading to some of the loudest charges that "Bush lied!"

The British government has learned that Saddam Hussein recently sought significant quantities of uranium from Africa.
It now seems hard to dispute them. Despite the fact that the corroborating document that the US had in its possession turned out to be a fake (the handiwork of an Italian forger), the British intelligence agencies have continued to stick by their assessment, which was based on other, including humint, sources.

A soon-to-be-released inquiry into British intelligence failures will likely vindicate the claim, concluding "that this claim was reasonable and consistent with the intelligence."

Of course, don't look for this to get the same attention as the original controversy, and don't expect any changed minds about Bush's duplicity.

Update: watched CNN Headlines News last night, and they actually referenced this Financial Times article and the forthcoming Butler report. Unfortunately, they only mentioned the fact that the 45-minute claim "which Blair used to justify the war in Iraq" was not supported by the evidence. No mention of the uranium from Niger part.

So why is it okay for me to only talk about one part and not mention the rest, but not okay for Headline News. Two reasons. First, I never claimed to be objective – treat these pages as an extended op-ed and balance with other commentary. On the other hand, I will try to be honest. Second, and maybe more importantly for me, the new information in the report (i.e. that the uranium claim was legit) should be more newsworthy than the umpteenth reiteration that the 45-minute claim was bogus. So why ignore it?

Update: Reuters' take also ignores the uranium aspect. [Instapundit]

Posted by richard at July 7, 2004 09:00 PM

Bush lied.

Posted by: Brad A. at July 7, 2004 10:48 PM

From the article you reference:

"President George W. Bush referred to the Niger claim in his state of the union address last year. But officials were forced into a climbdown when it was revealed that the only primary intelligence material the US possessed were documents later shown to be forgeries.

The Bush administration has since distanced itself from all suggestions that Iraq sought to buy uranium. The UK government has remained adamant that negotiations over sales did take place and that the fake documents were not part of the intelligence material it had gathered to underpin its claim."

Saddam Hussein may have had more or less WMD. Only raving lefties can claim that he didn't - and only raving righties can clame for sure that he had stockpiles ready to go.

Bush had some forged documents, the CIA told the administration that they did not have solid evidence to support the claim - but he said it anyway as if it were undisputed fact. In other words, Bush lied.

You see, the results of the search for WMD don't really prove either side right or wrong. The fact that they have not found one tiny fraction of what they claimed was there does not mean it wasn't. That fact alone does not condemn Bush. The fact that he might have had some of the things we said he did — or sought some of the things we said hesought — does not exxonerate him.

Bush took a feeble case based on incomplete or faulty intelligence and made the case for a clear and imminent threat. Do you see that this is wrong?

Posted by: Mike F. at July 7, 2004 11:46 PM

You can take "this" in my last comment to mean my last comment if you like.

Posted by: Mike F. at July 7, 2004 11:46 PM

Well, Mike, while you might be holding such a charitable opinion that "the results of the search for WMD don't really prove either side right or wrong", many other critics don't. They point to the lack of "stockpiles" (at least now that dozens of banned weapons have been found) and claim that it means they were right to oppose the war. I'm not saying you have to support that argument if that's not the way you feel, but at least give me room to refute them with their own logic.

But to your other point – obviously Bush wanted to make the strongest case he could for war, because he (and his administration) believed it to be the right move. He wanted to say that Saddam had sought uranium in Niger, but the only document we had was questionable (and turned out to be a fake) and the CIA couldn't confirm the claim. The British, though, were adamant that he had. So, he said "the British government has learned....". You may object to this rhetorical style, or say that he shouldn't reference foreign intelligence in a speech as important as the SOTU, or any other number of complaints about the argument.

But qualifying a statement to make it true has got to be different from lying. And if we ignore the distinction, we're more likely to get less qualification, even when it is warranted (as in this case), and more lies.

Posted by: richard at July 8, 2004 10:14 AM

Brad A. – Damn! For, like, a second there, I thought I might have changed your mind.

Posted by: richard at July 8, 2004 10:15 AM

In case you thought Mike would be the last of us to sell out to corporate oil interests, note the product placement in "exxonerate" four comments up.

Posted by: Brad A. at July 8, 2004 11:16 AM

So, do you think:

a) Bush exxagerated and manipulated data to make his case for war
b) Bush was misled by intelligence and thought he had the right information, but now you both realize he was wrong - although not intentionally misleading
c) Bush was and still is right about the threat from Saddam Hussein


Posted by: Mike F. at July 9, 2004 12:03 PM

Mike, you forgot:

d) all of the above

But seriously, I think the truth probably is somewhere in the middle. Bush certainly ratcheted up the rhetoric to get what he wanted (and he definitely wanted to go into Iraq) – did he cross the line from persuasion to "manipulation"? I don't think so.

Yes, I also think he got bad intelligence. Some of this has no excuse, some is to be expected. The intelligence world is often an uncertain world. Clearly they (the CIA and the administration officials that relied on them) had it wrong in several ways.

And yes, I think Saddam really was the threat that Bush (and John Edwards, who actually used the word "imminent") said he was. Not all of the intelligence needed to be right for this to hold up.

Posted by: richard at July 9, 2004 02:50 PM


Just read the article you linked to – which, of course, gives an incomplete picture. One of the major findings of the report was that no external pressure was applied to the CIA analysts to reach certain conclusions (not one of 200 analysts reported any pressure). Yes, they suffered from "groupthink", but the Bush administration wasn't in there telling them what to think.

It also gets the uranium issue in the State of the Union wrong – some of the intelligence was discredited, but the president's statement wasn't – the British still do claim that Iraq sought uranium in Niger.

It's also interesting that the failures didn't come from the neo-con cabal that everyone usually blames everything on - in fact, the CIA muscled out dissenting views from the Defense intel agencies. And don't forget that Tenet was a Clinton appointee, and the CIA was just repeating what it (and the rest of the world) had been saying for a decade.

Anyway, not that this report isn't important, just don't think it justifies the "Bush LIES" hyperlink.

Posted by: richard at July 9, 2004 02:59 PM

You need to lighten up a bit. BushLIES was in jest. The Bunnies, however, are serious. Have you seen Alien Bunnies yet?

Posted by: Mike F. at July 9, 2004 03:54 PM

I did read the article, beleiver it or not:

In one of nine ''alternative views'' attached to report, Rockefeller and two other senior lawmakers found evidence that analysts were repeatedly asked to review and reconsider their judgments a ''hammering'' more aggressive than the CIA's ombudsman had seen in his 32-year career with the agency, the alternative view said.

Posted by: Mike F. at July 9, 2004 03:58 PM