bush (non-)credibility update)
Walter Pincus in a page-one story in today's Washington Post points out that the African uranium claim was far from the only bit of bogus information in Bush's 2003 State of the Unions speech, In fact, the uranium claim -- while known to the Administration at the time to be bunk -- was the only element of Bush's attempt to paint the frightening picture of a nuclear-armed Saddam that hadn't yet been publicly challenged.
In recent days, as the Bush administration has defended its assertion in the president's State of the Union address that Iraq had tried to buy African uranium, officials have said it was only one bit of intelligence that indicated former Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein was reconstituting his nuclear weapons program.
But a review of speeches and reports, plus interviews with present and former administration officials and intelligence analysts, suggests that between Oct. 7, when President Bush made a speech laying out the case for military action against Hussein, and Jan. 28, when he gave his State of the Union address, almost all the other evidence had either been undercut or disproved by U.N. inspectors in Iraq.
By Jan. 28, in fact, the intelligence report concerning Iraqi attempts to buy uranium from Africa -- although now almost entirely disproved -- was the only publicly unchallenged element of the administration's case that Iraq had restarted its nuclear program. That may explain why the administration strived to keep the information in the speech and attribute it to the British, even though the CIA had challenged it earlier.
For example, in his Oct. 7 speech, Bush said that "satellite photographs reveal that Iraq is rebuilding facilities at [past nuclear] sites." He also cited Hussein's "numerous meetings with Iraqi nuclear scientists" as further evidence that the program was being reconstituted, along with Iraq's attempts to buy high-strength aluminum tubes "needed" for centrifuges used to enrich uranium.
But on Jan. 27 -- the day before the State of the Union address -- the head of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) reported to the U.N. Security Council that two months of inspections in Iraq had found that no prohibited nuclear activities had taken place at former Iraqi nuclear sites. As for Iraqi nuclear scientists, Mohamed ElBaradei told the Security Council, U.N. inspectors had "useful" interviews with some of them, though not in private. And preliminary analysis, he said, suggested that the aluminum tubes, "unless modified, would not be suitable for manufacturing centrifuges."
The next night, Bush delivered his speech, including the now-controversial 16-word sentence, "The British government has learned that Saddam Hussein recently sought significant quantities of uranium from Africa."
Of his October examples, only the aluminum tubes charge remained in January, but that allegation had a subtle caveat -- he described the tubes as merely "suitable" for nuclear weapons production. Without the statement on uranium, the allegation concerning aluminum tubes would have been the only nuclear-related action ascribed to Hussein since the early 1990s.
And the tubes had already been questioned not only by IAEA, but also by analysts in U.S. and British intelligence agencies.
The story goes on to explain in detail just how smelly the nuclear-tube claim was; this was no mere dispute over two possible uses, but rather a group of hardline analysts (*cough*Cheney*cough) clinging to a threadbare story despite the fact that the tubes were entirely unsuitable for nuclear weapons production without extensive modification.
Bush, of course, didn't admit any question of their purpose in the SotU, but rather used the weasel word "suitable" to describe their potential.
It's high time principled conservatives wake up and smell the coffee. Regardless of their individual belief that war against Iraq was justified, there's no question now that the President was used highly deceptive scare tactics to gain support for a war that the public was not exactly enthusiastic about. Ignoring these developments, linking to a conservative columnist questions some minor component of the avalanche of evidence, or playing intricate parsing games to come up with some interpretation of Bush's words that might technically be true do not at all absolve them of responsibility for supporting a war launched under false pretenses.
Frankly, the conspicuous failure of several of my conservative friends whom I generally regard as principled to own up to the flaws in Bush's case -- even if it will mean conceding that skeptics like myself were right in their prewar questioning of that case -- stuns and saddens me.