The White House has admitted that phony intelligence data about Iraq's alleged attempts to obtain uranium from Africa -- used by Bush in a State of the Union speech to raise the ominous specter of a nuclear-armed Iraq -- should not have been included in the address.
The statement was prompted by publication of a British parliamentary commission report, which raised serious questions about the reliability of British intelligence that was cited by Bush as part of his effort to convince Congress and the American people that Iraqi President Saddam Hussein's weapons of mass destruction program were a threat to U.S. security.
The British panel said it was unclear why the British government asserted as a "bald claim" that there was intelligence that Iraq had sought to buy significant amounts of uranium in Africa. It noted that the CIA had already debunked this intelligence, and questioned why an official British government intelligence dossier published four months before Bush's speech included the allegation as part of an effort to make the case for going to war against Iraq.
The findings by the House of Commons Foreign Affairs Committee undercut one of the Bush administration's main defenses for including the allegation in the president's speech -- namely that despite the CIA's questions about the assertion, British intelligence was still maintaining that Iraq had indeed sought to buy uranium in Africa.
Asked about the British report, the administration released a statement that, after weeks of questions about the president's uranium-purchase assertion, effectively conceded that intelligence underlying the president's statement was wrong.
"Knowing all that we know now, the reference to Iraq's attempt to acquire uranium from Africa should not have been included in the State of the Union speech," a senior Bush administration official said last night in a statement authorized by the White House.
The administration's statement capped months of turmoil over the uranium episode during which senior officials have been forced to defend the president's remarks in the face of growing reports that they were based on faulty intelligence.
As part of his case against Iraq, Bush said in his State of the Union speech on Jan. 28 that "the British government has learned that Saddam Hussein recently sought significant quantities of uranium from Africa."
The International Atomic Energy Agency told the U.N. Security Council in March that the uranium story -- which centered on documents alleging Iraqi efforts to buy the material from Niger -- was based on forged documents. Although the administration did not dispute the IAEA's conclusion, it launched the war against Iraq later that month.
It subsequently emerged that the CIA the previous year had dispatched a respected former senior diplomat, Joseph C. Wilson, to Niger to investigate the allegation and that Wilson had reported back that officials in Niger denied the story. The administration never made Wilson's mission public, and questions have been raised over the past month over how the CIA characterized his conclusion in its classified intelligence reports inside the administration.
The first-of-its-kind admission, of course, raises the question of what other evidence the Administration fudged to support its insistance that no course other than war -- and right now -- was tolerable in Iraq. Given that many of the Administration's claims have spectacularly failed to pan out, the answer should be obvious.
Here's the AP story via CNN.
Meanwhile, Talking Points Memo points to some desperate spinning by Ari Fleischer as he tries -- and ultimately fails -- to explain why Bush's uranium claim, and later claims that that claim was based on addtional evidence -- wasn't something of a whopper.
The Washington Post also reports that, contrary to Bush's bellicose brag that guerillas who attack US forces will pay a price, Baghdad's urban setting has allowed attacks to increase, and attackers to strike with seeming impugnity. This situation is making the hawkish WaPo editorial board somewhat nervous...after all, as Bush's Iraq policy proves to be the debacle many predicted, it should be remembered that the Post was all for supporting it and not so much for asking the tough questions it now feels Bush should address.
Bad policy undertaken for bad reasons leads to bad results. And this time, Bush's bad policy -- and the mendacious way in which he and his minions advanced it -- continues to exact a real toll in American lives and treasure and security.
Update: Talking Points Memo notices that even this admission has its load of spin:
let's look at what the White House is saying. In essence, they're saying that the Niger documents were forgeries. But then, we already knew that. Indeed, the White House has conceded this for months. Sometimes publicly; sometimes privately. Here's what they're saying now, according to the Post: "Knowing all that we know now the reference to Iraq's attempt to acquire uranium from Africa should not have been included in the State of the Union speech."
But, of course, the real issue is that there is at least very strong circumstantial evidence that knowing what they knew then [emphasis in the original], the Uranium hocum never should have been put into the speech either. This is a classic case of trying to jump out ahead of a story by conceding a point that no one is actually disputing in the first place.
Update 2: Jeff Cooper weighs in with this spot-on comment:
In the runup to the war, the president and other administration officials repeatedly laid out the case for war based on the imminent threat posed by Iraq's WMD program. Those, both at home and abroad, who looked at the evidence and did not leap to support the administration's position were labeled either fools or knaves--or both. So when it turns out that central components of the administration's case were gravely flawed--so gravely flawed that reliance on them must have been the result of either incompetence, willful blindness, or outright malice--those who found themselves on the receiving end of the administration's pre-war criticism will inevitably come to the conclusion that the administration is composed of knaves or fools--or both. And that's not what we need from a President of the United States.