bush iraq mendacity watch
Walter Pincus's article in this morning's Washington Post details how tenaciously the Administration clung to its bogus story implying that Iraq had an actrive nuclear weapons program. Rather than a single instance of "miscommunication" that somehow allowed the phony African uranium claim to "accidentally" slip into the State of the Union address, what emerges is a clear pattern of Bush and other Administration officials beating the uranium drum, despite the CIA's reservations about relying on forged documents to support it.
[B]y the time the president gave the speech, on Jan. 28, that same allegation was already part of an administration campaign to win domestic and international support for invading Iraq. In January alone, it was included in two official documents sent out by the White House and in speeches and writings by the president's four most senior national security officials.
The White House has acknowledged that it was a mistake to have included the uranium allegation in the State of the Union address. But an examination of how it originated, how it was repeated in January and by whom suggests that the administration was determined to keep the idea before the public as it built its case for war [emphasis added], even though the claim had been excised from a presidential speech the previous October through the direct intervention of CIA Director George J. Tenet.
Dan Bartlett, White House director of communications, said yesterday that the inclusion of the allegation in the president's State of the Union address "made people below feel comfortable using it as well." He said that there was "strategic coordination" and that "we talk broadly about what points to make," but he added: "I don't know of any specific talking points to say that this is supposed to be used."
The allegation appeared in a draft of a speech Bush was to give Oct. 7 to outline the threat that he said Saddam Hussein posed to the United States. In that draft, an unnamed White House speechwriter wrote, "The [Iraqi] regime has been caught attempting to purchase substantial amounts of uranium oxide from sources in Africa."
The statement the Iraqis "had been caught" was described as "over the top" by a senior administration official familiar with the sketchy intelligence on which the statement had been based. Tenet succeeded in having it stricken the day the speech was given on the grounds that intelligence did not support it.
The CIA arranged to have a similar allegation deleted from a speech that John D. Negroponte, U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, was to give Dec. 20 before the U.N. Security Council.
Yet in the days before and after the president's State of the Union address, the allegation was repeated by national security adviser Condoleezza Rice, Secretary of State Colin L. Powell, Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld, Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul D. Wolfowitz and in at least two documents sent out by the White House.
The first of those documents was a legislatively required report to Congress on Jan. 20 on matters "relevant to the authorization for use of military force against Iraq." [Emphasis added] It referred to Iraq as having failed to report to the United Nations "attempts to acquire uranium and the means to enrich it." The second document, a report distributed to the public Jan. 23 covering Iraq's weapons concealment activities, highlighted Baghdad's failure to explain "efforts to procure uranium from abroad for its nuclear weapons program."
Let's recap that one, folks. The Bush Administration knew by then that the African uranium claim was so much Bush-wa, and yet it sent it to Congress anyway. The Administration's embrace of tainted figures from the Iran-Contra scandal clearly reveals how little import its members attach to lying to Congress, but even so, the audacity of this fib is rather breathtaking.
The same day, the op-ed page of the New York Times included a piece by Rice that said Iraq's Dec. 7 declaration of its weapons of mass destruction to the U.N. Security Council "fails to account for or explain Iraq's efforts to get uranium from abroad." In a speech that same day before the Council on Foreign Relations in New York, Wolfowitz said: "There is no mention [in the declaration] of Iraqi efforts to procure uranium from abroad."
Three days later, Powell, in a speech before the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, asked: "Why is Iraq still trying to procure uranium and the special equipment needed to transform it into material for nuclear weapons?"
Answer: It wasn't, and Powell likely knew it. Remember, he excised the uranium claim from his February speech to the UN...
...When it came to the State of the Union speech, the White House has said that it was an unnamed speechwriter who reviewed a National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) on Iraq and perhaps a British intelligence dossier and came up with the 16-word sentence that Bush delivered: "The British government has learned Saddam Hussein has recently sought significant quantities of uranium from Africa."
The NIE, dated Oct. 2, 2002, carried only four paragraphs on the subject, on page 25 of the 90-page document, according to unclassified excerpts released last month.
The first of those paragraphs said: "Iraq also began vigorously trying to procure uranium ore and yellowcake." Support for that characterization was an item saying "a foreign government service reported" that Niger was planning to send several tons of "pure uranium" to Iraq and that, as of early 2001, the two countries "reportedly were still working out arrangements" for as much as 500 tons. A second item said: "Reports indicate Iraq also has sought uranium ore from Somalia and possibly the Democratic Republic of the Congo."
According to the intelligence official, the "vigorously" language was "quoted verbatim out of a [Defense Intelligence Agency] paper," along with other paragraphs relating to Niger, Somalia and Congo.
The CIA, which had its doubts about the intelligence, did not include the uranium item in the NIE's "key judgments," nor even as one of six elements supporting the key judgment that Iraq was reconstituting its nuclear program, Tenet said in written answers to questions posed by The Washington Post. He added that the four paragraphs, which had originated from the Defense Intelligence Agency, were kept in the NIE for "completeness."
Tenet, in a statement July 11, described the CIA as having only "fragmentary intelligence" related to what he termed "allegations" of Hussein's efforts to obtain additional raw uranium from Africa.
The British dossier, published Sept. 24, said in its executive summary: "We judge that Iraq . . . sought significant quantities of uranium from Africa, despite having no active civil nuclear power program that could require it." It did not say the British had "learned" anything about Iraq and uranium. Support for that judgment was the single statement, "There is intelligence that Iraq has sought the supply of significant quantities of uranium from Africa."
...At a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing July 9, Sen. Carl M. Levin (D-Mich.) asked Rumsfeld to supply information for the committee record on why he, on Jan. 29, and the president, the day earlier, had made this "very significant statement" at the same time "the intelligence community knew in the depths of their agency that this was not true."
Nothing had been supplied as of Wednesday, a committee aide said.
Imagine my surprise.
What's wrong with this picture? The CIA had little faith in the claim -- which was, remember, based on documents that were not only forged but also crudely and obviously forged -- and had repeatedly communicated to National Security Council officials that it didn't hold water.
The article paints a clear picture of an Administration obviously reluctant to let go of a piece of information, however bogus, that cast Iraq as a nuclear threat. There's no doubt that a nuclear-armed Iraq would have posed an unacceptable security risk. There's also no doubt that Iraq simply wasn't anywhere close to posing that kind of threat. A nuclear program is basically impossible to hide, and under the current circumstances it's safe to say Saddam had little but ambition.
Perhaps Bush could have sold the war on the post hoc justifications being peddled by his apologists -- that Saddam was an intolerably bad dictator, or the neocons' grand
fantasy strategy of a Middle East under perpetual domination by the US military.
He chose not to.
In its march to war, Bush and crew portrayed Iraq as a security threat of such magnitude that no course short of invasion -- and right now -- was thinkable. It's abundantly clear by now that these claims were simply a lie.
In related devlopments, Al Gore pegged it in a speech decrying the Bush Administration's prevarication in selling its coveted war.
"The very idea of self-government depends upon honest and open debate as the preferred method for pursuing the truth," Gore said, "and a shared respect for the rule of reason is the best way to establish the truth. The Bush administration routinely shows disrespect for that whole process, and I think it's partly because they feel as if they already know the truth and aren't very curious to learn about any facts that might contradict it. They and the members of groups that belong to their ideological coalition are true believers in each other's agenda."
...Gore stitched together his criticism of Bush on several issues with a common thread: That in each case, deeply flawed policies were based on "false impressions" that Bush deliberately fostered in public opinion to get what he wanted.
"Here is the pattern that I see," Gore said. "The president's mishandling of and selective use of the best evidence available on the threat posed by Iraq is pretty much the same as the way he intentionally distorted the best available evidence on climate change, and rejected the best available evidence on the threat posed to America's economy by his tax and budget proposals.
"In each case," he said, "the president seems to have been pursuing policies chosen in advance of the facts -- policies designed to benefit friends and supporters -- and has used tactics that deprived the American people of any opportunity to effectively subject his arguments to the kind of informed scrutiny that is essential in our system of checks and balances."
Gore said he once thought Bush's advisers were responsible for what he called the "curious mismatch between myth and reality" in the administration's policies. But now, he said, "I've just about concluded that the real problem may be the president himself and that next year we ought to fire him and get a new one."
Update: Matthew Yglesias's comments are exactly right:
The point, however, is that it vastly weakens the case for having George W. Bush in the White House. This time around you approved of the policy he tried to manipulate the country into adopting, but who knows what you'll think next time. Even worse, next time you may well be one of those people who gets swayed by the lie. Having a foreign policy team that's more interested in making the facts fit the policy than making the policy fit the facts is dangerous. Indeed, it's about as dangerous as having an economic team that does the same thing. Luckily for us, we have both.
*Just FYI, I'm rereading Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, so by saying "Indeed" I'm aping Hunter S. Thompson's style, not someone else's.
Update 2: Here's Morat's commentary.