26 November 2005

Who is Lying About Iraq? - Conclusion

If you push any metaphor or analogy far enough, it will fall apart. I'll try not to do that with this one.

9/11 was like the shooting that woke up the city to the problem with gangs. Previously they had attacked other people, but this shooting was in our own backyard. In the past we had paid lip service to "getting tough" on gang violence. In one case we had cited a gang for 16 separate violations of the law(Iraq)--they were so blatant that we got the entire city council to sign off on these citations--despite the fact that they were getting kick-backs from the gang. In another case we had a boycott (Libya) against the gang.

Well, we went after the gang (al-Qaeda, Taliban, & Afghanistan) that perpetrated the shooting, raided their crack house and put their leaders behind bars. Unfortunately this was not the end of the gang problem--it was only a serious setback for one of the gangs. Repeat, the marginalization of one gang did not end the threat of gang violence in the city.

What changed on 9/11 was the understanding that we cannot sit around, twiddling while we wait for the terrorists to decide when and where they want to attack. They and their leaders do not behave rationally or by the so called "rules of war." They kill women and children and other non-combatants. They cannot be negotiated with. Traditional strategy like Cold War-era ideas about "Containment" do not apply. Threats must be analyzed and where possible, eliminated.

In the case of Iraq we had a country that we knew supported, harbored and sponsored terrorists--in the case of suicide attacks against Israel (our ally), they were very vocal (Saddam promised money to the families of suicide bombers on top of the virgins in paradise). We knew he had rape rooms and killed and terrorized his people daily--the human rights abuses are well documented. We knew he had used chemical and biological weapons against his own people and in the war against Iran. We knew he was playing hide-and-go-seek with weapons inspectors (even after the threat of invasion). Weapons inspectors proved conclusively that he had developed missiles which had the range and capability of striking neighboring countries (Israel) and being fitted with chemical, biological, or even nuclear payloads. Though the "Atta in Prague" link is still not confirmed, we knew there had been meetings between Iraqi intelligence officials (mentioned previously here). And we knew, despite Joe Wilson's (who is he?) current claims to the contrary, that Saddam pursued (albeit unsuccessfully) nuclear material in Africa. Above all we knew Saddam had defied 16 (count 'em, sixteen!) separate UN resolutions. If we allowed Iraq to get away with that, how could we ever expect any terror-sponsoring country to take us seriously?

Iraq was that unique collision between self-interest and virtue in foreign policy. Anyone familiar with basic economic principles knows fighting terrorism is a public good. Other countries can be free-riders--not only can they enjoy the benefits of our terror-fighting, but they can criticize us too (talk about having your cake and eating it). With the still unfinished oil-for-food investigations and the dirt dug up about money given to officials of the UN, France, Germany and Russia, is it any wonder that they didn't want to attack the proverbial "gift horse?"

Finally, the conclusion to "Who is Lying About Iraq?" by NORMAN PODHORETZ. Stay tuned for success in Iraq.
Which brings us to Joseph C. Wilson, IV and what to my mind wins the palm for the most disgraceful instance of all.

The story begins with the notorious 16 words inserted--after, be it noted, much vetting by the CIA and the State Department--into Bush's 2003 State of the Union address:

The British government has learned that Saddam Hussein recently sought significant quantities of uranium from Africa.

This is the "lie" Mr. Wilson bragged of having "debunked" after being sent by the CIA to Niger in 2002 to check out the intelligence it had received to that effect. Mr. Wilson would later angrily deny that his wife had recommended him for this mission, and would do his best to spread the impression that choosing him had been the vice president's idea. But Nicholas Kristof of the New York Times, through whom Mr. Wilson first planted this impression, was eventually forced to admit that "Cheney apparently didn't know that Wilson had been dispatched." (By the time Mr. Kristof grudgingly issued this retraction, Mr. Wilson himself, in characteristically shameless fashion, was denying that he had ever "said the vice president sent me or ordered me sent.") And as for his wife's supposed nonrole in his mission, here is what Valerie Plame Wilson wrote in a memo to her boss at the CIA:

My husband has good relations with the PM [the prime minister of Niger] and the former minister of mines . . ., both of whom could possibly shed light on this sort of activity.

More than a year after his return, with the help of Mr. Kristof, and also Walter Pincus of the Washington Post, and then through an op-ed piece in the Times under his own name, Mr. Wilson succeeded, probably beyond his wildest dreams, in setting off a political firestorm.

In response, the White House, no doubt hoping to prevent his allegation about the 16 words from becoming a proxy for the charge that (in Mr. Wilson's latest iteration of it) "lies and disinformation [were] used to justify the invasion of Iraq," eventually acknowledged that the president's statement "did not rise to the level of inclusion in the State of the Union address." As might have been expected, however, this panicky response served to make things worse rather than better. And yet it was totally unnecessary--for the maddeningly simple reason that every single one of the 16 words at issue was true.

That is, British intelligence had assured the CIA that Saddam Hussein had tried to buy enriched uranium from the African country of Niger. Furthermore--and notwithstanding the endlessly repeated assertion that this assurance has now been discredited--Britain's independent Butler commission concluded that it was "well-founded." The relevant passage is worth quoting at length:

a. It is accepted by all parties that Iraqi officials visited Niger in 1999.

b. The British government had intelligence from several different sources indicating that this visit was for the purpose of acquiring uranium. Since uranium constitutes almost three-quarters of Niger's exports, the intelligence was credible.

c. The evidence was not conclusive that Iraq actually purchased, as opposed to having sought, uranium, and the British government did not claim this.

As if that were not enough to settle the matter, Mr. Wilson himself, far from challenging the British report when he was "debriefed" on his return from Niger (although challenging it is what he now never stops doing), actually strengthened the CIA's belief in its accuracy. From the Senate Intelligence Committee report:

He [the CIA reports officer] said he judged that the most important fact in the report [by Mr. Wilson] was that Niger officials admitted that the Iraqi delegation had traveled there in 1999, and that the Niger prime minister believed the Iraqis were interested in purchasing uranium.

And again:

The report on [Mr. Wilson's] trip to Niger . . . did not change any analysts' assessments of the Iraq-Niger uranium deal. For most analysts, the information in the report lent more credibility to the original CIA reports on the uranium deal.

This passage goes on to note that the State Department's Bureau of Intelligence and Research--which (as we have already seen) did not believe that Saddam Hussein was trying to develop nuclear weapons--found support in Mr. Wilson's report for its "assessment that Niger was unlikely to be willing or able to sell uranium to Iraq." But if so, this, as the Butler report quoted above points out, would not mean that Iraq had not tried to buy it--which was the only claim made by British intelligence and then by Mr. Bush in the famous 16 words.

The liar here, then, was not Mr. Bush but Mr. Wilson. And Mr. Wilson also lied when he told the Washington Post that he had unmasked as forgeries certain documents given to American intelligence (by whom it is not yet clear) that supposedly contained additional evidence of Saddam's efforts to buy uranium from Niger. The documents did indeed turn out to be forgeries; but, according to the Butler report:

The forged documents were not available to the British government at the time its assessment was made, and so the fact of the forgery does not undermine [that assessment].

More damning yet to Mr. Wilson, the Senate Intelligence Committee discovered that he had never laid eyes on the documents in question:

[Mr. Wilson] also told committee staff that he was the source of a Washington Post article . . . which said, "among the envoy's conclusions was that the documents may have been forged because 'the dates were wrong and the names were wrong.' " Committee staff asked how the former ambassador could have come to the conclusion that the "dates were wrong and the names were wrong" when he had never seen the CIA reports and had no knowledge of what names and dates were in the reports.

To top all this off, just as Mr. Cheney had nothing to do with the choice of Mr. Wilson for the mission to Niger, neither was it true that, as Mr. Wilson "confirmed" for a credulous New Republic reporter, "the CIA circulated [his] report to the Vice President's office," thereby supposedly proving that Cheney and his staff "knew the Niger story was a flat-out lie." Yet--the mind reels--if Mr. Cheney had actually been briefed on Mr. Wilson's oral report to the CIA (which he was not), he would, like the CIA itself, have been more inclined to believe that Saddam had tried to buy yellowcake uranium from Niger.

So much for the author of the best-selling and much-acclaimed book whose title alone--"The Politics of Truth: Inside the Lies that Led to War and Betrayed My Wife's CIA Identity"--has set a new record for chutzpah.

But there is worse. In his press conference on the indictment against Mr. Libby, Patrick Fitzgerald insisted that lying to federal investigators is a serious crime both because it is itself against the law and because, by sending them on endless wild-goose chases, it constitutes the even more serious crime of obstruction of justice. By those standards, Mr. Wilson--who has repeatedly made false statements about every aspect of his mission to Niger, including whose idea it was to send him and what he told the CIA upon his return; who was then shown up by the Senate Intelligence Committee as having lied about the forged documents; and whose mendacity has sent the whole country into a wild-goose chase after allegations that, the more they are refuted, the more they keep being repeated--is himself an excellent candidate for criminal prosecution.

And so long as we are hunting for liars in this area, let me suggest that we begin with the Democrats now proclaiming that they were duped, and that we then broaden out to all those who in their desperation to delegitimize the larger policy being tested in Iraq--the policy of making the Middle East safe for America by making it safe for democracy--have consistently used distortion, misrepresentation and selective perception to vilify as immoral a bold and noble enterprise and to brand as an ignominious defeat what is proving itself more and more every day to be a victory of American arms and a vindication of American ideals.

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