David Corn has a piece in Slate piling on Christopher Hutchins – who needs my rhetorical support about as much as (pick and insert your own example of coals to Newcastle metaphor).
But the point he raises is such a sore point to me that I have to flag it and bitch loudly.
I summed up my issues in a post a while back.
Bush’s claim that Iraq had “recently sought significant quantities of uranium from Africa”—one sentence in his speech—led to controversy and scandal. It begot the op-ed by former Ambassador Joseph Wilson (whom the CIA sent to Niger to check out this report) that accused the White House of having misrepresented the prewar WMD intelligence. That op-ed begot the Robert Novak column that outed Wilson’s wife as a CIA operative. And that article begot the criminal investigation that targeted the White House and produced an indictment of Scooter Libby, Vice President Dick Cheney’s chief of staff, for allegedly lying to the FBI and a grand jury.
It’s now accepted by the U.S. intelligence community that there was nothing to the Niger charge. Even the White House in July 2003 disavowed its use of the allegation. Proponents of the war in Iraq no longer cite it as justification for the invasion. But there is one holdout: Christopher Hitchens.
Here’s the Senate Intelligence Committee report:
The intelligence report indicated that former Nigerien Prime Minister Ibrahim Mayaki was unaware of any contracts that had been signed between Niger and any rogue states for the sale of yellowcake while he was Prime Minister (1997-1999) or Foreign Minister (1996- 1997). Mayaki said that if there had been any such contract during his tenure, he would have been aware of it. Mayaki said, however, that in June 1999, [redacted] businessman, approached him and insisted that Mayaki meet with an Iraqi delegation to discuss “expanding commercial relations” between Niger and Iraq. The intelligence report said that Mayaki interpreted “expanding commercial relations” to mean that the delegation wanted to discuss uranium yellowcake sales. The intelligence report also said that “although the meeting took place, Mayaki let the matter drop due to the UN sanctions on Iraq.” (page 43)
Here’s my old post:
So Wilson directly confirmed to the CIA that Iraqi officials had met with Nigerian officials, and that they had – in the view of the Nigerian officials – attempted to broach the subject of uranium sales. Now the claim the President made wasn’t that Iraq had gotten uranium, or that it was even likely to get uranium. It was that:
The British government has learned that Saddam Hussein recently sought significant quantities of uranium from Africa.
Now skipping over the ‘gimme’ that Bush is saying that the British are saying etc. etc., the question is whether Wilson – who accused Bush of lying in that statement – was himself telling the truth in making that accusation.
And the problem I have, as a kind of simpleminded person, is that Wilson’s own words, as expressed in the consensus, bipartisan Senate report, also support the charge that Iraq was seeking uranium.
So what is it that I am missing, exactly?
Look, most things that matter are matters of judgment and degree. And to say that Bush overstated or over relied on the evidence – provided by Wilson himself – is one thing, while to confuse matters (by tossing in the forged Italian documents) by suggesting that Bush stated that Iraq had successfully bought (as opposed to unsuccessfully sought) yellowcake is, simply put, political fraud.
But that fraud is part and parcel of political commerce these days. It shouldn’t be when the stakes are as high as they are today. And those opposing Bush would get further with people like me if we weren’t left with a choice between people who make us uncomfortable but are at least engaging what we see as a serious issue – and folks who lie about the issue to make political points.