Much of the blog world has gone medieval on Joseph Wilson (not in the pipe-wielding sense of Ving Rhames, but in the sense of medieval scholars carefully parsing sacred texts and crafting lengthy analyses of subtle wordings).
Recently, Kevin Drum posted something that suggested that his – misrepresentations?? – had been unclear and insignificant:
Wilson’s central claim was that there was virtually no evidence to back up the idea that Saddam had sought uranium from Niger. The CIA agreed with that assessment before the war, it agreed with it after the war, and it still agrees with it — and the Senate Intelligence report backs them up.
Wilson may be guilty of overembellishing his case on several minor points, but on the central question he brought up — should the president have made those claims about African uranium in his State of the Union address? — he was right. The CIA admits it, the White House admits it, and the Senate Intelligence committee admits it. Republicans ought to keep this in mind.
That’s pretty confusing to me, and I say this with respect to Kevin and Dan all the others who have made close textual analyses of the Senate report. Because here’s what it says:
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)
The reports officer said that a “good” grade [for Wilson’s report – ed.] was merited because the information responded to at least some of the outstanding questions in the Intelligence Community, but did not provide substantial new information. He said he judged that the most important fact in the report was that the Nigerian officials admitted that the Iraqi delegation had traveled there in 1999, and that the Nigerian Prime Minister believed the Iraqis were interested in purchasing uranium, because this provided some confirmation of foreign government service reporting. (page 46)
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?