micah holmquist's irregular thoughts and links
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Friday, July 11, 2003
"I don't believe anything the government tells me. Nothing... Zero!"
-George Carlin, Jammin' in New York (1991)
Portions of the State of the Union speech draft came to the CIA for comment shortly before the speech was given. Various parts were shared with cognizant elements of the Agency for review. Although the documents related to the alleged Niger-Iraqi uranium deal had not yet been determined to be forgeries, officials who were reviewing the draft remarks on uranium raised several concerns about the fragmentary nature of the intelligence with National Security Council colleagues. Some of the language was changed. From what we know now, Agency officials in the end concurred that the text in the speech was factually correct - i.e. that the British government report said that Iraq sought uranium from Africa. This should not have been the test for clearing a Presidential address. This did not rise to the level of certainty which should be required for Presidential speeches, and CIA should have ensured that it was removed.It is worth noting that nothing in this report is inconsistent with the CBS News report that the Bush Administration justified including the now famous words in the State of the Union speech on the basis that it was true that British intelligence said Iraq had tried to get uranium from Niger. And Tenet certainly doesn't look honorable in this statement. A decent civil servant would have tried to get the Bush Administration to correct this aspect of the speech, publicly if necessary. The same goes for Secretary of State Colin L. Powell, who says he didn't think much of the charge but apparently was willing to let it pass until it became an issue, and everyone else in both the White House and what I have termed the national attack other countries apparatus who heard what Bush said, knew the problem with the statement and let it pass.
My unsubstantiated suspicion is that Tenet is just a patsy here and that the Bush Administration forced him to take the fall.
Of course Tenet's statement could be an accurate reflection of reality. If that is the case, the Bush Administration has serious problems of a different kind. Maybe this point is lost in a world where just about nobody sees anything odd, let alone dangerous, about the United States frequently and loudly threatening to attack a country that is said to be a threat for over a year, but how close Iraq was to developing nuclear weapons was not matter of just politics if Saddam Hussein's regime was actually a threat to the U.S. (If Team Bush didn't actually believe that Iraq was a threat, then they were highly dishonest with not only the people of the U.S. but the entire world.) "[W]e don't know how close he is to a nuclear weapon right now," Bush said of Saddam's nuclear capabilities on November 7. If that was true, it seem like the a competent Commander in Chief, and those around such a Commander in Chief, who believed that Iraq was a threat that needed to be dealt with would have wanted to know every scrap of information about Iraq's military, including how close they were to developing nuclear weapons and what efforts they were making to develop them if only to try to halt the development. But if Bush and those around him were unaware of the CIA's assessment of some reports, as Tenet suggests was the case, the question becomes, what lead to this? Were they not being made aware of intelligence reports or was the Bush Administration not bothering to familiarize themselves with the reports? Either option makes Team Bush look incompetent. The former is a communication problem that should have been obvious and quickly fixed if it in fact did exist. The former suggests laziness that hard to fathom.
It is impossible to determine any answers at this point in time from my vantage point. Hopefully, however, time will tell if, on this issue, the Bush Administration was a bunch of liars or simply auditioning to play the Nazis on a new version of Hogan's Heroes.
UPDATE: My final formulation here is weak as it is possible that the Bush Administration is both dishonest and incompetent on this matter. My point is that if one is to deny that they are dishonest, incompetency is the only explanation, and vice-versa. 5:53 p.m. 07/13/03