Word Bombs

An editorial in today’s New York Sun attempts to refute yesterday’s Frank Rich column. In this effort the Sun has compiled an impessive amount of verbiage, complete with nouns, verbs, prepositional phrases, and several direct and indirect objects. And righties are linking to the Sun in the simple faith that somewhere in that alphabet soup there must be some real arguments against Rich.

Not exactly. Let’s take a look (below the fold)…

Item 1: The Niger Uranium Story. Frank Rich wrote,

A nearly 7,000-word investigation in last Sunday’s Los Angeles Times found that Mr. Bush and his aides had “issued increasingly dire warnings” about Iraq’s mobile biological weapons labs long after U.S. intelligence authorities were told by Germany’s Federal Intelligence Service that the principal source for these warnings, an Iraqi defector in German custody code-named Curveball, “never claimed to produce germ weapons and never saw anyone else do so.” The five senior German intelligence officials who spoke to The Times said they were aghast that such long-discredited misinformation from a suspected fabricator turned up in Colin Powell’s presentation to the United Nations and in the president’s 2003 State of the Union address (where it shared billing with the equally bogus 16 words about Saddam’s fictitious African uranium).

This is the only mention of the African uranium made by Rich, but the Sun gives three paragraphs to a blistering defense of the 16 words. The Sun‘s main argument is here:

A July 2004 report of the bipartisan Senate Select Committee on Intelligence reported that an Iraqi delegation visited Niger in June of 1999 and met with Niger’s then-prime minister, Ibrahim Mayaki. The committee relayed that Mr. Mayaki said the meeting was about “expanding commercial relations” between the two countries, which Mr. Mayaki interpreted to mean “that the delegation wanted to discuss uranium yellowcake sales.”

A July 2004 report by the British government’s Butler Commission found that Mr. Bush’s State of the Union comment was “well-founded.” As the Commission put it, “It is accepted by all parties that Iraqi officials visited Niger in 1999.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. … 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 it.”

According to the Butler Commission, Saddam Hussein’s government claimed that a 1999 mission to Niger by Iraq’s ambassador to the Vatican was for the purpose of conveying an invitation to the Nigerian president to visit Iraq. … Given Saddam’s known nuclear ambitions – remember Osirak? – and Niger’s main export, would it have been prudent for Mr. Bush to take the word of Saddam’s envoy over that of the British?

This is, of course, an argument that myriad leftie bloggers have shredded myriad times. For example, Josh Marshall wrote in July 2004:

You’ll note that the footnote at the bottom of page 57 [of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence Report] says that in March 2003 Sen. Rockefeller asked the FBI to investigate the source of the forged uranium documents and the motivation of those responsible for them. Because of that investigation, the Committee chose not to examine any questions about the documents themselves, who forged them, where they came from, etc. In fact, the Committee walled its investigation off so that it looked only at what happened with the documents after they appeared in the US Embassy in Rome in October 2002.

Second, in many accounts of this story we hear that multiple intelligence agencies had reports of Iraq’s attempts to procure uranium from Niger. But many of those reports or judgments were the fruit of the same poison tree.

Josh goes on to explain that the SSCI conclusions were premised on an assumption that various foreign intelligence agencies working independently of each other had come to a similar assessment about the uranium. But, as Josh explains in more detail, in fact the “independent” intelligence was all coming, directly or indirectly, from the forged “yellowcake” documents. As the Senate committee didn’t understand this, their “conclusion” can be discounted.

Now, what about the claim that the Butler Report was not based on the forged documents? In another July 2004 post, Josh writes,

No, they didn’t have the forged documents. But one of their two reports — indeed, the more important of the two — was a written summary of the documents provided by Italy — the same summary the Italians had earlier provided to the Americans, which the CIA used to brief Joe Wilson before they sent him off to Niger. The second report came to them apparently only a week or so before they issued their public document with the claim about Iraq trying to buy uranium in Africa.

The nature and provenance of the second report is still murky, but it’s the second report that allowed the Brits to claim their conclusions were not based on the forgeries. “My assumption, and that of many others,” Josh writes, ” is that the Brits are, to put it bluntly, full of it on this one. My best guess is that they are holding on to some de minimis ‘other’ evidence as a placeholder to get out of taking their own lumps in the Niger skullduggery.”

The Butler Report, in other words, was created specifically to cover Bush’s and Blair’s butts and cannot be taken seriously as an objective report on intelligence.

Further, we know that at the time of the 2003 State of the Union address the CIA had warned the White House repeatedly that intelligence supporting the African uranium story was bogus.

To continue to insist the Niger uranium story is true, as the Sun does, is nothing short of pathological.

Item 2: Bush’s alleged “exoneration” by two commissions. Frank Rich wrote,

If Mr. Bush and Mr. Cheney believe they were truthful in the run-up to the war, it’s easy for them to make their case. Instead of falsely claiming that they’ve been exonerated by two commissions that looked into prewar intelligence – neither of which addressed possible White House misuse and mischaracterization of that intelligence – they should just release the rest of the President’s Daily Briefs and other prewar documents that are now trickling out. Instead, incriminatingly enough, they are fighting the release of any such information, including unclassified documents found in post-invasion Iraq requested from the Pentagon by the pro-war, neocon Weekly Standard.

Predictably, the Sun cites the Robb-Silberman commission and the SSCI for “proof” of Bush’s “exoneration.” But countless news stories have explained, patiently, that these two commissions didn’t actually investigate what the White House did with intelligence it received. That’s supposed to be the job of the Phase II investigation that Senate Republicans have stalled.

For example, here’s a Knight Ridder report from November 16:

Bush is correct in saying that a commission he appointed, chaired by Judge Laurence Silberman and former Sen. Charles Robb, D-Va., found no evidence of “politicization” of the intelligence community’s assessments concerning Iraq’s reported weapons of mass destruction programs.

But neither that report nor others looked at how the White House characterized the intelligence it had when selling its plan for war to the world and whether administration officials exaggerated the threat. That’s supposed to be the topic of a second phase of study by the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence.

“Our executive order did not direct us to deal with the use of intelligence by policymakers, and all of us were agreed that was not part of our inquiry,” Silberman said when he released the panel’s findings in March.

The Senate committee concluded that none of the intelligence analysts it interviewed said they were pressured to change their conclusions on weapons of mass destruction or on Iraq’s links to terrorism.

But the committee’s findings were hardly bipartisan. Committee Democrats said in additional comments to the panel’s July 2004 report that U.S. intelligence agencies produced analyses and the key prewar assessment of Iraq’s illicit weapons in “a highly pressurized climate.”

And the committee found that after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, analysts were under pressure to avoid missing credible threats, and as a result they were “bold and assertive” in making terrorist links.

In a July 2003 report, a CIA review panel found that agency analysts were subjected to “steady and heavy” requests from administration officials for evidence of links between Iraq and al-Qaida, which created “significant pressure on the Intelligence Community to find evidence that supported a connection.”

Claims of Bush’s “exoneration” are, shall we say, a tad premature.

Item 3: September 11 and Iraq.
I’m going to start out with the Sun this time, because they’ve managed to conflate two lies into one in order to confuse both issues. The Sun says,

Mr. Rich accuses Mr. Cheney of dissembling by conflating the terrorists of September 11, 2001, with those we are fighting in Iraq. As evidence that Mr. Cheney is lying he cites an American general who says the Iraqi insurgency is 90% homegrown. But it’s undisputed that the leader of Al Qaeda in Iraq is a Jordanian, Zarqawi, who shares with the rest of Al Qaeda, including the September 11 terrorists, the goal of re-establishing the caliphate. Certainly in their violent targeting of civilians and their jihadist rhetoric, those who attacked New York office buildings on September 11 and those who are blowing up restaurants and hospitals in Iraq have a lot in common. One may choose to emphasize or de-emphasize the similarities, but emphasizing the similarities as Mr. Cheney has done hardly amounts to dissembling.

Wow, where to begin? Here is what Rich said,

Leaders who dissembled then are still doing so. Indeed, they do so even in the same speeches in which they vehemently deny having misled us then – witness Mr. Bush’s false claims about what prewar intelligence was seen by Congress and Mr. Cheney’s effort last Monday to again conflate the terrorists of 9/11 with those “making a stand in Iraq.” (Maj. Gen. Douglas Lute, director of operations for Centcom, says the Iraqi insurgency is 90 percent homegrown.)

So Frank Rich didn’t pull the 90 percent figure out of his butt. And a google search finds a lot of corroboration. For example, Jonathan Finer of the Washington Post reported a few days ago,

The relative importance of the foreign component of Iraq’s two-year-old insurgency, estimated at 4 percent to 10 percent of all guerrillas, has been a matter of growing debate in military and intelligence circles, U.S. and Iraqi officials and American commanders said.

Top U.S. military officials here have long emphasized the influence of groups such as al-Qaida in Iraq, an insurgent network led by Jordanian Abu Musab al-Zarqawi. But analysts say the focus on foreign elements is also an attempt to undermine the legitimacy of the insurgency in the eyes of Iraqis, by portraying it as terrorism foisted on the country by outsiders.

“Both Iraqis and coalition people often exaggerate the role of foreign infiltrators and downplay the role of Iraqi resentment in the insurgency,” said Anthony Cordesman, a former Pentagon official now at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, who is writing a book about the Iraqi insurgency.

“It makes the government’s counterinsurgency efforts seem more legitimate, and it links what’s going on in Iraq to the war on terrorism,” he continued.

In other words, there’s an ongoing propaganda campaign to make it seem Zarqawi is the leader of most of the insurgency. (Notice how we haven’t heard much about Muqtada al-Sadr lately? That’s not because he went away.)

The second lie is, of course, conflating the Iraqi insurgency with the 9/11 highjackers. The Sun‘s argument, in effect, is that they’re sorta kinda the same, in the same way that a mule is sorta kinda like a zebra, so it’s not a lie to classify them as the same critter. Right.

Item 4: The DIA Report. Frank Rich wrote,

What these revelations also tell us is that Mr. Bush was wrong when he said in his Veterans Day speech that more than 100 Congressional Democrats who voted for the Iraqi war resolution “had access to the same intelligence” he did. They didn’t have access to the President’s Daily Brief that Mr. Waas uncovered. They didn’t have access to the information that German intelligence officials spoke about to The Los Angeles Times. Nor did they have access to material from a Defense Intelligence Agency report, released by Senator Carl Levin of Michigan this month, which as early as February 2002 demolished the reliability of another major source that the administration had persistently used for its false claims about Iraqi-Al Qaeda collaboration.

The Sun writes, “[T]he DIA report is not much different from what Bush administration officials were saying publicly at the time.” The Sun is, of course, full of crap. Here is the Los Angeles Times story to which Rich refers. In a nutshell, a guy nicknamed Curveball was the chief source of inaccurate prewar U.S. accusations that Baghdad had biological weapons, and Germany had tried to warn the U.S. repeatedly that Curveball was not credible.

The senior BND officer who supervised Curveball’s case said he was aghast when he watched Powell misstate Curveball’s claims as a justification for war.

“We were shocked,” the official said. “Mein Gott! We had always told them it was not proven…. It was not hard intelligence.”

The Senate didn’t hear about the German warnings before the war. Now, second, the DIA report — the original New York Times article that broke the DIA story has been dumped into archives, but you can read about it here. This quote is from the Times article:

A top member of Al Qaeda in American custody was identified as a likely fabricator months before the Bush administration began to use his statements as the foundation for its claims that Iraq trained Al Qaeda members to use biological and chemical weapons, according to newly declassified portions of a Defense Intelligence Agency document. …

… Among the first and most prominent assertions was one by Mr. Bush, who said in a major speech in Cincinnati in October 2002 that “we’ve learned that Iraq has trained Al Qaeda members in bomb making and poisons and gases.’’ …

… Mr. Powell relied heavily on accounts provided by Mr. Libi for his speech to the United Nations Security Council on Feb. 5, 2003, saying that he was tracing “the story of a senior terrorist operative telling how Iraq provided training in these weapons to Al Qaeda.’’

In February 2002, the Defense Intelligence Agency reported that statements obtained from Ibn al-Shaykh al-Libi, an al Qaeda member captured in Afghanistan, were most likely not true. Yet, Bush et al. crashed ahead and based many Iraq WMD claims on those statements. The Senate didn’t see that part of the DIA report until a few weeks ago. Somehow, the part damaging to the administration got “classified” so that few people saw it until recently, when it was unclassified at Senator Levin’s request.

Now, is the Sun saying that Bush, Cheney, and the gang were admitting before the war that their statements on al Qaeda and Iraq collaboration were speculative? Hardly. The Sun is obfuscating.

Item 5: James Bamford. The Sun writes,

Mr. Rich cites the reporting in Rolling Stone of James Bamford. Yet even Mr. Rich’s own newspaper, the Times, in reviewing Mr. Bamford’s 2001 book, remarked on Mr. Bamford’s “palpable distaste for the Israeli state.” Said the Times review, “Rather too credulously, Bamford sides with the conspiracy theorists.”

Here’s the Rolling Stone article to which the Sun refers. You can read it and judge it for yourself. Note that the Sun doesn’t try to refute the reporting, however. It just implies that Bamford is an anti-Semite, and Rich disagreed with something he wrote in 2001. That’s what we call “weaseling.”

Item 6. The Truth. No, really, the Sun subheaded the last part of the editorial “The Truth,” even though “Truth” and “The Sun” clearly are not aquainted with each other. And it ends with declarations that Saddam Hussein really was a bad guy, and Iraq has been liberated, yada yada yada. As an antidote, please read Peter Daou’s “The Straw Men of Iraq: Ten Pro-War Fallacies” and this CNN story, which begins, “Human rights abuses in Iraq are as bad as they were under Saddam Hussein if not worse, former Prime Minister Ayad Allawi has said.”

And remember, if you’re looking for truth, don’t bother with the New York Sun.

4 thoughts on “Word Bombs

  1. Exoneration? Easy as one-two-three…just allow and INDEPENDANT and open investigation giving acess to all pertinent evidence. Simple enough for a monkey to understand…

  2. Wow, great pulling of things together here, Maha. Mules and zebras, ha ha.
    Just who are these Sun folks? They sound awfully insecure, like little pre-schoolers blatting on about how great their ‘daddy’ is.

  3. I lost the trail somewhere between Bush saying that Saddam wanted to purchase “SIGNIFICANT” amounts of yellow cake uranium and Myaki saying that Iraq wanted to expand commerical relationships. I should have paid attention during mind reading class

  4. At most, the Bushies had a badly documented circumstantial argument that Iraq may have tried to purchase yellowcake, but failed, in 1999. This seems to me to be a less than compelling reason to go to war in 2003, especially when the IAEA was saying, by January 2003, that inspectors were not finding indications that Iraq had been processing uranium.

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