Tuesday, July 20, 2004

when 13 is more than 16

There's been a lot of reporting lately about the Senate Intelligence Committee's report and the Butler report, both of which seemed to be "good news" for the President.  The SIC's report basically said--unanimously, I might add--that the President did not intentionally deceive the American public in his 2003 State of the Union address, and the Butler report calls the intelligence behind the famous "16 wordscredible.  As can be expected, media coverage of these reports has been less than enthusiastic. 
And friends of the President should be glad. 
Why?  Because the "new" information doesn't really shine a positive light on the administration, either. 
Some background here:  on July 9th of LAST YEAR, Ari Fleischer said these 13 words:  "we now know that the yellow cake ties to Niger were not accurate."  So important was this statement that it was almost repeated verbatim barely a minute later.
And in that instant, the "issue" became something other than "yellow cake"--not the Betty Crocker kind, of course--or whether Saddam had sought to get some of that substance from Niger.  Instead, the issue became about the President's character.  The "Bush lied" claims came into being--and they were loud.
And for an entire year, that charge went without response from the right.  And it was quite a bad year, taken in the view of the accusers:  the war that "started because of those lies" (as the party line goes) cost American lives in Iraq, and the policies of the administration for fighting the war and dealing with the aftermath were poorly conceived and even more poorly implemented.  The White House's attempts to paint a rosier picture of how the war was actually unfolding in Iraq were met with scorn from the left, who constantly used the previously-unquestioned-but-now-vulnerable-to-assault character of the President in their counter-arguments that the public shouldn't believe the "propaganda" spewing from the adminstration. 
It's just more lies, they would say dismissively.
An entire year.  That's an eternity in politics--especially with the next Presidential election fast approaching. 
So now the "proof" comes out that those 16 words may have been true. 
So what?
With the retraction already on the record, this newly-recognized truth of Saddam's queries into getting nuclear materials from Niger means little. 

It doesn't make our reasons for going to war any more valid.  For me and most proponents of the war, the case for military action in Iraq was compelling even without the presence of the 16 words.  For those opposing the war, the lack of overwhelming WMD finds in Iraq while our soldiers are in harm's way on the streets trumps whatever "news" came from the intelligence reports.
And the findings don't even let our President off the hook from attacks on this topic.  Fleischer's words--the yellow cake ties to Niger were "not accurate"--were not accurate.  So not only do you have a year of brutal credibility attacks based on a statement that was TRUE, but you also
have an administration that can't use the new information to fire back at all the "Bush lied" nonsense because their actions made it appear that Bush had in fact told a lie.  

That's a double-header of trouble for Bush supporters.  And all of this trouble comes from the serious mishandling of a good tidbit of intel that British intelligence sources--the same sources referenced in the famous 16 words--have never backed away from supporting.  So in the same week that Bush's handling of intelligence is somewhat vidicated because the intel itself was flawed, we also find that even when the intel ISN'T flawed the administration still manages to strike out--or at least did so in this instance. 

Wouldn't you agree that it was a pretty critical instance to step on your own feet?    
What's the upshot of it all?  Well, there might be people who vote based on "character" that suddenly don't look at the President as disapprovingly as they had after the yellow-cake incident.
Which turned out not to be an incident after all.
And maybe the "Bush lied" cries will die out in number and fervor in the next couple weeks.  Then again, with the Democratic Convention this weekend, that probably isn't a realistic prophecy. 
But the political maneuvering--for want of a better word--on this subject 12 months ago doesn't really testify to the competence of this White House.   
Fortunately, you have to be willing to actually read the reports to realize that the Bush administration's actions with regards to the yellow-cake information are still a losing issue for Republicans. 
And the left doesn't seem to know that those reports exist.


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