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Factual Clarity

This much we know:

  • Joe Wilson's credibility: Not so hot, but not totally destroyed.
  • Niger Claim, strong version (Iraq got uranium): Dead.*
  • Niger Claim, intermediate version (Iraq was likely to get uranium): Dead.
  • Niger Claim, weak version (Iraq sought uranium, but couldn't get it): Not so hot, but not totally destroyed.
  • Exposing the identity of a covert CIA operative for partisan purposes: Still illegal.**
We do not know, however, the answer to some very interesting questions.

We know, for example, that some people were forging documents designed to indicate that Iraq had a deal to purchase uranium from Niger and that these people (possibly working with other people) passed this on to Italian military intelligence and, through them, to other western intelligence agencies. It still might turn out to be the case that the underlying claim here was accurate, but there's no denying that someone was passing forgeries around. But who? And why? And, once these persons are identified, what other things have they done to serve whatever their agenda is? I, for one, would be very interested to know the answers to these questions, and I would think that hawks would also want to know.

The possible motives would seem to be a desire to manipulate the country into invading Iraq, or else a desire to humiliate the Bush administration by getting them to say something that would, in retrospect, look foolish. It seems to me that people of any ideology should be interested in getting to the bottom of these possibilities. Even if you think there were perfectly good reasons for going to war, the existence of some set of malefactors who forged evidence to try and manipulate the country into invading should be regarded by anyone as a serious problem. Clearly, whoever did this did not have the best interests of the USA at heart, but also has the ability to seriously influence the thinking of western intelligence on some rather important issues.

* I distinguish between three different versions of the Niger claim because of my belief that it's important not only to track the semantic accuracy of various things that various people have said, but the accuracy and relevance of what was implied. Bush's "sixteen words" only strictly committed him to the weak version of the claim, but he clearly meant to imply that (at least) the intermediate version was true, since otherwise the whole thing is of dubious relevance. For various other statements implying the existence of a one-year time horizon before Iraq went nuclear (see, e.g., the Cincinnati speech) to make sense, you would have to believe the strong claim even though no one actually seems to have gone out and said that that's what happened.

** Indeed, this is illegal for any purpose, but bringing out the partisan nature of the misconduct seems particularly relevant as Bush's apologists have lately taken to arguing that the need to discredit Wilson is a justification (rather than, say, a motive) for the crime.

July 19, 2004 | Permalink

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» More things to make you go hmmm... from Too Many Worlds
Now that there has been a week to approach the Iraq-Africa uranium intelligence through the admittedly fun but not all that enlightening angle of "Joe Wilson is a jackass with ulterior motives! / No, Joe Wilson is still right!", the [Read More]

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This is, of course, silly. Joe Wilson is relevent to the national conversation for two reasons. First, he contributed to the exposing of the dubiousness of a claim Mr. Bush made in his SOTU address about Iraq attempting to acquire Uranium in Africa. ... [Read More]

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Matt Yglesias offers a handy half-time recap... This much we know: Joe Wilson's credibility: Not so hot, but not totally destroyed. Niger Claim, strong version (Iraq got uranium): Dead. Niger Claim, intermediate version (Iraq was like... [Read More]

Tracked on Jul 20, 2004 5:03:16 PM

Comments

"some people was forging documents"

I suppose it's possible that an entire ethnic group or nation-state was doing it, but you probably meant "were".

Posted by: Grammar Troll | Jul 19, 2004 11:14:29 PM

Where does the 'strong version' of the Niger Claim come from?

Who put that story out?

Posted by: MattJ | Jul 19, 2004 11:19:22 PM

"Exposing the identity of a covert CIA operative for partisan purposes: Still illegal"

'Knowing' disclosure of an operative for any reason is illegal, I've read.

Fitzgerald needs to file some charges on this or make clearer somehow what's going on. It has been over a year, and that's long enough.

If he's going for plea-bargains for some lower-level people in order to get higher ups, I'll admit I'm wrong in damanding action.

Posted by: JimPortlandOR | Jul 19, 2004 11:22:49 PM

Why are you taking this so seriously? With the obvious errors in the names and dates, they were really bad forgeries. They should been detected as forgeries much earlier than they were, tho suspicion was high at an early date, and the only reason they got as far as they did was that the information the forgeries contained was quite welcome to the powers that be.

Michael Ledeen, Doug Feith, Iranian intelligence could do better than this.

If this is the best our diabolical enemy can do, I am not losing any sleep.

Posted by: bob mcmanus | Jul 19, 2004 11:44:34 PM

I imagine that most people will think me far too charitable when i say that I think the weak claim was actually quite relevant to the bush admins claims. they were saying that we needed to get rid of Saddam b/c he could not be trusted without being constantly monitored. finding evidence of him asking around for nuclear material confirms this. So while i think they were planning on this war regardless of reasons, i actually think that even the weak claim is still significant.

Posted by: chris brandow | Jul 19, 2004 11:46:30 PM

Sorry Matthew but when evaluating the veracity of a claim you don't get to replace the ACTUAL claim with one that you would have found more "relevant".

The fact that you found the "weak version" (i.e. the ACTUAL CLAIM) of "dubious relevance" will no doubt go into your autiobiography but it has no bearing whatsoever on whether the claim (the ACTUAL one) was true.

Is it merely arrogance, or something else, that causes people to think that Whether They Find X Relevant/Persuasive is somehow crucial to Whether X Is True? I really don't get it.

As far as Who made the forgeries, I totally agree that we need to get to the bottom of that either way, and this should be said more often. For too long nobody has displayed any curiosity whatsoever about who made the forgeries or why.

Posted by: Blixa | Jul 19, 2004 11:57:59 PM

"they were saying that we needed to get rid of Saddam b/c he could not be trusted without being constantly monitored. finding evidence of him asking around for nuclear material confirms this."

Yeah, but as far as I remember, only a relatively small number of the people who opposed the war were proposing to stop monitoring Saddam. Some of the war opponents at the UN did want the sanctions lifted, but that couldn't have actually happened without US approval (though other countries could, and did, find ways around the sanctions). And, of course, Bush's initial challenge to the UN did produce a unanimous resolution in favor of resumed inspections, so the administration's policy did produce a pretty unambiguous victory on the question of whether or not Saddam should be monitored closely on WMD-related questions.

Posted by: Haggai | Jul 20, 2004 12:09:41 AM


No canard is dead while I am alive. Saddam still controls a stock of nuclear weapons; he's just cleverly biding his time, cunningly waiting for exactly the right moment to unleash thermonuclear fury on Omaha or Macon.

Posted by: Al | Jul 20, 2004 12:12:45 AM

Naturally, I meant to add that the administration achieved a renewed close monitoring of Saddam via inspections without actually going to war, but of course this wasn't enough for them. The "weak" claim could be dealt with by methods short of war, which Bush and company were well aware of. Hence, the steady barrage of stronger claims and innuendo.

Posted by: Haggai | Jul 20, 2004 12:13:01 AM

I, for one, would be very interested to know the answers to these questions, and I would think that hawks would also want to know.

I think you impute too much good faith on at least some of the hawks; that's to say, those hawks who are basically attacking Joe Wilson as an attempt to defend the administration against leaking his wife's operational status. They don't want to know at all. Or, perhaps some of them do know, and they don't want it to be known.

Anyway, the 'strong' version is one which perhaps relies upon believing that the administration played it heavy on innuendo at the end of 2002. The 'aluminum tubes' story, plus the uranium story, plus the 'mushroom cloud' imagery in a number of administration officials' speeches, plus 'actively reconstituting nuclear program' from Dick Cheney, can be perceived by some as an attempt at hype. Others may differ. But it's foolish to say that there wasn't at least a trial balloon cast out that Saddam was chugging away at a nuclear weapon.

Blixa: those double spaces between paragraphs are a real pain. They make your comments nigh-on unreadable. Everyone else manages with just the one line between grafs, so why not you?

More substantively, you still haven't made a persuasive argument as to how Bush was in a position to know the veracity '16 words' at the time he said them. And this isn't a 'known unknown', either. This is a 'known sort-of-known.' And I'm surprised that our host hasn't reached back to his epistemology classes to parse the truth-value in P and not-P terms.

Posted by: nick | Jul 20, 2004 12:41:41 AM

I agree with Herr Brandow that:
"they were saying that we needed to get rid of Saddam b/c he could not be trusted without being constantly monitored. finding evidence of him asking around for nuclear material confirms this."

What was it, a baker's dozen of SC resolutions, and pretty much nada to show for it? I mean, he's still sniffing around the edges of the commode for yeller stuff? Time to step on that roach. Yet Haggai opines:

"Yeah, but as far as I remember, only a relatively small number of the people who opposed the war were proposing to stop monitoring Saddam. "

The so-called "monitoring" was only acceptable to the tyrant because there were a half million US troops on his border. Anyone who thinks he'd have taken a few hundred, or a few thousand, blue hats seriously is on drugs. And by any objective measure the sanction had been broken, so any containment that had once offered was essentially at an end. This approaches undeniable fact. The lone argument for avoiding war... the one thing that was never tried... involved simply pressing Saddam all the way to the wall to see what he'd do. "Twould've been a simple matter, to launch a half-dozen U2s from S.A. and when he began to glow with white heat about the indignity to simply say: "Look Bub, "unimpeded surveillance," get it?

I figure a 90% or so probability that he'd have shot down one or all of the U2s, providing the unambiguous rationale for an invasion himself. But, of course, it would've been barbaric to condemn the men on the spy planes to such a relatively certain fate. Better war, and a dozen or so years equivocating over the justifications.

Like, give us a break Matt. The reason this wasn't resolved by the UN was rank cowardice. Compared to the resolution of that issue, who cares about the forgeries? They aren't civilization-killing. Probably some bureaucratic turf war.

Posted by: Scott | Jul 20, 2004 12:43:53 AM

Note that Iraq was already sitting on 2 tons of nuclear material, mostly yellowcake, at the Tuwaitha nuclear plant. The search for new sources of yellowcake makes the claim that a processing facility was underway a strong one.

Posted by: Yamamoto | Jul 20, 2004 12:56:17 AM

The search for new sources of yellowcake makes the claim that a processing facility was underway a strong one.

No, it makes the claim a ludicrous one. The yellowcake he had was useless -- and more than enough for him to have made a bomb already. Iran and N. Korea have a tough time hiding their nuclear plants from Western intelligence. They are shrouded in mystery compared to Saddam's Iraq.

We had access to every site we thought was suspect prior to our invasion. We found nothing.

You don't purify uranium into weapons grade under that kind of scrutiny in secret. Bush and the CIA knew the claims of an Iraqi nuke were complete bullshit. Didn't stop them from scaring people with such claims.

Posted by: Timothy Klein | Jul 20, 2004 1:20:12 AM

I should also note that both Iran and N. Korea want to make nukes the easier way -- by getting plutonium or the like from a functioning nuclear reactor. Saddam did not have that option -- he had to do it the much, much harder way of purifying uranium.
This would have been very hard (or more likely impossible) to hide, under the conditions that Saddam was under.

You have to filter the uranium a single atom at a time! When the USA did it during WWII, Oak Ridge was consuming something like a tenth of our entire national energy output.

Posted by: Timothy Klein | Jul 20, 2004 1:24:25 AM

OK, here's my go:

Saddam has thousands of sleeper agents in the most American parts of America, and they have H-bombs in their lower colons that Saddam made by hand with the yellowcake he bought from Joe Wilson when he was Ambassador to Iraq.

And he is just waiting for the right moment (say, when Senior Bushists are charged with despicable crimes) to send out the order on CNN to detonate those colon-bombs.

So therefore, we must invade Iraq right away.

The end.

Posted by: grytpype | Jul 20, 2004 1:51:46 AM

Oh fuck, I mean to say IRAN! We have to invade IRAN right away, and Syria!

Posted by: grytpype | Jul 20, 2004 1:55:54 AM

Oh, and we know the colon-bomb story is true -- has to be! -- because Wilson didn't quite have his story straight about how he was asked to go to Niger.

Posted by: grytpype | Jul 20, 2004 2:08:37 AM

T. Klein, the old gas diffusion plants certainly did require a lot of electricity. Modern centrifuges consume far less. Both N. Korea and Iran have built such facilities. Fairly under the nose of the IAEA.

Posted by: Yamamoto | Jul 20, 2004 2:17:46 AM

The American intelligence community miscalculated Saddam's initial nuclear program, Libya's nuclear program, missed the Indian bomb, the Pakistani bomb and proliferation scheme. During years of containment and inspections the global intelligence community could not make a reasonable calculation of Saddam's WMD capacity, and the first job of the coalition forces was to remove the GPS jammers that the Iraqi's were supposedly unable to purchase due to sanctions. Given all of that why would anyone feel safe in the belief that "containment" and "inspections" were adequate knowing that he was again attempting to buy black market yellow cake?

Dealing with someone like Saddam prudence is preemption.

Bill

Posted by: Bill | Jul 20, 2004 2:40:43 AM

These are silly questions. Saddam had already tested a nuclear bomb.

Frank Gaffney Jr. a expert on these issues wrote about it in 2001. He's from the respected think tank Center for Security Policies.

Saddam already has as many as three such weapons and perhaps as many as three of the far more powerful thermonuclear ones.


So why rewrite history? We know he had the bomb, we know he gassed his own people, we know he was evil.

We fought and we won!

So who cares about factual clarity?

Posted by: Da Bomb | Jul 20, 2004 5:21:28 AM

Frank Gaffney Jr. a expert on these issues

Ah, see, that's where your credibility went down the shitter. Gaffney has zero credibility. Nada. None.

He's from the respected think tank Center for Security Policies.

That's the Center for Security Policy. And let's see who makes up this 'respected' thinktank, shall we? After all, they must have paid you to post that particular slice of garbage.

Posted by: nick | Jul 20, 2004 7:12:51 AM

Don't forget this bullet point:

-Bush didn't lie.

The fact that people can't get over the "16 words" proves that all this fuss is stock, irrational bush-hatred.

--scott

Posted by: j.scott barnard | Jul 20, 2004 8:34:13 AM

Oh they're "over" the 16 words all right. They're scrambling and backfilling now simply to mitigate their irrational attacks in the first place. I'm particularly fond of the way they're pretending the relentless assault on Wilson is to smoke-screen the investigation.

That's nonsense. You all are ignoring his repeated appeances on the TV and his book and his attacks on the Administration's credibility and his partisanship and support of Kerry. That's the reason no one's letting this guy up off the mat. It has dick to do with the investigation.

One more thing: According to the Wall Street Journal, motive is imperative in determining whether the statute was violated. So while myself and many others could care less if Feith or Scooter or Buddy swings for violating the statute, you're dreaming if you think anybody's going up for exposing Plame when answering the question What's this guy Wilson doing over in Africa?

Posted by: spongeworthy | Jul 20, 2004 8:43:41 AM

"So why rewrite history? We know he had the bomb"

Talk about your rewriting history! I suppose this explains the unprecedented disaster when Saddam nuked our troops in their assembly areas in Kuwait!

Jeez, some people . . .

Posted by: rea | Jul 20, 2004 8:51:12 AM

What about "Africa claim, weak version (Iraq sought significant quantities of uranium from Africa, but did not obtain them)"?

Posted by: abf | Jul 20, 2004 9:00:04 AM

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