If there is not an orchestrated effort among Democratic leaders and the mainstream press to discredit President Bush concerning Iraq, there might as well be. The irony is that the president's accusers are damaging U.S. credibility far more than he has.
Democratic Party Chairman Terry McAuliffe charged, "This may be the first time in recent history that a president knowingly misled the American people during the State of the Union address."
McAuliffe was referring to a 16-word statement contained in President Bush's address: "The British government has learned that Saddam Hussein recently sought significant quantities of uranium from Africa."
It was later learned that part of the basis of this "intelligence" was a forged document. The British, notably, still insist their intelligence is accurate. Nevertheless, the administration has conceded that the statement should not have been included in the president's speech, though there is confusion about who caused the mistake. The CIA has taken responsibility for it, but some believe CIA Director George Tenet is just covering for the president.
Democrats and many in the press have been hammering this issue for months, and it's finally getting some traction. It was the primary subject of the network and cable Sunday shows, the subject of a rant by Senator John Kerry and fodder for any number of newspapers.
The Wall Street Journal's Al Hunt wrote: "The phony Iraq-Niger deal may be the smoking gun in what was a pervasive pattern of exaggeration and distortion to justify the war against the Iraqi dictator."
A Los Angeles Times editorial unquestioningly accepted as true Terry McAuliffe's allegation that President Bush "knowingly misled the American people." The editorial mentioned the claim without examining its veracity, then went on to discuss the pattern of "White House manipulation of intelligence" that has gone on since Theodore Roosevelt. The writers conclude, "Given the historical record of the presidents who came before, it would have been more surprising if Bush had not manipulated the evidence." Talk about manipulating evidence. This august paper cites allegations of deceit by previous presidents as evidence of Bush's deceit.
On ABC's "This Week," George Stephanopoulos did his best to trip up Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, as did Tim Russert on NBC's "Meet the Press." It appeared as if they were reading from the same script in an attempt to undermine our war against Iraq, and thus Bush's credibility, on multiple fronts. They rehashed every conceivable criticism from "we're bogged down in a quagmire" and "we haven't captured Saddam," to the administration lied about the existence of WMDs, the number of troops necessary to secure the peace and the cost of the war.
Rumsfeld took both interviewers to school, pointing out that 10 weeks is no quagmire, the administration was careful never to predict the "unknowable" cost of the war and that Saddam obviously had WMD programs or he would not have repeatedly violated U.N. resolutions.
Though Rumsfeld admitted the statement should not have been in the president's speech, he emphasized that it was a mistake and there was no deception involved. More importantly, Rumsfeld told Russert that this one item was a minor tile in the entire mosaic of evidence against Iraq and "it wasn't even of the five or six things that the intelligence community listed in their National Intelligence Estimate with respect to the Iraqi nuclear program."
National Security adviser Condoleezza Rice backed up Rumsfeld on CBS's "Face the Nation," saying the "notion" that President Bush went to war over this "one sentence about whether Saddam Hussein sought uranium in Africa" is "ludicrous."
I am not excusing the inclusion of this disputed allegation in the president's speech, but I firmly believe there was no intent to deceive and that the administration did not materially rely on the allegation in its decision to attack Iraq.
I also believe the deliberate effort to paint President Bush as a deceiver will damage our nation far more than this lone sentence. Those responsible for charging Bush with deceit and those repeating it endlessly in the media have to know that the next time the administration accuses another rogue nation, based on intelligence data, of engaging in a vigorous program to produce WMDs, many may well believe the information has been hyped. Perhaps those responsible for such a diminution of the credibility of the president and our intelligence agencies will delight in this outcome -- as they are inclined to oppose military interventions in such circumstances anyway.
"Oh what tangled webs we weave, when first we practice to" paint others as deceivers.