The hysteria also obscures a noteworthy admission by Director of Central Intelligence George Tenet. Last Friday, he revealed that the official U.S. National Intelligence Assessment (NIE) on Iraqi WMD published in October 2002 “cited reports that Iraq began ‘vigorously trying to procure’ more uranium from Niger and two other African countries, which would shorten the time Baghdad needed to produce nuclear weapons.” Since such reports were not universally accepted as authoritative by every component of our intelligence community, however, Tenet apologized for allowing reference to them to appear in the President’s State of the Union address.
Most significantly, the President’s critics seem determined to ignore the reality that virtually everyone who had monitored Saddam Hussein’s activities since the first Persian Gulf War (notably, the United Nations, the French, German and Russian intelligence services, the U.S. Congress, most of the Democratic presidential contenders, etc.), had concluded that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction and was seeking to increase their numbers and lethal capabilities. In light of Saddam’s declared desire for revenge against the United States and his ties to terror, this was a legitimate source of concern in the post-9/11 strategic environment -- whether Saddam had indeed augmented his 550 metric ton uranium stockpile with yellowcake from Niger or not.
In short, the overheated rhetoric about the 16 words concerning Saddam’s shopping sprees in Africa tucked into the State of the Union’s lengthy discussion of his WMD programs amounts to much ado about not very much. Actually, it is rank partisanship of the most unseemly kind.
Unfortunately, the current fandango cannot be written off as merely a domestic political cat fight -- tawdry but the sort of thing to be expected in the course of an election season. It would be an international setback of the worst kind if it also has the effect of: stiffening resistence towards the U.S.-led interim authority in Iraq; inviting further attacks on our military personnel; increasing the reluctance of allies to participate in Iraq’s rebuilding; and intensifying efforts to sabotage progress being made in rebuilding a functioning Iraqi society and economy.
The mischaracterization of the substance and import of George W. Bush’s most recent State of the Union address is bad enough. The hyperbole now being unleashed impugning the President’s credibility and integrity seems calculated to undermine his leadership at a critical moment.
It is all too reminiscent of the Left’s past, highly divisive attacks on the authority of the U.S. government -- especially those associated with the Vietnam war. Now, as then, signs of declining popular appreciation of the legitimacy and necessity of the efforts of our armed forces will erode their morale. Similarly, the enemy will be encouraged to believe that additional, murderous assaults on Americans and their Iraqi partners will improve the chances for a restoration of something like the previous order.
Scurrilous attacks on George W. Bush’s case for war may gratify his partisan foes even as they make Saddam Hussein’s day. But they are highly unlikely to make Iraq more stable or secure -- or the world a safer place.
Frank Gaffney Jr. is the founder and president of the Center for Security Policy and author of War Footing: 10 Steps America Must Take to Prevail in the War for the Free World .
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