John Leo
In a surprising editorial, The Washington Post deviated from the conventional anti-Bush media position on two counts. It said President Bush was right to declassify parts of a National Intelligence Estimate to make clear why he thought Saddam Hussein was seeking nuclear weapons. And the editorial said ex-ambassador Joseph Wilson was wrong to think he had debunked Bush on the nuclear charge because Wilson's statements after visiting Niger actually "supported the conclusion that Iraq had sought uranium."

In the orthodox narrative line, Wilson is the truth-teller and the Bush is the liar. But Wilson was not speaking truthfully when he said his wife, Valerie Plame, had nothing to do with the CIA sending him to Niger. And it obviously wasn't true, as Wilson claimed, that he had found nothing to support Bush's charge about Niger when he (Wilson) had been told that the Iraqis were poking around in that uranium-rich nation.

Testifying before the Senate intelligence committee, Wilson said that the former prime minister of Niger told him he had been asked to meet with Iraqis to talk about "expanding commercial relations" between the two countries. Everybody knew what that meant; Niger has nothing much to trade other than uranium.

Christopher Hitchens made the latter point last week in a muscular column subtitled "Sorry, everyone, but Iraq did go uranium shopping in Niger." The "Sorry, everyone" phrase indicates the strength of the reigning orthodoxy -- that Bush simply lied when he uttered the famous 16 words in his 2003 State of the Union speech: "The British government has learned that Saddam Hussein recently sought significant quantities of uranium from Africa."

Hitchens made these points: Saddam Hussein had already acquired a large amount of uranium from Niger once before, in 1981, so he knew where to go. Amid suspicions that Saddam was trying to revive his nuclear program, Iraqis made a 1999 visit to Niger. The head member of the visiting Iraqi team was Saddam's senior public envoy for nuclear matters. Hmmm.

Defenders of orthodoxy have a fair point to make here. They say that the alert French, who were in total control of Nigerian uranium, would never have allowed it. Maybe, but the alert French turned out to be the payoff-oriented French on a very large scale in the oil-for-bribes scandal.

John Leo

John Leo is editor of and a former contributing editor at U.S. News and World Report.

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