John Leo

Hitchens made another point. The forged documents claiming an Iraq-Niger connection were so crude that they could never have fooled the CIA or British intelligence for very long. Who would do this, and do it so badly? Nobody knows. But if the forgeries were meant to distract from other evidence that Bush was right, then they certainly worked. Look around in American journalism, and you will find great certitude that the forgeries destroyed Bush's claim.

That certitude can only be founded on the belief that Tony Blair, the U.S. Senate intelligence committee and the special investigative team of Parliament were all liars when they said there was substantial non-forged evidence backing Bush's claim. The investigative team was headed by the highly regarded Lord Butler, who served as a Cabinet minister under five prime ministers. It concluded that Bush's 16 words about Iraq's uranium shopping were "well-founded."

Actually, there is one other way to discount the Butler report: Either muffle or don't mention it in your news columns. The New York Times opted for muffling. A database search finds no mention of "well-founded" in the Times reporting, and only one barely scrutable paragraph about uranium in the Butler report, way down in the 11th paragraph of a story buried well inside the paper.

For you collectors of embarrassing journalism, here is paragraph 11: "It (the report) also defended British officials in the case of an apparently erroneous British report on Iraq's nuclear ambitions that made its way into President Bush's State of the Union speech last year claiming that Iraq had sought to purchase uranium in Niger. The Butler report confirmed that Iraqi officials had visited Niger in 1999, and the British government had several different sources insisting that the purpose was to buy uranium. But it added, 'the evidence was not conclusive that Iraq had actually purchased, as opposed to having sought, uranium, and the British government did not claim this.'"

Note the Times' careful denial of something nobody had claimed -- that Iraq had recently bought, not sought, uranium in Africa.

In truth, Bush handled the issue badly. He dithered, couldn't find the words to explain himself, and weirdly withdrew the 16 words when the pressure came. And it is surely arguable that the uranium-in-Africa charge was too flimsy for the weight Bush gave it in his speech.

But as columnist Robert Novak once argued, the burgeoning "Bush lied" mantra was heavily dependent on the uranium claim. So the liar label was most firmly attached on an issue Bush was right about. Go figure.

John Leo

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

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