Silliness and 'African uranium'

Posted: Jul 15, 2003 12:00 AM

While American soldiers are dying in Iraqi ambushes and a new Iraqi governing council is taking root -- that is, while life, real and occasionally bitter, goes on -- the plaintiffs lawyer who wants to be our president is talking like, what else, a plaintiffs lawyer.

Quoth Sen. John Edwards: "When the president's own statements are called into question, it's a very serious matter." Who's calling the president's own statements into question? Well, as a matter of fact, Edwards is, with the able assistance of his competitors for the Democratic presidential nomination and also -- of course! -- the media. There's nothing like a self-fulfilling accusation, as we all know.

Edwards further explains to The New York Times: "It's important that we not lose sight of the bigger picture, which is the enormous failure that is looming in Iraq right now."

Failure looms? Honest? The Iraqis are about to run our victorious troops out of the country? Gosh. Maybe we should pack up now. No -- better idea: Elect John Edwards president. He'll turn the tide of history. Why, he'll sue the black-mustachioed so-and-sos, right?

I pick on Edwards at random: admittedly in part because it's fun to pick on superwealthy plaintiffs lawyers, who are always, just ask 'em, 175 percent right. The gentleman from North Carolina has plenty of media and Democratic help as he attempts to disable administration strategy for putting Iraq back together.

Silly stories are the stuff of any presidential campaign season. It's just a little sad when they intrude on the serious business of trying to make America, and Americans, safer.

It's hard to get sillier than the African uranium flap of last week, though you may be certain that efforts in this direction will be pursued zealously. The story is that the State of the Union speech was inadequately vetted; Bush spoke incautiously, if not deceptively, in telling us that "The British government has learned that Saddam Hussein recently sought significant quantities of uranium from Africa."

You remember that crucial phrase, of course. I don't myself. Stupidly, I let it swim past me. I hadn't dreamed of that which Democratic and media accusations seem to imply -- namely, that we went to war to block African-Iraqi uranium exchanges. The evidence at the time, as laid out by the likes of Colin Powell, not to mention Tony Blair and the president, seemed more damning than that.

Since the war ended in April, our feet have become tangled in, shall we say, non-essentialities, not the least of which is, where are all those weapons of mass destruction?

The obvious answer -- not found yet, but the hunt goes on -- never appeases the questioners, who, by their relentless questioning, give away their game. The game, it would seem, is to shake confidence in the worth and prospects of our Iraqi endeavors. No WMDs yet? It can only be because there were none to start with, but, pssst, pass it on, the administration didn't care, just wanted a war and so on.

Now the "yellowcake" story (yellowcake being lightly processed uranium). Never mind that the president's statement was literally true -- the British government did report what Bush said it reported. Never mind that the statement was more illustrative than anything else -- an exempli gratia of Saddam's ferocious ways.

We'd been saying for years -- everyone had been saying -- that Saddam was a menace, without whom the world would be a better place. Working up the intestinal fortitude to get rid of him was the challenge. Bush rose to it. Who, in his absence, was going to, Kofi Annan? Jacques Chirac?

The yellowcake flap is a silly flap, getting sillier, that has to do chiefly with John Edwards and the brethren pulling long, scandalized faces and pointing lugubriously in the president's direction. Great way to win a peace, gentlemen (all right, a quasi-peace) -- turn the people against the man trying to win it. But as the saying goes, that's politics.