July 14, 2004

A Revisionistic First Draft of History

You can be pretty sure that TPM is going to approvingly link to this James Risen piece in the NYT today.

You know, people often say that journalism is the first draft of history.

But, unfortunately, people sometimes fail to note that it's often a pretty revisionistic dose of history that's being proffered up.

As Risen points out, and as we are all painfully aware, there were of course major shortcomings on the Niger intel (hell, all the Iraq intel).

Yep, we overstated Iraq's WMD capabilities by a long shot. And as the Butler report shows today, so did U.K. intelligence services.

And, it should be noted, if France and Germany had taken part in this war, and they were now also going through similar inquiries re: the efficacy of their intelligence gathering on Iraq--you can be sure they would determine their Iraq intel was flawed too.

Put simply, there was a wide-spread belief--through a variety of different nation-state's intelligence communities--that Saddam possessed material stockpiles of WMD.

And, of course, such major stockpiles simply haven't shown up.

They might still (though don't count me in with those who think tons of anthrax are now hidden under Bashar's residence in Damascus or in massive underground vaults in the environs of Tikrit...)

So what's my point?

These were largely intelligence failures--not purposeful lies emanating down from POTUS.

But James Risen, in his NYT piece, uses these real shortcomings in the intel to gloss over the entire Bush lied meme.

So if you aren't following the Niger story closely--you are left thinking that the Adminstration lied (from the top-down) on the Niger story--because of all the attendant problems with the intel.

Problem is, that's simply not true.

And that's obviously a critical point. Honesty counts in presidential politics.

And Bush has, pretty much, been tarred a liar.

But Bush didn't lie in his SOTU on this whole Niger business--knowingly or otherwise.

Of course, that won't stop Kerry supporters from saying he did.

Last night, on John Gibson's Big Show over at Fox--former Howard Dean campaign manager Joe Trippi rolled out the uranium/Niger/Bush lied canard--even with Gibson admonishing him that the story had faced some FT-induced roll-back.

But no, the distortions easily rolled off Trippi's tongue.

It's now all part of the '04 electoral folklore.

16 words. Niger. Uranium. Forgery. Bush lied. Plame outed. Wilson's nakedly partisan musings (so helpfully widely aired) in the opinion pages of the New York Times...)

And so on.

To be sure, Risen mentions the free-fall in Wilson credibility, as Glenn has pointed out.

But note Risen's mention of Bush's SOTU:

"His address suddenly gave the uranium issue high visiblity, but it could not withstand global scrutiny."

For Risen, "global scrutiny" means the IAEA.

But there's a problem with that.

Check out the just released Butler report.

It explicitly puts aside the IAEA's analysis (see bottom of p. 123 to top of 124) and then opines thus.

Money quotes:

"We conclude that, on the basis of intelligence estimates at the time, covering both Niger and the Democratic Republic of Congo, the statements on Iraqi attempts to buy uranium from Africa in the Government's dossier, and by the Prime Minister in the House of Commons, were well founded. By extension, we conclude also that the statement in President Bush's State of the Union address of January 28, 2003 that [insert 16 words here] was well founded."

AND:

45. From our examination of the intelligence and other material on Iraqi attempts to buy uranium from Africa, we have concluded that:

a. It is accepted by all parties that Iraqi officials visited Niger in 1999.
b. The British Government had intelligence from several different sources indicating that this visit was for the purpose of acquiring uranium. Since uranium constitutes almost three-quarters of Nigerís exports, the intelligence was credible.
c. The evidence was not conclusive that Iraq actually purchased, as opposed to having sought, uranium and the British Government [ed. note: and neither did Bush in the SOTU] did not claim this.
d. The forged documents were not available to the British Government at the time its assessment was made, and so the fact of the forgery does not undermine it. (Paragraph 503)

Pity Risen can't simply, er, "update" his piece--because Bush's SOTU speech has withstood global scrutiny--contra a central contention in his article.

Daniel Okrent, have you a comment?

UPDATE:

Okrent doesn't have a comment; but Tom Maguire is taking me to task in my own comments section!

Here's, btw, how the NYT is handling Butler/Niger to date....pretty de minimis fare, no?

Posted by Gregory Djerejian at July 14, 2004 10:50 AM
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