2004-10-15 / Columnists

The Rockaway Irregular

by Stuart W. Mirsky

So, former Ambassador Joe Wilson told us a few fibs about President Bush and his administration! That’s the obvious conclusion from the recent reports by the Senate Intelligence Committee and Lord Butler’s report to the British Parliament issued in mid-July. Last year Mr. Wilson told us that his foray into Niger for the CIA had debunked the claim, made by President Bush in his State of the Union Address, that the British government had learned Saddam Hussein was attempting to buy uranium in Africa. Wilson said he had learned otherwise on his trip and that there was no basis for the Bush claim except a forged document, and that he had enlightened the CIA on these very points well before the President’s speech. Wilson also asserted at the time that his role in the whole matter had had nothing whatever to do with his wife’s position inside the CIA. Well it looks like he misstated across the board.

According to the reports just out, Wilson actually reported to the CIA that his contact in Niger did believe Iraq was after “yellowcake” (weapons grade uranium), the primary export of that African nation, and that Saddam had sent his emissaries to Niger. This confirmed other information the CIA had from British and European intelligence agencies and is what the CIA told the President in the briefings that preceded his State of the Union Address. And Wilson’s wife, it seems, wrote a memo of her own, taking credit for Mr. Wilson’s appointment as special CIA envoy to Niger concerning the Saddam-yellowcake question. So Mr. Wilson told us a fib about what he found in Niger, about what he told the CIA when he got back, and about his wife’s role in his getting the Niger junket in the first place. Whoops. 

Joe Wilson’s attacks on the President’s case for a Saddam-yellowcake connection was one of the opening salvos in a relentless assault by establishment types, since the removal of Saddam Hussein, against Bush’s credibility. So much has been said so loudly by so many for so long, as amplified by a sympathetic media, that it’s become virtually gospel by now that Saddam really wasn’t a threat to anyone, contra the administration’s pre-war claims. The obvious conclusion we have been asked to draw from this is that Bush wrongly took us to war, whether purposefully or not. And the most vituperative of his critics, of course, tell us Bush and his people did all this knowingly, i.e., they lied. Joe Wilson said so, himself, when he called Bush and Cheney liars at a campaign rally for John Kerry.

The media gobbled it all up and made Wilson a household name in interview after interview. Democratic political leaders, from Teddy Kennedy and Nancy Pelosi to Howard Dean and, finally, John Kerry, made political hay of the Wilson allegations, using these to hammer the president and drive home the mantra to the American people that Bush was a liar. Pseudo-documentarian Michael Moore is only the latest, if perhaps one of the most vicious and disingenuous, to jump on this crowded “Bush lied” bandwagon.

Only now it turns out that Wilson, himself, wasn’t telling us the truth. Well, was he lying? Since we can presume he knew the facts we now know, back when he was making his claims, what else are we to conclude? Bush may have gotten incorrect information in some cases from his intelligence briefers (though it doesn’t look like they were wrong about Saddam’s search for yellowcake anymore). Still, unless he knew more than his briefers knew at the time, unless he knew they were wrong on this or that issue, he can’t be said to have been lying when he relied on their information to make his decisions. But knowingly speaking falsely? Well that, by any definition is lying.

And Joe Wilson’s oft-repeated claims clearly fit that bill.

But what’s behind this mad rush we have witnessed to accuse the president of lying as Wilson and his spiritual fellow, Michael Moore, have done? What’s going on in the media and with the political opposition that they seem to have lost their moral compass like this? It’s one thing to criticize someone on the facts. But it’s quite another to create or misrepresent facts in order to make your case. And yet we’ve seen this repeatedly in an unprecedented outpouring of hostility and vituperation against this administration from the academy, the media and from the Democratic Party itself. In fact, we have witnessed a virtual tidal wave of charges and allegations against this president since the removal of Saddam in ‘03 even as the national media, like the New York Times and CNN, remain reticent in correcting the record when claims like Wilson’s start to collapse in the face of the facts.

In past periods in this country, going back to the Cold War and earlier, there has been a certain unanimity among the majority of Americans on international matters. Whatever differences divided us on the domestic front, we left our partisan baggage at the door and went out to face the world with common purpose. But no more. So ferocious has the contest for power at home become that there no longer seem to be any inhibitions, on the part of those in pursuit of it, concerning damage to U.S. interests abroad. If flagrant and unsupportable allegations of lies are what it takes to bring down an administration, then that, these partisans seem to be saying, is what they will do. So determined are they to reclaim the levers of power in Washington, they have lost their bearings.

Well now the facts are in on the Wilson matter, but the question at hand is whether anyone will pay attention at this point . . . and whether those who alleged the worst of this president will step forward and retract the lies they, themselves, helped promulgate. And whether the truth will even matter in the electoral calculations of the American people, now that the damage has been done.


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