July 11, 2007
Can't Anyone Here Play This Game?

That's the question Casey Stengel asked about the original Mets, and that's the question that came to mind when I read this Bruce Ramsey column.   Here's what the Seattle Times columnist says about an old controversy:

One of the reasons given for attacking Iraq was a report that Iraqi agents had been trying to buy uranium soils in the African state of Niger.  To check this out, the CIA sent a former diplomat, Joseph Wilson, to Niger.  He determined the Iraqis had not been there.  Bush, however, told the world otherwise, and we went to war.

(Ramsey means, I assume, not "soils", but "yellowcake", that is, processed uranium ore.)

Here are the facts.

The "16 words" in Bush's State of the Union Address on Jan. 28, 2003 have been offered as evidence that the President led the US into war using false information intentionally.  The new reports show Bush accurately stated what British intelligence was saying, and that CIA analysts believed the same thing.

Because those sixteen words have been so often misstated, let me give them again:

The British Government has learned that Saddam Hussein recently sought significant quantities of uranium from Africa.

Read those carefully.  See any mention of Niger?  Not there, is it?  So, as a matter of simple logic, Wilson could not use his junket to Niger to contradict what Bush had said because Niger is only one country in Africa, and by no means the only uranium producer there.  Wilson's absurd claim to have refuted what Bush said in the State of the Union speech is equivalent to a murder investigator claiming that he had proved there was no body in a house, after he had glanced at a single room.   That Wilson made that claim anyway shows something about his honesty; that so many journalists took him seriously shows something about their credulity.  (And, perhaps, their skill at simple logical puzzles.)

Moreover, as the investigation by the Senate intelligence committee learned, some of Wilson's informants in Niger mentioned that Iraqi diplomats had visited Niger, and since Niger has almost nothing to sell except uranium, CIA analysts took that visit as evidence that Saddam was shopping for uranium in Niger.  (Christopher Hitchens has done a series of columns on this question and has concluded that Iraq did go shopping for uranium in Niger.)

What is infuriating about Ramsey's paragraph is that it recycles an old mistake, a mistake that should have been spotted immediately because of the logical error, and a mistake that has been corrected many times in major newspapers.  So why is Ramsey still getting this wrong?  I have no idea, but this may be a hint:

All this fascination with "Scooter" Libby leaves me bored.  Several of my colleagues say the Libby story is big, big, big, and obviously lots of editors agree with them.

In other words, Ramsey thinks he has the story correct because he dissents, in a small way, from the consensus among journalists.  But if he is describing that consensus correctly, he has just made a blistering criticism of those colleagues because he implies that they are even more confused than he is on this subject.

Cross posted at Jim Miller on Politics.

(For more, see this post from three years ago, and the Washington Post article it links to.  And you may want to look at this early post, in which I noted that Wilson's trip to Niger could not have proved that Saddam was not seeking uranium there — judging by Wilson's own description of the trip.  By the way, a detail surfaced later that shows how little the CIA thought of the trip:  The spy agency did not require Wilson to give them a written report.)

Posted by Jim Miller at July 11, 2007 11:42 AM | Email This
1. Yes we all know. But it would be nice if Wilson can tell us what training he had on uranium?

Would the CIA really send someone who didn't know zip about it?

Posted by: Army Medic/Vet on July 11, 2007 12:04 PM
2. "Would the CIA really send someone who didn't know zip about it?



Posted by: Libertarian on July 11, 2007 12:09 PM
3. Facts:

* The Brits claimed in the Butler Report that Bush's 16 words were "well-founded"

* The Brits claim that intelligence was based on something completely separate from the forged documents

* Joe Wilson's original op-ed that started all this asserted that Bush was overstating the case for war, yet Wilson had no knowledge whatsoever of this separate British intel, and therefore no basis to make that claim

* Bush and the WH were absolutely correct to try to undermine Wilson's criticisms, because they were substantially incorrect and deserved to be undermined: that is essential to democracy (though the WH bungled how they went about it)

* This claim did not exist in public before Congress authorized the use of force, and therefore was not integral in the decision to go to war

Now, you tell all this to a reasonably well-informed leftist, and they reply, "ah, but how do we KNOW that this alternate British intel exists?" They have a point. We don't know. But neither do we have any reason (apart from cynicism, which is not to be undervalued) that the intel doesn't exist. And then they complain about Bush using the word "learned" because that, they say, implies Bush "knew" something which we didn't actually know for sure.

But, Bush &co. already said they were wrong about that in July 2003. They said, you know, you're right, even though we stand by the claim, it was not verified enough to be put into the State of the Union.

Posted by: pudge on July 11, 2007 01:15 PM
4. Hey you righties--the new NIE says hat Al Qead is now as strong as it was pre 9-11.

So what did the bankrupting, immoral, lethal war in Iraq do? 30,000 casualties, our army is tired, itmakes the entire arab wolrd hate us and was an illegalinvasion under international law (you need a real threat, you know, not a "mistake")....and today after years ofblood, toil and treasure AL QUEDA IS REGROPUED IN PAKISTAN AND IS AS STRONG AS IT WAS PRE 9-11.

Thanks a lot President Bush, Rove Cheny and the neocons. You have managed to make us weaker, less secure, andlet the terrorists get stronger.

What total incompetence.

Posted by: Seattle Democrat on July 11, 2007 05:13 PM
5. Wilson was ambassador to Iraq when Iraq decided to invade Kuwait. Real winner there.

Posted by: Michael on July 11, 2007 06:47 PM
6. Joe Wilson is to the CIA as Rachel Ray is to cooking.

Posted by: Doc-T on July 11, 2007 07:07 PM
7. "Let us keep in the front of our minds the likely consequences of premature withdrawal from Iraq. Many of my colleagues would like to believe that, should any of the various amendments forcing a withdrawal become law, it would mark the end of this long effort. They are wrong. Should the Congress force a precipitous withdrawal from Iraq, it would mark a new beginning, the start of a new, more dangerous, and more arduous effort to contain the forces unleashed by our disengagement.
No matter where my colleagues came down in 2003 about the centrality of Iraq to the war on terror, there can simply be no debate that our efforts in Iraq today are critical to the wider struggle against violent Islamic extremism. Already, the terrorists are emboldened, excited that America is talking not about winning in Iraq, but is rather debating when we should lose. Last week, Ayman al-Zawahiri, al-Qaeda's deputy chief, said that the United States is merely delaying our "inevitable" defeat in Iraq, and that 'the Mujahideen of Islam in Iraq of the caliphate and jihad are advancing with steady steps towards victory.'

If we leave Iraq prematurely, jihadists around the world will interpret the withdrawal as their great victory against our great power. Their movement thrives in an atmosphere of perceived victory; we saw this in the surge of men and money flowing to al Qaeda following the Soviet withdrawal from Afghanistan. If they defeat the United States in Iraq, they will believe that anything is possible, that history is on their side, that they really can bring their terrible rule to lands the world over. Recall the plan laid out in a letter from Zawahiri to Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, before his death. That plan is to take shape in four stages: establish a caliphate in Iraq, extend the "jihad wave" to the secular countries neighboring Iraq, clash with Israel -- none of which shall commence until the completion of stage one: expel the Americans from Iraq. Mr. President, the terrorists are in this war to win it. The question is: Are we?"

Senator John McCain

Posted by: Shaun on July 11, 2007 07:36 PM
8. #4

Hmmm... stronger al Qaeda... stronger Democrat presence in Congress...at the same time. Ergo, stronger Democrat presence in Congress causes stronger al Qaeda internationally.

/Liberals' global warming logic

Posted by: FT on July 11, 2007 08:01 PM
9. Bruce Ramsey seems to be unable to retell the lie without messing it up.

Here is what Joseph Wilson said in his infamous piece in the NY Times:

"In February 2002, I was informed by officials at the Central Intelligence Agency that Vice President Dick Cheney's office had questions about a particular intelligence report. While I never saw the report, I was told that it referred to a memorandum of agreement that documented the sale of uranium yellowcake -- a form of lightly processed ore -- by Niger to Iraq in the late 1990's. The agency officials asked if I would travel to Niger to check out the story so they could provide a response to the vice president's office.
"I spent the next eight days [in late Feb. 2002] drinking sweet mint tea and meeting with dozens of people: current government officials, former government officials, people associated with the country's uranium business. It did not take long to conclude that it was highly doubtful that any such transaction had ever taken place."

In other words, Wilson claimed to have been checking to see if an actual sale of yellowcake had occurred -- and he concluded that it had not.

Ramsey claims that Wilson determined that Iraqis had not even been in Niger.

Ramsey is apparently incorrect about this most basic part of the story.

Posted by: Micajah on July 11, 2007 09:38 PM

Isn't that were NATO took over most of the operations, just like the left wishes to see happen in Iraq?

Posted by: Lew Waters on July 11, 2007 09:47 PM
11. Seattle Democrat: it is not the strength of al Qaeda that was ever the problem. Or didn't you know that? They weren't all that strong on 9/11; what did they have? Just a handful of people, no real weaponry. They simply had a plan, resolve, and some funding. They still have resolve, their plans are not as good as they used to be (due in part to lack of competence as we've taken out or forced into deeper hiding most of their leadership, and due in another part to our own efforts to respond to threats), and their funding is severely hurt (it's the one area where the 9/11 Commission said the U.S. is doing a pretty good job).

So al Qaeda may be about as strong as it was on 9/11, but it has a significantly reduced capacity to do as much harm as it did on 9/11.

Also, the Arab world already hated us. We don't need to make them like us, we need to help make their own people not hate each other and their own governments.

Also, please cite this supposed "international law" that says our invasion was illegal. (This oughta be good!)

Posted by: pudge on July 11, 2007 10:45 PM
12. Micajah, in fairness, while Wilson never said in that article that the Iraqis had not been in Niger, in his testimony to the Senate later he noted that Niger had been approached by an agent who claimed he was representing Iraqis.

So it is possible that the Iraqis were not in Niger, however, Ramsey claimed they were not there, which is not known, and further he claims that whether or not they were there is of some relevance, which it is not. So I don't mean to detract from YOUR point. :-)

Posted by: pudge on July 11, 2007 10:49 PM
13. Hey seattle dem, care to suggest who else would enforce those UN resolutions put upon Iraq that were basically a paper tiger until W stood in the batters box?

Posted by: PC on July 12, 2007 08:51 AM
14. Pudge, in the Senate Intelligence Committee report of July 7, 2004, at page 46 is this statement about what Wilson told the CIA upon his return from Niger and what the analysts thought about it:

"He [the "reports officer"] judged that the most important fact in the report was that the Nigerien [My question: How do they keep "Nigerian" and "Nigerien" straight? Wouldn't "Nigerite" or something else be easier? ;-)] officials admitted that the Iraqi delegation had traveled there in 1999, and the Nigerien Prime Minister believed the Iraqis were interested in purchasing uranium, because this provided some confirmation of foreign government service reporting."

In short, Wilson was debriefed by the CIA and told them that Iraqis had indeed gone to Niger and met with the Prime Minister in 1999.

Ramsey got it wrong when he said that Wilson concluded that Iraqis didn't even go to Niger.

Note also that the people with whom Wilson met were all former Niger officials. The Prime Minister served to 1999. And, the deal reported by some foreign intel service supposedly was negotiated beginning in 1999 and concluded in 2001. Wilson could only provide info about the very beginning of any such negotiations.

Now that I've looked further into it, I believe Bruce Ramsey got it totally wrong. Could it be that Ramsey knows that Bush said only that Iraq had been trying to buy uranium, so Ramsey wants to change the story? Wilson was sent to see if a deal had been struck, and Wilson reported back that he didn't think any deal occurred. Wilson also reported contact with Niger initiated by Iraq apparently aimed at buying uranium ore -- which is, of course, what Bush said (without saying which African country or countries were the objects of Iraqi efforts to obtain the material).

Posted by: Micajah on July 12, 2007 11:49 AM
15. Micajah @9 & pudge @12 -

Given Micajah's citation of Wilson's NY Times piece, it should be noted, once again, that the only reason Wilson could write such a piece was that he had not been required to sign a non-disclosure agreement, in violation of standard procedure.

Curious, no?

Posted by: ewaggin on July 12, 2007 12:01 PM
16. Saddam already had 550 tons of Uranium Oxide in bunkers with nothing but IAEA bike lock seals over the doors to keep him from using them. That is why George Tenant opposed references to the Niger Uranium connection in the president's speeches leading up to the 2003 SOTU. Congress voted to pass the use-of-force resolution in fall 2002 in order to get Saddam to let weapons inspectors back in to the country to check those seals, which he did. Then Bush withdrew the inspectors after mere weeks because they were likely to lessen the likelyhood of his war.

Posted by: Auburn's Finest on July 12, 2007 10:16 PM
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