Monday, August 02, 2004

"The Point" is FUBAR

There are any number of small to middling size untruths populating the latest installment of “The Point,” but the biggest and most glaring is the assertion that somehow the “liberal” press’s attention to Joseph Wilson has damaged the Bush administration.

In fact, the Wilson coverage has focused more on investigating unsubstantiated attacks on Wilson than his statements disputing President Bush’s claims that Iraq had attempted to buy enriched uranium from Niger. To the extent the examination of the Bush administration’s rationale for war has revolved around the specific charges of a single individual, the issue has devolved into ad hominem attacks that ignore the larger facts (which are, to say the least, not helpful to the president). The Counterpoint suspects even Mark Hyman knows this, and is playing along with conservative talking points in feigned outrage.

With that, let’s look at some specifics:

The Point: “He [Wilson] popped up out of nowhere last summer”

The Counterpoint: Actually, Wilson was Deputy Chief of Mission to Baghdad during the first Bush administration, had been highly praised for his service by the senior Bush, and had in fact begun his diplomatic career in Africa.

The Point: “He personally traveled to Niger and after a couple of days of sipping sweet tea declared the British were FUBAR on the intelligence.”

The Counterpoint: A silly ad hominem attack followed up by an exaggeration. Wilson simply claimed he found no convincing evidence to support the British claim.

The Point: “Wilson became an instant media darling. He was on every news program and talk show. The newspapers couldn't get enough of him.”

The Counterpoint: When the man who was sent to Niger to check into allegations of something as serious as the illegal purchase of uranium says that what the President said in the most watched speech of the year is untrue, it’s probably going to get some media attention. As noted earlier, much of the continuing focus on Wilson is the result of Republican attacks and the outing of his wife Valerie Plame, as a C.I.A. operative (a felony that could only have been committed by a member of the administration).

The Point: “The recently released Senate Intelligence Committee report on pre-Iraq war intelligence contradicts what Wilson was telling the press last year.”

The Counterpoint: Actually, it doesn’t. In fact, it supports the underlying claims that Iraq had no stockpiles of WMD and that their only supply of uranium was safely under U.N. lock and key (until, that is, the U.S. invasion, when security collapsed). The actual text of the report is available here.

The Point: “The Senate investigation found that Wilson's wife, a CIA analyst, promoted him for the Niger trip -- a job for which he was uniquely unqualified. Last year, Wilson was steadfast in his denials that his wife was involved.”

The Counterpoint: Not so much. First, the report says only that Plame brought up her husband’s name since he was familiar with both Iraq and Africa, and was planning an upcoming trip to Africa. There is nothing in the report that says she “promoted” him for the job, and the C.I.A. itself says she had nothing to do with his selection for the mission. As to “uniquely unqualified,” that’s already been dealt with above—if anything, Wilson’s background made him uniquely qualified.

The Point: “Then the British recently released their own independent report on pre-Iraq war intelligence and they concluded that the intelligence that Saddam sought to purchase uranium from Niger to be ‘well-founded.’”

The Counterpoint: The most generous reading of both the British and U.S. reports only says that there were reasons to believe Iraq might be attempting to buy uranium from one or more African countries. Neither report says that this happened, or was even actually attempted—merely that it was plausible.

The Point: “But this time the press has no interest in Wilson or any facts that refute the media's baseless allegations that the White House "spiced up" the State of the Union address. In fact, the partisan press doesn't seem to care if someone lies just as long as the lies support their political agenda.”

The Counterpoint: On the contrary, the White House itself as much as admitted it “spiced up” the State of the Union when the administration said that there was not sufficient evidence to merit the inclusion of this charge in the speech. Unless Bush’s own press secretary is part of the “elite liberal media,” it is Hyman’s own charge that is baseless.

Again, one hesitates to play Hyman’s game, because it actually pulls attention away from the two main issues involved in the dispute. The first is that someone in the administration committed a felony by outing a C.I.A. official in order to discredit her husband. Hyman seems just fine with that. The Counterpoint can’t help but wonder what his reaction would be if the Clinton administration had done such a thing. Fortunately, a special prosecutor is currently at work (in fact, Colin Powell has recently testified for the investigation), so there’s at least some hope that the author of this politically-motivated act of treason (and no other term can really apply in this case) will be discovered.

Even more importantly, the fact remains that regardless of what Wilson said or didn’t say, why he said it, who sent him to Niger and why, etc., there has never been evidence that Iraq possessed WMD’s of any sort, let alone nuclear weapons or the capability of manufacturing them. Nor did Iraq have any relationship with al-Quaeda or the attacks of 9/11. We now know beyond any doubt that the Bush administration wanted to go to war with Iraq from the moment it took office. 9/11 and the WMD allegations provided an opportunity to do so. Nearly 1,000 American soldiers have died, not to mention countless Iraqi civilians. America is now resented in much of the world, including by many of its allies. Terrorists run rampant in a lawless Iraq. Osama bin Laden remains at large, primarily because so much of our resources are devoted to Iraq, and there seems to be no coherent plant to do anything about any of this.

Talk about FUBAR.

And that’s The Counterpoint

For more details, see Joe Conason’s article about the aftermath of the Senate Intelligence Committee’s investigation here.


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