During his January 28, 2003, State of the Union address, President Bush said, among other things, that “the British government has learned that Saddam Hussein recently sought significant quantities of uranium from Africa.” The other day, the White House retracted this statement, acknowledging that the information was based on forged documents.
Meanwhile, the BBC reported yesterday that “The British Government…says that, when it drew up its dossier [of intelligence evidence against Iraq], it had not even seen the documents later shown to be forged.”
[Prime Minister Tony] Blair told a committee of MPs on Tuesday that the evidence about the Niger link “did not come from these so-called forged documents. They came from separate intelligence.” The allegations, he said, were not “fantasy.” He pointed out that in the 1980s, Iraq had bought uranium from Niger.
So, it’s not even clear if the information President Bush used is inaccurate, even though the source of the information used by the White House — the forged documents — has been discredited.
Of course, whenever a president is badly served by his advisers it’s a concern. But in this case, the criticism is overblown and has more to do with political opportunism than anything else. For weeks, congressional Democrats, led by Carl Levin, have been claiming that the president manipulated intelligence information to mislead the American people about Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction and the threat they posed to the U.S. And Levin, among others, has now embraced this one-sentence from the January 28 State of the Union speech as some kind of smoking gun.
President Bush gave many reasons to justify war against Iraq. He did, in fact, emphasize the need to disarm Iraq. So did everyone else, including those nations and individuals who opposed the war, but who sought further diplomatic efforts over military force. Indeed, Levin, like most congressional Democrats, backed President Clinton’s attack on Iraq in 1998, pointing to Hussein’s weapons as justification.
Not too long ago, there was a president who undertook an act of war based solely on false intelligence information, and that was Bill Clinton. Yet, at no time did Carl Levin or any top Democrat accuse Clinton of manipulating intelligence information or misleading the American people. Who, but Levin, blinded by political motives, can forget our attack on that factory in the Sudan? A brief trip down memory lane should prove worthwhile.
On December 12, 2002, the Washington Post reported:
In 1998, the Clinton administration asserted that Iraq provided technical assistance in the construction of a VX production facility in Sudan, undertaken jointly with al-Qaeda. In retaliation for al-Qaeda’s August 1998 truck bombings of U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania, President Bill Clinton ordered the destruction of the al Shifa pharmaceutical plant in Khartoum, Sudan’s capital.
Clinton’s advisers released scant public evidence about al Shifa, and the Tomahawk missile attack was widely regarded as a blunder. Top Clinton administration officials, and career analysts still in government, maintain there was strong evidence behind the strike but that it remains too valuable to disclose. During last year’s New York trial of the embassy bombers, prosecution witness Jamal Ahmed al-Fadl, a onetime operative who broke with al Qaeda, offered limited corroboration. He named al-Qaeda and Sudanese operatives who had told him they were working together to build a chemical weapons plant in Khartoum. He said nothing about Iraqi support for the project and named a site near, but not in, the al Shifa plant.
On March 16, 2003, the Observer (U.K.) reported that despite the Clinton administration’s assertion that there was VX nerve production at the al Shifa factory, “[l]ittle evidence substantiated the claim, and subsequent investigations found that the factory made veterinary antibiotics and nothing else.”
On October 19, 2001, Slate magazine’s Chris Suellentrop noted that Clinton National Security Advisor Sandy Berger’s rationale for attacking the factory had shifted. At first, Berger was certain it produced a precursor chemical for making VX nerve gas. Months later, Berger pulled back, saying that the facility was associated with chemical weapons.
As for the Iraqi connection, Suellentrop reported that the connection wasn’t raised initially by the Clinton administration, and, citing a detailed examination by Michael Barletta in the Fall 1998 Nonproliferation Review, Suellentrop noted that the assertion “contradicts a February 16, 1998, White House statement that the U.S. possessed no credible evidence that Iraq has exported weapons of mass destruction technology to other countries since the Gulf War.”
But what about the sample of soil from around the factory, supposedly showing the existence of a precursor chemical for making VX? Barletta found the sample and the analysis protocol to be unreliable.
The was no known Iraqi connection, and the factory did not produce poisons. These were the sole reasons for Clinton launching the missile attack on the Sudan, and both were wrong.
To this day, neither Bill Clinton nor Sandy Berger have admitted their mistake. Yet, this was a far more severe intelligence failure — if, indeed, that’s what it was. But like his refusal to call Robert Rubin to testify about his tawdry efforts to help Enron when he was conducting oversight hearings, Levin has no interest in “getting to the truth” about the attack on the Sudanese factory.
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