The Self Made Pundit

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Friday, July 11, 2003
THE MISLEADERSHIP OF BUSH: The Bush administration deserves high marks for consistency in defending against charges that Bush misled Americans in his 2003 State of the Union address with now-discredited statements about Iraqi attempts to purchase uranium in Africa.

While a lesser administration might be tempted to come clean after being caught with making misleading arguments in support of war, the Bush administration is remaining true to its principles of duplicity by defending itself with misleading evasions.

As the New York Times is reporting this morning, Bush and his aides are defending against charges that intelligence officials expressed doubts about Bush’s claims in his State of the Union address by arguing that the CIA eventually “cleared” the speech:

President Bush said today that intelligence services cleared his State of the Union speech, which included a now-discredited allegation that Iraq was seeking to buy nuclear material from Africa.

Bush's national security adviser specifically pointed to the CIA and said it had vetted the speech. If CIA Director George Tenet had any misgivings about that sentence in the president's speech, “he did not make them known” to Bush or his staff, said national security adviser Condoleezza Rice.

The issue arose a day after other senior U.S. officials said that before and after Bush's Jan. 28 speech, American intelligence officials expressed doubts about a British intelligence report that the president cited to back up his allegations.

Those doubts were relayed to British officials before they made them public, and that word was passed to people at several agencies of the U.S. government before Bush gave that nationally broadcast speech. The White House this week admitted the charge about Iraq seeking uranium should not have appeared in his speech.

Bush, asked how erroneous material had ended up in the address, “I gave a speech to the nation that was cleared by the intelligence services.” He did not explain how the allegations wound up in his speech.

But he said he made the right decision about invading Iraq and asserted that the world is a more peaceful place for it.

Rice said “the CIA cleared the speech in its entirety.”

The agency raised only one objection to the sentence involving an allegation that Iraq was trying to obtain "yellow cake" uranium, she said. Yellow cake is a slightly processed form of uranium ore the color and consistency of yellow corn meal.

“Some specifics about amount and place were taken out,” Rice added.

“With the changes in that sentence, the speech was cleared,” she said. “The agency did not say they wanted that sentence out.”

Note that Bush and Rice are not denying that intelligence officials expressed doubts about the core allegation that Iraq was seeking nuclear material in Africa. Apparently, after those doubts were expressed to Bush and his aides, they decided that they could still convince Americans of this threat with a factually accurate statement that a British report was making such allegations. There is no dispute here that Bush was trying to persuade Americans of the truth of allegations that American intelligence officials had already rejected.

Similarly, Bush is now seeking to convince Americans that the CIA had no misgivings about his State of the Union speech by arguing that the CIA “cleared” the speech. Intelligence officials “cleared” the speech, however, only after expressing doubts about the message that Bush was peddling about the Iraqi nuclear threat. The Bush administration was clever enough to think of another way of getting that same message across with a factually accurate statement about what British intelligence officials had concluded.

The fact that the CIA only fought to remove factually inaccurate statements -- and not misleading statements -- does not mean that the CIA approved Bush’s statements. The CIA limited itself to informing Bush of its doubts about the allegations and correcting factually inaccurate statements. There is no dispute that the CIA continue to disbelieve the allegations that Bush was trumpeting as one of the reasons to go to war.

Thus, Bush is defending his misleading statements about Iraq being an imminent nuclear threat with a misleading defense. In his State of the Union address, Bush sought to convince Americans that American intelligence officials believed Iraq was an imminent nuclear threat by ignoring those officials’ actual conclusions and focusing on the British report. Now, Bush is arguing that the CIA “cleared” that speech -- giving the impression that the CIA shared his conclusions, when it had actually rejected them.

There are times when it appears that the only way the Bush administration is capable of leading is by misleading. This is one of them.