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|July 14, 2003||
Vol. 1, No. 68
Becoming a different people
By Tom Roberts, NCR editor
Credibility is a precious commodity, particularly for a country that is the lone superpower and is demanding exacting behavior from the rest of the world. That's why the questions about the president's use of a line in his State of the Union address that contained bogus information about Iraq's nuclear program are a serious matter. The questions gathered momentum for a few days before CIA director George J. Tenet stepped up and took one for the administration. It was all his fault, he said.
In Africa, where the press apparently had far more access than on the home turf, President Bush first blamed Tenet, then accepted Tenet's admission of guilt and then magnanimously said he has complete confidence in the director. Likewise, national security adviser Condoleezza Rice, who was one of the first and loudest to publicly blame Tenet, told the press that he "has been a terrific" CIA director.
If it seems easier to believe the defense of Tenet than to join in blaming him, it's probably because it doesn't make sense to lavish praise on someone who caused the administration terrible embarrassment unless there's something fishy about the blame part of the story.
Fishy it is. And that's apparent because everyone is also reporting that Tenet himself, three months before the State of the Union address, warned Stephen J. Hadley, deputy national security adviser, that information claiming that Saddam Hussein was trying to purchase "significant quantities of uranium from Africa" should be deleted from a speech Bush was scheduled to deliver in Cincinnati. The reference was deleted.
According to the June 9 U.S. News & World Report, less than a month after the State of the Union speech, two dozen U.S. officials gathered for a rehearsal of Secretary of State Colin Powell's upcoming speech before the U.N. Security council. "Not all the secret intelligence about Saddam Hussein's misdeeds, they found, stood up to close scrutiny," the report says. "At one point during the rehearsal, Powell tossed several pages in the air. 'I'm not reading this,' he declared. 'This is bulls---.'"
Powell eventually cobbled together a version of intelligence that he could live with, but it becomes clearer with each new revelation that the administration was not beyond cooking the intelligence books in order to make the case for war.
Commenting on the Tenet flap, Ari Fleischer, the president's lame duck spokesperson, said the president was "pleased that the director of central intelligence acknowledged what needed to be acknowledged. The president has moved on. And I think, frankly, much of the country has moved on as well."
The White House understandably wishes that all of us would simply move on.
We went to war over Saddam's intent to build nuclear weapons and his possession of weapons of mass destruction. The intent to build nuclear weapons rested on unreliable and incorrect information. We have yet to find weapons of mass destruction.
I think the country has been moving on, from one inconsistency to the next. From one yellow alert to orange alert back to yellow. From Pentagon plans to plant false stories with journalists (a plan reportedly scuttled) to Atty. Gen. John Aschcroft's breathless claims that he needs yet more authority from the "Patriot" act to skirt yet more provisions of the constitution. We're also doing things we've never done before. We've conducted the first pre-emptive war in our history and we've declared our intent to kill Saddam Hussein, for the first time openly advocating assassination.
In increments large and small, without advance notice, we are becoming something different as a people.
We're losing credibility with the rest of the world. Worse, we may be losing it with ourselves.
Tom Roberts e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org
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