Saturday, July 19, 2003

David Brooks Puts Himself In The President's Boots

On yesterday's NewsHour, during his regular end-of-week commentary from the right, David Brooks expressed consternation and wonderment that the issue of uranium from Niger is still with us.

This story in my view deserved two days. This is a story about one charge among many, and this national intelligence estimate, there were three paragraphs about this uranium story out of ninety pages, and it's not an important story at all.

Brooks pointed out that what we need to be worrying about are where the WMDs are, reconstructing Iraq, and fighting this new guerrilla war that's getting our soldiers killed. That there might be a relationship between the choices made by the Bush administration "then," and the problems we're having "now," Mr. Brooks rejected.

....we are in this frenzy. It is like a libido for the trivial that somehow we think we have Travelgate or Watergate or some other scandal.

Let's leave aside the equation of Travelgate and Watergate; were both trivial? And who was it, again, who treated Travelgate like it was Watergate?

This was the day the White House declassified and released ninety odd pages of last October's NIE, and for Brooks, it explained everything that needed explaining.

Bush gets this in the Oval Office; he reads this on the first page. If Baghdad acquires sufficient fissile material from abroad, it could make a nuclear weapon within several months to a year. Your president of the United States, September 11 just happened, several months to a year. You have to connect the dots. If you're sitting with this document and the whole document is compelling aside from the few areas, including the uranium tubes which are not compelling because of the state department difficult sent. But if you are sitting with this document, you want to connect the dots.

You're in a context, post-September 11 where everybody is blaming you for not bring all the information together, to think about a theory of how the World Trade Centers got blown up. So you want to be aggressive in connecting the dots. They were aggressive and they did take this Niger thing seriously. But to me, that's what I want my president to be doing in those circumstances because nuclear bombs could be months away in Iraq.

Here's what the two Danas, Milbank and Priest, tell us in todays WaPo:

President Bush and his national security adviser did not entirely read the most authoritative prewar assessment of U.S. intelligence on Iraq, including a State Department claim that an allegation Bush would later use in his State of the Union address was "highly dubious," White House officials said yesterday.

The acknowledgment came in a briefing for reporters in which the administration released excerpts from last October's National Intelligence Estimate, a classified, 90-page summary that was the definitive assessment of Iraq's weapons programs by U.S. intelligence agencies. The report declared that "most" of the six intelligence agencies believed there was "compelling evidence that Saddam [Hussein] is reconstituting a uranium enrichment effort for Baghdad's nuclear weapons program." But the document also included a pointed dissent by the State Department, which said the evidence did not "add up to a compelling case" that Iraq was making a comprehensive effort to get nuclear weapons.

Bush aides released eight pages of the NIE, including various findings supporting Bush's charges against Iraq: that Iraq was "continuing, and in some areas expanding," chemical, biological and nuclear programs; that it possessed forbidden chemical and biological weapons; and that it was likely to have a nuclear weapon by the end of the decade.

But the excerpts also show that significant doubts were raised about key assertions Bush made in his State of the Union address. According to the NIE, a consensus document based on the work of six agencies, both the Energy Department, which is responsible for watching foreign nuclear programs, and the State Department disagreed with another allegation, voiced by Bush, that aluminum tubes purchased by Iraq were for a nuclear weapons program.


A senior administration official who briefed reporters yesterday said neither Bush nor national security adviser Condoleezza Rice read the NIE in its entirety. "They did not read footnotes in a 90-page document," said the official, referring to the "Annex" that contained the State Department's dissent. The official conducting the briefing rejected reporters' entreaties to allow his name to be used, arguing that it was his standard procedure for such sessions to be conducted anonymously.

The official said Bush was "briefed" on the NIE's contents, but "I don't think he sat down over a long weekend and read every word of it." Asked whether Bush was aware the State Department called the Africa-uranium claim "highly dubious," the official, who coordinated Bush's State of the Union address, said: "He did not know that."

"The president was comfortable at the time, based on the information that was provided in his speech," the official said of the decision to use it in the address to Congress. "The president of the United States is not a fact-checker."

Brooks, yesterday, recommended "perspective," in evaluating what's really important about how and why this country went to war against Saddam Huessin, which meant waging war on the entire country of Iraq

The reconstruction of Iraq is what we're going to remember in a year or two -- not one charge out of many in the president's case. And that, I think, in Washington, in particular, and I'm not sure it is true in the country, we've lost perspective. (all italics mine)

And what will we have wrought when we've completed that reconstruction? According to Brooks, exactly what was, and still is, the President's strongest argument about Iraq.

...if he had come to the country and said there is a bad guy and there are mass graves, he kills two million people, I actually doubt it would have been enough. But if he had come and said we have to transform the Middle East to drain the swamp of terrorism, and that is part of our larger war on terrorism, then I think the American people would have supported the president on that.

There you have it, the rebirth of a meme, straight outta the PNAC.

The birthplace of civilizations has become the "swamp of terrorism," and it is our imperial responsibility to transform it, for the ultimate good of all mankind, and if we do not shirk from the task, the world will follow us.

Uh huh.