What are we to make of President Bush’s final State of the Union Address? The New York Times has an answer. When it comes to Iraq, says the paper,
Mr. Bush’s annual addresses will be remembered most for his false claims — the fictitious “axis of evil,” nonexistent aluminum tubes and African uranium, dangerous weapons that did not exist. No President can want that as his legacy.
There’s a lot to unpack here. To begin with, is the “axis of evil” really “fictitious”? What is the Times driving at here? Perhaps it is quarreling with the use of the word “evil” to characterize North Korea, Iran, and Iraq under Saddam Hussein. But if the editors of the Times do not regard these particular dictatorships as evil, than what is?
Alternatively, perhaps the paper is quarreling with the word “axis.” But Connecting the Dots seems to recall that it was only this past September when North Korea was observed supplying some sort of nuclear technology to Syria, a close ally of Iran. Some reports suggest that Israel seized the material in its raid on a Syrian facility that month. Doesn’t such proliferation activity — along with North Korea’s collaboration with Iran in the field of offensive missiles — make for an “axis”? If not, how does the Times define “axis”?
One might also ask in response to the Times editorial: was Iraq under Saddam Hussein part of an axis of evil? True, only scant and highly debatable evidence has emerged suggesting Saddam Hussein was involved in the 9/11 attacks. But did he not have ties to al Qaeda, and isn’t al Qaeda evil?
Here is an October 2002 letter from CIA Director George Tenet to Senator Pat Roberts that is quite relevant:
We have solid reporting of senior level contacts between Iraq and al Qaeda going back a decade.
Credible information indicates that Iraq and al Qaeda have discussed safe haven and reciprocal non-aggression. Since Operation Enduring Freedom [the military operations that commenced shortly after September 11, 2001], we have solid evidence of the presence in Iraq of al-Qaeda members, including some that have been in Baghdad.
We have credible reporting that al-Qaeda leaders sought contacts in Iraq who could help them acquire WMD capabilities. The reporting also stated that Iraq has provided training to al-Qaeda members in the areas of poisons and gases and making conventional bombs.
Iraq’s increasing support to extremist Palestinians, coupled with growing indications of a relationship with al Qaeda, suggest that Baghdad’s links to terrorists will increase, even absent U.S. military action (emphasis added).
How about the aluminum tubes? According to numerous reports, including in the Times itself, Iraq had acquired, or was in the process of acquiring, some 60,000 of them before the U.S. invasion. 60,000 doesn’t sound like “non-existent” to Connecting the Dots. The real issue, as the Times presumably knows but found inconvenient to say, was what the tubes were going to be used for, a nuclear program or a rocket program? As the Times also presumably knows, there was a vigorous debate inside the intelligence community about this question.
How about the African uranium? Was that also “non-existent”? Here the Times is referring to Bush’s first State of the Union address in which he uttered the soon-to-be controversial sixteen words: “The British Government has learned that Saddam Hussein recently sought significant quantities of uranium from Africa.” Whatever the Times might now be insinuating in its editorial, every single one of those words is true. That is exactly what British intelligence had learned and exactly what it told the United States. Bush’s speech had been vetted by the CIA, which had left the sixteen words in.
Finally, there are the non-existent “dangerous weapons” referred to by the Times. But the newspaper itself was warning about Iraq’s “dangerous weapons” at the very same moment, and on the basis of roughly the same evidence, that Bush was relying on, when he made the allegedly “false claims.” The question is: were Bush’s statements about these weapons (and the Times’s statements) “false” or were they knowingly false? There is a world of difference between the two, which the Times editorial page elects to fudge.
No President, concludes the Times editorial, wants all these “false claims” as his legacy. But when the history of this period is written, it is the knowingly false claims found day after day on the editorial pages of the New York Times that will deserve a chapter of their own.