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HERE WE GO AGAIN! Warning to readers! Once again, we roll our eyes at liberal icon Joe Wilson:
MONDAY, JULY 12, 2004

WARNING! WARNING!! Today’s HOWLER contains unflattering material about an Established Liberal Icon. Readers, proceed with the greatest caution. This topic upset you last year:

MORE NOTES ON JOE WILSON: As others have noted, last week’s Senate intelligence committee report included some surprising material about that uranium-from-Africa matter. For the moment, let’s ignore Susan Schmidt’s report in the Washington Post. Here’s part of today’s Financial Times story, written by Thomas Catan:

CATAN [T]he committee’s report has provided unexpected support for a controversial claim that even the administration of George W. Bush had backed away from: that Iraq had sought significant quantities of uranium from Africa.

The claim was originally mentioned by Mr Bush in his January 2003 State of the Union address as evidence that Iraq was reconstituting its nuclear weapons programme. Citing a recently published UK dossier, Mr Bush said: “The British government has learned that Saddam Hussein recently sought significant quantities of uranium from Africa.”

Those are, of course, the famous “sixteen words” which produced so much excitement last year. Several months after Bush’s State of the Union, self-proclaimed liberal savior Joe Wilson got involved, insisting that his trip to Niger in 2002 had somehow debunked Bush’s 16-word claim. But parts of last week’s report directly challenged Wilson. More from the Financial Times:
CATAN: Furthermore, the report shows that even Mr Wilson’s trip did not wholly debunk intelligence that Iraq had sought uranium from [Niger], as he suggested. In fact, Mr Wilson reported that Ibrahim Mayaki, the former prime minister of Niger, had told him that he had met an Iraqi delegation in 1999 interested in “expanding commercial relations”.

Mr Mayaki had assumed the delegation meant they wanted to discuss uranium sales but “made a successful effort to steer the conversation away” from the issue, as Iraq was under UN sanctions, Mr Wilson reported.

Duh—this was known last year, as we endlessly told you. Beyond that, Schmidt’s report suggests that Wilson may have misstated basic facts about the role played by his wife, Valerie Plame, in proposing his trip to Niger:
SCHMIDT: The report states that a CIA official told the Senate committee that Plame “offered up” Wilson's name for the Niger trip, then on Feb. 12, 2002, sent a memo to a deputy chief in the CIA's Directorate of Operations saying her husband “has good relations with both the PM [prime minister] and the former Minister of Mines (not to mention lots of French contacts), both of whom could possibly shed light on this sort of activity.” The next day, the operations official cabled an overseas officer seeking concurrence with the idea of sending Wilson. the report said.

Wilson has asserted that his wife was not involved in the decision to send him to Niger.

“Valerie had nothing to do with the matter,” Wilson wrote in a memoir published this year. “She definitely had not proposed that I make the trip.”

Wilson stood by his assertion in an interview yesterday, saying Plame was not the person who made the decision to send him. Of her memo, he said: "I don't see it as a recommendation to send me.”

Maybe it all depends on what the meaning of “a recommendation to send me” is!

This matter will likely be bruited again over the course of the next several weeks. Let’s review why we always said that Wilson’s wildly self-serving presentations never made any real sense.

First, Bush’s “sixteen words” said that Saddam had sought uranium from Africa. Bush didn’t say that Saddam obtained it. But Wilson’s report stressed the opinion that, due to international oversight, it would have been very hard for Saddam to obtain uranium from Niger. This may have been valid (we simply don’t know), but it didn’t address the question at hand—had Saddam been seeking uranium? And, as noted in Catan’s report, when Wilson interviewed Mayaki, the Nigerien official specifically said he got the impression that Iraq was interested in seeking uranium. Clearly, Mayaki’s impression wasn’t dispositive. But it tended to support, not debunk, Bush’s controversial sixteen words.

Second, Bush’s sixteen words said that Saddam was seeking uranium “from Africa.” Even if Wilson somehow showed that no such approach was made in Niger, that obviously couldn’t, by itself, debunk Bush’s wider claim. In today’s FT, Catan spells out the larger context, although it seems he’s been in a cave for the past several years:

CATAN: Until now, it had been assumed that US and British leaders had referred to “Africa”, not Niger, to disguise the source of the information. But according to the Senate investigation, US intelligence had also received separate reports that Iraq had sought uranium from the Democratic Republic of Congo and a businessman in Somalia.
Duh! We don’t know where Catan has been living, but here on this ball we call the Earth, it has always been known that the British intelligence cited by Bush focused on Somalia and the Congo. Last year, we discussed this fact endlessly, provoking streams of complaints from outraged HOWLER readers. Repeat: Even if Wilson had debunked all claims about Niger, that couldn’t have debunked the wider claim which Bush actually made. For the record, Wilson finally acknowledged this obvious problem when he published that memoir, The Politics of Truth. Here’s the passage where he finally laid out this obvious flaw in his argument:
WILSON (page 313): [T]he sixteen words certainly piqued my curiosity. The following day [the day after Bush’s State of the Union], I called a colleague at the State Department and suggested to him that if the president had been speaking of Niger in his reference to Africa, then my report, along with the report of our ambassador on the scene, and that of the Marine four-star general, had all been wrong. Or had the president misspoken? In that case, the record needed to be corrected.

My colleague replied simply that perhaps the president had been speaking about an African country other than Niger. I had no reason to doubt my informant—his access and knowledge were more current than mine—so I didn’t pursue the matter. It was my business only in the president was referring to Niger.

You are correct, sir—and this point remains clear to this very day. But we can find no place in Wilson’s book where he resolves this obvious point. If Bush talked about Africa; and Wilson only addressed Niger; then how could his observations, however valid, shoot down Bush’s larger claim? By page 328, Wilson says that, “From the sixteen words on down, in short, the whole administartion line was bogus.” But we simply can’t find the place where he resolves that problem from page 313. As far as we know, Wilson never addressed that obvious point in his 487-page book, although he did find plenty of time to describe the various standing ovations he received in subsequent months, as grateful citizens, from coast to coast, applauded him for his illogic. Modestly, Wilson records their applause. But when did he learn that the “sixteen words” referred to Niger and to Niger alone? We can’t find that part of his book. Maybe some others can help us.

Did Saddam seek uranium from Niger? From Somalia? The Congo? From elsewhere in Africa? We don’t have the slightest idea. But we do know pure BS when we see it, and Wilson’s construction has never made sense. Don’t be shocked when the Senate committee tells you the things that we told you last year—things that had many readers upset, although they were right smack on target.

VISIT OUR INCOMPARABLE ARCHIVES: Here at THE HOWLER, we traveled that Niger side road for weeks, noting the problems with Wilson’s presentation. If you want to review the clips, simply enter the key word “Niger” into our whirring search engines. Also try “Congo” and “Somalia.”

By the way, don’t miss the larger, comical point involved in the press corps’ performance. Back in mid-2003, the press corps jumped on the controversy about Bush’s “sixteen words.” At the time, Bush was still the conquering hero of Iraq; the press had been quite reluctant to note obvious problems with various aspects of the Administration’s pre-war performance. But they jumped on the “sixteen words” quite hard—bungling hugely as they did so. As we noted, they ignored more serious stories in the process—stories where the Admin really did seem to have misstated existing intelligence in the rush to Iraq.

You can put it in the bank; your Washington press corps bungles by instinct. At the time, this was the one point that had them troubled them about Bush’s performance. Now, the Senate committee brings in the goods—and according to Reps and Dems alike, this is the one part of the story where Bush’s side may turn out to be right! Yes, we told you all along. By today, even Catan has heard about Congo and Somalia—the parts of this story that always made Wilson’s presentation seem so illogical.