Sunday, September 11, 2011

Ten Years Hence (unstructured musings)

Osama bin Laden is dead. Al Qaeda is a scattered shadow of what it once was. A fragile but viable democracy hangs on in Iraq. There have been no successful mass-casualty attacks on soft targets in the US in ten years. Something is finally rising from the hole at Ground Zero. Afghanistan...well, it is just not what it used to be for aspiring Jihadists.

Despite the best efforts of Liberal Democrats, "Anti-War" Progressives,  and their strange bedfellows on the Paleoconservative and Libertarian Right, things are unambiguously better now, Global Counterinsurgency-wise than they were ten years and one day ago, in a host of important ways.

But I still watch footage of that chilly Tuesday morning, a decade ago, and feel as though a dangerous fire is still smoldering under the wreckage, somewhere.

The other night, Nickelodeon was running a marathon of "Friends" episodes. After I got over the initial shock and dismay that the episode I watched (which I remember watching when it first aired) had been made 17 years ago (!!), I found myself, as I so often do, scanning the background of the establishing shots, and seeing those Towers on the skyline. I suppose there is something unhealthy about this. Just the sight of those marvelously stark rectangles, rising from a thicket of lesser buildings, is oddly restorative for me. It enables me, for just that moment, to position myself in a headspace in which vicious Jihadist murderers had not rammed a jagged dagger through the tender skin of my innocence and idealism.

But they did. Those Towers are gone. Forever. And thousands of lives have passed from infinite possibility to mere remembrance. And yet, as Mr Hengist ably laid out in today's post, there remains a growing cadre of dangerous fools who urge us to "just get over it, already."

No, dangerous fools. I will not. Not now. Not ever.

Because the next feeling I have when I look at the Towers in film and video, right after the warm and comfy one of a world in which my main concern was adjusting to marriage, and getting my Psychology license, and finding the best possible cappuccino, is rage. Smoldering, caustic rage. That the kind of  atavistic hatred which moved the muscles of those 19 hyperempowered psychopaths was allowed to fester and to find a means of expression, such that it pierced so many lives, enrages me. That the full import of that abominable act still eludes so many, and that they can still --with all seriousness-- attribute it to something which is the "fault" of the open, pluralistic society whose very openness provided the means for that horrific spasm of bloodletting...enrages me.

As I said before, I  loved those Towers. I loved the fact of them. I loved the aesthetic of them. I loved the meaning of them. I loved the commerce, and the clarity, and the sheer exuberant simplicity of them (even if these things were mostly hidden from the transnational progressive consciousness which lived in that much younger version of me at the time). My rage is the the fire which was ignited in me at the time, and it has not gone out. I hope it never does. That fire is the engine which keeps fresh in my mind the degree to which I cherish the very things which those cancerous zealots sought to extinguish, the very things which so many dangerous fools are still trying to aid them in extinguishing. The freedom to think and act and trade and (refrain from) worship(ping) as I choose, to view women and homosexuals and fellow agnostics and atheists and people of faith as equals, to differ with them in a spirited and open dialogue, to tilt a pint with them as I do so. To love them, even as I work with all my might to move this Nation in a direction which is altogether orthogonal to the vector along which they would steer it.

For the guidance system of those planes is still active. It is still aiming for the symbols and foundations of a civilization which it has never matched, and which it can only muster the wherewithal to destroy.

And I will be damned if I will let it.

(Edited to add link in last paragraph [evidence that Paul Krugman needs to find a nice, quiet place with a lot of mirrors, far away from decent people], and address an oversimplification)

ADDENDUM: Re-reading the above, it occurred to me that it might seem strange to see a psychologist speaking positively of rage. Fair point. To clarify, what I feel is the kind of rage that smolders, deep down, but is not altogether squandered in mere stewing. It is jacked into the power systems, its energy yoked to the motivational systems which feed such things as blogging, voting, campaigning, and maintaining situational awareness (both of the 'scanning a crowd for suspicious activity' sort and the 'keeping abreast of global events' sort).

So, I suppose there are really two fires smoldering here: the one which feeds the virulent fantasies and hatreds of the individuals and organizations which would like nothing more than to perpetrate an encore to the events of 9/11/01...and the one in me, and in others, to extinguish the first. They are both dangerous...but the latter is a hazard to those who, unlike the innocents on that horrid day, most assuredly have it coming.

Friday, September 9, 2011

Forget 9/11? Fuhgeddaboudit, Pal.

[by Mr.Hengist]

Now, me, I’m not big on anniversaries, not even my own birthday. Just not caring, is all. When I was a kid I looked forward to my birthday, sure – presents! – but as I got older, for a variety of reasons, I grew out of it. There’s no day I set aside for celebration or remembrance of anything anymore, and that’s just me. I’m not against this kind of thing but it doesn’t resonate with me.

That’s why the anniversary of the 9/11 attacks has come and gone these blogging years without comment from me, although 9/11 marked perhaps the darkest days in my life and set in motion changes in me which were, for me, profound. It’s in the days leading up to the 9/11 anniversary that people reflect on that day and how we move forward. E.J. Dionne Jr. has phoned it in with his September 7th, 2011 column, “Time to leave 9/11 behind”.

As the title promises, the first line delivers:

“After we honor the 10th anniversary of the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, we need to leave the day behind.”
It’s a familiar refrain, one I’ve read from Liberal pundits since, well, shortly after September 11, 2001. We shouldn’t use this as an excuse to make war, we’ve gone off-track, we need to understand that we were attacked because we’re hated, and with good reason, we need to make amends so the world will love us again and we’ll all live together in the world with harmony and respect for cultural diversity, and then unicorns will fart rainbows, blah blah blah, blah blah, blah.

Although the Liberal MSM never stopped airing the pictures and video of the planes hitting the towers (look, big explosion!), even in the immediate aftermath of 9/11 they wouldn't air the pictures or video of the jumpers. Those were the victims above the inferno in the towers who jumped to their certain death rather than stay and succumb to the smoke and flame. What hell that must have been for those office workers that the better option was to jump from the top floors of a skyscraper. Not a few, either; surviving rescue workers described having to be exceedingly cautious when entering or exiting the towers to avoid being crushed by a random person falling from the sky, and how unnerving it was to hear the bodies thumping on the sidewalk every couple of minutes. Why the media embargo? While not graphic, they were horrifying, and they angried up the blood. Americans were, by and large, ready to unleash our war machine, but already the imploring chorus of restraint was stirring from the anti-war left, who saw us as having gotten our just desserts - Blame America First.

It only took a half a year or so for the focus to shift, as the Lefties knew that this war business wasn't going to treat them well. Modern Liberal Democrats are not the leaders you want in charge in a time of war, and they knew it, so on the whole they thought this 9/11 thing was taking domestic and foreign policy in all kinds of wrong directions. Like hamsters running the wheel for hours on end, they get tired and rest for a spell but soon enough they're back at it. It's their hobby horse and they're not getting off it, because we can't change policy until you people get over the hurt. So, like, it's sad & all, but can't you just leave it in the past? Besides which, you deserved it.

“As a nation we have looked back for too long. We learned lessons from the attacks, but so many of them were wrong. The last decade was a detour that left our nation weaker, more divided and less certain of itself.”
I’ll refrain from rebutting the arguments that Dionne neglects to make himself, but suffice it to say, he’s wrong, wrong, wrong. We learned valuable lessons from 9/11, and perhaps not well enough, and our response has left us stronger, not weaker. Hey, if Dionne won’t make the case against, I’m don’t have to make the case for.

“Reflections on the meaning of the horror and the years that followed are inevitably inflected by our own political or philosophical leanings. It’s a critique that no doubt applies to my thoughts as well. We see what we choose to see and use the event as we want to use it.”
I suppose it would be unfair to point out that Dionne, perhaps tellingly, focuses on how we choose to “use the event as we want to use it”, because in essence, I agree with this paragraph. Let’s just say, for now, that E.J. Dionne and I disagree on all the particulars.

“This does nothing to honor those who died and those who sacrificed to prevent even more suffering. In the future, the anniversary will best be reserved as a simple day of remembrance in which all of us humbly offer our respect for the anguish and the heroism of those individuals and their families.”
“But if we continue to place 9/11 at the center of our national consciousness, we will keep making the same mistakes. Our nation’s future depended on far more than the outcome of a vaguely defined “war on terrorism,” and it still does. Al-Qaeda is a dangerous enemy. But our country and the world were never threatened by the caliphate of its mad fantasies.”
Long have the Liberal-Left fervently implored us not to take 9/11 so hard. Let me start hitting a couple of the specifics here:

First of all, it’s arguable whether we place 9/11 “at the center of our national consciousness”, but if that’s the case then it is so for reasons which are far beyond the ability of anyone to simply wish it away. 9/11 will gradually diminish in importance as time stretches the distance between the now and then, but what Dionne and his ilk have either never grasped or simply wanted to make not so, is that it was an event on the order of magnitude of Pearl Harbor. It is both tiresome and insulting to hear from Dionne et al that we should just get over it. Not happening, not anytime soon.

Then there’s the part where he acknowledges that “Al Qaeda is a dangerous enemy”, but “our country and the world were never threatened by the caliphate of its mad fantasies”. I don’t think it’s necessary to belabor the obvious contradiction here, as these two ideas are mutually exclusive. What Dionne means - but apparently lacks the skill to put clearly - is that Al Qaeda will never succeed in reestablishing a caliphate. It's either clumsiness or intentionally intimating that, in some sense, we are really threatened by Al Qaeda.

In the sense that Al Qaeda will never succeed in their mad fantasies of a worldwide caliphate, Dionne and I agree. I wouldn't be entirely sure of their chances for a regional caliphate, nor would I take off the table the possibility of various other states in the being absorbed into the orbit of this yet-to-be established caliphate. At any rate, I wouldn't want to establish odds, as I think they're pretty long on even the most modest of their goals.

This is an entirely separate question from whether Al Qaeda is an ongoing threat. They are. A diminished, less capable threat, not to be underestimated, but pursued to the ends of the Earth and exterminated wherever they are, no matter how long it takes. Further, Al Qaeda is but one organization of many that are like-minded and equally dastardly. The point I'm driving at is that what Dionne wants is for us to go back to 9/10, and I'm here to tell you this a mad fantasy of Liberal-Leftists. They've probably got a better chance of realizing their fantasy than Al Qaeda does for realizing theirs.

“We asked for great sacrifice over the past decade from the very small portion of our population who wear the country’s uniform, particularly the men and women of the Army and the Marine Corps. We should honor them, too. And, yes, we should pay tribute to those in the intelligence services, the FBI and our police forces who have done such painstaking work to thwart another attack.”
I presume Dionne is preferentially giving shout-outs to the Army and Marine Corps based on casualty figures, but really, all of our armed service members have borne an extraordinary burden. One of the lessons we should have learned from the military engagements of the last decade is that our military is inarguably too small to do this without having to resort to extended tours of combat duty. Whether you support the war(s) or not, the presumption that we have the ability to fight such wars can no longer be taken at face value - or be relied upon as a part of our defense posture. If the possibility of going to war to defend, say, Taiwan or South Korea, is off the table because it would outstrip our capacity to effectively prosecute that third front, then that’s an excellent argument for augmenting the size of our armed forces because weakness invites attack. That lesson was, alas, not learned.

Still, it’s worth noting that Dionne doesn’t go the route of infantilizing our armed forces by talking about them as if they were children forced to go to war, or as bloodthirsty killbot murderers leaving a wake of devastation and suffering. I wish more antiwar folks were as decent as Dionne is here.

Hey, I wish for a lot of things.

“It was often said that terrorism could not be dealt with through “police work,” as if the difficult and unheralded labor involved was not grand or bold enough to satisfy our longing for clarity in what was largely a struggle in the shadows.”
Here Dionne constructs a straw man but doesn’t even bother to knock it down. Let me set it on fire by pointing out that one of the problems with using law enforcement to prosecute a war is that law enforcement is, by varying degrees, reactive rather than proactive. Without probable cause, how to apprehend suspects? How to obtain sufficient evidence to obtain the issuance of arrest warrants, and under what standard of law do we operate – ours, or the laws of a foreign country? To what degree to we constrain and expose our law officers by working with a foreign government in the investigation? By way of example, let me point out that when it was determined that Osama bin Laden was in Afghanistan, the Bush Administration demanded he be turned over to us. The Taliban responded that, no, they would be doing no such thing, but they would consider extradition if we could present a case to an international court of law, and besides which, they had no idea where he was, although they would be happy to pass along any message we might wish to send him.

[Go back and read the rest of that last sentence now that you've stopped laughing at how the Taliban were demanding we persuade an international court of law.]

Further, law enforcement is subject to the legal constraints of a civil society rather than an effectively lawless badlands or an actual rootin’ tootin’ battlefield. In that kind of environment it is impractical to the point of being an impossibility to maintain the integrity of a chain of custody for physical evidence, and even the problematical nature of the reading of Miranda rights makes the notion of a legal battlespace, quite frankly, bizarre. Proverbially speaking, it’s bringing a knife to a gunfight, or in this case, an arrest warrant to a gunfight. OK, the FBI carries guns, but up against RPGs, AK-47s, IEDs and, well, you get the picture.

“Forgive me, but I find it hard to forget former president George W. Bush’s 2004 response to Sen. John Kerry’s comment that “the war on terror is less of a military operation and far more of an intelligence-gathering and law-enforcement operation.”
“Bush retorted: “I disagree — strongly disagree. . . . After the chaos and carnage of September the 11th, it is not enough to serve our enemies with legal papers. With those attacks, the terrorists and their supporters declared war on the United States of America, and war is what they got.” What The Washington Post called “an era of endless war” is what we got, too.”
“Bush, of course, understood the importance of “intelligence gathering” and “law enforcement.” His administration presided over a great deal of both, and his supporters spoke, with justice, of his success in staving off further acts of terror. Yet he could not resist the temptation to turn on Kerry’s statement of the obvious. Thus was an event that initially united the nation used, over and over, to aggravate our political disharmony. This is also why we must put it behind us.”
What is obvious to Dionne in Kerry’s statement is left unstated, and it deserves to be fleshed out. I won’t do his work for him, but I will point out that intelligence gathering and law enforcement operations do not preclude warfighting as a means of confronting enemy conspirators and combatants. For a couple hundred years now, the U.S. has used all of these tools in the prosecution of war.

The disconnect between these two ideas – those of Kerry and W – is that W was responding to the unstated premise in Kerry’s statement: that we can use intelligence gathering and law enforcement to mitigate the threat of Al Qaeda without waging war.

The political disharmony Dionne laments is a direct result of the disagreement between these two ideological camps over this question. What’s more, that disagreement was fueled by the political calculus of Democrats who parlayed an issue of national security in order to get more political power, which is simply unconscionable.

I’m sure Liberals will take exception to that statement, but let me preempt their howls by asking this question: how else do you explain the promises of candidate Obama, which were very much in alignment with the spirit of anti-war Liberals, to the actions of POTUS Obama? From the continuance of warrantless wiretaps, to the dramatic expansion of drone airstrikes, and the extension of the Patriot Act, to the Libyan war, and so on, it seems obvious that POTUS Obama has fallen far short of the standards he set for himself. I’m not trying to use these reversals as a cudgel against POTUS Obama, but rather, to point out that, in reality, as POTUS Obama either knew or learned, our country is not well-served by prosecuting a war as if it were a matter solely for intelligence gathering and law enforcement.

While I'm at it, let me also point out how disingenuous the Left has been over these past years. Yeah, yeah, when W was in office, the Constitution was shredded, he thought himself a king, the republic was doomed, and America as we knew it was being destroyed by the evil Republicans, damn those soulless ghouls. The Left marched by the tens of thousands, they did, to stop the wars and take back America! When they did take back America, or at least the government - which, surprisingly, still existed, and still somehow allowed free elections - Democrats won all three branches of government and those very same policies were met with... muted grumbling. Only the far left still seems to be waving their pitchforks, but mainstream Liberals have given their guy a pass.

“In the flood of anniversary commentary, notice how often the term “the lost decade” has been invoked. We know now, as we should have known all along, that American strength always depends first on our strength at home — on a vibrant, innovative and sensibly regulated economy, on levelheaded fiscal policies, on the ability of our citizens to find useful work, on the justice of our social arrangements.”
I’ll defer to Dionne that “the lost decade” is a phrase used with some frequency in Liberal circles, but that phrase has no currency on the Right. At any rate, American strength is not dependent on the false choice Dionne presents. Our economy must be strong in order to have a strong national defense, and our national defense can only be strong if our economy is strong. We can’t have one without the other, but regardless of economic circumstances in our national defense we must wage war on those who wage war against us. It always pays to destroy our enemies, even though it costs us.

“This is not “isolationism.” It is a common sense that was pushed aside by the talk of “glory” and “honor,” […]"
… aaaand let me stop Dionne right here and call out this BS. Glory and honor were never used by the Bush Administration to justify warmaking; this is a shameless manufacturing of a lie to serve Liberal dissent. We did not go to war in Afghanistan or Iraq for glory, period. We did not go to war against Afghanistan or Iraq for honor, either. We did not go to war against Afghanistan or Iraq for treasure either, but I digress. Dionne would like to portray hawks and neocons as warmongers seeking glory and honor, but Dionne forgets that these are the facile accusations of the Liberal-Left, now so ingrained as to be taken as self-evident truths. Recall what I said above, about how accusations against their political opposition are first taken as a possibility, then as probably true, and from there a certainty.

“[…] by utopian schemes to transform the world by abruptly reordering the Middle East — and by our fears.”
Here Dionne is alluding to the neocon ambition of upsetting the apple carts of the undemocratic Middle East dictatorships and facilitating the emergence of representative republics. It’s a shame that POTUS Bush largely gave up on that ambition in his second term, but it’s somewhat encouraging to see the possibility of that dream coming to fruition in some parts of the Middle East today as a part of what’s being called the Arab Spring. You might think that current events would have Dionne thinking twice about calling such a scheme utopian, but, well, apparently not.

“While we worried that we would be destroyed by terrorists, we ignored the larger danger of weakening ourselves by forgetting what made us great.”
And what made us great? Glory? Honor? I’d like to address this statement but as it stands I can’t make heads or tails of it and I’m not about to flesh out his argument that isn’t made so that I can rebut it.

“We have no alternative from now on but to look forward and not back.”
We can do both, unless you can’t walk and chew gum at the same time. Of course, Dionne has been arguing that we shouldn’t look back, not that we can’t, so this statement is simply empty rhetoric, and it’s just so very lame, but it does set up his final paragraph:

“This does not dishonor the fallen heroes, and Lincoln explained why at Gettysburg. “We can not dedicate — we can not consecrate — we can not hallow this ground,” he said. “The brave men, living and dead, who struggled here, have consecrated it, far above our poor power to add or detract.” The best we could do, Lincoln declared, was to commit ourselves to “a new birth of freedom.” This is still our calling.”
It’s nice that Dionne concluded his piece with a quote from that venerated Republican Lincoln, whom we all hold dear to our hearts, but the conclusion of his piece ends up right where it began, with Dionne lazily waving his arms, chanting, “Forget, forget, forget.”

So let me sum up my fisking with this:

9/11: Never Forget.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

On Walter Pincus and "Selective Recall"

[by Mr.Hengist]

VPOTUS Dick Cheney has a new book out, and Liberal poindexters are using their column space to take their shots. It would be instructive for Liberals to go back over the blogposts and newspaper columns from the W years, as the sheer volume of unsubstantiated allegations and demonizing insinuations is staggering (ah, for the good old days of civil discourse, patriotic dissent, and speaking truth to power...).

As a general rule, in my observations, Liberals go through several stages to arrive at their buy-in to a conspiracy theory or belief that a Republican has committed a high crime. First, the speculation that the crime may have been committed. Having accepted that, it naturally follows that the crime probably was committed, and from there it also follows that it was committed – nay, it must have been committed, and so the buy-in is complete – and, remarkably, this process seems to take virtually no time at all, and requires no additional evidence beyond sheer speculation. From Enron to war-for-oil to the Plame leak, Liberals seem always to be ready and eager to believe the worst of their political opposition based on nothing more than speculation. Dissuading a Liberal of these delusions is a difficult, sometimes impossible chore; Liberal bloggers, columnists, pundits, and occasionally politicians, are often eager to embrace these slanders but loathe to set the record straight when their targets are exonerated. A debunked meme that damages their opposition is merely an inconvenience, like an opportunity lost, which may yet be salvageable given a grace period - one long enough for memories to fade, whereupon the smear is resuscitated.

If nothing else, Cheney's book should prompt the fools to apologize to Bush Administration officials and their fellow citizens for the BS they've propagated. It's too much to hope for, of course, but it's also interesting to scrutinize pieces like these to note which memes they've abandoned, versus those to which they still desperately cling - or hope to revive.

Walter Pincus takes a stab at Cheney ("Cheney’s recall is selective with ‘In My Time’", WaPo, Sep 05, 2011), and I have some observations to make.

"Take the former vice president’s version of the controversial trip that former U.S. ambassador Joseph Wilson took to Niger at the request of the CIA in February 2002 to check on allegations that Iraq was trying to buy uranium from that country. It eventually grew into a major event involving disclosure of Wilson’s wife, Valerie Plame Wilson, as a covert CIA operative and the questioning of 16 words in President George W. Bush’s January 2003 State of the Union speech."
“I wrote about it all at the time. I also was caught up in the leak investigation into the disclosure of Plame’s identity and the perjury trial of Cheney’s then-chief of staff, I. Lewis “Scooter” Libby, where I testified that he was not the one who told me of her CIA employment.”
Let me start out by giving some credit to Pincus: he does mention that he testified that Libby wasn’t the one who outed Valerie Plame as a CIA agent. What he doesn’t mention here, or throughout the piece, is that Plame’s CIA employment was disclosed to Novak by Richard Armitage, the right-hand man of Colin Powell, something that Special Prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald learned at the very beginning of his investigation in December of 2003. Let me also note here that Fitzgerald nonetheless continued his investigation of the identity of the leaker, which he already knew, presumably as a fishing expedition to snag someone within the Bush Administration, presumably on some other charge. That's what Libby was prosecuted on - a charge of perjury, perjury committed during six hours of questioning, when he contradicted his prior testimony, during a deposition that should never have taken place. He wasn't the only one who perjured himself; several journalists did the same thing, but they weren't prosecuted - Libby was, because as an Administration staff member his scalp was the only one worth taking, after so many years of otherwise fruitless investigation. Also of note, and as an aside, Armitage only admitted to his disclosure after he was safe from prosecution and Novak had already made it public.

“In his book, Cheney wrote he began reading newspaper stories in late spring 2003 about an unnamed former U.S. ambassador who went to Africa in 2002 for the CIA to check on whether Iraq was buying, or trying to buy, uranium for its nuclear weapons program. The ambassador had returned, said the story was not true and thus appeared to contradict Bush’s speech when he said, “The British government has learned that Saddam Hussein recently sought significant quantities of uranium from Africa.”
Wilson’s lie appeared to contradict POTUS Bush’s 2003 SOTU 16 words? Prima facie it didn’t, did it? Joe Wilson could have reported back that he's found evidence directly refuting what British intelligence told us, but that wouldn't change the fact that British intelligence told us that Iraq was seeking uranium from Africa. That's because Wilson had only gone to Niger, and Niger isn't the only country in the continent of Africa that exports uranium (Hello, South Africa! Also, the Central African "Republic", the "Democratic Republic" of Congo, Gabon, and Zambia!), so nothing Wilson found in Niger would necessarily have bearing on the British intelligence report or the 16 words in POTUS Bush’s 2003 SOTU.

This is something that, even at the time, Liberals didn't quite seem to grasp. It's always been remarkable to me that this has been overlooked by Liberals since the beginning, and it's a matter of reading comprehension and simple logic. Joe Wilson did not refute the SOTU 16 words because he could not. I mean, really, how hard is this?

“One of the stories Cheney read — but did not note in the book — was a May 6, 2003, New York Times op-ed column by Nicholas Kristof, which said, “The vice president’s office asked for an investigation of the uranium deal, so a former U.S. ambassador to Africa was dispatched to Niger.” Kristof had learned in a background conversation with Wilson days earlier that the CIA had sent Wilson to Niger to follow up on questions posed by Cheney at a morning briefing. Wilson, who interviewed present and former Niger officials, said he reported back that the uranium story was not true.”
Well, yes, Joe Wilson did say that. His public account of his mission to Niger was varied - no, wait, strike that - Joe Wilson simply lied. A different account Wilson relates in his book: he met with ministers of Niger and asked about whether Iraq had sought to buy uranium from them. He was told that indeed, an Iraqi envoy had come to inquire about increasing trade with Niger, and that was told that international scrutiny was too great after 9/11 and that any such trade deals would have to wait until things had cooled down. What Wilson failed to note was that Niger has only negligible exports aside from uranium (none of which (coal, animal hides, cowpeas, etc.) were forbidden from importing under U.N. sanctions against Iraq), and, oh, by the way, this Iraqi guy turns out to have been the Iraqi public envoy for nuclear matters.

Fact is, Joe Wilson lied about almost every important thing he said in relation to his mission to Niger, and about subsequent related events. He was not, as he strongly and repeatedly insinuated, sent there by VPOTUS Cheney. He did not report back that Iraq had not sought uranium from Niger. He did not review the forged Nigerian document for the CIA and inform them that it was a fake. It was not Dick Cheney who revealed his wife to be a CIA employee.

“On the broader point of the 16 words in Bush’s State of the Union speech, Cheney’s book discusses discusses [sic] the internal White House debate after Wilson’s July 6, 2003, public statements over whether an apology should be made for including the British report that Hussein had been seeking uranium from Africa. Over Cheney’s objection, the apology was eventually made by national security adviser Condoleezza Rice.
“Cheney writes that a later British inquiry into their statement declared their claim was “well founded.” The British inquiry concluded that it had different sources reporting that “Iraqi officials visited Niger in 1999” where there were indications “this visit was for the purpose of acquiring uranium.”
"Left out of Cheney’s book is a CIA document — relevant to the 16 words — that was sent to his office in June 2003 but made public at Libby’s trial. It summarized previous reports, including one dated March 2002, that disclosed the information on the 1999 delegation came from a former Niger official who said only that he “believed Iraq was interested in discussing yellowcake [uranium].” But a later CIA report, dated Sept. 24, 2002, referred directly to the British information that was subsequently used in Bush’s speech. At that point, the CIA questioned the credibility of the British sources and said it had recommended the British withhold their report."
Yeah, the CIA says a lot of things. They often contradict themselves. They are large; they contain multitudes. In this case it seems churlish to selectively cite this doubt cast on their initial endorsement of the British report, as the subsequent British investigation into the matter has vindicated it. Pincus presents this to cast doubt on the wisdom of including the 16 words in the SOTU, but in hindsight, the British conclusion of the veracity of their own intelligence findings vindicates VPOTUS Cheney’s judgment in the matter.

"In 2004, Charles Duelfer, in his final report of the Iraq Survey Group which studied Hussein’s nuclear program after the U.S. invasion, said, “ISG has uncovered no information to support allegations of Iraqi pursuit of uranium from abroad in the post-Operation Desert Storm era,” meaning after 1991.
Perhaps Cheney has not read Duelfer’s report."
And again, whether the ISG found proof or not is irrelevant in light of the confirming evidence we've had since before the war began. In his piece Pincus is strongly implying that Iraq never sought uranium from Africa as was stated in the 2003 SOTU. Perhaps Pincus never read Wilson's book – or the Senate Intelligence Committee Report on Pre-War Intelligence.

The importance of whether Iraq was trying to buy uranium cannot be understated. Iraq, as led by the Hussein dictatorship, was a nation with an extensive history of manufacturing and using WMDs, and an equally extensive history of anti-American and anti-Western hatred. As a nation without any means of using uranium for peaceful uses, there could be only one reason for acquiring uranium: weapons manufacture. In a post-9/11 world where a fanatical terrorist group could get their hands on such a weapon, this provided a critical piece in the justification for war on Iraq.

This is what Joe Wilson undermined with his lies, and with it he undermined the President during a time of war. In his piece, Pincus reissues a credibility Joe Wilson never deserved - and he has the nerve to accuse VPOTUS Cheney of selective recall.