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.

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