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[casi] Fake debate: Iraq and the uranium

1) Iraq and the uranium: a fake debate

2) Bush's 16 words miss the Big Picture



15 July 2003

 Iraq and the uranium: a fake debate

by Brendan O'Neill

Why, three months after the Iraq war ended, has a four-year-old story about
Saddam Hussein trying to get uranium from Africa become big news?

The world's media point out that the uranium claims originated from forged
documents, and criticise President Bush for including them in his State of
the Union address; Bush blames the CIA, while the CIA blames Britain's MI6
for starting the story in the first place; MI6 is standing by its
intelligence, though Tony Blair is apparently planning to 'blame France for
the uranium row'; and Niger, from where Saddam allegedly tried to buy the
uranium in 1999, is said to be deeply upset 'at suggestions that it would
consider selling uranium to Iraq' (1).

The lame uranium claims have been the subject of ridicule for a year - so
how did they come to 'stop the press' in mid-July 2003? The spat was
triggered by US diplomat Joseph Wilson, who was sent by the CIA to Niger to
assess the intelligence. He wrote in the New York Times on 7 July this year
that, 'It was highly doubtful that any such transaction had taken place'

But Wilson's apparently 'shock revelation' doesn't explain why the uranium
story has dominated political and media debate over the past week. Rather,
this ugly spat is the result of some shameless buckpassing in both the pro-
and anti-war camps.

On the sceptical-about-war side, the Democrats have leapt upon the uranium
story as a way of discrediting the Bush administration. As the UK
Independent reports, senior Democrats are using the issue not only 'to
attack the president', but also to launch the running for whom will be the
Democrat presidential candidate in 2004 (3). North Carolina Democrat Senator
John Edwards says a president can do nothing worse than start a war on false
pretences, and calls on the American people to 'not lose sight of the bigger
picture…the enormous failure that is looming in Iraq right now' (4).

How gallant. Not. The Democrats could have ripped apart the uranium story
six months ago, if they had wanted - three months before US forces launched
their 'enormous failure' in Iraq. On 28 January 2003, Mohamed Elbaradei,
director-general of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), told a
news channel: 'There were reports about Iraq importing uranium from
Africa…Again we haven't seen any evidence.' (5)

The documents purporting to show that Iraqis had approached Niger for
uranium were exposed as forgeries on 7 March 2003, two weeks before the Iraq
war started. The IAEA reported to the UN Security Council that 'these
documents…are in fact not authentic. We have therefore concluded that these
specific allegations are unfounded' (6). If that wasn't clear enough for the
likes of the Democrat presidential candidates, currently expressing their
shock and sorrow over the Bushies' use of false evidence, perhaps a headline
from the following day, 8 March, would have done the trick: 'Niger-Iraq
uranium connection "a fake".' (7)

  The Democrats are taking a cheap shot at their opponents

Indeed, those interested in challenging America and Britain's claims as a
way of challenging their war plans ought to have been instinctively
sceptical about the African uranium story. The British/American story about
Niger only made sense if you accepted earlier intelligence claims about Iraq
having the means with which to turn uranium into something approaching a
nuclear weapon. And not everybody did.

In September 2002, Britain's original and discredited dossier on Iraq, as
well as an American dossier, reported that Saddam's regime had made attempts
to 'purchase vacuum pumps which could be used to create and maintain
pressures in a gas centrifuge cascade needed to enrich uranium', thus
suggesting that it had a nuclear weapons programme (8).

The prestigious US Institute for Science and International Security wasn't
convinced, arguing that 'by themselves, these attempted procurements are not
evidence that Iraq is in possession of, or close to possessing, nuclear
weapons' (9). Days later, on 22 September 2002, the Financial Times reported
that 'the alleged attempts to import the [materials] failed. So even if it
was destined for a uranium enrichment facility, it never arrived' (10).

Anybody who is truly concerned about the use of 'unsubstantiated evidence',
as Democrat Senators now claim to be, would surely have asked themselves
during Bush's State of the Union address in January: why is the president
claiming that Iraq tried to buy uranium from Niger, when experts doubt
whether Iraq could do anything with uranium even if it had it?

But then the Democrats - like sceptical Labour ministers in the UK, cynical
journalists, and other anti-war types - are not flagging up the uranium
claims in order to challenge American and British intervention in Iraq. They
are taking a cheap shot at their opponents. Mary Lynn Jones, a liberal
American journalist, says that the revelations of dodgy evidence may be
'just the mistake [the Democrats] were waiting for', one that they can
'seize upon and ride to victory' (11).

Jones admits that it is 'easier to win an election if you have your own
agenda to promote rather than just talking about how bad the other guy is',
but insists that Democrats can 'capitalise' on the current evidence fallout
(12). There is nothing like taking a principled stand against war - and the
Democrats' focus on the uranium story is nothing like taking a principled
stand against war.

Democrats' and liberals' retrospective focus on the uranium claims is a
cover for their own cowardice over Iraq, for their failure to take a
principled stand against the war. Opposition politicians are grubbing about
for something with which to beat the Bushies, as they clearly have no
politics or principles with which to do the job. This sorry excuse for
political opposition helps to explain why doubts about the uranium are
everywhere, months after they first originated - and why someone like
Senator John Edwards, who voted for war in the House of Representatives, can
now get off on lecturing Bush about the 'enormous failure' in Iraq. The
antis' cynical approach - flagging up Bush and Blair's lies instead of
positing a principled alternative - can only harm political life in the long

  The uranium spat exposed the defensive nature of Bush and Blair’s war

One reason why the anti-war lobby has been able to milk the uranium story
for all it is worth is because of the pro-war lobby's defensiveness. On the
other side of the fake debate over Iraq, the uranium claims have exposed
deep divisions within the Bush administration, and between America and

As the uranium spat got serious, the Bush and Blair governments partook in
some serious blame-shifting. As one article put it on 14 July, 'Bush shifts
the blame for his Iraq whopper' (13). According to the administration, it
was the CIA's fault that the dodgy uranium story made its way into Bush's
State of the Union address. The CIA has accepted responsibility - though
director George Tenet got his own back on Bush, by claiming that 'officials
who were reviewing the draft remarks on uranium raised several concerns
about the fragmentary nature of the intelligence with National Security
colleagues', only to have their concerns ignored by Bush's aides (14).

The CIA has tried to wash its hands off the uranium story by pinning the
blame on Britain. After all, it was the Brits who first talked up the
uranium claims, as Bush outlined in his State of the Union address (in the
now infamous '16 words'): 'The British government has learned that Saddam
Hussein recently sought significant quantities of uranium from Africa' (15).
The CIA's finger-pointing at Britain's MI6 led to what The Sunday Times
(London) called the 'most serious clash yet' between America and Britain.

Now the British are trying to shift the blame, for a third time. According
to one report, British officials have suggested that that 'two foreign
intelligence services, thought to be those of France and Italy, supplied
Britain with the information for its controversial claim that Iraq had
sought uranium from Africa' (16). When in doubt, blame France - as the
Scotsman reports: 'France is expected to be blamed for the split between the
CIA and MI6, on the grounds that Paris intelligence agencies shared hard
evidence with Britain, but refused to show it to the USA' (17). 'French
treachery' says one headline, reporting that the French secret service were
behind the dirty claims about African uranium (18).

The uranium claims worked their way from forged documents into Britain's
dossier and then into Bush's State of the Union address. Yet now Bush, Blair
and the rest are doing all they can to shift the blame, tracing the story's
origins back to - guess who? - those pesky Europeans, who were always
determined to spoil the coalition's efforts in Iraq. Those who launched the
war in Iraq are now washing their hands of responsibility, defensively
backtracking over the pre-war 'evidence'.

It wasn't the uranium story that caused these tensions within and between
the Bush and Blair governments. Rather, the uranium spat has further exposed
the defensive nature of Bush and Blair's war, and its failure to unite the
American and British elites behind any sense of common purpose.

As postwar Iraq spins further out of control, politicians and journalists in
the West squabble over 16 words in Bush's State of the Union address, and
who is responsible for putting them there. This is about much more than a
bullshit story about African uranium. The uranium spat is more like a sign
of our unprincipled times.

Read on:

spiked-issue: War on Iraq

Only dopes get duped, by Brendan O'Neill

(1) Niger upset by uranium slur, BBC News, 14 July 2003

(2) See Joseph Wilson, former US ambassador to Iraq, debunks Iraq-Niger
uranium deal and why the US went to war, Democracy Now!, 10 July 2003

(3) Democrats attack Bush's credibility over Niger uranium claims,
Independent, 15 July 2003

(4) Democrats attack Bush's credibility over Niger uranium claims,
Independent, 15 July 2003

(5) Newsmaker: Mohamed Elbaradei, NewsHour, 28 January 2003

(6) See Timeline: 'Niger uranium' row, BBC News, 9 July 2003

(7) Niger-Iraq uranium connection 'a fake', Afrol News, 8 March 2003

(8) See Iraq's Weapons of Mass Destruction: The Assessment of the British
Government (.pdf), 24 September 2002

(9) Evidence on Iraq challenged, Washington Post, 19 September 2002

(10) 'Doubts over recent arms programme', Financial Times, 22 September 2002

(11) New math, Mary Lynn Jones, American Prospect, 14 July 2003

(12) New math, Mary Lynn Jones, American Prospect, 14 July 2003

(13) The buck stops there: Bush shifts the blame for his Iraq whopper,
Slate, 14 July 2003

(14) The buck stops there: Bush shifts the blame for his Iraq whopper,
Slate, 14 July 2003

(15) State of the Union address: full text, BBC News, 29 January 2003

(16) France and Italy provided intelligence: report, AFP News, 15 July 2003

(17) Blair to blame France for Niger uranium row, Scotsman, 15 July 2003

(18) French treachery, Daily Telegraph, 14 July 2003



Bush's 16 words miss the Big Picture

Posted: July 16, 2003
1:00 a.m. Eastern

© 2003

Ilana Mercer

The chattering classes are doing what they do best, and that is to shed
darkness wherever they go. This writer informed readers about the Niger lie
in March 2003, after Muhammad ElBaradei, the International Atomic Energy
Agency's chief, unceremoniously and politely called the allegation that
Saddam Hussein had sought significant quantities of uranium from Africa
"inauthentic." It'll take the mainstream media a few years to work out, but
many in the administration (not least Condoleezza Rice and Dick Cheney) had
been sitting on this intelligence since February 2002, when a diplomat
called Joe Wilson was sent to Niger by the CIA and the State Department to
ferret it out.

Members of the media aren't capable of much more than fragmenting and
atomizing information. Integrating facts into a conceptual understanding is
certainly not what Howard Fineman, Chris Matthew's anointed analyst, and the
brain trust on MSNBC's "Hardball" does. To disguise the pedestrian
politicking that is his thought process, Fineman discussed who, at what time
in the afternoon, as well as when in the estrus cycle of the next door cow,
did an official put the infamous 16 words about nukes and Niger on the
president's desk. That ought to make a nation already bogged down in
concrete bits of disconnected data see the forest for the trees, wouldn't
you say?

Reducing this administration's single-minded will to war to an erroneous 16
words ignores the big picture. First came the decision to go to war. The
misbegotten illegality that was this administration's case for war followed
once the decision to go to war had already been made. The administration's
war wasn't about a few pieces that did not gel in an otherwise coherent
framework; it wasn't about an Iraq that was poised to attack the U.S. with
germs and chemicals rather than with nukes; it was about a resigned, hungry,
economic pariah that was a sitting duck for the power-hungry American

By all means, dissect and analyze what, in September 2002, I called the
"lattice of lies" leveled at Iraq: the uranium from Africa, the aluminum
tubes from Timbuktu, the invisible "meetings" with al-Qaida in Prague, an
al-Qaida training camp that existed under Kurdish – not Iraqi – control, as
well as the alleged weaponized chemical and biological stockpiles and their
attendant delivery systems that inspectors doubted were there and which
never materialized.

But then assemble the pieces and synthesize the information, will you? Do
what the critical mind must do. The rational individual, wedded to reality,
reason and objective, non-partisan truth saw Bush's sub-intelligent case for
war for what it was. He saw Bush as the poster boy for "the degeneracy of
manner and morals" which James Madison warned war would bring – the same
"bring 'em on" grin one can also observe on the face of a demented patient
with end-stage syphilis. The rational individual saw all this, and
understood that when Madison spoke of "war as the true nurse of executive
aggrandizement," he was speaking of the disposition of this dictator.

Hold the CIA responsible for giving in to the War Party's pressure, if you
will. But recognize that the CIA was only obeying the wishes of its masters.
The CIA had attempted to resist. Witness the early statements by Vince
Cannistraro, former counterterrorism chief, who scoffed at the concoction of
an al-Qaida-Iraq connection. Having come under fire after Sept. 11, the
agency gave in to White House pressure to politicize and shape the
lackluster information.

Unforgivable? Yes. But consider who the intelligence community takes its
corrupt cues from. Perhaps New Jersey's poet laureate Amiri Baraka had a
point when he wondered, "Who know [sic] what kind of Skeeza is a
Condoleezza." The National Security Adviser has since Sept. 11 been rocking
the intelligence community with her antipathy to the truth. As if her
Saddam-seeded nuclear-winter forecasts were not bad enough, on Sept. 8,
2002, she told CNN's Wolf Blitzer that "We do know that there have been
shipments into Iraq of aluminum tubes that really are only suited to nuclear
weapons programs." "That's just a lie," an appalled David Albright of the
Institution for Science and International Security told the New Republic.

In her latest damage control interview with Blitzer, Rice continued to
insist that Saddam Hussein was threatening his neighbors when the president
pounced, and, as justification for the war, she still makes reference to
Saddam's effort to pursue a nuclear program in ... 1991, and to the burying
of old centrifuge parts prior to the first Gulf War. Rice, of course,
continues to deny the Niger forgery.

Clearly, Whitehall and Washington will not willingly give up their dark
secrets. With few exceptions such as U.S. Sen. Robert Byrd, Congressional
Progressive Caucus co-chair Dennis Kucinich, John Conyers, the ranking
Democrat on the House Judiciary Committee, and Bob Graham of Florida, the
utterly disposable and detestable Democrats have been only too pleased to
aid and abet this executive dictatorship.

And the media will continue to do what their collective intelligence
permits: focus only on the one lie, thus making the lattice more

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