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Jewish World Review July 12, 2004/ 23 Tamuz, 5764

Mark Steyn

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Bush's State of the Union speech redeemed |
Do you remember a year ago when the Democratic National Committee was putting out press releases headlined ''President Bush Deceives The American People"?

Yawn. What's new? But last summer the Bush Lie Of The Week was all to do with Saddam trying to buy uranium from Niger. CNN and Co. replayed endlessly the critical 16 words from the president's 2003 State of the Union Address:

''The British government has learned that Saddam Hussein recently sought significant quantities of uranium from Africa."

Sixteen words that could break a presidency! Bush ''misled every one of us,'' huffed Sen. John Kerry. ''It's beginning to sound like Watergate,'' said Howard Dean. Joseph C. Wilson IV, the man the CIA sent to Africa to investigate, wrote a piece for the New York Times titled ''What I didn't find in Africa.''

Can you guess what he didn't find, dear reader? That's right, he didn't find a big package of uranium bearing the address label ''S. Hussein, Suite 27, the Saddam Hussein Centre for Armageddon Studies, Saddam Hussein Parkway, Baghdad.'' Ambassador Wilson said relax, he'd been to Niger, spent "eight days drinking sweet mint tea and meeting with dozens of people,'' and there's nothing going on.

Well, on Wednesday in London, Lord Butler will publish his report into the quality of the intelligence on which rested Britain's case for going to war with Iraq. The report is said to be critical of some of Tony Blair's claims, supportive of others. And, among the latter, he says that the statements about Iraq and Niger are justified and supported by the intelligence. In other words, the British Government did learn that Saddam Hussein did seek significant quantities of uranium from Africa.

As a gazillion e-mails a day shrieked from my in-box back then, ''BUSH LIED!!!!!!" So where exactly in that State of the Union observation is the lie?

Last summer, the comparatively minor matter of uranium from Niger was all over the front pages and the news shows. Do you think Butler's report will be? Do you think Terry McAuliffe and John Kerry and Howard Dean will be eating humble yellowcake?

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In July last year, I wrote about the Bush Lie Of The Week in this space. The CIA had disowned the Niger story, and I pointed out that these were the same fellows who'd botched the Sudanese aspirin factory business, failed to spot 9/11 coming, etc., etc.

"So," I wrote, "if you're the president and the same intelligence bureaucrats who got all the above wrong say the Brits are way off the mark, there's nothing going on with Saddam and Africa, what do you do? Do you say, 'Hey, even a stopped clock is right twice a day'? Or, given what you've learnt about the state of your humint (human intelligence), is it likely they've got much of a clue about what's going on in French Africa? Isn't this one of those deals where the Brits and the shifty French (Niger's uranium operations are under the supervision of the French Atomic Energy Commission) are more plugged in?"

And so it's proved. The fact is almost every European intelligence service reckoned Saddam was trying to buy uranium in Africa. The only folks who didn't think so were the CIA.

Let's weigh their comparative interest in the story. The Financial Times revealed last week that one continental intelligence agency had had a uranium-smuggling operation involving Iraq under surveillance for three years. In return, the only primary investigation initiated by the most powerful nation on the face of the Earth was to send a narcissistic kook from a Saudi-funded think-tank on vacation for a week to sip mint tea with government stooges. He didn't even bother filing a written report, and the ''Bush spurned my advice!'' column he wrote for the Times reads like a bad travelogue: ''Through the haze, I could see camel caravans crossing the Niger river.'' After that, the great narcissist somehow managed to make himself the center of the story — But hey, enough about Saddam's nuclear ambitions; let's talk about me.

A few weeks before 9/11, Reuel Marc Gerecht wrote a timely piece in the Atlantic Monthly on the woeful state of U.S. counter-terrorism intelligence in a CIA neutered by politically correct bureaucracy. Among Gerecht's many memorable quotes was this line from a young CIA man reflecting on an agency grown used to desk-bound life in Virginia: ''Operations that include diarrhea as a way of life don't happen.'' That's Niger in a nutshell: Diarrhea Central. Who'd want to be stationed there when they could be back at Langley monitoring the world's e-mail in an air-conditioned office?

But Niger is a 99.5 percent Sunni Muslim country with the world's second highest birth rate and a load of uranium. It's exactly the sort of place an intelligence agency in the war on terror ought to be keeping an eye on. And that doesn't mean sending Mint Tea Boy to write it up for the travel section.

That's the issue here: The CIA are tourists in the heart of darkness. This spring, the ever-complacent George Tenet told the 9/11 Commission that it would take another half-decade to rebuild the clandestine service. So three years after 9/11 the CIA says it needs another five years. Imagine if Franklin Roosevelt had turned to Tenet to start up the OSS, the CIA's wartime predecessor. In 1942, he'd have told the president not to worry, he'd have it up and running by 1950.

Bush didn't LIE!!!! He was right, and the CIA were wrong. That doesn't mean they LIED!!!! either. Intelligence is never 100 percent. You make a judgment, and in this instance the judgments of the British and Europeans were right, and the judgment of the principal intelligence agency of the world's hyperpower was wrong. That should be a cause of great concern — for all Americans.

National security shouldn't be a Republican/Democrat thing. But it's become one because, for too many Americans, when it's a choice between Bush and anybody else, they'll take anybody else. So, in ''Fahrenheit 9/11,'' if it's a choice between Bush and Saddam, Michael Moore comes down on the side of the genocidal whacko and shows us lyrical slo-mo shots of kiddies flying kites in a Baathist utopia. In the Afghan war, if it's a choice between Bush and the women-enslaving gay-executing Taliban, Susan Sarandon and Co. side with the Taliban. And in the most exquisite reductio of this now universal rule, if it's a choice between Bush and the CIA, the left sides with the CIA.

There's one for the peace marches: Hey, hey, CIA/How many Bush lies did you expose today?

This isn't an anti-war movement. This is a movement in denial.

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JWR contributor Mark Steyn is North American Editor of The (London) Spectator and the author, most recently, of "The Face of the Tiger," a new book on the world post-Sept. 11. (Sales help fund JWR). Comment by clicking here.


© 2004, Mark Steyn