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A bit of house-keeping.

A bit of house-keeping. A couple days ago I noted how Oklahoma Senate candidate Tom Coburn had told an interviewer that he supported the death penalty for doctors who perform abortions. A number of readers wrote in to ask if I could provide a link for the article in question. For some reason the piece doesn't appear on any news website -- couldn't find it with a google search at least. But if you have access to the Nexis database you can find it there. It ran first on July 9th out of Oklahoma City with a byline by Ron Jenkins.

Late Update: Alas, TPM readers have better google skills than I do. The story can be found here.

Sen. Roberts War a

Sen. Roberts: War a mistake, fault of <$NoAd$>CIA.

That's how I interpret this paragraph from today's article in the New York Times.

But in an hourlong interview on Wednesday morning in his office, Mr. Roberts said he was "not too sure" that the administration would have invaded if it had known how flimsy the intelligence was on Iraq and illicit weapons. Instead, the senator said, Mr. Bush might well have advocated efforts to maintain sanctions against Iraq and to continue to try to unearth the truth through the work of United Nations inspectors. "I don't think the president would have said that military action is justified right now," Mr. Roberts said. If the administration had been given "accurate intelligence," he said, Mr. Bush "might have said, 'Saddam's a bad guy, and we've got to continue with the no-fly zones and with inspections.' "

If you interpret it otherwise, let me know how.

Perhaps later well be

Perhaps later we'll be bringing you news on sudden icing reported building up on the gates of hell. But I found -- credit where credit is due -- very illuminating and well-taken this piece by Jim Hoagland in the Washington Post ("Perception Gap in Iraq").

I don't agree with all the points. But the dynamic he examines is a real one, and a dangerous one.

Robert Novak today has

Robert Novak today has a column crowing about the Senate intel committee report with respect to Joe Wilson and the Niger matter. Nonetheless, he still manages to misstate its findings.

At the head of Novak's column he says that committee Democrats "did not dissent from the committee's findings that Iraq apparently asked about buying yellowcake uranium from Niger."

Dissenting from this finding would admittedly have been a challenge since this is not in fact what the Report said.

As this article by Doyle McManus in today's Los Angeles Times notes, "the committee found that the CIA's statement, in a 2002 National Intelligence Estimate, was reasonable' at the time. The committee added, however, that the evidence behind the assertion turned out to be weak, and charged that the CIA failed to make that clear to policymakers."

The truth is that we simply don't know whether the Iraqis ever 'sought' uranium in Niger or Africa in the years leading up to the war, though all the evidence we thought we had for such a claim has turned out to be baseless. (There remains the Brits' evidence which they stand by yet won't disclose, and we'll address that later.) And part of the uncertainty is based on the capaciousness of the term. 'Sought' can mean a lot of things -- everything from purchases and active negotiations to vague feelers which might have been intended to lay the groundwork for later attempted purchases.

One bit of evidence that weighs heavily against such claims that Iraq was hunting about looking for a uranium seller in the years just before the war is the simple fact that Iraq seems -- after a rather intense investigation -- not to have had any active nuclear program, thus rather diminishing the need to go around trying to buy uranium, with all the risks that would involve.

Even that doesn't entirely settle the question, though.

As a very knowledgable intelligence source pointed out to me recently, one of the things the Iraq Survey Group found was that from time to time Saddam would call aside this or that scientist or general and ask something to the effect of, 'If we had to, how long would it take us to restart this or that WMD program?'

(Beneath this there is an even further debate and question as to whether Saddam himself knew the extent of the decrepitude of his own army or just how shuttered his WMD programs were.)

My source's recollection was that the particular instances of this that the Survey Group found related to chemical weapons. But it's not inconceivable that Saddam might at some point have asked a similar question on the nuclear front. And that could explain why Iraq -- which had no active nuclear program -- might nevertheless have put out feelers about the possibilities of uranium purchases.

In any case, this is all theoretical or rather hypothetical -- speculation in the absence of any evidence. One point worth noting is that the Senate Report said the Niger uranium judgment was 'reasonable' as of September 2002 -- the time of the authorship of the NIE.

That was just before the forged documents came into possession of the United States. However, the main evidence that the US had at the time -- that which presumably made the judgment 'reasonable' -- was pair of reports the US had gotten from the Italian intelligence service, SISMI. And as later became clear, those reports were based on the forged documents. In other words, the evidence that made the claim 'reasonable' later turned out to be bogus.

One other point that deserves mention: quite a bit has been made about the portion of the SSCI Report that says that Wilson's wife recommended him for the assignment. As a matter of substance, who recommended Wilson is irrelevant. Yet, Wilson's credibility would be undermined if he said X were true, when in fact he knew Y was the case. The LAT article notes that Plame's bosses at the CIA continue to insist that the idea to send Wilson was not hers, but rather theirs. The Times quotes a 'senior intelligence official' saying that "Her bosses say she did not initiate the idea of her husband going…. They asked her if he'd be willing to go, and she said yes."

What the truth of it is, I don't know. But the larger hullabaloo over this secondary point is simply intended to distract attention from the administration's persistent attempt to use weak and ultimately discredited information to muscle the country into war on a timetable which had precious little to do with preventing any sort of standing threat to the United States.

If at first you

If at first you don't succeed ...

From a new article in The Hill: "Realizing that a constitutional amendment banning gay marriage faces little chance of passing soon, if ever, House Republicans yesterday discussed alternative approaches, including stripping federal courts of jurisdiction over the issue, passing a federal law to define marriage and using the appropriations process to ban gay marriage in Washington ..."

So back to our

So back to our topic at hand.

The newly-released Butler Report -- a rough analogue in the UK to the Senate intel report out last week -- not only exonerates Tony Blair's government for the claims included in the Iraqi weapons 'dossier' but -- in an act of supererogation that gives new meaning to the Anglo-British 'special relationship -- also exonerates President Bush for using his famous 'sixteen words' in the 2003 State of the Union speech, calling his claim "well-founded."

So let's see where this leaves us.

From the start of the Niger uranium controversy, or rather since the IAEA dismissed the purported agreement documents as forgeries, the British have stood by their claim that the Iraqis were trying to purchase uranium in Africa and, specifically, that their conclusion was based on sources separate from the discredited documents.

And, indeed, the Butler Report repeats precisely this claim: that the UK had "credible" evidence that the Iraqis were trying to purchase uranium in Africa, specifically from Niger and the Democratic Republic of Congo. (The relevant discussions in the Report are on pages 121-125)

The report states that, like many other countries, the Brits became aware of an Iraqi diplomat's visit to Niger in 1999 and concluded that this was likely aimed at discussing uranium sales. This judgment was made on the basis of a) Iraq's earlier purchases of uranium from Niger (circa late 70s and early 80s), b) their presumed resumption of a nuclear weapons program, and c) the fact the Niger exports little of value beside uranium.

This is a standard part of the story, widely known.

The reference to the additional evidence on Niger comes on page 122, paragraph 495 ...

During 2002, the UK received further intelligence from additional sources which identified the purpose of the visit to Niger as having been to negotiate the purchase of uranium ore, though there was disagreement as to whether a sale had been agreed and uranium shipped.

The Report also says this with respect to the Democratic Republic of Congo ...

There was further and separate intelligence that in 1999 the Iraqi regime had also made inquiries about the purchase of uranium ore in the Democratic Republic of Congo. In this case, there was some evidence that by 2002 an agreement for a sale had been reached.

The problem is that the Report doesn't give any details about what those reports were, thus giving very little way to assess their credibility. And that leaves us pretty much where we've been for a year, with the Brits claiming they had other evidence not connected to the documents but unwilling to describe what the evidence was.

If this subject interests you, I'd strongly suggest that you read the whole passage yourself. It's quite brief, no more than a couple minutes to read.

More on this to follow.

Couldnt happen to a

Couldn't happen to a nicer caucus ...

From the AP: "A split among Senate Republicans over different versions of an amendment to ban same-sex marriage is preventing a vote on an election-year issue pushed by President Bush and religious conservatives."

Now thats pretty pro-life.

Now, that's pretty pro-life.

Tom Coburn, a former member of the House of Representatives from Oklahoma, who is campaigning to become the Republican party's candidate to replace retiring Senator Don Nickles, recently said he supports the death penalty for doctors who perform abortions.

"I favor the death penalty," Coburn told the AP last week, "for abortionists and other people who take life."

The Republican primary is July 27th; the winner will face likely Democratic nominee Brad Carson.