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PostWatch: An irregular correction to the Washington Post

Brought to you by Christopher Rake


Wednesday, January 28, 2004
8:13 AM

David Kay testifies before the Senate Armed Services Committee this morning, as noted in today's story, Kay Says Evidence Shows Iraq Disarmed. I wish I could be there to compare what he says to how it's reported.
U.S. weapons inspectors in Iraq found new evidence that Saddam Hussein's regime quietly destroyed some stockpiles of biological and chemical weapons in the mid-1990s, former chief inspector David Kay said yesterday...Kay's revelation that Iraq had documented the destruction of its weapons is the most recent of several disclosures he has made since his resignation Friday as special adviser to CIA Director George J. Tenet that have put the White House on the defensive..

Look, if Kay says Saddam documented the destruction of some of his weapons, that is indeed a crucial disclosure. But media including the Post can take much of the credit for putting the White House "on the defensive" by continuing to downplay statements that either raise the hair on the back of your head or plainly support President Bush's decision to go to war. As noted in posts earlier this week, that includes statements saying components of the WMD program were smuggled into Syria, that the situation in Iraq was potentially worse than we thought, and that the decision to invade was well-founded. Powerline hits this point very clearly and well, while noting that Kay hasn't been the most systematic or consistent interlocutor in the world.

Meanwhile, back at the Post, what is it about the word "imminent" that people just don't get?
In response to the Kay revelations, White House officials and British Foreign Minister Jack Straw said yesterday that they never claimed that Hussein represented an "imminent" threat.

"I think some in the media have chosen to use the word 'imminent,' " White House press secretary Scott McClellan said. "Those were not words we used. We used 'grave and gathering threat.' "

Though Bush did not use the word "imminent," he said in a major speech in October 2002 that waiting to confront Hussein was "the riskiest of all options." The United States, he said, "must not ignore the threat gathering against us. Facing clear evidence of peril, we cannot wait for the final proof -- the smoking gun -- that could come in the form of a mushroom cloud. . . . We have every reason to assume the worst, and we have an urgent duty to prevent the worst from occurring."

Urgent? Is that it? This one use of the word urgent? Bush's language is clear--we just couldn't predict when something horrible was going to happen but there was no excuse for waiting until the last, too-late second. And Bush also said this, in his January, 2003 State of the Union speech:
Some have said we must not act until the threat is imminent. Since when have terrorists and tyrants announced their intentions, politely putting us on notice before they strike? If this threat is permitted to fully and suddenly emerge, all actions, all words, and all recriminations would come too late. Trusting in the sanity and restraint of Saddam Hussein is not a strategy, and it is not an option.

This line should now be about as familiar to reporters as the Miranda warning. If you're going to revisit "imminence" why leave it out?

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