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PostWatch: An irregular correction to the Washington Post

Brought to you by Christopher Rake


Monday, January 19, 2004
3:11 PM

Glad to see Glenn Kessler's story today get dissected by Powerline, as PostWatch remains on an, uh, extended hiatus. Brought to my attention as in Days of Yore ViaInsta, Powerline and Glenn Reynolds both point out the error in Kessler's lede:

The Bush administration's inability to find weapons of mass destruction in Iraq -- after public statements declaring an imminent threat posed by Iraqi President Saddam Hussein -- has begun to harm the credibility abroad of the United States and of American intelligence, according to foreign policy experts in both parties.

When, as should be well-known by now, the Bush Administration did not claim there was an imminent threat and President Bush explicitly argued that we could no longer wait for the Iraqi threat to become imminent.

I continue to be irritated by the Post's failure, as in this story, to acknowledge the liberal tendencies of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace and the anti-war stance of its leaders, including Jessica Mathews. That doesn't render the endowment's arguments moot all by itself, but is the kind of basic information we used to expect from straight news stories (and by "used to expect" I mean "when I was ten.")

But Powerline points out a much more serious problem: A misleading editing of quotes that is worthy of Maureen Dowd. Kessler quotes claims in Bush's last State of the Union speech about Iraqi WMD stockpiles and what could be done with them. What Kessler omits is that Bush was citing United Nation's estimates. In another case he says our intelligence officials estimate Saddam had the materials to produce up to 500 tons of sarin, mustard and VX, and that Saddam had not accounted for them. Quite a different presentation than the one portrayed in today's story. To get the full flavor of this you really have to check out Powerline.

But wait, there's more, and this may be my sole original contribution: A sidebar summarizing supposed mis-steps revives the March 16, 2003 Dick Cheney statement to Tim Russert about Saddam having "reconstituted" nuclear weapons. C'mon, been there, done that; Cheney mis-spoke but several times in the same interview maintained that Saddam had reconstituted his nuke program; i.e, trying to make them, not already having them.

Key quote:
We know that based on intelligence that he has been very, very good at hiding these kinds of efforts. He's had years to get good at it and we know he has been absolutely devoted to trying to acquire nuclear weapons. And we believe he has, in fact, reconstituted nuclear weapons.

But this is what Cheney said in the same segment:

We know he's reconstituted these programs since the Gulf War. We know he's out trying once again to produce nuclear weapons...

And over time, given Saddam's posture there, given the fact that he has a significant flow of cash as a result of the oil production of Iraq, it's only a matter of time until he acquires nuclear weapons...

And I think that would be the fear here, that even if he were tomorrow to give everything up, if he stays in power, we have to assume that as soon as the world is looking the other way and preoccupied with other issues, he will be back again rebuilding his BW and CW capabilities, and once again reconstituting his nuclear program....

And there's no question but what it is going to be cheaper and less costly to do it now than it will be to wait a year or two years or three years until he's developed even more deadly weapons, perhaps nuclear weapons....

Now, do I believe U.S. credibility has been hurt in the absence of discovering WMD? Hell yes. So we have a unusual spectacle: A headline that's more accurate than the story. Let us glory in it:

Arms Issue Seen as Hurting U.S. Credibility Abroad

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