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The 16 word gamble

By Jackson Murphy
web posted July 14, 2003

I thought that the high water mark for the anti-war/anti-Bush crowd was during the lead up to war earlier this year. But, the war is over, Iraq is under American control, it is in the process of being rebuilt, and the attacks on Bush and his foreign policy are getting stronger. I was wrong.

Howard Kurtz, writing in The Washington Post, summed it up this way: "Bush is driving the Democrats and the liberals crazy. They don't understand why everyone doesn't see what they see. It's not so much that they want to re-fight the war over the war -- some supporting toppling Saddam -- but this is obviously an opening they can use to tarnish the president's image on a national security issue. The problem is, most folks don't seem to care."

So the left and the Democratic candidates running for president in 2004 are now consumed with the notion that a sentence in the State of the Union, that the White House lied, or at the very least exaggerated the truth during the lead up to Operation Iraqi Freedom is going to be the difference in the next election.

Bush during his state of the union address a Joint Session of Congress, in Washington on January 28, 2003, as Vice President Dick Cheney applauds
Bush during his state of the union address a Joint Session of Congress, in Washington on January 28, 2003, as Vice President Dick Cheney applauds

Many are hoping that this line, "The British government has learned that Saddam Hussein recently sought significant quantities of uranium from Africa," buried deep in Bush's 5,400 word State of the Union speech will be Bush's undoing-that these few words are somehow President Bush's Monica. Forgetting that Clinton didn't, and hasn't, gone away.

The New York Times increasingly outrageous Maureen Dowd writes this week, "W. built his political identity on the idea that he was not Bill Clinton. He didn't parse words or prevaricate. He was the Texas straight shooter.

So why is he now presiding over a completely Clintonian environment, turning the White House into a Waffle House, where truth is camouflaged by word games and responsibility is obscured by shell games?"

Now everyone is getting out their classic Scandal For Dummies books, and brushing up on Washington scandal clichés, wondering what the definition of "is" is, and what did he know, and when did he know it. Like most scandals this is hardball Washington politics carried on by alternate means. That the democrats got a juicier nugget on which to attack this President that did the republicans during Clinton's tenure is just the way the cookie crumbles. But the more they focus on one minor sentence, the more it looks simply looks like the right wing did with Clinton. Crazed and consumed by the minutiae of useless details this time about uranium rather than a certain young intern.

You see for the democratic faithful there is nothing wrong with lying to the American people if it is a "personal matter." But building a large and complex rational for invading Iraq, where some intelligence proves to be wrong, except the case for invasion remains rock solid and you are in big trouble.

And lets not forget that the line, relying on British Intelligence is technically correct since the Brits have not wavered in their belief that Saddam tried to obtain, or was trying to obtain some uranium from Africa.

Most of this has focused on the Central Intelligence Agency's intelligence and how they allowed those fateful words to be spoken at all. CIA Director George Tenet has taken the blame for this one. But the question is why anyone, after 9/11, wants to figure that the CIA is always correct. Fat load of good running things by the CIA does when they don't know everything. Intelligence is like going to a food court in a mall. Sketchy at best; greasy at worst.

If they want to criticize Bush it should be that he hasn't doubled or tripled the CIA's budget and they aren't successfully tracking down every terrorist on the planet. I think too many people have the Jack Ryan image of the CIA that they always know what is going on, what is true and what is not. Even if you do think that Ben Affleck, as Tom Clancy's Ryan, is capable of pretty much knowing everything it is hard to fathom after experiencing 9/11 that the organization is able to be that good.

Should the administration have used the uranium intelligence? Clearly not. But this in no way undermines the war in Iraq. If the Democrats try to paint this as yet another neo-conservative plan that was desired long before 9/11 and had to be fabricated it is clearly a wrong headed strategy.

Now more than ever those who opposed the war better hope that the U.S. doesn't find the weapons. But that isn't much of a strategy. 16 words and a prayer isn't going to unravel this presidency.

Jackson Murphy is a commentator from Vancouver, Canada. He is a senior writer at Enter Stage Right and the editor of "Dispatches" a website that serves up political commentary 24-7. You can contact him at jacksonmurphy@telus.net.

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