Posted by Thomas Nephew on July 14th, 2003
You probably know Bush’s controversial 2003 State of the Union speech sentence by heart by now:
The British government has learned that Saddam Hussein recently sought significant quantities of uranium from Africa.
This sentence was clear on its face and in its implications at the time: the British believed something, the United States could not verify it (or Bush would have said “We have learned…”).
To the extent the American public feels deceived by these particular sixteen words, let alone duped by them into supporting the war against Iraq, we can only blame ourselves for listening or reasoning poorly.
The only way the statement would have been deceptive is if the United States had known that the British conclusions were based on the same evidence the United States found unpersuasive.* So far, this does not appear to be the case; rather, the British insist their conclusions were based on evidence not available to the United States. The Washington Post reported last week (“CIA Asked Britain to Drop Iraq Claim“):
The CIA tried unsuccessfully in early September 2002 to persuade the British government to drop from an official intelligence paper a reference to Iraqi attempts to buy uranium in Africa … The British government rejected the U.S. suggestion, saying it had separate intelligence unavailable to the United States. [...]
The government of British Prime Minister Tony Blair, however, has stood behind its September conclusion that Iraq “sought significant quantities of uranium from Africa” for a possible nuclear weapons program despite the release of a report by a British parliamentary commission this week that challenged the allegation and, in effect, Bush’s decision to include it in his address.
British officials have insisted that the Bush administration has never been provided with the intelligence that was the basis for the charge included in London’s September intelligence dossier. [links added]
It remains true that the Bush administration was relying on if not a weak reed, then one of patently unknown strength, however clearly that was stated (or, if you insist, “hidden in plain sight”) in the State of the Union address. Given that the other major clues to Iraqi nuclear WMD development were aluminum tubes later shown to be inconclusive, we’re left with a weak public case for imminent Iraqi nuclear WMD. That deserves to be investigated in the United States with the same thoroughness the House of Commons committee displayed.
* …And/or on additional evidence the United States knew to be unpersuasive.