Joe Conason’s Journal

Will the Times right itself? Plus: Defending (believe it or not) Paul Wolfowitz.

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Raines drops
Walking into my favorite saloon the night before last, I ran into an old friend (and superb reporter) who works on the New York Times metro desk. Everyone at the paper believes Raines and Boyd have to go, he said disconsolately. Now that hope has been fulfilled, presumably to the great relief of the staff of the world’s most important newspaper. I wish both paper and staff well, but I have to wonder whether Joseph Lelyveld, appointed as the interim executive editor, will be any great improvement. As editorial page editor, Raines bore a great responsibility for the Times’ errors and excesses during the Clinton era, from Whitewater to Wen Ho Lee, yet Lelyveld carries just as much baggage with the same labels. Sometimes he seems thoughtful about that troubled era; other times, far less so.

The right has gleefully torched Raines without ever acknowledging that he served as its most reliable “liberal” ally throughout the scandal years, up to the moment of impeachment. Presumably he’ll explain it all in his memoirs.

Wolfowitz’s nonconfession
Did Paul Wolfowitz actually confess that the Iraq war was all about oil? No, he didn’t — despite the excited circulation by his critics of a damning “quotation” from him on the Internet and elsewhere. (Within the past 24 hours, dozens of messages about this story have arrived in my mailbox.) The bogus report emanated from yesterday’s Guardian, which in turn cited stories from the German press about remarks made by the deputy defense secretary last weekend at a security conference in Singapore.

Evidently, the translation from English to German and back into English seriously distorted his answer to a question from a German journalist. The reporter asked Wolfowitz to explain the Bush administration’s different approaches to North Korea, which probably has nuclear weapons, and Iraq, which certainly didn’t.

According to the Guardian article he replied: “Let’s look at it simply. The most important difference between North Korea and Iraq is that economically, we just had no choice in Iraq. The country swims on a sea of oil.” A damning admission, except that isn’t what he said. Here’s the accurate quote, according to the Defense Department transcript of the Singapore press conference (scroll down about halfway):



“Look, the primarily difference — to put it a little too simply — between North Korea and Iraq is that we had virtually no economic options with Iraq because the country floats on a sea of oil. In the case of North Korea, the country is teetering on the edge of economic collapse and that, I believe, is a major point of leverage, whereas the military picture with North Korea is very different from that with Iraq. The problems in both cases have some similarities but the solutions have got to be tailored to the circumstances, which are very different.”

(The link to the Guardian story no longer works, but the original story can still be read here.)

I have no doubt that the editors of the Guardian will correct the Wolfowitz story shortly, if they haven’t done so already by the time you read this. Speaking of Guardian corrections, I must also report that the venerable London daily posted the following correction today concerning an article I recently linked:

“In our front page lead on May 31 headlined ‘Straw, Powell had serious doubts over their Iraqi weapons claims,’ we said that the foreign secretary Jack Straw and his US counterpart Colin Powell had met at the Waldorf Hotel in New York shortly before Mr. Powell addressed the United Nations on February 5. Mr. Straw has now made it clear that no such meeting took place. The Guardian accepts that and apologises for suggesting it did.”

None of this means that Powell, Straw or the Pentagon told the whole truth about Iraq’s alleged arsenal, of course — or that oil didn’t play an important part in the broader strategic calculations of the Pentagon hawks.
[10:12 a.m. PDT, June 5, 2003]

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