Joe Conason's Journal

What's in Tony Blair's important dossier? Plus: Gore speaks -- and so do the polls.

By Salon Staff

Published September 24, 2002 4:24PM (EDT)

Blair's message
The anticipated dossier of British intelligence on Iraq's arsenal and intentions contained little new. According to Tony Blair, Saddam is trying to obtain nuclear materials in Africa, wants to extend the range of his handful of missiles (which now can't reach beyond 400 miles), and plans to use chemical weapons again if threatened. As Maj. Charles Heyman of the authoritative Jane's World Armies remarked, "It does not produce any convincing evidence, or any 'killer fact', that says that Saddam Hussein has to be taken out straight away. What it does do is produce very convincing evidence that the weapons inspectors have to be pushed back into Iraq very quickly."

Of more interest than the dossier itself was the timing of its release. Blair waited until after the German election, whose winner he is welcoming at 10 Downing Street as this is published. No doubt Blair wishes to repair relations between Gerhard Schröder and the sulking Bush administration.

Also worth noting is the penultimate paragraph of Blair's foreword to the dossier, in which he offers no alarming claims: "The case I make is that the UN Resolutions demanding [Saddam] stops his [weapons of mass destruction] program are being flouted; that since the inspectors left four years ago he has continued with this program; that the inspectors must be allowed back in to do their job properly; and that if he refuses, or if he makes it impossible for them to do their job, as he has done in the past, the international community will have to act."

What polls tell Bush
If Blair helped Schröder, he couldn't have realized that his move would coincide with Al Gore's reasonable and rather courageous speech in California. As Howard Kurtz notes in his column today, the networks didn't give Gore much time, although he did make Page 1 of the Times. (ABC News' The Note disagrees, arguing that Gore received heavy coverage.) What stuck out in Kurtz's column was his observation that Gore "took on Bush on an issue where the president has the backing of about two-thirds of the public," followed further down by a long quotation from a new USA Today poll that shows Bush with far less support -- unless military action is approved by Congress and the U.N. So it depends how the president's position is defined. If he is unilateral and imperial, he has little support; if he is multilateral and consultative, he has overwhelming support. And according to the same poll, a majority of 51 percent opposes giving Bush unconditional authority to "use military action against Iraq whenever he feels it is necessary."

Remembering Robbie Friedman ...
Yesterday evening, I attended a memorial service for Robert I. Friedman, an investigative journalist of exceptional determination, courage and talent who died in July at the age of 51. Though we weren't close friends, he was someone I had known and admired for two decades. Years ago he had told me about the illness that so prematurely ended his life, but his death was a shock. His work on such challenging subjects as Zionist extremism, the nascent threat of al-Qaida, Russian-American organized crime, among many others, appeared in Vanity Fair, the New Yorker, the Village Voice and the Nation -- but he was, as many remarked at his memorial, a ferociously independent freelancer. So independent that he was frequently sued, occasionally assaulted and at least twice credibly threatened with murder by his targets. Whenever I saw him our conversation turned to the more mundane difficulties faced by investigative reporters in the age of celebrity. The Fund for Investigative Journalism has established an annual award in Robbie's memory that will encourage others who try to do what he did. Contributions may be sent in his name to the fund at P.O. Box 60184, Washington, D.C. 20039.

... and celebrating Norman Lear
A more cheerful commemoration was held last Saturday in Los Angeles, where Norman Lear, TV producer and patriot, marked his 80th birthday. He deserves congratulations for his vigorous longevity as well as his important contributions to popular culture and progressive politics. Army Archerd's amusing account of the birthday party, which raised $2 million to support People for the American Way, is here.
[2:01 p.m. PDT, Sept. 24, 2002]

Unreality shows
This is how American politics works today: In places like Connecticut and all over the country, innocuous-sounding "senior" groups spend millions on TV ads thanking Republican members of Congress such as Nancy Johnson. These outfits, with names like United Seniors Association and 60-Plus Association, are little more than fronts for the pharmaceutical industry, desperately campaigning to maintain the GOP majority and defeat the Medicare prescription-drug benefit. (The other aim of the front groups is to make money for their promoters and right-wing direct-mail entrepreneurs.)

Meanwhile, as the excellent Robert Pear reported over the weekend, those other nice Republicans in the White House are planning "deep reductions" in Medicare reimbursements for the kind of procedure that keeps Dick Cheney alive. Pear quotes one expert after another warning that elderly "patients will have less access to care." Why doesn't somebody produce a truthful TV ad -- or even a news broadcast -- about that?
[9:28 a.m. PDT, Sept. 24, 2002]

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