Joe Conason's Journal

Does Donald Rumsfeld really believe no one remembers what he was saying about Iraqi weapons before the war?

Published July 9, 2003 10:23PM (EDT)

Pretzel logic and revised history
"I think the American people continue to express their support for ridding the world of Saddam Hussein based on just cause, knowing that Saddam Hussein had chemical and biological weapons that were unaccounted for that we're still confident we'll find. I think the burden is on those people who think he didn't have weapons of mass destruction to tell the world where they are."

Thus spake Ari Fleischer in Pretoria, South Africa, beguiling the traveling White House press corps with his trademark pretzel logic. It's one thing for the press secretary to offer the latest excuse for failing to find Saddam Hussein's missing arsenal, or to wearily predict again that "we'll find" chemical and biological munitions somewhere, someday, in Iraq. But exactly how does the burden to reveal the location of the missing weapons fall upon "those people" who doubted that they exist?

Oh, never mind. Fleischer is still trying to spin both ways on "Yellowcakegate," the Niger uranium story foisted on the public by the president in his State of the Union address last January. In today's version, he dismissed the findings of former ambassador Joseph Wilson, who visited Niger in February 2002 at the request of the CIA to investigate whether Iraq could have purchased uranium from the African nation. What Wilson found, as he explained at length in the New York Times, is that such a deal would have been practically impossible under the mining regime in Niger.

"He [Wilson] spent eight days in Niger and concluded that Niger denied the allegation. Well, typically nations don't admit to going around nuclear nonproliferation," responded the presidential press secretary, casually denigrating a man who has spent three decades serving the United States. Had Fleischer read Wilson's report -- or were he capable of comprehending it -- he would know that isn't what the former diplomat did at all. Meanwhile, he continues to push the notion of "other reporting" -- aside from the forged Niger documents -- about Saddam's alleged attempts to buy processed uranium, also called yellowcake, in Africa.

The question is what Fleischer will say tomorrow, if and when a bemused reporter asks him about this BBC report -- which quotes an unnamed "CIA official" saying that the White House knew "claims about Iraq's nuclear ambitions were not true months before President Bush used them to make his case for war." According to the BBC, its CIA source confirmed that the White House knew about the fraudulence of the Niger uranium story at least 10 months before Bush mentioned it in his State of the Union speech.

Meanwhile on Capitol Hill, as the administration's war brief disintegrated, Donald Rumsfeld was busily engaged in the "rewriting of history" so despised by the president. Notwithstanding that highly dramatic U.N. presentation by the secretary of state -- as well as numerous public statements by the president, the vice president, the national security adviser, the deputy secretary of defense and an endless parade of unnamed "senior officials" -- Rumsfeld now insists that the decision to go to war had nothing to do with any "dramatic new evidence" concerning Iraq's pursuit of forbidden weapons. He also told the Senate Armed Services Committee that the Iraqi regime "had 12 years to conceal its programs," so "uncovering those programs will take time."

Isn't more "time" what the U.N. inspectors -- as well as the French, Russian and German governments -- were seeking in the weeks before the Iraq war began? And does Rumsfeld think that nobody can remember what he and his associates were saying about Iraqi weapons during those eight months before the war began? Hasn't the secretary of defense ever heard of videotape?
[5:45 p.m. PDT, July 9, 2003]

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By Salon Staff

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