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Friday, May 23, 2003

My Vigorous Response To A Non-Issue

Via Prof. DeLong, we see Andrew Tobias taking multiple shots at BushCo. As to the Jessica Lynch- BBC- "staged rescue" story, we will let TAPPED break the news to Mr. Tobias. However, what caught the eye of the Sinister Left Coaster was this:

Verbatim from the Washington Post:

"I don't believe anyone that I know in the administration ever said that Iraq had nuclear weapons." – Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, May 14, 2003

"We believe he has, in fact, reconstituted nuclear weapons." – Vice President Dick Cheney, March 16, 2003

Whoa, Nellie. If it was the official Administration position that Iraq had nukes, that should have been screaming headline news. How did I miss it? OK, I am in denial about many of the quirks of the current Admin, but this is not something I would have overlooked. Nor, I suspect, would the media.

So, let's go to the videotape, or at least an excerpt - Cheney on "Meet The Press", March 16, 2003:

[Cheney] ...we also have to address the question of where might these terrorists acquire weapons of mass destruction, chemical weapons, biological weapons, nuclear weapons? And Saddam Hussein becomes a prime suspect in that regard because of his past track record and because we know he has, in fact, developed these kinds of capabilities, chemical and biological weapons. We know he’s used chemical weapons. We know he’s reconstituted these programs since the Gulf War.

Emphasis added. We are going to track his word usage, and see if he mis-speaks.

...MR. RUSSERT: And even though the International Atomic Energy Agency said he does not have a nuclear program, we disagree?

VICE PRES. CHENEY: I disagree, yes. And you’ll find the CIA, for example, and other key parts of our intelligence community disagree. Let’s talk about the nuclear proposition for a minute. We’ve got, again, a long record here. It’s not as though this is a fresh issue. In the late ’70s, Saddam Hussein acquired nuclear reactors from the French. 1981, the Israelis took out the Osirak reactor and stopped his nuclear weapons development at the time. Throughout the ’80s, he mounted a new effort. I was told when I was defense secretary before the Gulf War that he was eight to 10 years away from a nuclear weapon. And we found out after the Gulf War that he was within one or two years of having a nuclear weapon because he had a massive effort under way that involved four or five different technologies for enriching uranium to produce fissile material.

We know that based on intelligence that he has been very, very good at hiding these kinds of efforts. He’s had years to get good at it and we know he has been absolutely devoted to trying to acquire nuclear weapons. And we believe he has, in fact, reconstituted nuclear weapons. I think Mr. ElBaradei frankly is wrong. And I think if you look at the track record of the International Atomic Energy Agency and this kind of issue, especially where Iraq’s concerned, they have consistently underestimated or missed what it was Saddam Hussein was doing.

Well, the original question was, is the IAEA right or wrong about the Iraqi program. Cheney should have said, to be responsive to the question and consistent with his prior usage, "we believe they have reconstituted their nuclear program". He didn't. Notice, however, the non-pounce by Russert. Also, a few minutes later, Cheney says this:

[Cheney]: ...We’re now faced with a situation, especially in the aftermath of 9/11, where the threat to the United States is increasing. And over time, given Saddam’s posture there, given the fact that he has a significant flow of cash as a result of the oil production of Iraq, it’s only a matter of time until he acquires nuclear weapons.

So, my argument is that he simply misspoke, and Russert, the Non-Barking Dog, understood that immediately. No one seems to have asked about it at the next White House press briefing, and the President does not make a similar assertion the following evening when he delivers a final ultimatum to Saddam.

Hey, is there a job opening up for a Spinner in the White House?

UPDATE: Brad DeLong agrees with me. Eugene Volokh (much later!) agrees with me, unbeknownst to him. And Dana Milbank of the WaPo (check the last line in parentheses) gets Cheney's aides to support my argument.

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