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Sunday, April 09, 2006

The Washington Post -- Part of the Vast Right Wing Conspiracy

Today's lead Washington Post editorial regarding the alleged "leak" scandal states as follows: "The material that Mr. Bush ordered declassified established, as have several subsequent investigations, that Mr. Wilson was the one guilty of twisting the truth. In fact, his report supported the conclusion that Iraq had sought uranium."

This same point was argued by Bu$h Ate My Baby many months ago, but would not be conceded by his esteemed posting colleagues. Yet now it is accepted as established fact by the Washington Post, which either means that the Washington Post can be as bamboozled and hoodwinked as yours truly, or maybe, just maybe, Mr. Wilson is in fact the one who should be doing some apologizing. Fat chance he or any of his water carriers will do so, but it's a nice thought.

9 Comments:

Blogger Jonah B. Gelbach said...

Peter

Welcome back! Great to have you back in the saddle.

I haven't read the Post editorial yet.

But I will say that there is nothing remotely melodramatic about calling

"The Washington Post ... Part of the Vast Right Wing Conspiracy"

or about saying that

"the Washington Post [editorial board] can be ... bamboozled and hoodwinked."

Given the Post ed board's
constant beating of the war drums before the invasion and its total refusal to concede the error of its numerous erroneous contentions regarding the imminent nature of the Iraq "threat", I place as much credence in the Post ed board's arguments and interpretations as I do in, say, Bill Kristol's.

None of that is to say that the claim you cite is necessarily wrong (as CHB might say, even a broken clock is right twice a day).

If I get a chance maybe I'll review this stuff again in the interests of comity. But my recollection is that I was unpersuaded by your arguments when I was reading the actual documents involved, and reading a Post editorial is certainly not going to per se change my mind.

And now some questions for you:

1. What do you think of the fact that Wilson's claims about a high-level WH obsession with clandestinely (as opposed to openly and publicly) discrediting him appears to have been quite accurate (at least, if you believe Fitz's filing concerning Libby's GJ testimony)? Did you think that was likely the case back in 2003? If you knew it was the case then, what would you have thought about the integrity and decency of those involved?

2. My reading of the news articles on the leaking that the President authorized is that there was extensive reason to doubt the conclusion that Bush (as opposed to Bu$h!), Cheney and Libby drew from the NIE. If today's NYT article is right, for instance, then Libby flat lied to Judy Miller about the strength of the IC's conclusions on this issue (the key phrase is "key judgment"). Does this bother you?

4/09/2006 2:01 PM  
Blogger Jonah B. Gelbach said...

I just quickly read the editorial. I don't have anything further to say at the moment about the question of whether or not Wilson's "report supported the conclusion that Iraq had sought uranium" (though I will point out that the editorial's authors conveniently ignore a key question here, namely the timing of when Iraq sought uranium).

That said, the Post editorial really IS a perfect illustration of just how aggressively the Post participates in the actually existing concerted right wing efforts to obscure many of the facts of the WH smear campaign.

To wit, consider this chunk of text from the editorial:

Mr. Libby's motive in allegedly disclosing her name to reporters, Mr. Fitzgerald said, was to disprove yet another false assertion, that Mr. Wilson had been dispatched to Niger by Mr. Cheney.

I don't know what Fitzgerald actually says in his filing. But I do know that Joe Wilson never said that he "had been dispatched to Niger by Mr. Cheney." Read the original article, and you see that Wilson wrote

n February 2002, I was informed by officials at the Central Intelligence Agency that Vice President Dick Cheney's office had questions about a particular intelligence report. While I never saw the report, I was told that it referred to a memorandum of agreement that documented the sale of uranium yellowcake — a form of lightly processed ore — by Niger to Iraq in the late 1990's. The agency officials asked if I would travel to Niger to check out the story so they could provide a response to the vice president's office.

The right and its apologists have worked hard to confuse people into thinking that Wilson said Cheney sent him, which Wilson didn't say, so that the right could then challenge his credibility on everything else. The fact that the Post editorial uses this well-worn and -disproved canard is yet more reason to agree earnestly when Peter
describes tongue-in-cheek a conspiratorial/hoodwinkable Post editorial board (personally I suspect it's some of each).

4/09/2006 3:03 PM  
Blogger Jonah B. Gelbach said...

ok, i've nwo gone back and re-read the part of the senate intel report, which Peter referenced in our previous exchange and which spends several pages on Wilson and the Niger trip.

I have basically one point to add to what I said previously. As far as I can tell, the basis of Peter's and the Post editorial's claim that Wilson's "report supported the conclusion that Iraq had sought uranium" is the following passage on page 46 of the report:

The [CIA] reports officer said that a "good" grade was merited [by Wilson's report] because the information responded to at least some of the outstanding questions in the Intelligence Community, but did not provide substantial new information. He said he judged that the most important fact in the report was that the Nigerien officials admitted that the Iraqi delegation had traveled there in 1999, and that the Nigerien Prime Minister believed the Iraqis were interested in purchasing uranium, because this provided some confirmation of foreign government service reporting.

It's interesting to note, though, that the next paragraph says this:

IC analysts had a fairly consistent response to the intelligence report based on the former ambassador's trip in that no one believed it added a great deal of new information to the Iraq-Niger uranium story. An INR analyst [ed note: INR is a State Dept intel unit] said when he saw the report he believed that it corroborated the INR's position, but that the "report could be read in different ways." He said the report was credible, but did not give it a lot of attention because he was busy with other things.

The INR's "position" is probably best described by the title of a March 1, 2002, INR report titled "Niger: Sale of Uranium to Iraq is Unlikely"; see page 42 of the SIC report for more.

The final paragraph of page 46 states that

Because CIA analysts did not believe that the report added any new information to clarify the issue, they did not use the report to produce any further analytical products or highlight the report for policymakers. For the same reason, CIA's briefer did not brief the Vice President on the report, despite the Vice President's previous questions about the issue.

I think it's quite strange to suggest that the foregoing passages support the contention that Wilson's "report supported the conclusion that Iraq had sought uranium". Even if you read the SIC passages above in the light most favorable to Peter's/the Post ed board's position, the CIA certainly didn't conclude that Wilson's report supported that conclusion, and the INR analyst said that he thought precisely the opposite, though he did apparently think reasonable people could disagree.

Having said all that, let's consider
the first excerpt I've quoted above in some more detail. The most aggressive possible reading is that an Iraqi (trade, if I remember correctly) delegation was in Niger in 1999 to seek to purchase uranium. Well, the Nigerien PM apparently "believed" that, but the word "believed" is included because apparently the Iraqis didn't say that that's why they were there.

Reading the Niger portion of the SIC report conveys the distinct impression that all of this---including Wilson's trip---was so much ado about very little.

I think the most charitable-to-Peter-and-the-Post-board reading of the report is that, hey, Wilson's report had a tiny little bit of circumstantial information that might have suggested some possibility of Iraqi interest in Nigerien uranium. However, the same report otherwise concluded what the US Ambassador and the INR already had concluded: that there wasn't in fact any such deal or even serious attempt at one.

To conclude as the Post editorial and Peter do that Wilson's "report supported the conclusion that Iraq had sought uranium" requires one, figuratively, to pay attention to a footnote while ignoring the text.

Hers's an analogy. Consider the question of whether the minimum wage substantially affects unemployment. Suppose that an effect of size E is the smallest effect that would be considered substantial. Now suppose that the literature generally shows zero impact of the minimum wage on unemployment (my reading is that this is roughly true at current levels and using recent results, though reasonable people could read the evidence differently).

Lastly, suppose a new paper finds convincing evidence that the effect is positive, but no greater than 0.00000001 times E.

Think about which of the following statements is more correct:

1. The report shows that the minimum wage has no important effect on unemployment.

2. The report shows that the minimum wage has a definite, but trivially small and unimportant effect on unemployment.

Statement 2 is more correct than statement 1 in our scenario. But it is hardly the case that statement 1 is somehow "twisting the truth", as the Post editorial's logic would dictate.

Moreover, statement 3 is much, much worse:

3. If anything, the report supports the conclusion that the minimum wage affects unemployment.

Essentially, people like Peter and the Post editorial's writer are confusing the marginal conclusion of Wilson's report---which to some people might have been to incrementally increase the already low chances that there was an Iraq-Niger story to worry about---with the overall conclusion of the report. This overall conclusion of the report quite clearly was that there's no there there. That overall conclusion is unchallenged in any of the several Niger-relevant pages of the SIC report that I've read. Perhaps there are other such pages elsewhere in the report that would change my mind, but I doubt it since the pages I have read quite clearly support the conclusion that there was nothing going on.

The fact that Wilson's report didn't add much if any information is consistent with Wilson's own statements and with the pre-existing views of many IC people, none of whom took this issue seriously enough to even report back to the Office of the Vice President---which did indeed ask for someone to look into the whole issue.

In any case, I'm now back onto well-covered ground. My point here was merely to point out the marginal-overall distinction, which seems to have confused or otherwise eluded Peter and others here.

For more on these issues, see the exchange between Peter and me that occurred in late October and early November of 2005.

4/10/2006 1:12 PM  
Blogger Bu$h Ate My Baby said...

"Essentially, people like Peter and the Post editorial's writer are confusing the marginal conclusion of Wilson's report---which to some people might have been to incrementally increase the already low chances that there was an Iraq-Niger story to worry about---with the overall conclusion of the report. This overall conclusion of the report quite clearly was that there's no there there."

The reason this whole story is important is not whether there's any there there. The Wilson assertion was always Exhibit A in defense of the mantra "Bush Lied, People Died." Critics of the Bush decision made not just the charge that the decision to go to war was wrong -- they argued that Bush intentionally misrepresented the facts in an effort to scare the country into following his lead. This was the whole reason that Wilson's pronouncements in 2003 were newsworthy, after all.

So what we have here, in brief, is Wilson said that the Bush administration relied in part on his findings as a justification for war, but those findings were not as suggested, and in fact were uncontrovertible proof to the contary. Therefore, according to the war's critics, Bush lied to the country. Jonah points out that there was some question about the Niger uranium story but even conceding that, the more limited but crucial question is, did the Wilson report shred the theory that Iraq sought the uranium yellowcake? The answer appears to be no. To answer another of Jonah's questions, does it bother me that the administration declassified certain information to refute the charge that the administration lied about the yellowcake evidence? No. Does it bother me that they disclosed the information to a NY Times reporter 10 days before the information was officially declassified, with the authorization of the president? No. Since the president has the authority to declassify the materials, why should it?

4/10/2006 2:04 PM  
Blogger Jonah B. Gelbach said...

Peter

Once again I think you are missing the point. You write that

Wilson said that the Bush administration relied in part on his findings as a justification for war, but those findings were not as suggested, and in fact were uncontrovertible proof to the contary. Therefore, according to the war's critics, Bush lied to the country.

That's not what Wilson said. Plain and simple, he said that he went to Africa and didn't find any evidence that there was anything to the supposed Iraq-Niger deal. It is simply false that Wilson said what you say he did. Go read the NYT op-ed and you will see that he specifically writes that

"If my information was deemed inaccurate, I understand (though I would be very interested to know why). If, however, the information was ignored because it did not fit certain preconceptions about Iraq, then a legitimate argument can be made that we went to war under false pretenses."

This statement explicitly contemplates the possibility that his information was---appropriately---ignored. Its reference to "false pretenses" is wholly conditional, and I can't imagine that even you would disagree with that conditional statement given the premise.

You go on to write that

the more limited but crucial question is, did the Wilson report shred the theory that Iraq sought the uranium yellowcake?

I don't know how you can contend that he says his report "shreds" the Iraq-uranium claim given Wilson's contemplation of the possibility of legitimately ignoring of his report. Moreover, his op-ed points out that two other African countries in principle could have been the source and makes clear his contention that he sought out reporters only after becoming convinced that those countries weren't the subject of Bush's 16 words.

Moreover, there are plenty of ways beside the Iraq-Niger claims---which the Administration clearly overplayed even under your self-generous interpretation of Wilson's report---in which Bush and company misled the country about WMD and Iraq. Hell, there are other ways in which they misled the country about nukes. See "Tubes, aluminum", for example.

Wilson's op-ed is just one relatively minor example, which is why I find it so puzzling that the administration went so berserk about it. (The only explanation that makes sense to me is that they figured that once the tip of the iceberg was visible, Congress or the public would want to explore the whole thing. Given the Senate's performance on Phase II and the electorate's unwillingness to press government for real public disclosure of what happened in the lead-up to the war, such fears would appear to have been misplaced.)

At the end of the day, my view is that you continue to make arguments that rely on false---and demonstrably, and demonstrated to be false---premises. It's your business if you want to do that, but I'm sorry to see you do it.

As for your answers about declassification, you ask why you should be bothered when the President authorizes an aid to secretly meet with one reporter and distort the record concerning a previously classified document in order to provide political cover for the Administration's previous distortions of said document's contents. Well, I think it's self-evident why that should bother you.

But since you say it doesn't bother you, here's an answer in the form of some questionq:

1. If it was in the public interest for the NIE information to be made public, why didn't the administration just release it in toto (perhaps with some necessary redactions) as it and other administrations have done with other such documents?

2. And why didn't the President or Cheney or Fleischer or McClellan just take questions on the record?

3. Hell, why did Libby lie to Judy Miller about its contents?

4/10/2006 6:38 PM  
Blogger Jonah B. Gelbach said...

Peter

one other thing. in our previous exchange last fall you insisted that it was somehow the case and important that Wilson claimed his findings were a bombshell. I pointed out both that he never said they were a bombshell (indeed, quite the contrary) and that the real issue in my mind wasn't that his findings per se showed no deal, but rather that there was basic consensus in the IC that there was no deal.

Now you write

The reason this whole story is important is not whether there's any there there....Critics of the Bush decision ... argued that Bush intentionally misrepresented the facts in an effort to scare the country into following his lead. This was the whole reason that Wilson's pronouncements in 2003 were newsworthy, after all.

I take it then that we now agree that the relevant political issue here is not Wilson's report, but rather the underlying distortion by Bush and the WH generally of the facts concerning the credibility of the infamous 16 words.

Let me know if I'm wrong that we agree on this (but if I am, then I'd appreciate your explaining how I'm wrong).

4/10/2006 6:50 PM  
Blogger Jonah B. Gelbach said...

in one or two places above i referred to libby as having "lied" or "flat lied" to judy miller. these statements referred to his allegedly having told her that the Iraq-Niger uranium claim was the subject of a "key judgment" in the NIE. according to news reports, "key judgments" are focal points of an NIE. Even the discredited claims about Iraq-Niger were not "key judgments". Rather, these claims appear later on in the NIE, while the references to debunking of the supposed Iraq-Niger claims apparently appear even later in the NIE.

Fitzgerald's filing of last week referred to Libby's having told Judy Miller that the Iraq-Niger story was a "key judgment". This part of the filing (well, news reports about it, actually) were the basis of my statement that Libby flat lied.

News organizations yesterday and today have reported that Fitz has filed a brief correction to last week's filing. According to today's NYT:

Mr. Fitzgerald's amended version changed the wording so that the passage would say that Mr. Libby was authorized to disclose "some of the key judgments of the N.I.E., and that the N.I.E. stated that Iraq was vigorously trying to procure uranium."

So Libby didn't flat lie (at least about this issue). Rather, he engaged in the same sort of cherry-picking distortions that helped mislead the American people into the Iraq war.

It's obviously worth correcting what I (and others) wrote about this.

But at the end of the day, it doesn't matter whether the right word is "lied" or "misled". We get same dishonest effect and the same violation of the trust of the American people (not to mention the "trust" of Judy Miller, for whatever that's worth!).

4/13/2006 2:55 PM  
Blogger Jonah B. Gelbach said...

peter

here's another
bunch of stuff for you to chew on.

the whole article is worth reading, since it paints a picture of continuing efforts by the IC to get the WH to drop the Niger story and continuing efforts by the WH to push it anyway (I particularly like the in-context reminder about Libby pushing the story anonymously the day after the WH acknowledgment of error in using the 16 words).

Moreover, I must have missed this when the WaPo published it (it's from page 3 of the 60-mins/cbsnews.com link above):

The Washington Post recently reported that in early January 2003, the National Intelligence Council, which oversees all U.S. intelligence agencies, did a final assessment of the uranium rumor and submitted a report to the White House. Their conclusion: The story was baseless. That might have been the end of the Niger uranium story.

But it wasn’t. Just weeks later, the president laid out his reasons for going to war in the State of the Union Address — and there it was again.

4/25/2006 2:35 PM  
Blogger Jonah B. Gelbach said...

ps in case you missed it, check out comment number 7 at this page.

4/25/2006 2:38 PM  

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