In the controversy over the President’s State of the Union charge that Iraq sought uranium from Africa, the White House has reversed course. First, it said that a mistake was made in putting the statement into the speech, and then it said that the statement was true. So if it was true, why was it a mistake in putting it into the speech?
The citation of the British as a source of the statement was appropriate in view of the subsequent release of portions of a National Intelligence Estimate, which cited several reports that there was an Iraqi effort to procure uranium from Africa. Indeed, the President could have cited this U.S. report instead of the British. But while portions of the National Intelligence Estimate were officially released to some reporters, they were not made readily available to the public. Once again, the White House had failed to present its case in a professional manner.
At about the same time, the White House issued two documents designed to defend the President that actually undercut him. One says that what the President said in his State of the Union address “was supported by the best intelligence at the times and facts as the White House understood them.” That seems to suggest that the intelligence is no longer valid. It goes on to say that the statement should not have been in the speech “because there is now doubt about one piece of intelligence, despite considerable evidence to support the conclusion that Iraq was attempting to acquire uranium from Africa.” This double-talk lends credence to those who claim that the White House relied on a forgery.
Another White House document acknowledges that an “incorrect claim” made it into the speech. If that is true, why have administration officials defended it as accurate? Later, the same document suggests that the statement was true after all, and that it was based on “broader information,” including the National Intelligence Estimate. It notes that the controversial Wilson mission to Africa confirmed that the Iraqis had explored the possibility of acquiring uranium from Niger.
Rather than stand by the Bush statement, the White House offered explanations of why it may not be true. Some conservative journalists, such as Paul Sperry of WorldNetDaily.com, joined the attack against the administration. He noted that a July 8 National Security Council statement asserting that, “We now know that documents alleging a transaction between Iraq and Niger had been forged,” suggested that the President’s State of the Union charge against Iraq was based, at least in part, on this faked evidence. The day before, a British committee had concluded that claims that Iraq sought uranium from Africa were questionable.
Joseph Farah of WorldNetDaily saw it differently, saying that, “?the statement in President Bush’s State of the Union Address will never be wrong, even if, upon further fact-checking, London’s [intelligence service] MI-6 turns out to be incorrect in its assessment.” British Prime Minister Tony Blair repeated his charge in Washington and stood behind it.