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Deceit from the top?

Editorial for July 17, 2003

o not found: EADLINE

Deceit from the top?

Last week, the White House admitted that President Bush used information that was untrue to help make its case to go to war against Iraq.

The key sentence from Bush's January 2003 State of the Union speech that is now under the microscope is this: "The British government has learned that Saddam Hussein recently sought significant quantities of uranium from Africa."

The information in the statement had been discredited months before the speech was given, yet it was left in. President Bush and his advisors must have known -- or should have known -- that this statement was inaccurate.

Condoleeza Rice, the president's national security advisors, said the Central Intelligence Agency had cleared the speech. Rice added that the line would have been taken out, if only the CIA had said to do so.

Odds are, the director of the CIA, George Tenet, will be sacrificed over this. But Tenet didn't write the speech.

Further, the use of the phrase, "The British government has learned ..." is suspect. That is unusual in a speech by a U.S. president. If the British knew this, wouldn't our CIA have its own sources to rely on? It seems like it was there to provide an out, a deliberate move to be able later to say: "We didn't come up with this erroneous info, the British did. Blame them, those dolts."

Almost universally, the American people despise Saddam Hussein and what he stands for. The case for war probably could have been made just as forcefully without using phony charges.

We have seen so many presidents and politicians get themselves into trouble by being dishonest. President Clinton could have saved himself and his party a lot of trouble if he had come out much earlier and admitted, "Yes, I fouled up: I had an affair with Monica." The American people are pretty forgiving, after all.

The real question is, did some administration officials make an effort to shape intelligence reports to fit a policy they wanted to follow -- instead of having national policy directed by a sober reading of legitimate intelligence reports?

The Republicans in Congress pushed aggressively for endless investigations -- and even impeachment proceedings -- against Clinton for his deceit. It will be interesting if we see a different standard now that the president holding office happens to carry the Republican label.



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