Wednesday, October 26, 2005

It Depends on What Your Definition of "Learned" Is

Talking Points Memo -- a Just Inside the Beltway fav -- has an interesting look at Bush's famous 16 words from the 2003 State of the Union speech.

As I hinted at in this post from earlier this evening, in his 2003 State of the Union address President did not say "Iraq purchased uranium from Niger" or even that "the British say that Iraq purchased uranium from Niger." He said something much more specific and couched, using language the significance of which would only become clear months later.

"The British government," said the president in the famous sixteen words, "has learned that Saddam Hussein recently sought significant quantities of uranium from Africa."

As we learned later that summer and fall, those carefully chosen words had a very precise rationale behind them. The White House tried and failed to get the uranium claim into the October 7th, 2002 Cincinnati speech. The same battle was refought in late January of 2003 as the same parties struggled back and forth over whether the claim would be inserted in the State of the Union address. The CIA refused to countenance the use of the claim. So a compromise of sorts was struck. The president wouldn't be a fact witness to the allegation. He'd hang it on the Brits.

So the president wasn't saying Saddam had bought uranium. He wasn't even saying he'd tried. He said the Brits had "learned" that he tried.

Some White House defenders still hang their hat on this point, arguing that nothing the president said was in fact false. Anybody who got the wrong impression just didn't read the fine print. That argument (let's call it 'the con-man defense') speaks for itself, I think.

Read more [TPM]

More essential reading from the morning papers:


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