- The Washington Times - Monday, July 21, 2003

I was on a radio show the other day, and for the umpteenth time in the last week some anti-war type demanded to know how I felt about uranium in Niger. Well, I wouldn’t number it with raindrops on roses and whiskers on kittens among my favorite things. But then I never said I did. And nor did President Bush, despite the best efforts of the anti-war crowd to assert that he led us into an “illegitimate war” over uranium in Niger. “Bush lied over uranium claims,” as a good couple dozen e-mails a day scream from my in-box.

I wrote a gazillion pieces urging war with Iraq, and never found the time to let the word Niger pass my lips. But here’s what Mr. Bush had to say back in the State of the Union address in January:

“The British government has learned that Saddam Hussein recently sought significant quantities of uranium from Africa.”

That’s it: All 16 words. Where’s the lie? The British are standing by it. And it’s said in London that they got it from Paris: Niger’s uranium operations are under the supervision of the French Atomic Energy Commission.

But even if you don’t think that’s true, why is it a lie? The anti-war crowd have been wrong on everything, from hundreds of thousands of civilian deaths to the horrors of the “brutal Afghan winter” (now 22 months behind schedule), but on the whole we on the right don’t go around shrieking “More lies about Afghan weather.” Could be just a run of bad luck in the old Leftie Predictions Department.

Nonetheless, the Democrats smell blood and don’t want to be told that it’s their own. “President Bush Deceives the American People” roars the Democratic National Committee, headed by Clinton stain mopper Terry McAuliffe. Mr. Bush did not wag his finger and say “Saddam Hussein did have radioactive relations with that yellowcake, Miss Niger.” All he did was say that the closest U.S. ally had learned something that it continues to believe to this day. And right now I would bet on the British rather than some CIA tourist who took a bargain-break weekend in Niger and interviewed his bellhop.

Intelligence is a hit-and-miss business. In 1998, when Bill Clinton launched mid-Monica cruise-missile attacks on Afghanistan and Sudan, he hit a Khartoum aspirin factory and missed Osama bin Laden. The claims that the aspirin factory was producing nerve gas and was an al Qaeda front proved to be untrue. Does that mean Mr. Clinton lied to us? I mean, apart from about Gennifer, Monica, and which part of the party of the first part’s enumerated parts came into contact with part of the party of the second part’s enumerated parts, etc. Or was it just that the intelligence was lousy? The intel bureaucracy got the Sudanese aspirin factory wrong, failed to spot September 11 coming, and insisted it was impossible for any American to penetrate Osama bin Laden’s network only to have Johnnie bin Joss-Stick from hippy-dippy Marin County on a self-discovery jaunt round the region stroll into the cave and be sharing the executive latrine with the A-list jihadi within 20 minutes.

So, if you’re the president and the same intelligence bureaucrats who got all the above wrong say the British are way off the mark, there’s nothing going on with Saddam and Africa, what do you do? Do you say, “Hey, even a stopped clock is right twice a day”? Or do you make the reasonable assumption that, given what you’ve learned about the state of your CIA human intelligence, is it likely they’ve got much of a clue about what’s going on in French Africa? Isn’t this one of those deals where the British and the shifty French are more plugged in?

But here’s a much more pertinent question than whether Mr. Bush lied: How loopy are the Democrats? One reason why the president is all but certain to win re-election is the descent into madness of his opponents. They have let post-impeachment, post-chad-dangling bitterness unhinge them to the point where, given a choice between investigating the intelligence lapses that led to September 11 and the intelligence lapses that led to a victorious war in Iraq, they stampede for the latter. Iraq was a brilliant campaign fought with minimal casualties, September 11 was a humiliating failure by government to fulfill its primary role of national defense. But Democrats who complained that Mr. Bush was too slow to act on doubtful intelligence concerning September 11 now profess to be horrified that he was too quick to act on doubtful intelligence concerning Iraq. This is not a serious party.

So now Democratic candidates are carrying on, pretending the entire war hinged on one footnote about some ramshackle French colonial basket-case. “It’s beginning to sound a little like Watergate,” says Howard Dean. Struggling to keep up with Mr. Dean, Sen. John Kerry has said that Mr. Bush “misled every one of us,” even though the senator himself has been warning about Saddam Hussein’s weapons for years and voted in favor of the Iraq war months before the State of the Union or Secretary of State Colin Powell’s U.N. presentations or anything else. Struggling to keep up with Mr. Kerry, Sen. Bob Graham wants to impeach the president. Not the president of Niger, the president of the United States. Seriously.

The trouble with all this bleating about how you feel “misled” is that you sound not like a putative commander in chief but like an Arkansas state employee in Bill Clinton’s motel room. Conversely, when Rep. Dick Gephardt says he’s had “enough of the phony, macho rhetoric” from Mr. Bush, he’s missing its salient feature: The “bring it on” rhetoric may be macho, but it isn’t necessarily phony.

Step back and look at the two years since September 11. In 2001, the Islamists killed thousands of Westerners in New York and Washington. In 2002, they killed hundreds of Westerners, but not in the west itself, only in jurisdictions like Bali. In 2003, they killed dozens — not Westerners, but their coreligionists in Morocco and Saudi Arabia. The Bush cordon sanitaire has been drawn tighter and tighter. Meanwhile, the allegedly explosive Arab street has been quieter than a suburban cul-de-sac in Westchester County, and I wouldn’t bet that blowing up fellow Muslims and destroying the Moroccan tourist industry and Saudi investment will do anything for the recruitment drive. All of this could be set back by a massive terrorist attack on the U.S. mainland, and if Mr. Kerry’s banking on disaster that at least has a certain sick logic about it. But, if he genuinely believes that Mr. Bush’s war is as disastrous as he says, he’s flipped. Mr. Bush is doing what the lefties wanted: he’s addressing the “root causes” — by returning the cause to its roots, and fixing it at source.

Mark Steyn is a senior contributing editor for Hollinger Inc. Publications, senior North American columnist for Britain’s Telegraph Group and North American editor for the Spectator and is a nationally syndicated columnist.

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