Tuesday, July 15, 2003

Democrats have an instinct for the jugular. But, as the flap over the so-called “Niger sentence” indicates, they have exhibited a tendency recently to go for their own jugulars.

In his State of the Union address in January, President Bush said: “The British government has learned that Saddam Hussein recently sought significant quantities of uranium in Africa.”

That was a lie, the Democratic National Committee is saying in a TV ad: “Now we find out that it wasn’t true,” the ad says. “Far worse, the administration knew it wasn’t true. A year earlier, that claim was already proven to be false. The CIA knew it. The State Department knew it. The White House knew it.”

The statement tricked the nation into war, several Democratic notables have asserted. This charge is ridiculous on its face, because Mr. Bush spoke three months after Congress had approved military action against Iraq. And I know of no pundit or politician who said, before this flap began, “I was opposed to war with Iraq, but when the president said Saddam was seeking uranium in Africa, I changed my mind.”

Democrats prefer their politics fact-free. But a review of the facts is in order. Every word in the sentence is true. British intelligence believed then — and believes now — that Saddam was seeking uranium yellowcake in Africa.

The CIA could not confirm that the information passed on to them by the British was true. This does not mean, as Democrats assert, that the CIA has proved the information was false. It means simply that the CIA did not possess independent information confirming it was true.

Essentially, the only information the CIA possessed asserting a Saddam-Niger link was proven to be a forgery. But the British insist that that document was not the source of their report.

Democrats assert that Mr. Bush knew at the time of the state of the union address of the CIA’s doubts, but went ahead with the charge anyway, forcing a reluctant CIA to go along. There is not a shred of evidence to indicate this is so.

Painful as it must be to be called a liar when you’re not, I suspect Mr. Bush is secretly pleased that Democrats keep trying to hammer him on Iraq, and misstate the facts in doing so.

If, in July of 2004, there are still 140,000 U.S. troops in Iraq, and they are still being killed at the rate of nearly one a day, the president will be in a heap of political trouble, regardless of what Democrats do or say now.

If, in 12 months, there are fewer than 100,000 troops in Iraq, things are fairly quiet and concrete steps have been taken toward democracy, then Mr. Bush will be bombproof on Iraq, regardless of what Democrats do or say now.

But Democrats can dig themselves into a deep hole if they make extravagant antiwar and anti-Bush statements now that prove false later.

Federal Appeals Court Judge Gilbert Merritt is one of 13 experts the Justice Department sent to Iraq to rebuild the judicial system there. Judge Merritt (a Democrat) wrote in the Nashville Tennessean on June 25 that he has seen a document, allegedly written by Saddam’s son Uday that proves that an intelligence officer assigned to the Iraqi embassy in Pakistan was “responsible for the coordination of activities with the Osama bin Laden group.”

Former Navy Secretary John Lehman is heading the congressional commission investigating September 11. Mr. Lehman has told reporters that classified information he has seen indicates Iraq trained al Qaeda operatives in how to prepare and deliver anthrax.

Al Jazeera reporter Hamid Mir says he has “personal knowledge” of an attempt by an Iraqi intelligence operative to contact bin Laden in Afghanistan in 1998, former Clinton administration official Jessica Stern writes in the current issue of Foreign Affairs.

Both the head of the Senate Intelligence Committee and a retired Air Force general have hinted that the Bush administration has more evidence about Saddam’s weapons of mass destruction than it is letting on.

When might Mr. Bush make such information public? Perhaps when Democrats have gone too far out onto the antiwar limb to crawl back. Democrats may be racing into an ambush that Mr. Bush will spring at a time of his choosing.

Jack Kelly, a former Marine and Green Beret, was a deputy assistant secretary of the Air Force in the Reagan administration and is national security writer for the Pittsburgh (Pa.) Post-Gazette.

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