Two easy pieces

April 4, 2007

Two instances in which the Administration has made the truth easy to discern:

(1) On Monday night, ABC aired an exclusive “report” that Iran has ramped up its nuclear program, and now has 1,000 operative centrifuges at Natansk. As Glenn Greenwald accurately lamented the next day (Salon ad click-through at link), no evidence of any kind was offered, and the single source was not only unnamed, but not characterized in any way.

When I. Lewis Libby tried to get the NYT’s Judy Miller to out Valerie Plame, he got her to agree that, if she used the story, she would deceptively describe him as “a former congressional staffer.” Now ABC News, acting presumably on another anonymous tip from within Cheney’s shop, has gone that deception one better. Rather than the bland “senior administration official”, we get just “a source”.

So, okay, ABC’s story was deeply suspect. Is there any way we can be assured that it was completely bogus?

There is. At his press conference next day, Chancellor Bush entered into this exchange:

Q: Back to Iran, sir. ABC has been reporting that Iran will be capable of building a nuclear bomb within two years. Have you seen evidence that Iran is accelerating its nuclear program?THE PRESIDENT: I haven’t seen the report that you just referred to. I do share concerns about Iranian intention to have a nuclear weapon. I firmly believe that if Iran were to have a nuclear weapon, it would be a seriously destablizing influence in the Middle East. . . .

When the Niger yellowcake story had been (behind the scenes) exploded to smithereens, the White House bent heaven and earth to get the sixteen words into the State of the Union address.

If the ABC story has any authentic basis, then Bush has certainly been briefed on the evidence for the accelerated centrifuge program. Bush has every motivation in the world to hype even the most vague, most equivocal evidence of Iranian ill doing. Yet, when asked the direct question, “Have you seen evidence that Iran is accelerating?”, the Great Equivocator ducked the question, responding with platitudes of general concern.

Thus we are apprised that the C.I.A. has passed stern word that , to adopt George Tenet’s phrase, they don’t want the President to be “a fact witness on this”. If there were any facts – heck, if there were any quasi-facts, hemidemisemifacts, or pseudofacts – behind the ABC story, Bush would have gratefully seized on the presser question rather than ducking it.

(2) I am delighted and relieved to learn that the 15 British sailors will cease being pawns in the Great Game, and return home. It has been impossible to tell, as the modern Iranian hostage crisis unfolded, whether the sailors had been plying their trade in Iraqi waters, as the British claimed, or in Iranian waters, as the Iranis asserted. Neither assertion – and certainly not the Geneva-defying “confessions” of the captives themselves – was evidentiary, to say nothing of probative.

Now, however, Dick Cheney has given an exclusive interview to ABC radio, and delivered his usual ex cathedra pronouncement on the question. This is a guy who understands his role: it has been to be the “fact witness” on every misdirection and flat-out lie which is felt to be imprudent to place in the President’s mouth.

I don’t know all the details, obviously, but I’m glad to know that the British sailors will be released,” quickly adding that it was “unfortunate they were ever taken in the first place” and pointing out “there’s considerable evidence that they were, in fact, in Iraqi territorial waters when this happened.”

Comparing this to Bush’s dodge above, we find that each of these things are like the other. Suppose Cheney had the smallest scrap of actual evidence that the sailors were in Iraqi territorial waters. Can anyone doubt he would have said “we have conclusive evidence”? Calibrating his level of certainty in the way we have come to learn is required for Cheney-statements, we can readily infer that

    •the White House begged for such evidence from the British
    •none was forthcoming
    •the sailors were more likely than not poking around where they had no business to be.

It will be interesting to see what the navvies’ uncoerced story is once they return home. Based solely on my Cheney-meter reading, I am predicting a politic silence.


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