Double Talk and Doubts

Gen. Tommy Franks appeared Thursday before the House Armed Services Committee with a large map showing the trouble spots in Iraq. He pointed to a small triangle and a few dots indicating where troops were coming under attack, with the vast rest of Iraq shaded safely green. A quick-witted Rep. Ellen O. Tauscher (D-Pleasanton) pointed out that the triangle and spots "represent 70% of the Iraqi population." And most of the green-colored area was unpopulated desert. Oh.

The murkiness surrounding the Bush administration's Iraq policy before and after the war continues. Traveling through Africa, President Bush has steadfastly rejected charges that the administration manipulated intelligence on Iraq as nothing more than critics attempting to "rewrite history." But it isn't the critics who are doing the rewriting. To justify a quick intervention, Bush asserted in his Jan. 28 State of the Union speech that Iraq had an active nuclear program and was seeking to buy uranium in the African state of Niger. If Iraq wasn't trying to buy uranium, then its nuclear program was merely theoretical.

Joseph C. Wilson IV, former ambassador to Gabon, was sent to Niger last year by the CIA to investigate the report that Iraq was trying to procure uranium. He returned and said it was bogus. His report was buried, a matter now under investigation by the CIA inspector general. Greg Thielmann, a former high-ranking official in the State Department's Bureau of Intelligence and Research, said Wednesday that the administration issued "inaccurate formulations" and "misleading summaries" about Iraq's weapons-of-mass-destruction programs. He described the approach as "We know the answers; give us the intelligence to support those answers."

Secretary of Defense Donald H. Rumsfeld told Sen. Mark Pryor (D-Ark.) Wednesday that he had learned only "within recent days" that the report alleging uranium purchases was false. If true, that statement indicts the intelligence being sent to the highest security official in the land. If the administration turned a deliberate blind eye to the uranium falsehood, other evidence used in justification of the war will come under a darker cloud. These questions aren't about the past, as Bush argues, because they are intimately linked to the CIA's and Pentagon's intelligence assessments of postwar Iraq and their continuing real-world consequences.

By all accounts, the administration relied heavily on rosy scenarios peddled by exiles like Ahmad Chalabi, the head of the Iraqi National Congress. Now that American soldiers are being picked off by snipers and Iraqi resentment over foreign invaders is boiling over, the administration and the intelligence community should start trying to understand what happened and stop throwing sand in critics' eyes.

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