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One sentence from ruin

Last week, the Bush administration was forced to acknowledge a glaring mistake in the president’s State of the Union address after the British parliament called the president out.

In the Jan. 28 speech Bush told us, “The British government has learned that Saddam Hussein recently sought significant quantities of uranium from Africa,” as part of his case for U.S. intervention. Based on a British intelligence dossier from September, it has since been shown that the evidence upon which that sentence was based was forged.

As prominent Democrats seize hold of this admission tightly and demand a congressional investigation, many Americans, including politicians, are saying, “So what? It was only one sentence!”

But it was more than just one sentence.

It was the biggest speech of the year for our president, reaching millions of Americans and setting the stage for a military conflict that went against traditional rules of invasion. That one sentence is part of a carefully constructed set of sentences, which when put together demonstrate a pattern of “mistakes” and “misstatements” that conveniently support George W. Bush’s plans for war.

The case for war began long before the January speech, but it was then that the heat was really turned up. Congress had already awarded the president broad powers of war months earlier and all that was left to do was set the stage properly.

In order to justify a pre-emptive strike, Bush and his administration needed to convince the international community and the American people that Iraq was an imminent threat to our safety and that Hussein needed to be eliminated.

The allegation that Iraq’s nuclear weapons program was back up and running was an important part of that goal. When set next to Hussein’s violent and aggressive history, nuclear weapons were clearly a frightening prospect and a convincing piece of evidence for war.

The Bush administration knew this. They also knew that the intelligence used to make that damning statement in the State of the Union address was questionable at best, completely unreliable at worst.

When Bush and his communications staff admitted the “error” early last week, the story was that no one in the White House knew that the CIA no longer trusted the intelligence on the uranium subject. In addition, they claimed that the CIA had at least 10 days during which it could offer feedback on the speech, including the deletion of this reference, but failed to do so.

It was an honest mistake, they were saying. The sentence shouldn’t have been in, but shit happens.

Unfortunately for the president, however, not everyone was as willing to move on as he was. The Washington Post, for example, reported Sunday that in fact the White House did have notice that the CIA no longer trusted the intelligence relied upon for the State of the Union speech.

They had it in October 2002.

According to the Post, when CIA Director George Tenet previewed a Bush speech prior to its Oct. 7, 2002, delivery, he insisted that the reference to Iraq’s attempts to purchase uranium from Niger be removed, explaining that the information came from a single source.

Yet, Bush’s staff still included it in the January speech and this week allowed Tenet to publicly take responsibility for the reference. Bush and his staff continue to pretend that they had no prior knowledge that the intelligence was bad.

Why? And why did it take nearly six months to disclose this “error”?

Because they want it to go away.

They want us to believe that some stupid speechwriter (we don’t know which one) simply let it get through, or that our CIA director was just sloppy when looking over the speech.

But, as the Post points out in its Sunday article, the next sentence – also important to the developing nuclear weapons case – was also questionable.

“Our intelligence sources tell us that he (Hussein) has attempted to purchase high-strength aluminum tubes suitable for nuclear weapons production,” Bush said.

What he did not say, and what Secretary of State Colin Powell had to admit in front of the United Nations the following month, is that the U.N. had already questioned Iraq about its intentions for the aluminum tubes and determined the use legitimate and non-nuclear.

Combined with the fact that we have yet to discover any reliable evidence of weapons of mass destruction in Iraq after four months of occupation, these developments are more than just concerning. They are frightening.

We rely upon our president and his administration to provide us with the truth, to present to our elected representatives the evidence as it really is so that they might make an intelligent and informed decision about whether or not to support a war.

Apparently, however, this administration knows better than us. Members of this administration had their minds made up about a war with Iraq and simply searched out evidence – reliable or not – to support that decision.

I don’t know about you, but to me, that represents more than a “mistake” or a glaring “error.” To me, that represents a dictatorship.