It appears we are rapidly approaching the watershed moment for the Bush Administration. Not only are numerous top officials facing serious questions about their actions, but the cornerstone on which Bush has built his Presidency will be tested and judged: his ability to judge character. From almost the start, Bush has run a "trust me" kind of Presidency. He has often led the American people to believe that he has an almost innate ability to discern the motivations and character of people simply by meeting them. He has pronounced foreign leaders "good men", he has "looked into the hearts" of numerous appointees, and has generally asked the American people to trust him about his decisions. His nomination of Harriet Miers to the Supreme Court wasthe most recent example of this pattern. But now a reckoning is about to occur. The American people are about to face a simple question that will determine Bush's fate and legacy.Do you believe that those members of the Bush administration who were responsible for the making decisions about war and peace considered the documents dealing with Iraq's attempts to acquire uranium in Niger to be genuine?
An examination of the documents shows that there is no "good" answer to that question for Bush.
One must remember that the veracity of these documents was questioned on more than one occasion. Ambassador Joseph Wilson was the first to raise serious doubts the Niger claims in early 2002. The following October, the CIA sent two memos to the White House warning that the Niger charges were not based on solid evidence. On Oct. 5th 2002, a memo addressed to Bush's chief speechwriter, Michael Gerson and deputy national security adviser, Stephen J.Hadley and others, objected to a sentence that the White House had included in a draft of a speech the President was to give two days later in Cincinnati. The speech contained the claim that Saddam Hussein's "regime has been caught attempting to purchase" uranium in Africa. The CIA memo noted that the amount was in dispute and that it was not clear the material "can be acquired from the source." The CIA also pointed out that Iraq already had its own supply, 500 tons, of the "yellowcake" uranium ore it was accused of seeking. (1)
The following day a second memo was sent to Hadley and National Security Advisor Condollezza Rice in response to another draft of the speech, the memo included new CIA objections to the charge, saying there was "weakness in the evidence" and that the attempted purchase "was not particularly significant." Before the speech, one last warning came when CIA director George Tenet called Hadley, requesting that the Africa allegation be removed. Although the Cincinnati speech did not contain the reference it did reappear in later speeches, the most notable being the 2003 State of the Union speech.
The history of the "sixteen words" and the Plame leak are now familiar to all at this point, but the documents themselves have not been widely disseminated by the US media. The Italian press did publish a copy, but most Americans have not had a chance to determine there authenticity for themselves. This will most likely change over the next weeks and months as the Plame case accelerates.
Even the most cursory examination will show the obvious flaws in the documents. The first glaring flaw shows up in the letterhead:
Note the crude "hand drawn" nature of the seal in the letterhead. It matches no known official seal of the government of Niger. The letter also refers to the power granted the President under the constitution of 1966. That constitution was suspended in 1991 and a new one established in 1993. Anything written after that date would refer to the current constitution. When reviewed by the IAEA, the signature of Nigers President Tandja Mamadou was ruled to be a "childlike" forgery not resembling that of the President in any way. These are obviously not official documents of any government.
Of note on this document is the discrepancy with the date. The top posts a date of 30 Jul, 1999, yet in the body text it refers to the transaction taking place on 29 June 2000. The letter also claims the Uranium deal took place on June 28, yet all the other letters refer to the agreement being made July 5-6.
When these documents begin to circulate throughout the media over the coming weeks and months, the American people will be faced with a tough choice. They will view with their own eyes the documents on which the Bush administration based one of its crucial arguments for war. The claim that Saddam Hussein was capable of producing nuclear weapons, and the specter of those weapons falling into the hands of international terrorists. That " America must not ignore the threat gathering against us. Facing clear evidence of peril, we cannot wait for the final proof -- the smoking gun -- that could come in the form of a mushroom cloud." (2)
After careful examination people will be faced with one of two conclusions, neither of which will be very good for the President. Either his advisors were too ignorant to discern the obvious, that the documents were crude forgeries, or they knowing lied to the American people when they made their nuclear claims. Whether Bush knew he was lying when he made those claims is ultimately unimportant, the fact will remain that he "looked into the hearts" of his most trusted advisors and misjudged them. The men and women whom he thought were the brightest and most honest, turned out to be either liars or fools or both. So much for the "Trust me" President.