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Friday, March 31, 2006 

It's all true. Every bit of it.

What we've been saying about the campaign of deception regarding the Iraq invasion: All true. The new article by Murray Waas proves it, as if you needed further proof. But if you're still the skeptic, there's your proof.

The evidence has been piling up for the last year, layer after layer of leaked documents and insider disclosures. Each one adds further details, here another lie, there a heretofore unsuspected outrage, and there a baroque twist to the transatlantic conspiracy.

But at a certain stage, merely piling up evidence doesn't serve to satisfy skeptics. They want to know whether the evidence coheres and whether any of it has been interpreted correctly. We're accused by Bush and Blair of taking it 'out of context', and for all the skeptic knows that could be true.

All along I've been pretty sure that I'm not pushing the evidence too far. Interpreting isolated documents is what I do for a living (I'm an ancient historian); knowing how far to press inferences from a given text is the name of the game. Anyway, the new report by Waas confirms that, if anything, I've been too conservative in making these allegations based upon what seem, and are, obvious inferences.

So, first to Murray Waas. It's not that his new report tells us things half as fun as Waas' bombshell on March 2: What Bush was told about Iraq. That earlier story revealed the contents of brief 'Presidential Summaries' of intelligence that Bush (and his top 'people') got in Oct. 2002 and Jan. 2003. Those contents weren't kind to Bush & Co. For the Summaries shot holes in the administration's false claims about an Iraqi nuclear program (esp. the aluminum tubes). Bush would continue to make those very claims, despite receiving the Summaries.

Beyond that, they also showed that Bush, Rice and others had lied when they said that Bush had never been told of the existence of any doubts about the false WMD claims. That was in the summer of 2003, after Joe Wilson spilled the beans about the Niger forgery. But Bush had been told, and he just went on making the claims anyway. So the March 2nd story was a two-fer: Bush lied before the invasion about the WMD intel, and he lied after the invasion about not having deliberately lied about the intel.

It was the second thing that clinched the case against Bush. He'd managed to squirm free of sustained scrutiny in July 2003 when George Tenet took the blame for having permitted (sic) Bush's speeches to include false and misleading statements. But the Summaries publicized by Waas showed that no excuses could any longer protect our would-be-king from the charge of lying to the public.

That was fun, but why is the new Waas report a big deal? His main point is to demonstrate that the White House flipped its lid in summer 2003 when it discovered that those Summaries might be declassified. Rove warned the other fish in the White House pond that Bush's re-election could be scuttled "if it was publicly disclosed that he had been personally warned that a key rationale for going to war had been challenged within the administration," according to Waas. His sources tell him that the decision to keep the Summaries classified was part of an elaborate conspiracy by the WH to conceal the truth about its false WMD claims, at least until the 2004 election was over. The outing of Valerie Plame was just a small part of that conspiracy, though it's come to loom larger.

By this account, everybody of consequence was involved in the coverup in June/July 2003: Bush; Cheney; Libby; Rice; Tenet; Hadley; Fleischer. The people I don't see implicated are Powell and Card, but they could be the ones dropping the dimes.

Well, that is fun too and we can hope that the national media will pick up on one or both of the stories: (a) the lies, or (b) the grand conspiracy to coverup the lies.

In any case, the new Waas report set me to thinking about the quality of my own inferences from the earlier Waas report, which I commented on at the time here.

How sensitive is the information that this Summary contradicts Bush's public statements?

But the Bush administration steadfastly continued to refuse to declassify the President's Summary of the NIE, which in the words of one senior official, is the "one document which illustrates what the president knew and when he knew it." The administration also refused to furnish copies of the paper to congressional intelligence committees.


My inference from the repeated refusal to declassify or communicate the Summaries to Congress was that this information was for Our Dear Leader about as sensitive as anything could get.

Today's report by Waas, about the WH flipping out as it tried to cover up the Summaries, pretty nicely confirms that. (I take it as a given that Waas has the goods, since he is an extremely careful journalist.)

"Presidential knowledge was the ball game," says a former senior government official outside the White House who was personally familiar with the damage-control effort. "The mission was to insulate the president. It was about making it appear that he wasn't in the know. You could do that on Niger. You couldn't do that with the tubes." A Republican political appointee involved in the process, who thought the Bush administration had a constitutional obligation to be more open with Congress, said: "This was about getting past the election."

Most troublesome to those leading the damage-control effort was documentary evidence -- albeit in highly classified government records that they might be able to keep secret -- that the president had been advised that many in the intelligence community believed that the tubes were meant for conventional weapons.


There's nothing particularly remarkable about my inference (which seemed rather obvious given the administration's actions), or the fact that such a banal inference has now been confirmed. My point simply is that it's really not at all impractical to make accurate and even sweeping inferences on the basis of nothing more than a single, detailed text, however brief.

Why does it matter? Our entire picture of the Bush/Blair campaign of deception before the Iraq invasion has been teased out by means of identical operations with various texts. The best of these texts, government documents, are in fact so authoritative and detailed, that we really wouldn't even need to rely on journalist's reports to get an accurate overall view of what went on during the year before the invasion. We could build an accurate picture entirely from documents and the inferences they support.

So how has the ol' business of drawing inferences from pre-war documents been going for us? Well, the best indication that you're on the right track is to have an inference confirmed by new evidence. And that's happened again and again, though I've never taken the trouble to note it explicitly anywhere.

For starters I should point to some of my first posts analyzing the Downing Street memo, like this one here, from the very night the story broke in Britain.

This leaked minute is utterly damning of the Bush administration and the false case it made for war..."the intelligence and facts were being fixed around the policy"; "spikes in activity" were being engineered in July 2002 to put pressure on Hussein; cynical demands for the return of UN inspectors; and above all, an admission that the case for attacking Hussein was thin. ...

The minute also demonstrates that Blair already had foreseen many of the main lines of opposition that would emerge, and Blair had designed a plan or accepted somebody else's plan to thwart that opposition by maneuvering Saddam Hussein into untenable positions. It is every bit as Machiavellian as one always supposed. ...

In the US, it is hard to guess how this will play. I, for one, am beginning at this very hour to remember the taste and smell of the Watergate era.


Plenty of this turned out to be spot on. By the next day, Americans who learned about the DSM were famously demanding impeachment. Blair had in fact accepted a plan to wrongfoot Hussein; we later learned from other leaked documents that months earlier the British Ambassador to the boy-king and Blair's Foreign Policy Advisor had both urged the adoption of what came to be known as the 'U.N. route'.

In another post on line, written a few hours after the other one, link here, I stated even more forcefully that the DSM showed the planned appeal to the U.N. for renewed inspections in Iraq was entirely cynical:

The leaked memo shows that Blair's idea was to demand the return of weapons' inspectors; if Hussein refused, that would provide a pretext for war, and if he admitted them then they might find some sort of grounds for war. The memo also indicates that by July 2002 the US military had already stepped up attacks against Iraq for the express purpose of provoking that war outright.


The inference was amply borne out the following month when the Cabinet Office briefing paper was published. This was essentially the agenda distributed in advance of the July 23rd Cabinet meeting, whose minutes are the Downing Street memo:

It is just possible that an ultimatum could be cast in terms which Saddam would reject (because he is unwilling to accept unfettered access) and which would not be regarded as unreasonable by the international community. However, failing that (or an Iraqi attack) we would be most unlikely to achieve a legal base for military action by January 2003.


The inference drawn from the DSM that the "U.N. route" was entirely cynical may not seem especially ambitious. Certainly at the time I didn't think it could reasonably be doubted. Yet in July last year, I encountered an intelligent talk-show host who expressed strong reservations about going along with that inference (she knew the text of the DSM but not evidently the briefing paper). So it's entirely fair to treat it as a contested inference that, like the others, turns out to be right.

As for the inference that "spikes of activity" had to mean provocative air attacks, that too was borne out later by the publication of RAF documents the UK government was forced to reveal.

Well, we could spend pleasant hours tracking down more examples of how major and minor inferences drawn from the cache of Iraq-war documents have been confirmed by subsequent publications. No need, I suppose, when the "White House Minutes" from Jan. 31, 2003 have decisively confirmed the most controversial inference from the DSM: That George Bush was determined to invade Iraq for months before the signal was given, all the while he pretended to seek a diplomatic "solution" (to what, exactly?).

So what is there left for an analyst of documents to do? Everything we said last May, it's all true. Every stinking bit of it. I wish instead it were all just a product of my overheated imagination. Sadly, it's all true.

 posted by smintheus  # 10:10 PM  
Comments:
Powerful statement, well put. I hope many see your post and the supporting links. The pieces of the puzzle are all out, and every sad one of them fits.
 
Thanks mtreder. speaking of pieces of the puzzle, there's a new piece that I just commented on in the lastest post, above this one.
 
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