Thursday, July 17, 2003

# Posted 3:23 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

CLINTONIZING BUSH: I've already put in my two cents about the significance of Uranium-gate. But what matters far more is the significance that the President's antagonists want to give it. What they want is nothing less than to discredit the President permanently in the way that Lewinsky-gate discredited President Clinton.

According to Maureen Dowd,
More and more, with Bush administration pronouncements about the Iraq war, it depends on what the meaning of the word "is" is.
Josh Marshall is taking the slightly different tack of posting Bush's best-known attacks on Clinton's credibility side-by-side with the embarrassing excuses now being offered for the infamous 16 words. For example:
"I will bring honor to the process and honor to the office I seek. I will remind Al Gore that Americans do not want a White House where there is 'no controlling legal authority.' I will repair the broken bonds of trust between Americans and their government."

-- George W. Bush
March 7th, 2000

Quote number two ...
"It didn't rise to the standard of a presidential speech, but it's not known, for example, that it was inaccurate. In fact, people think it was technically accurate."

-- Donald Rumsfeld
July 13th, 2003
For the moment, I still think it's extremely premature to compare the White House spin on Uranium-gate to Clinton's outright lies regarding his relationship with Monica Lewinsky. (No, I don't think anyone should ask the President about his sex life. But if he is testifying about it in court, then a lie is a lie is a lie.)

Even so, the Administration's inability to get its foot out of its collective mouth is making it harder and harder not to ask just what the White House has to hide. Just a few days ago, George Tenet took the fall for the administration after Condi Rice insisted that the CIA was responsible for letting the '16 words' into the State of the Union.

Now Tenet says his staff never asked him to evaluate the 16 before they went into the President's speech. Not only does that contradict Tenet's good soldier act from earlier in the week, but it seems implausible given yesterday's NYT report that Tenet called Stephen Hadley before the President's October speech in Cincinnati and insisted that he take the uranium-from-Niger story out of the text.

What this sort of Cabinet-level chaos calls to mind is not the mendacity of our 42nd President but the incompetence of our 40th. Throughout the 2000 campaign, the Republican line was that Bush would surround himself with experts on foreign affairs. But now he seems unable to control his cabinet.

By the same token, the much-lauded White House press machine has been unable to offer any sort of convincing explanation of what exactly went on in the days leading up to the SotU.

Ideally, this will all come to end when the President decides that the excuses being offered in his name are doing far more damage to his reputation than the truth itself. But I'm beginning to wonder, does Bush even know what happened? What I fear is that Bush will have to come before the nation and declare in a Reagan-esque manner that he has no recollection of how policy was made in his own White House.

I hope I'm wrong. Not because I have an interest in protecting the President's reputation. But because I don't want to believe that no one is in charge in the White House.

AFTERTHOUGHT: Andrew Sullivan and the WSJ have cited last October's National Intelligence Estimate for Iraq in order to show that the CIA had, at one time, considered the Niger story to be thoroughly reliable. But if the NYT report I mentioned above is to be believed, George Tenet explicitly told Stephen Hadley not to believe those sections of the NIE dealing with the uranium from Niger. Both Andrew and the WSJ also point out that the British are still standing by the uranium story. Yet given that the UK has excellent intelligent services, why doesn't anyone in the White House want to defend the actual content of the 16 words?
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