Sorry, but no way

Purportedly reputable journalist Ron Suskind has made the rather explosive charge that President Bush ordered a forgery to connect Saddam Hussein to al Qaeda, and that our intelligence officials told him, in January of 2003, that there were no banned weapons in Iraq:

    Author claims White House knew Iraq had no WMDJournalist Ron Suskind says Bush ordered forgery linking Saddam, al-QaedaBy Bob ConsidineTODAYShow.com contributorPresident Bush committed an impeachable offense by ordering the CIA to to manufacture a false pretense for the Iraq war in the form of a backdated, handwritten document linking Saddam Hussein and al-Qaeda, an explosive new book claims.

    The charge is made in “The Way of the World: A Story of Truth and Hope in an Age of Extremism” by Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Ron Suskind, released today.Suskind says he spoke on the record with U.S. intelligence officials who stated that Bush was informed unequivocally in January 2003 that Saddam had no weapons of mass destruction. Nonetheless, his book relates, Bush decided to invade Iraq three months later — with the forged letter from the head of Iraqi intelligence to Saddam bolstering the U.S. rationale to go into war. . . . Former CIA director George Tenet also released a statement in which he ridicules the credibility of Suskind’s sources and calls the White House’s supposed directive to forge the document as “a complete fabrication.”But Suskind stands by his work. “It’s not off the record,” he says. “It’s on the record. It’s in the book and people can read it for themselves.”

They can certainly read it, but that doesn’t make it believable.

Valerie Plame Wilson isn’t exactly someone who has much liking for President Bush, Vice President Cheney or anyone in the Bush Administration. If anyone should have an axe to grind against the Administration, it would be Mrs Wilson. I read (and reviewed) Mrs Wilson’s book, Fair Game: My Life as a Spy, My Betrayal by the White House.¹ From my review:

    The real meat of this story begins with chapter 6, “Mother and Part-Time Spy,” in which Mrs Wilson begins to describe the efforts at obtaining intelligence on Iraqi WMD programs. On page 92, she writes:

    Our other focus was energizing various friendly liaisin services to join forces against the [redacted] target. Liaison — Agency shorthand for a foreign intelligence service– was on the uptick. Traditionally, the CIA looked upon liaison relationships as a necessary evil, especially under the Cold War rubric. . . . Unilateral operations were still greatly preferred and trusted, but the rise of the counterterrorism and counterproliferation divisions changed this long-held equation profoundly.

    This, to me, was a very important paragraph, because it tells us that the CIA was not a lone wolf in the sourcing of intelligence data. Why? Because in the next few pages, this woman, who worked on counterproliferation, and who felt personally wronged by the Bush Administration due to the disclosure of her identity, said that while there may have been a few differences on the interpretation of specific information, neither her group nor she had any doubts that Iraq under Saddam Hussein currently had, and was working to build more, WMD, saying, on page 95:

    The US intelligence community was not the only actor that found Iraq’s provocations alarming.

    I had known all along that Mrs Wilson’s book said that the opinion of the CIA was that Iraq had concealed WMD; I’ve read other reviews of Fair Game. But this was still good to see: someone with a grudge against President Bush and Vice President Cheney saying what we all really knew, that the Administration was not deliberately lying to the American people and to the world about Iraqi WMD. The President is not a producer of intelligence, but a consumer of it; he could only know what the intelligence agencies told him.

    Long before the Iraq war became such a highly politicized, divisive issue in the United States, those of us who followed proliferation issues for a living saw that Iraq was dangerous and erratic. Many of the CIA liaison partners around the world were picking up evidence that Iraq was seeking to procure items that could be used in their suspected WMD programs.

How is it, I have to wonder, that Valerie Plame Wilson, whose job it was at the CIA, in the Counterproliferation Division of the Directorate of Operations to ferret out information on WMD, with a special concentration on Iraq, never knew that Iraq didn’t have any WMD? It was her department which produced the data, and according to her book, she was heavily involved in it. She stated that they were never completely satisfied with the data that they had, but they believed that Iraq did have WMD, and at one point stated that, when the war started, they were all glued to CNN, terrified of hearing about American troops coming under a chemical weapons attack.

Now, if Mrs Wilson were a Republican partisan — and she was anything but — or were a supporter of the Bush Administration, maybe, maybe, you could take her testimony that her division believed there to have been banned weapons in Iraq with a grain of salt. But when someone with as much of an axe to grind as Mrs Wilson has comes out and says that yes, the CPD, the department responsible for putting together the available information on Iraq, thought that Iraq had WMD, it’s rather difficult to dismiss that claim.

Even suspending the obvious disbelief of Mr Suskind’s claim, a few questions come to mind. How, for instance, did George W Bush, at the time the Governor of Texas, get the CIA to tell Bill Clinton, then the President of the United States, that Iraq still had WMD? After all, President Clinton claimed that they did, and he had left office less than two years before the Bush Administration began to make public claims against Iraq. If President Clinton had known there were no WMD in Iraq, he could have stopped the invasion cold, by telling the Democrats who held the Senate majority at the time not to approve the authorization to use force.

Not only did Mr Clinton do no such thing, he never even gave his own wife a hint, “Honey, maybe you’d be better served to vote against this thing.”

Another question would be: how did President Bush get the intelligence agencies of other countries, even countries opposed to the invasion, to believe that yes, Iraq had WMD. Russia, France and Germany, countries with power, respect and experienced intelligence agencies, all opposed the invasion, yet not a one of them rose and said, “Our intelligence services do not agree with the claims made by President Bush concerning Iraqi WMD.”

Another question would be: just how did President Bush get this allegedly forged document made and put into play without leaving footprints? He neither speaks nor reads Arabic, and he certainly doesn’t write it. To have forged such a document would require the cooperation of someone who did, someone who could get that document into the “right” hands. This would require the cooperation of literally dozens of people, and not only would they have to have remained completely quiet about this — and how well does Washington keep secrets these days? — but there could not have been a single soul “sounded out” about engaging in such an operation who would not have refused, and squawked loudly.

Mr Suskind’s allegations are not just allegations of politics, but allegations that a serious crime, a go-to-jail crime, was committed. Yet he apparently expects us to believe that however many people — most of whom would have to be professional, highly educated people — were required to do this all agreed to commit a crime, for which they could receive no personal gain, that could, if discovered, send them to prison for the rest of their lives.

Mr Suskind’s book is proof that anyone can make a wild claim, but claiming something does not make it true.

¹ – Valerie Plame Wilson: Fair Game: My Life as a Spy, My Betrayel by the White House (New York: Simon ^ Schuster, © 2007) 411 pages