July 26, 2004,
What a difference a year makes. Last summer, the raging debate in Washington was over 16 words in George W. Bush's State of the Union speech. "The British government has learned that Saddam Hussein recently sought significant quantities of uranium from Africa," the president had said on January 28, 2003, as he made the case for war in Iraq. By March, some Democrats had begun to claim the sentence was a lie. By May and June, the issue had grown acrimonious. By July, it was full-scale political war.
Now, one year later, with the publication of investigative reports from the Senate Intelligence Committee in Washington and the Butler inquiry in London, it appears the president was right all along. British intelligence and American intelligence, and other intelligence agencies as well did indeed have substantial reason to believe that Saddam Hussein had sought uranium in Africa.
The Butler Report went so far as to call the president's 16 words "well founded." And the Senate report inflicted serious damage on the credibility of presidential accuser Joseph Wilson, the former ambassador who contends that the information he gathered during a February 2002 trip to Niger proved the president's claim bogus. For a year, Wilson has loudly accused Bush, Vice President Dick Cheney, and others in the administration of twisting the truth (Wilson called Cheney a "lying son of a bitch" during a campaign appearance for John Kerry last December). But the Senate report not only substantiated the president's claim it also listed multiple examples in which Wilson himself made false or misleading statements about the Niger affair.
So it might seem that the book is now closed on the 16-word affair. But one issue remains unresolved. When Democrats first attacked the president over the uranium-from-Africa claim, the White House vigorously defended itself. But in July 2003, as the controversy reached fever pitch, the White House caved and said the 16 words should not have been included in the State of the Union address. So the question is, If the president was right, why did he back down?
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