Man Without Qualities

Thursday, February 05, 2004

Who Thinks They Can Win This Way? II

A new Associated Press article by the same AP reporter now backtracks considerably from the reporter's prior assertion that the President's "main argument" in invading Iraq was that Saddam Hussein's rule posed an "imminent threat." The new article fails to correct the former article's mistake expressly, but now reports:

Intelligence analysts never told President Bush before the invasion of Iraq that Saddam Hussein's rule posed an imminent threat, CIA Director George Tenet said Thursday in a heated defense of agency findings central to the decision to go to war. The urgency of the Iraqi threat was Bush's main argument for the war.

This still misstates the President's justification for the war. But the new article is quite a retreat from the AP's prior, absurd attempt at playing "gotcha."

Too bad the AP hasn't the guts to confess its error.

The new AP article offers some clarifying explanation, but without admitting the clarification is inconsistent with its prior article:

White House aides have pointed out that Bush, while he cited the urgency of Saddam's threat, never called the threat "imminent."

In his State of the Union address in January 2003, Bush said: "Some have said we must not act until the threat is imminent. Since when have terrorists and tyrants announced their intentions, politely putting us on notice before they strike? If this threat is permitted to fully and suddenly emerge, all actions, all words and all recriminations would come too late."

In general, the Bush administration before the war cited three main justifications for military action: preventing Iraq from using weapons of mass destruction, protecting America from terrorists and liberating Iraqis from a repressive regime.

So, in the course of a single article, the Iraq threat goes from Bush's main argument for the war to just one of three main justifications for military action.

But who's counting?


An astute reader e-mails to say that he complained to the AP about the "imminent threat" error discussed above, and received back the following e-mailed response:

Thanks for your e-mail. I am embarrassed to admit you are in fact correct. Our anchor mispoke. I assure you it was an honest mistake, not an intentional "lie", but, a mistake just the same.

We take great pains to ensure that our material is fair and accurate. This one slipped through the cracks. While the Bush administration repeatedly stressed the "urgency" of stopping Saddam Hussein, and referred to Iraq as a "grave and gathering danger", President Bush never used the words "imminent threat."

We regret the error. I assure you, the newsroom has learned from this.


Wally Hindes
Assistant Managing Editor/Radio
Associated Press Broadcast

I find it more than odd that the AP will confess to an error in an e-mail that it will not acknowledge publicly. In any event, the assertion that the Bush administration repeatedly stressed the "urgency" of stopping Saddam Hussein is misleading, at best.

"Imminent" is a term of international law, as well as a word used in ordinary English. Reporters confused the two meanings in their questioning and their articles - and continue to do that.

But no matter what word one uses, Bush simply did not argue that the United States was justified in attacking Iraq because Iraq was poised and ready to attack us. If that's what one means by "urgent" then Bush did not argue that Iraq posed an "urgent" threat any more than he argued that Iraq posed an "imminent" threat. His arguments did imply that it was urgent for the United States to correct the Iraq threat before it got any worse than it already had been allowed to become. For example, in a Sept. 12 speech to the United Nations, the President called Saddam's regime "a grave and gathering danger." The next day, he told reporters that Saddam was "a threat that we must deal with as quickly as possible." In an Oct. 7, 2002, speech in Ohio, he said "the danger is already significant and it only grows worse with time." None of those statements is the same as saying that Iraq was then poised to attack us. That's why the international law crowd was so critical of the Administration at that time.

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