E.J. Dionne swings and misses

E.J. Dionne’s latest column starts with a misrepresentation and goes downhill. That misrepresentation is contained in the question with which Dionne begins his piece: “Why have the Bush administration and some of the staunchest supporters of the Iraq war gone nuts over the Sept. 11 commission’s staff report debunking the idea that there were close ties between Saddam Hussein and al Qaeda?” In reality, of course, the administration went “nuts” not over the staff report itself, but over the way the report was mischaracterized by the press as inconsistent with the Bush administration’s pre-war claims and thus a blow to its credibility. Since both the chairman and co-chairman of the commission agreed with the administration that the report differed little, if at all, from the administration’s assessments, one surely can understand the White House’s displeasure with the press over this.
Actually, Dionne begins his dissembling even earlier, in this sub-heading to his piece: “Hussein’s ties to the attacks? Show us the proof.” Again, the administration never claimed any ties between Hussein and the 9/11 attacks, and Dionne fails to demonstrate otherwise. Instead, the best he can do is to assert that the administration’s denial of having made the claim “look[s] like the sort of careful parsing of words that Bill Clinton is trying to explain in his new book.” This cheap shot is tantamount to an admission that Dionne can’t find any statement from the administration to the effect that Saddam colloborated with al Qaeda in the 9/11 attacks or in other attacks against the U.S. It is not Clintonesque for the administration to deny making a claim it never made, or to point out that the commission report actually confirms the claim it did make — that there were longstanding ties between Saddam and al Qaeda. The White House, in fact, was no more Clintonesque about this than commission heads Kean and Hamilton, who merely tried to insist on an honest reading of the report. The bad news is that, apparently, any time someone attempts to correct a distortion of a public statement, that person will be compared to Bill Clinton. The good news is that Dionne and other liberals now hold out Clinton (not Nixon) as the standard by which to measure presidential dishonesty.
Dionne notes, correctly, that the administration argued that attacking Iraq was a proper reaction to 9/11. But it did not do so on the theory that Saddam collaborated in 9/11. Rather, the argument was that, now that we know how widespread, well-organized, capable, and determined al Qaeda is, we cannot afford to tolerate a state (at best barely tolerable even before) that has both WMD (or the capacity to produce WMD) and ties to al Qaeda, or for that matter to any determined group of terrorists. To me that argument remains irrefutable. Certainly Dionne, preoccupied as he is with his game of gotcha, makes no effort to refute it. Insteadm, he chooses to misstate the administration’s case.

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