The Associated Press Spins the ISG Report

Scott Lindlaw is an Associated Press reporter who has told fellow members of the White House press corps that his “mission is to see that George Bush is not re-elected.” He is the reporter who wrote falsely that a Republican crowd at a Bush rally in West Allis, Wisconsin, booed the news of President Clinton’s hospitalization, and “Bush did nothing to stop them.” The story was a complete fabrication, later retracted by the AP, but the AP has never responded to our many emails on the subject, and to our knowledge Scott Lindlaw has never been disciplined in any way for filing a false story.
Now, Lindlaw is at it again, spinning the Iraq Survey Group’s report for the benefit of the Kerry campaign. Lindlaw writes, in a story titled “Bush, Cheney Concede Saddam Had No WMDs”:

President Bush and his vice president conceded Thursday in the clearest terms yet that Saddam Hussein had no weapons of mass destruction, even as they tried to shift the Iraq war debate to a new issue–whether the invasion was justified because Saddam was abusing a U.N. oil-for-food program.
Ridiculing the Bush administration’s evolving rationale for war, Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry shot back: “You don’t make up or find reasons to go to war after the fact.”

Lindlaw obviously agrees with Kerry’s “ridicule.” But here is the text of what President Bush said; Lindlaw actually quotes the relevant paragraphs:

The Duelfer report also raises important new information about Saddam Hussein’s defiance of the world, and his intent and capability to develop weapons.
The Duelfer report showed that Saddam was systematically gaming the system, using the U.N. oil-for-food program to try to influence countries and companies in an effort to undermine sanctions. He was doing so with the intent of restarting his weapons program once the world looked away.

So Lindlaw grossly mischaracterizes President Bush’s statement. Bush did not invent a “new” rationale for toppling Saddam, or suggest that we went to war simply because Saddam was abusing the oil for food program. The point of Bush’s reference to the oil for food program was that Saddam was abusing it for the specific purpose of regaining his WMD capabilities. This is exactly what the ISG report says. Bush correctly characterized the report; Scott Lindlaw incorrectly characterized Bush’s point. Lindlaw continues:

Duelfer found no formal plan by Saddam to resume WMD production, but the inspector surmised that Saddam intended to do so if U.N. sanctions were lifted. Bush seized upon that inference, using the word “intent” three times in reference to Saddam’s plans to resume making weapons.

This is simply outrageous. Duelfer and the ISG wrote a 1,000 page report, a principal theme of which is Saddam’s continuing intent to reconstitute his WMD programs. There was no “formal plan” because Saddam wasn’t stupid enough to put his WMD intentions in writing–in any event, not in any document that has yet been identified and translated. But to say that Duelfer “surmised” Saddam’s intent is ridiculous; the report lays out hundreds of pages of evidence of Saddam’s intent.

This week marks the first time that the Bush administration has listed abuses in the oil-for-fuel program as an Iraq war rationale. But the strategy holds risks because some of the countries that could be implicated include U.S. allies, such as Poland, Jordan and Egypt. In addition, the United States itself played a significant role in both the creation of the program and how it was operated and overseen.

Here, Lindlaw is just making it up. The Bush administration, as noted above, didn’t cite the “oil for fuel” — that would be “oil for food,” Scott — program as a “first time” rationale; rather, the point was that abuses of the program gave Saddam the opportunity to reconstitute his illegal weapons programs. And the “risks” claimed by Lindlaw are risible. The countries that are actually named in the ISG report as recipients of Iraqi bribery are France, Russia, and China, countries that had Security Council veto power. And the suggestion that “the United States itself played a significant role” in the operation of the U.N.’s oil for food program is ridiculous. The only reference to bribery of Americans that I’ve seen in the report is to an American weapons inspector, presumably Bush critic Scott Ritter. And whoever may have played a “significant role” in creating the U.N. program, it certainly wasn’t anyone in the Bush administration.
Lindlaw continues:

“Iraq did not have the weapons that our intelligence believed were there,” Bush said. His words placed the blame on U.S. intelligence agencies.

Huh? Is Lindlaw denying that our intelligence agencies, and those of every other interested country, said that Saddam had banned WMDs? Apparently he hasn’t read the National Intelligence Estimate. Lindlaw is either unpardonably ill-informed, or he is taking a misleading cheap shot at the President.
And finally:

In recent weeks, Cheney has glossed over the primary justification for the war, most often by simply not mentioning it.

Saddam’s WMDs were indeed one of the reasons for going to war. But the claim that they were the only reason, or the main reason, is one that is simply asserted by Lindlaw and like-minded reporters and is generally taken to be true by dint of repetition. In fact, however, President Bush has always emphasized multiple reasons for liberating Iraq, including the moral imperative to relieve the oppression of the Iraqi people and, even more important, the long-term benefit of beginning the process of reforming the Arab world.
The Democrats have no long-term solution to the problem of terrorism. The only proposal on the table is the President’s: eliminate the cause of terrorism by liberating the Arab world, leading a transformation of the failed, oppressive, corrupt Arab states into modern democracies with economies that offer opportunities for their citizens. President Bush has articulated this rationale for the Iraq war–by any measure, the most important one–many times. Here is how President Bush expressed this rationale in just one of many speeches:

Iraqi democracy will succeed — and that success will send forth the news, from Damascus to Teheran — that freedom can be the future of every nation. The establishment of a free Iraq at the heart of the Middle East will be a watershed event in the global democratic revolution.
Sixty years of Western nations excusing and accommodating the lack of freedom in the Middle East did nothing to make us safe — because in the long run, stability cannot be purchased at the expense of liberty. As long as the Middle East remains a place where freedom does not flourish, it will remain a place of stagnation, resentment, and violence ready for export. And with the spread of weapons that can bring catastrophic harm to our country and to our friends, it would be reckless to accept the status quo.
Therefore, the United States has adopted a new policy, a forward strategy of freedom in the Middle East. This strategy requires the same persistence and energy and idealism we have shown before. And it will yield the same results. As in Europe, as in Asia, as in every region of the world, the advance of freedom leads to peace.
The advance of freedom is the calling of our time; it is the calling of our country. From the Fourteen Points to the Four Freedoms, to the Speech at Westminster, America has put our power at the service of principle. We believe that liberty is the design of nature; we believe that liberty is the direction of history. We believe that human fulfillment and excellence come in the responsible exercise of liberty. And we believe that freedom — the freedom we prize — is not for us alone, it is the right and the capacity of all mankind.

The President’s soaring vision puts to shame hacks like Scott Lindlaw who pretend to report the news, but in reality seek to advance a narrow, short-sighted partisan agenda.

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