Other 16 Words
By Mike McArdle
Condoleeza Rice made the rounds of the Sunday talk shows
last week trying to put out the fire caused by President Bush’s
accusation in the State of the Union address that Saddam Hussein
had attempted to obtain enriched uranium from Africa.
"The British government has learned that Saddam Hussein recently
sought significant quantities of uranium from Africa."
The statement later proved to be false but Dr. Rice told
Wolf Blitzer, “it is 16 words, and it has become an enormously
Rice’s efforts didn’t do much to make the furor die down
although a couple of other Presidential defenders have picked
up on the “16 words” theme this week. But on Monday, Mr. Bush
provided us with 16 words that may be of even greater significance
than the fraudulent ones that found their way into the State
of the Union address.
The war in Iraq began he said, because, "We gave him a chance
to allow the inspectors in, and he wouldn't let them in."
In just 16 words Bush’s incredible statement had completely
reinvented the history of the last year. Everybody who did
not spend the past year on the planet Neptune remembers, of
course, that Hussein did let the inspectors in, that they
inspected for several months, and that Bush refused to allow
them more time to search for the alleged weapons. At least
we thought everybody knew that until Bush’s uttered those
staggering 16 words.
Amazingly the press has continued to chase after the Niger
story while acting eerily wary of this one. Remarkably understating
the situation Dana Priest and Dana Milbank who reported Bush’s
comments in the Washington Post would say only that they “appeared
to contradict the events leading up to war this spring”.
This statement was made with certitude and was not corrected
and is so far removed from reality that it could not have
possibly been a slip of the tongue. There are several possibilities
for what it could have been and none of them are particularly
One possibility is that Bush, working as he was without a
net (script and teleprompter) got annoyed with the furor over
the African revelations and more questions about the quality
of the intelligence he had gotten and took it upon himself
to simply change the reason for the war so that African uranium
wouldn’t matter. In this case Bush must have actually thought
that the overwhelming majority of Americans and others simply
hadn’t paid any attention to the events that preceded the
war and wouldn’t know that the inspectors had actually entered
Iraq and that he, not Hussein had prevented them from completing
their job. If so then Bush is possessed of the unspeakable
arrogance of someone who has never been held accountable for
anything and has no respect either for the truth, the American
public or those who suffered in the war he started.
A second possibility is that Bush is completely delusional,
back on the booze, drugged up or some strange combination
of all three and he actually doesn’t remember that the inspectors
had in fact entered Iraq and conducted a four month search
for weapons. In this case he also doesn’t remember the speeches
he gave on the subject, the ultimatum he gave to Hussein or
the warnings he gave to the inspectors to leave Iraq before
the start of hostilities. If this is indeed the situation
in the White House then his very real possession of weapons
of mass destruction is a good deal more disturbing than Hussein’s
alleged possession of them.
Another possibility is that Bush is indeed, as some have
suggested, a political version of Ted Baxter, the hapless
fictional newsman from the old Mary Tyler Moore Show who simply
reads off a TelePrompTer things that he has little to no understanding
of or interest in. In this case he is the ultimate figurehead,
a silly foolish man who exists only to be thrust in front
of cameras and podiums to mouth the words and thoughts of
handlers who, seeking to use his famous name, created him
out of a failed businessman to do their political bidding.
Without the words of others telling him what to do he is likely
to simply reach into his well-fogged memory bank and pull
out an old excuse for war that somebody had planned to use
at one time or another. In this case Bush is not really the
president at all and maybe we’d better make some kind of effort
to find out who the hell is.
Only 16 words. But they tell quite a story.