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The Other 16 Words
July 19, 2003
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 overblown issue.”

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 reassuring.

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.

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