Wednesday, January 12, 2005

ROBERT G. JOSEPH, until recently a special assistant for national security in the Bush administration, is a top candidate for the State Department position of chief arms negotiator with Iran and North Korea. Joseph's qualifications for this job? He was the one responsible for including in Pres. Bush's Jan. 2003 State of the Union speech the claim that Saddam Hussein had sought uranium from Niger. This claim, which was largely based on documents that were later proved to be forgeries, had been removed from an earlier Bush speech after George Tenet, then the Director of the CIA, strenuously objected to its veracity. The CIA wanted the claim taken out of the State of the Union address as well, but Joseph overruled those objections and put the supposed intelligence into the speech anyway. He also included the crucial words, "The British government has learned" that Saddam Hussein had tried to get the uranium from Niger, which provided the Bush administration with deniability on intelligence they fully knew was tainted.

Some Washington insiders see this promotion as rewarding incompetence, or as shining the spotlight on the man responsible for one of Bush's biggest embarrassments.

"He should have been fired or reprimanded," said Joseph Cirincione, a senior arms-proliferation specialist at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace in Washington. "We see instead that he could be given the key position in the Department of State for all treaty and nonproliferation matters."
I think such criticism misses the point, though. The way I see it, Joseph was promoted precisely because he put in that claim about Iraq seeking uranium from Niger. It was the centerpiece of Bush's case for invading Iraq, and it worked. Bush WANTED to invade Iraq, and that claim, accurate or not, helped him do so. What does he care that the intelligence was based on fraudulent documents? And why wouldn't he want to reward the person who enabled him to do what he has wanted to do since long before 9/11?

By now, it should be clear to anyone who has been paying attention that George W. Bush is immune to feelings of embarrassment or shame at rewarding people in his administration who played key roles in creating the disaster that is present-day Iraq. He proved that when he gave the Congressional Medal of Honor to Paul Bremer and George Tenet, two key architects of the catastrophic U.S. policy in Iraq. He proved it also after Ambassador Joseph Wilson publicly said that the Saddam Hussein-Niger intelligence was untrue, and the response of the Bush administration was to treat Wilson as Public Enemy Number One.

"That's what they do for people who make mistakes in Iraq -- award them or promote them in the State Department," said [Greg] Thielmann, who until last year was a senior analyst in the State Department on weapons of mass destruction. It's the people who tell the truth or do their jobs well who get the boot.

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