Just Above Sunset
July 18, 2004 - WMD for Dummies

Home | Question Time | Something Is Up | Connecting Dots | Stay Away | Overload | Our Man in Paris | WLJ Weekly | Book Wrangler | Cobras | The Edge of the Pacific | The Surreal Beach | On Location | Botanicals | Quotes

Every time I see the columnist Tom Oliphant on television – usually on the PBS News Hour in some endless discussion – I think he is a very odd man.  Rail-thin in his bow tie with prissy manners and precise diction he’s a political and anorexic version of Felix Unger from The Odd Couple - the Central Casting version of an effete liberal from Boston, on camera to provide, no doubt, a dramatic contrast to the virile, manly but simple-minded and rather inarticulate conservative in the scene.  Oliphant may, for all we know, be the invention of some news director who loves entertaining contrasts – and just an actor playing the assigned role.

But Oliphant seems to write columns.  And he’s not the sort of fellow to offer the opposition, in public, on the floor of the US senate, an eloquent “Go f—k yourself!” – and then say there is just no need to apologize as the opposition richly deserved the words and, gosh, it felt so good to say them.  Oliphant prefers explanation and exposition to, in the case above, Dick Cheney’s sincere and deeply felt, if somewhat limited critique of what he finds logically wrong with another fellow’s position on this matter or that.

Well, each side has its preferred modes of discourse.

Oliphant’s most recent Boston Globe column on Bush and his team was republished in Paris on Thursday and probably shows Oliphant at his most typical – arguing a convincing position with great logic and clarity, but ultimately calling on examples that make any conservative reader think him a great fool.  Oliphant refers to education and literature and assumes some respect for them.  He doesn’t see the problem.  Such things are not what real men (our leaders and the conservative right) consider of any consequence at all.

Consider this:
Bush flunked his test on Iraq
Thomas Oliphant, Boston Globe and International Herald Tribune, Thursday, July 15, 2004

The column opens in a snide way -


The very best that can be said on President George W. Bush's behalf is that he used the Cliffs Notes version of intelligence information about Iraq as the basis for a poorly planned and rushed invasion of Iraq in March of last year. The problem with this charitable approach to Bush is that it's unfair to Cliffs Notes.

The lazy student's version of anything is at least an accurate summary. But the intelligence information about Iraq was wrong. In terms that Bush can perhaps recall from his days at Yale as a budding intellectual of limited achievement, it's as if he went forth to his final exam on Dickens and wrote confidently that David Copperfield murdered Uriah Heep with a fireplace poker.


You see the problem and almost hear the words from the Oval Office - “Condi, why is this guy talking about that Vegas magician guy David Copperfield?  And who is Uriah Heep - one of the bad guys over in Muslim-land?  And isn’t Dickens one of our guys in the Senate?

Oliphant is writing for the liberal elite, obviously.  The Senate Intelligence Committee report is his topic, but he gets at it an odd way.  Oliphant point is clear enough – everyone is missing the “truly jarring” truth - “In plain English, the Central Intelligence Agency was serving Bush large helpings of baloney in the form of summaries of analyses and conclusions that were directly contradicted by the detailed information on which these analyses and conclusions were supposedly based.”

Yeah, so?

The “so” according to Oliphant is that for those seeking to blame the summaries, including Bush's own campaign and “policy big shots,” the “desperate finger-pointing” works only on the basis of an assumption that is grounds for tossing Bush out of office.

Why, because he bought a load of baloney without asking for any details?

Well, yes.


To try to escape accountability by blaming CIA summaries, the president would have to ask the country to believe that he led it to war after reading a few cover pages without once glancing at the backup material that was sent to him and his top advisers. This view of the Bush style - big picture and full of alleged moral clarity - is grounds all by itself for electing a new president.

But it gets worse. The major finding in the material released so far is not so much that the CIA's hard-liner-serving conclusions were uniformly false or wildly overstated. The major finding is that the conclusions and declarative statements were in every significant instance found to be undermined or even contradicted by the intelligence data that was sent along with them.

To absolve Bush of disqualifying responsibility for this true scandal, this is what you have to believe.


But Tom, Bush did tell us all he doesn’t do nuance.  We WERE warned.

It is, then, not Bush’s fault.

Do you believe that? Many do.

Then, Oliphant says, if you do, you have to buy into the corollary beliefs:


You have to believe that in processing all of this, Bush never bothered to look beyond the summary or to inquire in depth whether it was supported. You then have to believe that Condoleezza Rice never had her large national security staff in the White House take a long look at the backup material on Bush's behalf.

You have to believe that in getting ready for a war, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and his huge operation never snuck a peek, either.

You have to believe that Vice President Dick Cheney - he of the long résumé and rich experience, not to mention his status as prime mover behind the idea of hasty, nearly unilateral invasion - never bothered to see if his extreme statements about the "threat" from Iraq were supportable. You have to believe that his many personal visits to the CIA were simply to ask questions, not influence answers.

And you have to believe that before he went to the United Nations to make Bush's "case" just before the war - with George Tenet, the director of central intelligence - Secretary of State Colin Powell's own visits to the CIA never once turned up the hedging, contradictory information that the Senate committee found by the bucketful.


Well, Tom doesn’t believe all this – but it could be so.  Tuesday night the widely respect CNN news guy Wolf Blitzer was interviewed on The Daily Show - and the host, Jon Stewart, asked Blitzer, in his opinion, how the whole government, and almost all of the news media, got it all so very wrong?

Blitzer gave a simple and devastating answer.  “Haven’t you ever made a mistake?”  And Blitzer would say no more on the topic.  Case closed.

Oh well, so much for our watchdog media.

But back to Oliphant…

Like any good essayist he ends with a return to his opening metaphor -


To return to my point about Cliffs Notes, imagine you were Bush's instructor at Yale. He has turned in his exam, and you have noted that his assertion that David Copperfield dispatched Uriah Heep with the fireplace poker is contradicted by Dickens's novel itself. To save his skin, Bush comes to you and claims with a straight face that he used the Cliffs Notes version to study and that the fact he got it wrong should be ascribed to the cheat sheet, not to him.

What would you do?  I'd flunk him in a heartbeat.


That - folks turning on Bush for stupidly trusting a faulty cheat-sheet (WMD For Dummies) and not asking questions – is not going to happen.  Perhaps Bush’s Cliffs Notes were faulty, and the whole mess is thus not Bush’s fault.

And who knows? - Maybe the Las Vegas magician David Copperfield did murder the al-Qaeda terrorist mastermind Uriah Heep in the library, and with the fireplace poker.  Dickens doesn’t say that didn’t happen, does he?  Dickens does NOT come out and DIRECTLY SAY that this didn’t happen.  As Dick Cheney says again and again about that meeting between Saddam’s guys and the 9/11 hijackers in Germany to plan the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon – everyone says that meeting never happened, but there is no solid proof that it never happened.  No one is saying that he or she was there, that very day in Munich, at that very place, and DID NOT SEE the bad guys meet.  So maybe it happened, or probably, it DID happen.

Rumsfeld said it even better – “There is another way to phrase that, and that is that the absence of evidence is not evidence of absence." (Reuters Newswire - June 6, 2002) Clear enough.

Oliphant doesn’t get their logic.


Footnote –

No one, by the way, is ever going to see the White House Cliffs Notes on the whole matter –

White House Balks at Releasing Prewar Summary on Iraq WMD
Reuters, Wednesday, July 14, 2004 04:24 PM ET


White House has refused to release a prewar intelligence summary compiled for President Bush on Iraq's banned weapons that Democrats said on Wednesday had given him none of the dissenting views included in more comprehensive intelligence reports.

Senate staffers were allowed to review the one-page presidential summary of the October 2002 National Intelligence Estimate on Iraqi weapons programs, but Democrats said the document should be declassified and publicly released.

The White House responded with a complaint that some Democrats were now playing politics with the issue even though the document had been made available as part of the Senate intelligence panel's review.


Ah, let it go.  It is far too late now to matter.  We had our war and what’s done is done.


Copyright © 2003, 2004, 2005, 2006 - Alan M. Pavlik
The inclusion of any text from others is quotation
for the purpose of illustration and commentary,
as permitted by the fair use doctrine of U.S. copyright law. 
See the Details page for the relevant citation.

This issue updated and published on...

Paris readers add nine hours....