Monday, April 30, 2007

The Rice Mendacity Quaver

I can always tell when Dr. Condi Rice knows there is an odor of mendacity surrounding the remarks she is about to make. She gets a little quaver in her voice, an edge to it, that is probably out of her control. Perhaps we should give her credit for being basically honest, and since she is certainly intelligent enough to understand the word trick she is trying to pull off, her subconscious gives her away.
(An article today about origins of language makes a point that we have much less control over non-verbal things than of speech itself.)

As has been common for the past 6 years, statements were made this weekend that provide plausible deniability as to outright prevarication while being constructed and used in a way that leads the listener to a conclusion that is not actually supported by the statement. Consider the following from the official transcript from the Secretary of State of Dr. Rice's interview this weekend about claims made by George Tenet and others.

Context: Wolf Blitzer stated
Here's what George Tenet writes in this new book, At the Center of a Storm: "Those involved in (inaudible) the Bush Administration that war was inevitable. Richard Haass, the former Director of Policy Planning at the State Department, has said that Condi Rice told him in July of 2002 that 'decisions were made and unless Iraq gave in to all our demands, war was a foregone conclusion.'"
Well, I don't remember that specific conversation, but clearly when the President went to the United Nations Security Council in September and said that if Saddam Hussein does not act, then we will have to act, ...

Which is several months later, but in no way denies the correctness of what Tenet wrote or what Haass says. In fact, Rice is confirming what Tenet wrote, but uses that "well" to get you to think that she is contradicting him. Classic debate trick.

Context, from Wolf Blitzer:
Because you remember Paul O'Neill, the first Treasury Secretary, where he wrote in his first book, The Price of Loyalty with Ron Suskind, and what Ron Suskind later wrote in his own book, The One Percent Solution, that the Bush Administration came in with a mindset to deal with what they called unfinished business with Saddam Hussein.
That is simply not true. The President came in looking at a variety of threats.
and the quavering statement that made all the news sound bites:
But the idea that the President had made up his mind when he came to office that he was going to go to war against Iraq is just flat wrong.

Not relevant even if it is right. The President might have come in looking at a variety of threats and still have had a mindset to deal with Saddam Hussein. Similarly, her last statement does not contradict what a loyal Republican conservative wrote in his book. The "idea" she says is wrong is a straw man of her own construction. Having a "mindset to deal with unfinished business" is not "made up his mind that he was going to war". No one but Rice claimed that this was his goal. Her voice probably cracked at this point because she could smell the odor of mendacity on that straw man.

Context: Wolf Blitzer quotes Tenet on "60 Minutes"

"Part of all this has just been listening to this for almost three years, listening to the Vice President go on Meet the Press on the fifth year of 9/11 and say, well, George Tenet said slam dunk, as if he needed me to say slam dunk to go to war with Iraq, as if he needed me to say that. And you listen to that and they never let it go."
... He's saying that he's been scapegoated, in effect, that he acknowledges he made that comment about slam dunk that the case could be a slam dunk about the weapons of mass destruction, but he says by that time you, the Administration, had already made up your mind to go to war

Well, by that time we were certainly in the process of having brought Saddam Hussein before the international community and demanding that he carry through with his commitments or that there would be action.

In other words, Yes, we had made up our minds long before he said those words, because we now know that "action" equals "invasion".

I certainly don't blame George for the slam dunk comment having the sense that that was the reason we went to war. I think it's a complete misreading of how certainly I read the slam dunk comment.

Here we see Rice agree with the complaint from Tenet, albeit in a totally muddled sentence. She appears to confirm that his "slam dunk" comment was not the reason we went to war and that she did not read his comment at the time as an argument for war. She implicitly confirms his version of the context of his statement being about using WMD to make a strong case for war. I am not alone in this reading of her remarks. CNN says much the same thing, but then does not understand the implications of what they are saying.

Look at the lead from a CNN news story:
Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice on Sunday said the administration did not use former CIA Director George Tenet's "slam dunk" comment as the reason to invade Iraq, disputing his complaints.

CNN has been totally bamboozled. The point that Tenet made was that his "slam dunk" comment was not used as the reason to invade Iraq! She is agreeing with him, not disputing him. His complaint is that his comment was misrepresented by VP Cheney to convey the false impression that his remarks were the reason for the invasion. Rice is disputing Cheney's version of the events, not Tenet's complaint about what Cheney said.

I was asked about this and I was asked did he say slam dunk. I said yes.

Exactly what Tenet complained about. Given a chance to set the record straight, she made a narrowly factual statement that helped convey the false impression that the V.P. had given a factual description of why we went to war.

Yet she can't leave the WMD issue without trying to cover her earlier mendacity on the imminent threat of a mushroom cloud with Iraqi origins.
I said but we all thought that the intelligence case was strong. ... We all thought, including UN inspectors, that Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction.

While we are parsing the carefully parsed, notice that she does not say that the intelligence itself was strong, only that the intelligence case was strong. She just hopes you will think she means that the intelligence was strong when the facts are that it was not. Her focus was (and is) on whether she has the cards in hand to win the debate, not on the validity of what is on those cards.

As to the rest of her remark, remember that the UN inspectors did not think he had nuclear weapons, or any reasonable prospect of getting them in the near term. She is clearly hoping that people will confuse aging stockpiles of nerve gas that could not be used effectively with a nuclear weapon on an ICBM that could reach the US. She is also hoping you will not notice that many members of the US Intelligence community have come forward to make it abundantly clear that hre "we" did not include the analysts within the CIA.

Lest we forget, I'll close with a quotation from an open letter to Tenet, that is also an open letter to Rice and many others:
CIA field operatives produced solid intelligence in September 2002 that stated clearly there was no stockpile of any kind of WMD in Iraq. This intelligence was ignored and later misused.

That letter also contradicts another famous Bush administration talking point:
Although CIA officers learned in late September 2002 from a high-level member of Saddam Hussein's inner circle that Iraq had no past or present contact with Osama bin Laden and that the Iraqi leader considered bin Laden an enemy of the Baghdad regime, you still went before Congress in February 2003 and testified that Iraq did indeed have links to Al Qaeda.

Tyler Drumheller Corrects the Record on a George Tenet memory lapse,
Larry Johnson compares what George Tenet wrote to what he said under oath to Congress.

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