Bursting Benghazi’s Bubble–Only to Boost Bush

bush_sotu-2003-273x300There are plenty of people who don’t see the Benghazi story as being a big scandal–Barack Obama, for one, but also various writers and pundits like the New York Times‘ David Brooks (5/14/13) and Richard Cohen of the Washington Post (5/14/13).

But one of Cohen’s Post colleagues doesn’t think it’s a scandal either–just like Bush’s Iraq lies weren’t much of a scandal either.

Come again?

Yes, that seems to be what Jackson Diehl is saying in his May 13 column. Benghazi isn’t the scandal that Obama’s critics make it out to be, he writes, because the “talking points” that are the center of so much of the controversy were an attempt to explain, in close to real time, what various government officials knew about the attacks. They may have been incomplete, or inaccurate, but there is no sense that there was an effort to twist intelligence or conceal some wrongdoing.

Fine. But the real point of Diehl’s column is to protect the legacy of the Bush White House’s Iraq claims. He zeroes in on the controversy over George W. Bush’s famous claim, in his 2003 State of the Union address,  that Iraq was attempting to revive its nuclear weapons program by importing uranium from Africa.  If you recall this “16 words” scandal, Diehl writes, “you’ve probably been inside the Beltway too long, literally or figuratively.”

That Bush claim was challenged publicly by former U.S. Ambassador Joe Wilson (New York Times, 7/6/03), who had actually been involved in investigating these claims about uranium from Niger, and found nothing to the story. He came out and said so; the White House seemed to agree right after Wilson went public (New York Times, 7/8/03).  As FAIR pointed out (7/18/03), this was the tip of the iceberg, one of many White House lies and exaggerations that should have been investigated. 

Jackson Diehl

Jackson Diehl

So how is manipulating intelligence to invade another country just like Benghazi? I have no idea, but Diehl sees some kind of parallel: “A decade later, we have the right’s answer to Joe Wilson: Benghazi.”

The ensuing scandal that so troubled Diehl had to do with the White House efforts to push back against Wilson, which included outing his wife Valerie Plame, who was working undercover for the CIA.  So to Diehl, the real problem in all of this was Joe Wilson:  “Most of what Wilson said was later proved to be grossly exaggerated, or simply false.”

This has actually be the line on Wilson from the Post editorial page all along–that somehow Wilson was wrong to suggest that Bush was misreading the uranium intelligence, since, as the Post editorial page (4/9/06) argued, Wilson’s “report supported the conclusion that Iraq had sought uranium.” So for the Post, and Diehl, what Wilson reported actually boosted Bush’s claims about Iraq–claims that even the Bush administration admitted were wrong.

This sounds nonsensical because it is. Wilson’s public assessment of the Niger intelligence was totally in line with what he reported back from his own investigation, and only underscored the fact that many intelligence analysts believed that there was no evidence for Bush to make these uranium claims (Extra!, 5/06).  All these years later, Diehl still seems to want to argue that the Bush White House was right.

To Diehl, the reaction to Bush’s lies from “Democrats and partisan media” was the real problem, which led to “years to conspiracy-spinning.” Diehl writes:

The common thread here is not just the climate of intense partisanship in which media and politicians from the left dismiss what the right insists is a scandal of historic proportions–or vice-versa. It is the diversion of what should be serious, bipartisan discussion about government failings.

And he adds:

Wilson did not prompt a serious discussion of why U.S. intelligence about Iraq was wrong; instead, the debate was about those 16 words, whether Wilson was truthful in saying he had debunked them before they were spoken, and whether he and his wife were the victims of a vendetta.

The fact that the Wilson story did not prompt more serious investigation into the array of misjudgments, exaggerations and lies about Iraq is the media’s fault–and one can point a finger directly at Diehl’s paper, which spent so much time arguing that the real liar in all of this was Joe Wilson.

About Peter Hart

Activism Director and and Co-producer of CounterSpinPeter Hart is the activism director at FAIR. He writes for FAIR's magazine Extra! and is also a co-host and producer of FAIR's syndicated radio show CounterSpin. He is the author of The Oh Really? Factor: Unspinning Fox News Channel's Bill O'Reilly (Seven Stories Press, 2003). Hart has been interviewed by a number of media outlets, including NBC Nightly News, Fox News Channel's O'Reilly Factor, the Los Angeles Times, Newsday and the Associated Press. He has also appeared on Showtime and in the movie Outfoxed. Follow Peter on Twitter at @peterfhart.