Mark Steyn

No flies on Bush

Mark Steyn says the President’s anti-terrorist strategy is working, and that he is all but certain to be re-elected

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Mark Steyn says the President’s anti-terrorist strategy is working, and that he is all but certain to be re-elected

New Hampshire

How do you feel about uranium from Niger? I was on a radio show the other day and some anti-war campaigner ...hang on, I should explain for visitors from Planet Zongo that, since the war in Iraq ended, the anti-war movement has massively expanded its operations. In advanced Western democracies, just because the war has stopped is no reason for the ‘Stop the War’ movement to stop. In Washington the other day, the Iranian exiles demonstrating for the end of the Ayatollahs were greeted by a bunch of trust-fund lefties bearing placards saying ‘Hands Off Iran’. But it seems likely this was a spelling error. The anti-war movement is still having way too much fun with Iraq to be in any hurry to move on to Iran.

Anyway, the other day for the umpteenth time in the last week some anti-war type demanded to know how I felt about uranium in Niger. Well, I have no strong views about it. I would not number it with raindrops on roses and whiskers on kittens among my favourite things. But then I never said I did. And neither did George W. Bush, despite the best efforts of the anti-war crowd to assert that he led us into an ‘illegitimate war’ over uranium in Niger. ‘Bush Lied Over Niger Uranium Claims!!!’, as a good couple of dozen emails a day scream from my in-box.

I wrote a gazillion pieces urging war with Iraq, and never found the time to let the word Niger pass my lips. And, if it had passed, my lips would have said ‘Ny-juh’ and not ‘Nee-zhaire’. But here’s what the President had to say, when he ‘LIED OVER NIGER URANIUM CLAIMS!!!!!!!!!!!’ back in the State of the Union address in January: ‘The British government has learnt that Saddam Hussein recently sought significant quantities of uranium from Africa.’

That’s it: 16 words. Where’s the lie? Though the CIA director George Tenet now says his boys shouldn’t have approved that sentence, Tony Blair is standing by it. The unusual attribution to Her Majesty’s Government might have been because Bush was only mired in all this multilateral justification-shopping as a favour to Blair and his wobbly Cabinet. Or it might have been because of the source: under the rules governing intelligence-sharing, the British were unable to pass the direct evidence on to the Americans because they got it from the French, and the French wouldn’t let them give it to Washington. Niger’s uranium operations are under the supervision of the French Atomic Energy Commission.

But, whether or not that’s true, I repeat: where’s the lie? Why isn’t it merely a good-faith mistake? The anti-war crowd have been wrong on everything, from hundreds of thousands of civilian deaths to environmental catastrophe, from the horrors of the ‘brutal Afghan winter’ — now 22 months behind schedule — to those of the brutal Iraqi summer, which George Galloway was still trying to flog in the Guardian this week: ‘The US and British armies have entered the gates of hell. Soon it will be 100 degrees at midnight in Baghdad, but there will be no respite from the need for full body armour.’ Really? The average overnight low in July (Baghdad’s hottest month) is 77. On Monday night, after an unusually hot day, by 10.30 p.m. it was already down to a pleasant 83. But I would be reluctant to send out email alerts shrieking GALLOWAY LYING OVER IRAQI WEATHER CLAIMS!!!! Could be just an honest mistake.

Nonetheless, the Democrats smell blood and don’t want to be told that it’s their own. ‘President Bush Deceives the American People’ roars the Democratic National Committee, headed by Clinton stain-mopper Terry McAuliffe. Bush did not wag his finger and say ‘Saddam Hussein did have radioactive relations with that yellowcake, Miss Niger.’ All he did was report that America’s closest ally had asserted something which it continues to assert to this day.

Intelligence is a hit-and-miss business. In 1998, when Bill Clinton launched mid-Monica cruise-missile attacks on Afghanistan and the Sudan, he hit a Khartoum aspirin factory and missed Osama bin Laden. The claims that the aspirin factory was producing nerve gas and was an al-Qa’eda front proved to be untrue. Does that mean Clinton lied to us? I mean, apart from about Gennifer, Monica, and which part of the party of the first part’s enumerated parts came into contact with part of the party of the second part’s enumerated parts. Or was it just that the intelligence was lousy? The intel bureaucracy got the Sudanese aspirin factory wrong, failed to spot 9/11 coming, and insisted it was impossible for any American to penetrate bin Laden’s network, only to have Johnnie bin Joss-Stick from hippy-dippy Marin County on a self-discovery jaunt round the region stroll into the cave and be sharing the executive latrine with the A-list jihadi within 20 minutes.

So, if you’re the President and the same intelligence bureaucrats who got all the above wrong say the Brits are way off the mark, there’s nothing going on with Saddam and Africa, what do you do? Do you say, ‘Hey, even a stopped clock is right twice a day’? Or do you make the reasonable assumption that, given what you’ve learnt about the state of your humint (human intelligence) in the CIA, is it likely they’ve got much of a clue about what’s going on in French Africa? Isn’t this one of those deals where the Brits and the shifty French are more plugged in?

But here’s a much more pertinent question than whether BUSH LIED!!!!!!!!!!!!!: how loopy are the Democrats? One reason why the President, in defiance of last week’s Spectator, is all but certain to win re-election is the descent into madness of his opponents. They’ve let post-impeachment, post-chad-dangling bitterness unhinge them to the point where, given a choice between investigating the intelligence lapses that led to 9/11 and the intelligence lapses that led to a victorious war in Iraq, they stampede for the latter. Iraq was a brilliant campaign fought with minimal casualties, 11 September was a humiliating failure by government to fulfill its primary role of national defence. But Democrats who complained that Bush was too slow to act on doubtful intelligence re 9/11 now profess to be horrified that he was too quick to act on doubtful intelligence re Iraq. This is not a serious party.

A canny Democrat would hammer Bush for wanting to tie the American people down in useless ‘anti-terror’ regulations while letting the pen-pushers carry on with business as usual. Thus, my neighbour Scott, who has a small maple-syrup business, has been advised by the Feds to fence his property to make the sap lines from his trees to the sugar shack less vulnerable to sabotage from anthrax-wielding terrorists. Conversely, from CBS News:

‘Because she is fluent in Turkish and other Middle Eastern languages, Edmonds, a Turkish–American, was hired by the FBI soon after 11 Sept. and given top-secret security clearance to translate some of the reams of documents seized by FBI agents who, for the past year, have been rounding up suspected terrorists across the United States and abroad.

‘Edmonds says that to her amazement, from the day she started the job, she was told repeatedly by one of her supervisors that there was no urgency — that she should take longer to translate documents so that the department would appear overworked and understaffed. That way, it would receive a larger budget for the next year.’

Instead, Democrats are taking the side of the pen-pushers. Who knows what really happened in Africa? Maybe the CIA guy in Niamey (assuming they have one) filed a report on uranium in Niger and back at head office the assistant deputy pa per-shuffler looked at it upside-down and said, ‘There’s something here about Saddam getting nigerium from Uranus,’ and the deputy assistant paper shuffler said, ‘Jeez, we need to go into full ass-covering mode.’ Either way, you could ask a million folks and never find one whose view on the war was determined by anything to do with Niger, which, insofar as anybody’s ever heard of it, is mostly assumed to be either an abbreviation of Nigeria or a breakaway republic thereof, leaving the rump statelet of Ia to go it alone. But Democratic candidates have somehow been persuaded that it’s in their interest to pretend that the entire case for war rested on one footnote: ‘It’s beginning to sound a little like Watergate,’ says Howard Dean. What did the President not know and when did he not know it? Struggling to keep up, John Kerry has said that Bush ‘misled every one of us’, even though the Senator himself has been warning about Saddam’s weapons for years and voted in favour of the Iraq war months before the State of the Union or Colin Powell’s UN presentations or anything else.

The trouble with all this bleating about how you feel ‘misled’ is that you sound not like a putative commander-in-chief but like an Arkansas state employee in Bill Clinton’s motel room. The other day, speaking about Iraq, the President said, ‘There are some who feel that the conditions are such that they can attack us there. My answer is, bring them on. We’ve got the force necessary to deal with the security situation.’

Bring ’em on? Oh, noooooooo, wailed the Dems, we can’t have that kind of provocative talk. John Kerry said it was ‘unwise’ and ‘unworthy of the office’. Dick Gephardt said he’d had ‘enough of the phoney, macho rhetoric’.

The rhetoric may be macho, but it isn’t necessarily phoney. Indeed, its authenticity is what strikes a chord with the American people. In these pages in November 2001, I noted various California commuters’ reactions to the governor’s announcement that terrorists were planning to blow up the state’s major bridges. The TV cameras positioned themselves at the Golden Gate Bridge to measure the downturn in traffic, only to be confronted by drivers yelling, ‘Come and get me, Osama!’ More to the point, Bush’s bring-’em-on is not just macho swagger, but the core of the strategy. My distinguished former colleague, the dean of Canadian columnists David Warren, brilliantly characterised what’s going on in Iraq as ‘carefully hung flypaper’. In other words, the US occupation of Iraq is bringing Saudis and other Islamonutters out of the surrounding swamps — and that’s a good thing. If they’re really so eager to strike at the Great Satan, better they attack its soldiers in Iraq than its commuters on the Golden Gate Bridge.

And, whaddayaknow, they’re falling for it. On al-Arabiya TV in Dubai, an al-Qa’eda affiliate insisted they, and not Saddam, were behind the attacks in Iraq. ‘I swear by God no one from his followers carried out any jihad operations like he claims,’ chuntered the spokesterrorist. ‘They are a result of our brothers in jihad.’ Plenty of room for both on that flypaper, boys.

If Democrats are still so consumed by chad fever that they don’t get the basic soundness and success of this strategy, they’re heading for a bad fall in the election — and not just at the presidential level. Last year, Dick Morris suggested Bush was another Churchill — i.e., a loser. When the war was over, the voters would dump him. Instead, he’s doing a passable impression of being Winston abroad and Clement Attlee at home, taking America a little further down the slippery slope to socialised health care with a ghastly new universal prescription-drugs entitlement for seniors. It boils down to a massive transfer of wealth from pimply teenage burger flippers to Brooke Astor and Gloria Vanderbilt, but the President’s advisers justify it as ‘neutralising’ Democratic issues, and in crude party terms they may be right. Meanwhile, it’s Tony Blair who’s looking more like Churchill in ’45.

But tarring Bush as a liar won’t make him a loser. Step back and look at the two years since 11 September. In 2001, the Islamists killed thousands of Westerners in New York and Washington. In 2002, they killed hundreds of Westerners, but not in the West itself, only in jurisdictions like Bali. In 2003, they killed dozens — not Westerners, but their co-religionists in Morocco and Saudi Arabia. The Bush cordon sanitaire has been drawn tighter and tighter. Meanwhile, the allegedly explosive Arab street has been quieter than Acacia Gardens in Pinner on a Wednesday afternoon, and I wouldn’t bet that blowing up fellow Muslims and destroying the Moroccan tourist industry and Saudi investment will do anything for the recruitment drive. All of this could be set back by a massive terrorist attack on the US mainland, and if John Kerry is banking on disaster, that at least has a certain sick logic about it. But if he genuinely believes that Bush’s war is as disastrous as he says, he’s flipped, and the Dems will wind up as helplessly stuck to that flypaper as al-Qa’eda. Bush is doing what the lefties wanted: he’s addressing the ‘root causes’ — by returning the cause to its roots, and fixing it at source.