Bill Kristol believes Bush and Co. have lured the Democrats into a trap with this Niger “scandal.” Kristol isn’t exactly renowned for his jokesterism, but his may be at least a bit of hyperbole. Still, whether there was an intentional “trap” set here, Kristol makes a pretty good case some are falling into it.

Why? Not much of a scandal:

It now turns out the CIA had its doubts–though they were less than definitive. It also turns out the British are sticking by their claim. And it remains the case, most important, that the African uranium business, whatever the truth of it, was never more than a single piece of the otherwise voluminous evidence driving allied concern over Saddam and weapons of mass destruction. How important were those “significant quantities of uranium from Africa”? The White House now acknowledges, in retrospect, that the matter didn’t merit mention in the State of the Union.

There’s your “scandal.”

Followed by a lot of over-the-top pronouncements that make the opposition look far worse than the recipient of the vitriol:

. . .Democratic National Committee’s website: There has been “a year-long campaign of deception involving a bogus intelligence report on Iraq’s nuclear program.” And who has directed this deception, for reasons so terrible, apparently, that they cannot be identified? DNC chairman Terry McAuliffe has cracked the conspiracy: “This may be the first time in recent history that a president knowingly misled the American people during the State of the Union address,” he says. And “this was not a mistake. It was no oversight and it was no error.”

What it was instead, according to former governor Howard Dean of Vermont, currently the Democratic party’s leading candidate to replace President Bush in the White House, was a “pattern of distorted intelligence” that raises a real question whether the American people can confidently “retain their trust in their government”–or whether the United States “can retain its credibility as a moral force in the world.”

And the answer to these questions, adds Sen. Ted Kennedy, not to put too fine a point on it, is: no. “It’s a disgrace,” in the Sage of Hyannisport’s expert assessment, that “the case for war seems to have been based on shoddy intelligence, hyped intelligence, and even false intelligence.” There being no other conceivable case for war, so far as Kennedy is concerned, the Bush administration has therefore “undermined America’s prestige and credibility in the world.”

Of course, were all this true–had Bush really sent American soldiers into combat against what he knew to be an imaginary, fabricated threat–then the nation would be ripe for yet another presidential impeachment drama, maybe. Not maybe, says Florida senator Bob Graham, one of Howard Dean’s many rivals in next year’s Democratic primaries: “My opinion is, if the standard that was set by the House of Representatives relative to Bill Clinton is the new standard for impeachment, then this clearly comes within that standard.”


Kristol gets it right here:

God knows the Bush administration is not beyond criticism for either its prewar planning or its execution of postwar reconstruction efforts. And it would be a valuable contribution to our politics if such criticism were mounted by the Democratic party–acting as an intelligent, loyal opposition. But it’s a free country, and if the Democrats prefer instead to act as a pathologically disgruntled lunatic fringe, then it’ll be their problem more than anyone else’s.

Absent some far more compelling evidence that the Bush team ginned up a phony case for war, this isn’t going to play well next November. We still live in a 50-50 country1 politically and Bush is far from reassured of reelection. The economy is in a prolonged slump, we haven’t dealt with the impending Social Security crisis, we’re stretched thin militarily despite an enormous budget, and Iraq is looking less and less successful2 as Americans continue to be killed in piecemeal attacks. But absent some major development that creates an “anybody but Bush” mindset among the electorate, they’re not going to turn the reins over to an extremist. A far smarter tack for the Democrats is to steer a sober, moderate course and attack from the reasonable center-left.

1Not literally, of course. Most Americans are rather apolitical and rather apathetic about both parties, which is normal in systems with two catch-all/big tent parties. We’re probably more like 35-30-35, with 30 in the apathetic middle.
2Personally, I think things are going as well as could be expected, although I’d like to see a bit better job of force protection being done. But it’s not playing as well in the press and could wind up being at best a wash for the president come next November if things aren’t radically stabilized within a few months.

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James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm veteran. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. Kathy K says:

    The middle isn’t apathetic. It’s disgusted with both sides.

    A member of the very secret VCWC (Vast Center Wing Conspiracy)

  2. JSAllison says:

    As a member of the VCWC I say a pox on both their houses, although the Jackass party is doing a fine job living down to their namesake. There is no known cure for the Gingrich Disease.