This much we know:
- Joe Wilson’s credibility: Not so hot, but not totally destroyed.
- Niger Claim, strong version (Iraq got uranium): Dead.*
- Niger Claim, intermediate version (Iraq was likely to get uranium): Dead.
- Niger Claim, weak version (Iraq sought uranium, but couldn’t get it): Not so hot, but not totally destroyed.
- Exposing the identity of a covert CIA operative for partisan purposes: Still illegal.**
We do not know, however, the answer to some very interesting questions.
We know, for example, that some people were forging documents designed to indicate that Iraq had a deal to purchase uranium from Niger and that these people (possibly working with other people) passed this on to Italian military intelligence and, through them, to other western intelligence agencies. It still might turn out to be the case that the underlying claim here was accurate, but there’s no denying that someone was passing forgeries around. But who? And why? And, once these persons are identified, what other things have they done to serve whatever their agenda is? I, for one, would be very interested to know the answers to these questions, and I would think that hawks would also want to know.
The possible motives would seem to be a desire to manipulate the country into invading Iraq, or else a desire to humiliate the Bush administration by getting them to say something that would, in retrospect, look foolish. It seems to me that people of any ideology should be interested in getting to the bottom of these possibilities. Even if you think there were perfectly good reasons for going to war, the existence of some set of malefactors who forged evidence to try and manipulate the country into invading should be regarded by anyone as a serious problem. Clearly, whoever did this did not have the best interests of the USA at heart, but also has the ability to seriously influence the thinking of western intelligence on some rather important issues.
* I distinguish between three different versions of the Niger claim because of my belief that it’s important not only to track the semantic accuracy of various things that various people have said, but the accuracy and relevance of what was implied. Bush’s “sixteen words” only strictly committed him to the weak version of the claim, but he clearly meant to imply that (at least) the intermediate version was true, since otherwise the whole thing is of dubious relevance. For various other statements implying the existence of a one-year time horizon before Iraq went nuclear (see, e.g., the Cincinnati speech) to make sense, you would have to believe the strong claim even though no one actually seems to have gone out and said that that’s what happened.
** Indeed, this is illegal for any purpose, but bringing out the partisan nature of the misconduct seems particularly relevant as Bush’s apologists have lately taken to arguing that the need to discredit Wilson is a justification (rather than, say, a motive) for the crime.