"When you're in one, stop digging."Let me say up front... Christopher Hitchens is an amazingly accomplished writer and an investigative journalists with incredible connections around the globe. To this day I keep a copy of Love, Poverty and War within arm's reach on my desk at all times. At one time, I definitely put him on the same lofty shelf with Seymour Hersh, and when he speaks, you'd still be wise to pay attention. Unfortunately, at some point in recent years, Hitchens signed on with the now crumbling neoconservative school of thought in some areas relating to foreign policy. And having been caught with their pants down, so to speak, on the failed theory of preemptive war, he now seems to be resorting to the tactic being embraced by so many on the embattled Right wing... that is to say, looking to find "any shred" (as the President famously said to Richard Clarke shortly after 9/11 when seeking some thread to tie Saddam to the attacks) which could justify the invasion of Iraq.
In yet another article in Slate this week, (as a follow-up to his initial "expose" last week) Hitchens puts forth the claim, once again, that Iraq was purchasing, or attempting to purchase, uranium from Niger in the nineties. Wow... that's a pretty serious claim and it would definitely undermine our position that invading Iraq was a mistake because Saddam wasn't really working on a viable nuclear weapons program. Hitchens abuses Joe Wilson for either not knowing or failing to point out that Wissam al-Zahawie went to Niger in February of 1999.
Nobody appears to dispute what I wrote in last week's Slate to the effect that in February 1999, Saddam Hussein dispatched his former envoy to the International Atomic Energy Agency, and former delegate to non-proliferation conferences at the United Nations, to Niger. Wissam al-Zahawie was, at the time of his visit, the accredited ambassador of Iraq to the Vatican: a more senior post than it may sound, given that the Vatican was almost the only full European embassy that Iraq then possessed. And nobody has proposed an answer to my question: Given the fact that Niger is synonymous with uranium (and was Iraq's source of "yellowcake" in 1981), and given that Zahawie had been Iraq's main man in nuclear diplomacy, what innocent explanation can be found for his trip?Again, this could be blockbuster stuff. But while I read the article and nervously awaited the details which would prove me wrong on this, I finished it and saw myself wandering away like the hungry dog who found the cupboard bare. You see, this was the trip which probably prompted the creation of the forged Niger uranium documents (which Hitchens, to his credit, freely admits were bad forgeries in the second linked article) which were the source of Bush's claims about Iraq's nuclear weapons programs and Condi Rice's infamous "mushroom cloud" hysteria in the runup to the war.
But the mere fact that the trip by Zahawie to the country of Niger happened is all that Hitchens supplies. He poses the intriguing question in the quoted section above as to what "innocent explanation can be found found" for the trip, which would seem to imply that he's about to reveal a more sinister, actual explanation involving uranium sales. But it doesn't happen. Nothing more is revealed. He only provides the fact that Zahawie was the Ambassador to the Vatican (which, for some reason, he inflates to some position of vast importance in the field of international espionage) and that Zahawie visited the country of Niger. (Incidentally only one of several African nations the Ambassador visited on that trip.)
So where's the beef, as they say, Chris? You've put up a tantalizing prospect of "proving" that Hussein was out there purchasing, or at least attempting to purchase, uranium to make atomic bombs, but then you leave us with nothing... not so much as a second hand source indicating that somebody... anybody... actually saw or heard or read of a specific account saying that Zahawie met with "so and so" and actually talked about purchasing uranium.
This is along the exact same lines as the buffoons at Powerline and Captains Quarters who "revealed" that some Al Qaida operative stayed at a Motel Six in the Kurdish section of Iraq in the late nineties, so that must prove (PROVE!) that Saddam was directly involved in the planning and execution of the 9/11 attacks and had probably been planning to fly one of the planes himself until his publisher called for a re-write of his latest romance novel.
It's a sad day when Christopher Hitchens stoops to these levels. Digging yourself deeper into a hole to try to uncover "any shred" of "evidence" to support a failed accusation is well below Hitchens' traditional standards.