WHY THE URANIUM MATTERS….The fundamental conservative response to Uranium-Gate has been that anti-war partisans are blowing a single sentence out of all proportion. As Condi Rice put it:

It is ludicrous to suggest that the president of the United States went to war on the question of whether Saddam Hussein sought uranium from Africa. This was a part of a very broad case that the president laid out in the State of the Union and other places.

She’s right, of course, but at the same time she’s rather studiously missing the point. The uranium story is important not because it was a linchpin of the administration’s argument for war, but simply because it’s a smoking gun.

In 1987, with Iran/Contra closing in, Ronald Reagan and his advisors were genuinely afraid of the possibility of impeachment. And why not? After all, no one seriously doubts that Reagan knew what was going on. But in the end, John Poindexter took the fall, no smoking gun was ever found, and the Democratic Congress never brought charges.

Flash forward to 1998. Conservatives had been convinced for years that Bill Clinton lied and abused his position relentlessly. But their furious assaults went nowhere until they found a stained dress. Then, despite the fact that sex with an intern was surely the least of all the charges against him, impeachment became a reality.

In both cases, everyone who was paying attention knew what was going on. Both Reagan and Clinton lied about what they did and didn’t know. The only difference was the smoking gun.

Likewise, Bush’s problem is not that a single 16-word sentence of dubious provenance made it into his State of the Union address. His problem is that he promised us that Saddam was connected to al-Qaeda, he promised thousands of liters of chemical and biological weapons, he promised that Saddam had a nuclear bomb program, and he promised that the Iraqis would greet us as liberators. But that wasn’t all. He also asked us to trust him: he couldn’t reveal all his evidence on national TV, but once we invaded Iraq and had unfettered access to the entire country everything would become clear.

But it didn’t. We’ve had control of the country for three months, we’ve had access to millions of pages of Iraqi records, and we’ve captured and interrogated dozens of high ranking officials. And it’s obvious now that there were no WMDs, no bomb programs of any serious nature, and no al-Qaeda connections.

So while the uranium is only a symbol, it’s a powerful one. George Bush says we live in an era of preemptive war, and in such an era ? lacking the plain provocation of an attack ? how else can the citizenry make up its mind except by listening to its leaders? In the end, we went to war because a majority of the population trusted George Bush when he presented his case that Iraq posed an imminent danger to the United States and the world.

Uranium-Gate is a symbol of that misplaced trust. If George Bush’s judgment had been vindicated in Iraq, a single sentence in the State of the Union address wouldn’t matter. But it hasn’t, and he deserves to be held accountable for his poor judgment by everybody who believed him.

And that’s why those 16 words matter.

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