Sean Penn Plus Iraq War Plus Hollywood

Hollywood "history"

Daily Caller on the Sean Penn rewrite of recent history:

It is an equation that is as certain as two plus two equals four: Sean Penn + Iraq War
+ Hollywood movie = something less than the truth.

And so it is with director Doug Liman’s “Fair Game,” starring Penn and released last Friday, despite Liman’s contention that he made strenuous efforts to depict only those claims he could back up. “I exercised the kind of restraint you don’t normally see from a Hollywood filmmaker,” Liman told The Daily Caller in an interview Monday. “I stuck to the facts.”…

MOVIE MYTH #3: The 16 words about uranium from Africa in Bush’s State of the Union speech were a lie, and it was well known to be a lie because of Joe Wilson’s trip to Niger.

One of the main turning points in the movie is when Wilson is sitting at an airport bar listening to the State of the Union when he hears Bush utter these 16 words: “The British government has learned that Saddam Hussein recently sought significant quantities of uranium from Africa.”

He discovers later that when referencing Africa, Bush was indeed referring to Niger specifically. This sets Wilson, who suggests his report to the CIA definitively debunked the Iraq-Niger claim, off. The ultimate culmination of his rage is him penning his op-ed in the New York Times in July 2003.

There is a minefield full of problems with all of this. For starters, Bush’s statement was technically accurate. British intelligence was suggesting at the time that Iraq was trying to get uranium from Niger. After a lengthy investigation, in 2004, the British government
would issue the Butler Report on pre-war intelligence about Iraqi WMD. On Bush’s State of the Union claim, it said, “we conclude also that the statement in President Bush’s State of the Union Address of 28 January 2003 … was well-founded.”

What’s more, Joe Wilson’s contention that he definitively disproved the possibility that Iraq purchased uranium from Niger is categorically false — at least the CIA didn’t take it that way at all. The bipartisan U.S. Senate report looking into intelligence failures surrounding Iraq stated that while the intelligence report regarding Wilson’s trip showed the difficulty of Niger selling uranium to rogue countries, it “did not refute the possibility that Iraq had approached Niger to purchase uranium.” In fact, the report goes on to say, that the most important information gleaned from Wilson’s trip to Niger was “that the Nigerian officials admitted that the Iraqi delegation had traveled there in 1999, and the Nigerian prime minister believed the Iraqis were interested in purchasing uranium …”

The Senate report ultimately concluded, “The report on the former ambassador’s trip to Niger, disseminated in March 2002, did not change any analysts’ assessments of the Iraq-Niger uranium deal. For most analysts, the information in the report lent more credibility to the original Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) reports on the uranium deal,” though the report does note that “State Department Bureau of Intelligence and Research (INR) analysts believed that the report supported their assessment that Niger was unlikely to be willing or able to sell uranium to Iraq.”

Overall, Wilson’s trip, according to the report, was mainly viewed as a non-event — intelligence community “analysts had a fairly consistent response to the intelligence report based on the former ambassador’s trip in that no one believed it added a great deal of new information to the Iraq-Niger uranium story,” the Senate report reads. What’s more, Wilson’s trip was viewed as so inconsequential that the Senate report says that the “CIA’s briefer did not brief the vice president on the report, despite the vice president’s previous questions about the issue.”

The bipartisan Senate report also discovered that Wilson was telling the press things that he couldn’t possibly have known about. Wilson was the source in a Washington Post article that said documents related to the supposed Niger uranium sale to Iraq were forged because “the dates were wrong and the names were wrong.” Except, as the Senate report noted, Wilson “had never seen the CIA reports and had no knowledge of what names and dates were in the reports.” Wilson told the Senate committee that he may have “misspoken.”

Now, it is true the CIA later concluded that the 16 words probably should not have been included in the president’s State of the Union address. But as the Senate report notes, “At the time the president delivered the State of the Union address, no one in the IC [intelligence community] had asked anyone in the White House to remove the sentence from the speech.” It further noted that “CIA Iraq nuclear analysts and the director of WINPAC told committee staff that at the time of the State of the Union, they still believed that Iraq was probably seeking uranium from Africa, and they continued to hold that belief until the IAEA reported that the documents were forgeries.”

In other words, Bush’s 16 words are hardly an example of the Bush administration’s perfidy in supposedly pushing false claims about Iraq on the American public in order to justify war. Like much of the intelligence given to the Bush administration before the war, the intelligence community simply got it wrong…

It’s a relatively long article but worthwhile; nevertheless, the movie is certain to be taken as gospel by the religious left.

And World Affairs Journal reviews:

…The movie conforms to a pure and simple Hollywood story line complete with hero (Wilson), villain (Libby), and innocent, distressed damsel (Plame). That story line is gospel for the Left. A corollary story line is gospel for the Right: that Libby took the fall for Cheney.

Both are wrong. The fundamental problem is that Hollywood’s narrative needs and political leanings often conflict with reality. Hollywood needs a straightforward story line. Washington is more complicated. The usual explanation for bad outcomes inside the Beltway is not evil or corruption but incompetence or poor judgment. And there are rarely heroes.

Wilson, for example, is a misguided missile, not a courageous whistleblower, and Plame was hardly innocent collateral damage in a war of words. Whatever one thinks about the Iraq policy he helped formulate, Libby had nothing to do with the leak. A review of grand jury and trial transcripts shows he told both the grand jury and FBI that Cheney had told him about Plame’s CIA links, so he did not cover or take the fall for his former boss. But the conventional wisdom is deeply ingrained in the public psyche. In fact, when I bought Plame’s autobiography recently, the cashier at Borders called the White House behavior treasonous. That’s why it’s time to take a fresh look at the Plame affair and set the record straight.

Joe Wilson had gone to Niger in 2002 at the request of the CIA after Cheney had asked the agency about reports that Iraq bought yellowcake from Niger. According to a declassified CIA memo, Wilson found that Iraq had sent a commercial delegation to Niger to expand trade and that the only Niger export Iraq would care about was yellowcake. So there was an attempt, but it proved fruitless. In his 2003 State of Union address, Bush said the British had reported an effort by Iraq to buy “significant quantities of uranium” in Africa. In his July 6, 2003, Times op-ed, Wilson suggested that that statement was evidence the administration was manipulating intelligence to push the war. But Bush said only that the British reported that Iraq “sought” to purchase yellowcake, which was precisely what Wilson had found and reported, according to the CIA. Still, the op-ed caused a furor, and the White House quickly backed off the statements about Iraqi efforts.

Since it is the premise of the film, it’s worth asking: Did the Bush administration distort intelligence to justify the invasion of Iraq, as Wilson claimed?

A year after Wilson’s op-ed appeared, on July 9, 2004, the Senate Intelligence Committee issued a report that found that the intelligence available at the time Bush delivered his speech supported what Bush said. A month later, on August 23, 2004, the University of Pennsylvania’s nonpartisan voter watchdog,, concluded: “The famous ‘16 words’ in President Bush’s Jan. 28, 2003 State of the Union address turn out to have a basis in fact after all.” The organization noted that: “Ironically, former Ambassador Joseph Wilson, who later called Bush’s 16 words a ‘lie,’ supplied information that the Central Intelligence Agency took as confirmation that Iraq may indeed have been seeking uranium from Niger.” The bipartisan Robb-Silberman Commission reached the same conclusion. Yet, as recently as October 19 at a showing of Fair Game at the AFI Silver Theatre and Cultural Center in Silver Spring, Md., Wilson continued to argue that what Bush said in his speech was “bullshit” and that Bush had “skewed facts for political reasons.” The anti-Bush audience ate it up. But it sure looks as if Wilson is doing precisely what he accused Bush of doing.

Valerie Plame says in her memoir that she read the report that the CIA wrote immediately after debriefing Wilson on his trip and also read his column before it was published. She added that she thought the column was accurate. She said the report was only a few pages long. No one, let alone a professional intelligence officer, could have missed the part about Iraq trying to buy yellowcake. She had to know the column was wrong, but evidently said nothing. So she was anything but an innocent bystander as her husband created a political firestorm.

The movie portrays Lewis “Scooter” Libby as the mastermind behind the leak that outed Plame and suggests the move was part of a plot to smear Wilson. But columnist Robert Novak, who broke the story about Plame’s CIA link, testified at Libby’s trial that Libby did not tell him about Plame. Nor did the prosecution ever claim that Libby leaked to Novak. Novak testified that former Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage — no ally of Libby and Cheney — was the source. Armitage apparently leaked Plame’s CIA job as an offhand bit of gossip at the end of an interview. Armitage was not part of any White House plot to out Plame. CIA spokesman Bill Harlow and White House advisor Karl Rove later confirmed for Novak that Plame worked for CIA —again, no connection to Libby. To show how far the movie diverges from reality, Armitage — who should have been a key character — isn’t even in the film, except for a note at the end that mentions his role…

Again the entire article is worthwhile reading, especially the part about the prosecution of “Scooter” Libby.

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  • thai seo  On November 10, 2010 at 9:00 pm

    nice a day Ron James , i read your blog , be a nice blog and useful. Best for everyone. bulk Politics and Politics content. i going to often to read and review your blog.

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