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The Definition Of 'Imminent' 
Published: Jan 30 2004
New York-based Russ Baker is an award-winning journalist who covers politics and media.

Have you noticed? Team Bush is in training for the upcoming political Olympics. In recent days, we've seen vigorous demonstrations of hedging, ducking and furious backpedaling. Plus that most esoteric of sports: hair splitting.

At issue, of course, is the Bush administration's attempt to escape responsibility for starting a war over something that did not exist. Namely, the vast stores of weapons of mass destruction that the White House claimed Saddam Hussein had and was supposedly in imminent danger of using.

Instead of admitting that the pretext for war was an overhyped mass of un-intelligence, White House spokesman Scott McClellan has been ordered to celebrate minute distinctions, telling journalists Jan. 27 that it was the media—not the administration—that employed the word 'imminent.' "We used 'grave and gathering' threat," McClellan said, apparently managing not to crack a smile.

A quick search of articles does show that it was the media, not the administration, which applied "imminent" to the danger allegedly posed by Saddam's Iraq. But, as Reuters, The New York Times and a number of other outfits have discovered, while Bush never literally called Iraq an "imminent" threat, he did label the situation "urgent." Vice President Dick Cheney defined it as "mortal" and Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld assured us it was "immediate."

That last remark came during Rumsfeld's testimony before Congress in September, 2002. Here it is in full context: "No terrorist state poses a greater or more immediate threat to the security of our people and the stability of the world than the regime of Saddam Hussein in Iraq."

Bush himself, in an Oct. 7, 2002 televised speech to the nation, likened the standoff with Iraq to the 1962 Cuban missile crisis—when nuclear-capable Russian missiles were identified on Soviet ships bound for Castro's Cuba—and warned that Saddam Hussein "could decide on any given day to provide a biological or chemical weapon to a terrorist group or individual terrorists" like the Al Qaeda network.

Meanwhile, if the White House didn't itself introduce "imminent" into the lexicon of war-boosting, it certainly didn't mind hearing it used. On Jan. 26, 2003, when a CNN reporter asked, "Is he [Saddam Hussein] an imminent threat to U.S. interests, either in that part of the world or to Americans right here at home?" White House Communications Director Dan Bartlett answered: "Well, of course he is."

Even after the conflict, this imminence continued to be acceptable. On May 7, 2003, a reporter posed this question: "We went to war, didn't we, to find these [WMD]—because we said that these weapons were a direct and imminent threat to the United States? Isn't that true?" And White House spokesperson Ari Fleischer responded: "Absolutely. One of the reasons that we went to war was because of their possession of weapons of mass destruction. And nothing has changed on that front at all."

Well of course, nothing has changed. Only the scale of the deception has grown. Today, the examples of doublespeak and duplicity are so numerous that the only thing more outrageous than the administration's campaign to deny reality is the failure of the American people to be more outraged at being treated like chumps.

In a phenomenon inadequately explored by social investigators but confirmed by polls, a big chunk of the American public has apparently concluded that politicians may say absolutely anything, no matter how unfounded, and still count on their votes.

Whatever happened to Harry Truman's brand of the-buck-stops-here straight talking? Isn't it time for the media to hold our quick-on-the-trigger leaders to a higher standard of accountability than "The CIA got it wrong"? When 9/11 happened on the Bush administration's watch, the nation rallied round the president's team, rather than ask the tough questions about who was to blame for the intelligence debacle.

Now that we know a second catastrophic failure of intelligence has occurred on their watch, are we really supposed to give Bush and his advisers another bye? With American soldiers dying in Iraq and Team Bush doing everything in its power to hinder the Kean Commission's 9/11 inquiry, surely this is the time for demanding that the decision makers accept full responsibility for their bungled decision making—if only to assure us that yet another disaster is not imminent.


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