Continuing a troubling pattern of unsupported claims, Josh Marshall and his burgeoning media empire are falsely accusing GOP presidential candidate Fred Thompson of suggesting Iraq had WMD at the time of the US invasion.
In an October 1 post on his main blog, Talking Points Memo, Marshall touted a new post on TPM Election Central:
Thompson on Saddam Hussein: Good we got him when we did since he had WMD, had an active nuclear program and was about to become "new dictator of that entire region."
The clear implication of Marshall's paraphrase "[g]ood we got him when we did since he had WMD, had an active nuclear program" is that Thompson claimed Saddam had WMD and an active nuclear program when the US invaded.
However, the post he was promoting, which was written by Eric Kleefeld, does not support this claim. In fact, it shows that both Marshall and Kleefeld misconstrued Thompson's words, rephrasing the candidate's statement that Iraq "had had" WMD and a nuclear program in the past to suggest that Thompson claimed Iraq "had" WMD and a nuclear program at the time of the invasion:
Thompson: Saddam "Clearly" Had WMD And A Nuke Program
By Eric Kleefeld - October 1, 2007, 9:30PM
During a campaign stop in Iowa today, Fred Thompson unambiguously stood by the premise of the Iraq War — and went so far as to say Saddam Hussein "clearly" had weapons of mass destruction and a nuclear program that posed a threat.
"Saddam Hussein, today, had we not gone in, would be sitting on this power keg and be in control of the whole thing," Thompson said. "He would have been the new dictator of that entire region in my estimation. He is — was — a dangerous irrational man who, by this time, would have been well on his way to having the nuclear capability himself."
Thompson also seemed to say that the failure to find WMD was simply a matter of particulars, of where and when America has looked.
"We can't forget the fact that although at a particular point in time we never found any WMD down there, he clearly had had WMD," he said. "He clearly had had the beginnings of a nuclear program, and in my estimation his intent never did change."
This distortion-by-paraphrase is reminiscent of the way that Al Gore's (accurate) statement that he "took the initiative in creating the Internet" was twisted into the phony claim that Gore said he "invented the Internet."
I've written extensively on misperceptions about weapons of mass destruction at Spinsanity, in All the President's Spin, on this blog, and in ongoing academic research. There is a serious problem with politicians making statements that encourage these false beliefs. However, while Thompson's claims that Saddam would be "new dictator of that entire region" and that he "would have been well on his way to having the nuclear capability himself" by now are implausible, Thompson did not claim Saddam had WMD and a nuclear program at the time of the invasion, as Marshall and Kleefeld suggest. (Ironically, their work is actually fostering a misperception about a misperception.)
Most importantly, there's no excuse for mischaracterizing Thompson's words, just as there's no excuse for suggesting that former Ohio Secretary of State Ken Blackwell helped steal the 2004 presidential election, asserting that the White House ordered Sen. Pat Roberts to investigate special prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald, claiming that the White House "engineered" the timing of the verdict in Saddam Hussein's trial, stating that the President was "a party to the same underlying crime" in the Scooter Libby case, or writing that "the president was involved [in the Plame scandal] from day one" and "was always in favor of doing it [outing Valerie Plame]" without sufficient supporting evidence. Marshall and his team know better.