By definition, every word the President of the United States says in a public forum is important. There is no more important public forum than a presidential speech to the nation. Particularly the State of the Union address; it is specifically stated in the Constitution that the President is to report to a joint session of Congress on an annual basis on the "state of the union".
Likewise, there is no greater threat to the well being and safety of humanity than the proliferation of nuclear weapons. Nor is there a more weighty responsibility placed upon the Chief Executive and the Congress than to declare war against a foreign state. Taking all this into account; any effort to dismiss Mr Bush's reference, during the SOTU address this past January, to the attempted purchase by Iraq of uranium ore as "16 words that don't mean all that much", is utter nonsense.
In reality this rogue sentence may be the most politically damaging this President has ever spoken. It just might be the loose end that ends up unraveling the whole twisted, tangled web that has been woven over the past 18 months by those to whom war with Iraq reached the intensity of a search for the holy grail.
While it is quite entertaining witnessing the crash back to earth of those who have heretofore been flying far above the range of a subservient media; it is difficult to determine watching, listening and reading their contorted, strained and self contradictory explanations as to whether the ones coming from within administration, or those emanating from their rabid apologists outside of government, are the more preposterous. An objective observer would most likely call it a draw.
As this is being written, the verbal sparring over who is responsible for this public relations implosion has taken on a whole new level of acrimony. It was only a few days ago that the President declared that the story had run its course after CIA Director George Tenet had stepped up and admitted he should have seen to it that the White House delete the tainted information from the address. Unfortunately for Team Bush, Mr. Tenet has not gone quietly into the night. Word has leaked out of the Senate Intelligence Committee that the Director has testified that a Mr Robert Joseph, a member of the National Security Council -- an Executive branch group that is headed by Condaleeza Rice -- insisted upon the inclusion of the African uranium claim, even though, according to Mr Tenet, the CIA repeatedly told him that the information could not be validated. Among other potentially far reaching ramifications; this is an assertion that places Ms Rice's previous statements on the subject in serious doubt.
And to even further muddy the waters; now that British Prime Minister Blair has, this time directly in front of American cameras and pens, once again stated that he stands behind the veracity of the British intelligence service's report of Iraqi attempts to buy uranium: does this mean Dr Rice and Donald Rumsfeld, and all the other members of the administration who finally admitted that the information was faulty, -- after six months of claiming it was rock solid -- will have to change their story again?
The President, as is his wont, tried to tough it out by -- The best line of the story so far has been when Hardball host Chris Matthew's asked one of his guests if Mr Bush was the Presidential equivalent of Ted Baxter: the hapless news anchor of the Mary Tyler Moore show who would read anything put in front of him -- by telling us for the 5000th time that Saddam Hussein was an evil man.
The manner in which the President has handled this matter to this point has been very damaging to his image. Considering that he has, from the earliest days of his campaign for the White House, framed himself not only as a straight shooter but as a man who knew the meaning of responsibility and was ready, willing and able to face up to all that was thrown at him; ducking every question, placing the blame on others and changing his story innumerable times has not done much to make one fondly compare him to Gary Cooper in High Noon.
Mr Bush is starting to look a whole lot more like the wayward captain of ship that's taking on water. A ship whose rats are starting to give serious thoughts to saving their own wretched hides.