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NO VISIBLE MEANS OF SUPPORT! Colin Powell emitted some spin. At the Post, it turned into a headline:


SPINNER’S LIST: As usual, the spin was preceded by a small bit of lying. Yesterday, shape-shifting secretary of state Colin Powell issued a list of thirty countries—countries supporting the war in Iraq. As we’ll see, Powell’s claim was heavy with spin. But before the general released his list, the Administration had engaged in its trademark lying. Dan Balz did the honors in this morning’s Post:

BALZ: The list was shorter than previously suggested by administration officials, who recently said the coalition supporting the United States was in the “high two digits,” and it included such nations as Eritrea, Afghanistan, Azerbaijan, Colombia and Ethiopia, which have little to offer beyond moral support. Only a handful will contribute to the U.S. military effort in the Persian Gulf region.
Thirty is not in the “high two digits.” But dissembling has become second nature to this Admin—so before the good general released his spin, others had offered a flatly bogus assertion.

Meanwhile, how drenched in spin was Powell’s claim? Balz noted that some of Powell’s List of 30 were offering almost no real “support.” Later, Balz even reported that “some of those on the list released by the State Department…were surprised to be included.” Colombia was one example:

BALZ: A senior diplomat at Colombia’s embassy in Washington seemed unaware that his nation had been listed. Asked what support Colombia would contribute, the diplomat referred to a statement issued by his government Monday expressing support for stopping “the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction” and prevention of all forms of terrorism “in a timely manner.”
Wow! That should really help out! But then, other countries were scrambling to downplay their “support” for the U.S. action. An accompanying article by Jonathan Weisman noted that two of the 30—Hungary and the Netherlands—had specifically issued public statements noting that they wouldn’t send troops to Iraq. In the New York Times, meanwhile, Alan Cowell noted that even Spain—one of the Azores Big Three—had issued such a statement:
COWELL: [I]n Spain…Prime Minister José María Aznar emphasized that Madrid’s support for Washington—which has been greeted with widespread opposition by Spaniards—fell short of combat involvement.

“In the case of a military intervention, Spain will not participate in attack missions,” Mr. Aznar said to cheers in the Spanish Parliament. “As a result, there will not be any Spanish combat troops in the theater of operations.”

How did he get to go to the Azores? Meanwhile, others in the Group of 30 detailed the limits of their “support:”
COWELL: In the protracted diplomacy leading up to the ultimatum, the United States and Britain calculated that they had won unequivocal support from several former Warsaw Pact allies of Moscow now poised to join the European Union.

Those nations seemed more muted today.

The Czech defense minister, Jaroslav Tvrdik, told journalists that Czech soldiers would take part only in cleaning up after the use of any chemical, biological or nuclear weapons.

Gee, thanks. Meanwhile, “Hungary’s government said it would not send troops or combat units to Iraq, limiting its support to the use of the Taszar Air Base, where hundreds of Iraqi émigrés are being trained as liaison officers for American forces in the gulf.” This is the level of “support” Powell had to include just to get his spun list up to 30.

Of course, none of this has a thing to do with the merits of the impending action. For now, we’ll leave that discussion to others; we’ll focus today on the endless dissembling of those now in charge in DC. But let’s take a look at the bright side of this. Powell’s delivery was simply flawless as he offered his List of 30. So look for a gang of hapless Post columnists to say how persuasive and convincing he was. It doesn’t take much for Colin Powell to please the Cohens, the McGrorys or the Raspberrys. Soon the Gang of 3 will sing high praise for Powell’s Gang of 30.

And what does a major newspaper do when a Major Official releases such a list? Simple! At the Post, they take the spin and make it a headline! Was it true? Had Powell really named thirty nations that were supporting the US in Iraq? The claim was spin—tendentious at best. But at the Post, the spin became a page-one headline! Here is what the headline says at the top of this morning’s front page:

POST HEADLINE: U.S. Names 30 Countries Supporting War Effort
Was that true? Or was that spin? At the Post, it’s a top-of-page headline.

ADDING TO THE BUFFOONISM: Adding to the general buffoonism, Powell said that his List of 30 understated the actual case. Once again, Balz does the honors:

BALZ: Powell said fifteen more nations privately support military action to support Hussein.
They “support” it—but only in private! Where else can you go for such clowning? And, adding to the air of high camp, the New York Times decided to add these Private 15 to the Public 30. In this morning’s print edition of the Times, Cowell’s text says this:
COWELL (print edition): Secretary of State Colin L. Powell said 30 nations supported the move to disarm Iraq, including Estonia and Uzbekistan.
But if you look at the story on the Times’ web site, the number has been changed. It says this:
COWELL (on-line edition): Secretary of State Colin L. Powell said 45 nations supported the move to disarm Iraq, including Estonia and Uzbekistan.
Note to Powell: Say that a hundred nations support you “in private.” Mary McGrory will fall in a swoon, saying how “convincing” it all is.

The Daily update

CRYING WOLF: For the record, who said that the list would be in the “high two digits?” We had to search and search to find it—the Post had dumbed the agent’s words down. But who said it? It turned out to be Dep Def Sec Paul Wolfowitz, quoted by the Chicago Tribune’s Howard Witt on March 12:

WITT: Wolfowitz also said that, even without Security Council endorsement of a war, Washington would be able to assemble a large coalition against Iraq.

“In the event that force must be used, our deployment will have the support in one form or another of a formidable coalition,” he said. “The number of countries involved will be in the substantial double digits.” He declined, however, to name the potential allies.

Omigod! It was Wolfie who got it wrong! Any chance that he told it to Bush? Or maybe it all depends on what the meaning of “support in one form or another” is.