EDITOR’S NOTE: This piece appears in the August 29, 2005, issue of National Review.
What would you say the most famous African country in America was right now? I’d go for Niger. Nary a day goes by without a dozen e-mails from aggrieved lefties claiming that I’ve “lied” about what Ambassador Joseph C. Wilson IV found on his famous mission when he flew into Niamey and spent a couple of days sipping mint tea with former big shots from the regime of retired strongman Major Wanke. (I’ve suggested “Wankegate” as a name for the “scandal” to the New York Times, but they’re oddly unenthusiastic.)
I take great umbrage at the lie that I’ve lied about Joe Wilson’s lies about what he found in Niger when he lied about the administration’s lying about what he found before he started lying about it — or I would take great umbrage, if I could keep a straight face. Unfortunately, every time I do I think of the touching dedication of Ambassador Wilson’s hilariously titled memoir The Politics of Truth: “To my wife Valerie . . . If I could give you back your anonymity I would do so in a minute.”
I think we can all agree on that. If I could give Joe and Val back their anonymity I would do so in a New York nanosecond. But if the UnableToMoveOn.org crowd want to keep Joe on the front pages, good luck to them and we’ll see how that works out in early November 2006. But you’d think, if he’s accomplished nothing else since he elbowed his way into the spotlight, he’d at least put Niger on the map. As the subject-headers in my inbox shrieked for three successive summers: “BUSH LIED ABOUT NIGER!!!” Leave aside the fact that Major Wanke’s prime minister told Wilson that, yes, the Iraqis were interested in acquiring uranium from Niger — since when did Niger get to be such a big deal? Niger, Niger, Niger. Forget the British, the Aussies, even French intelligence: Only the views of those Niamey tea-sippers should have been allowed to determine whether we went to war with Iraq. To listen to the Left, you’d think Niger was the only permanent member of the U.N. Security Council.
Here’s the thing: There is an actual news story in Niger right now. Not the two-year controversy over Joe Wilson’s tea expenses, but rather a massive drought followed by a plague of locusts and a third of the population on the brink of starving to death . . .