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Why it matters that Bush lied

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Whether Bush lied is a settled issue for all but the most hardened idealogues. It’s time to move beyond it.

On the whole lying thing, Josh Marshall nails it:

Logically speaking, this should be the column where I sound off about the emerging body of evidence that the Bush White House hyped, manipulated and puffed up evidence and generally bamboozled the American people about Iraqi weapons of mass destruction (WMD). But, if it’s all the same, can we just face facts instead?

C’mon. There’s no “emerging body of evidence.”

If you were (a) paying attention to this debate, and (b) not an utterly rabid ideologue, you knew the administration was tossing around all sorts of improbable, unproven or just plain ridiculous stories. All that’s changed is that something else truly unexpected happened: We didn’t find anything — no chemicals, no biologicals, no nothing — at least not yet. And that fact suddenly made it possible to discuss, or maybe just impossible to ignore, what most of us knew all along.

John B. Judis and Spencer Ackerman sensibly move on to the far more important matter of just what these lies mean to our democracy, and what we should do about them. In The New Republic:

Foreign policy is always difficult in a democracy. Democracy requires openness. Yet foreign policy requires a level of secrecy that frees it from oversight and exposes it to abuse. As a result, Republicans and Democrats have long held that the intelligence agencies–the most clandestine of foreign policy institutions–should be insulated from political interference in much the same way as the higher reaches of the judiciary. As the Tower Commission, established to investigate the Iran-Contra scandal, warned in November 1987, “The democratic processes … are subverted when intelligence is manipulated to affect decisions by elected officials and the public.”

If anything, this principle has grown even more important since September 11, 2001. The Iraq war presented the United States with a new defense paradigm: preemptive war, waged in response to a prediction of a forthcoming attack against the United States or its allies. This kind of security policy requires the public to base its support or opposition on expert intelligence to which it has no direct access. It is up to the president and his administration–with a deep interest in a given policy outcome–nonetheless to portray the intelligence community’s findings honestly. If an administration represents the intelligence unfairly, it effectively forecloses an informed choice about the most important question a nation faces: whether or not to go to war. That is exactly what the Bush administration did when it sought to convince the public and Congress that the United States should go to war with Iraq.

From late August 2002 to mid-March of this year, the Bush administration made its case for war by focusing on the threat posed to the United States by Saddam Hussein’s nuclear, chemical, and biological weapons and by his purported links to the Al Qaeda terrorist network. Officials conjured up images of Iraqi mushroom clouds over U.S. cities and of Saddam transferring to Osama bin Laden chemical and biological weapons that could be used to create new and more lethal September elevenths. In Nashville on August 26, 2002, Vice President Dick Cheney warned of a Saddam “armed with an arsenal of these weapons of terror” who could “directly threaten America’s friends throughout the region and subject the United States or any other nation to nuclear blackmail.” In Washington on September 26, Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld claimed he had “bulletproof” evidence of ties between Saddam and Al Qaeda. And, in Cincinnati on October 7, President George W. Bush warned, “The Iraqi dictator must not be permitted to threaten America and the world with horrible poisons and diseases and gases and atomic weapons.” Citing Saddam’s association with Al Qaeda, the president added that this “alliance with terrorists could allow the Iraqi regime to attack America without leaving any fingerprints.”

Yet there was no consensus within the American intelligence community that Saddam represented such a grave and imminent threat. Rather, interviews with current and former intelligence officials and other experts reveal that the Bush administration culled from U.S. intelligence those assessments that supported its position and omitted those that did not. The administration ignored, and even suppressed, disagreement within the intelligence agencies and pressured the CIA to reaffirm its preferred version of the Iraqi threat. Similarly, it stonewalled, and sought to discredit, international weapons inspectors when their findings threatened to undermine the case for war.

Three months after the invasion, the United States may yet discover the chemical and biological weapons that various governments and the United Nations have long believed Iraq possessed. But it is unlikely to find, as the Bush administration had repeatedly predicted, a reconstituted nuclear weapons program or evidence of joint exercises with Al Qaeda–the two most compelling security arguments for war. Whatever is found, what matters as far as American democracy is concerned is whether the administration gave Americans an honest and accurate account of what it knew. The evidence to date is that it did not, and the cost to U.S. democracy could be felt for years to come.
much more

Even some politicians now feel they can bring up the obvious. Washington Post:

One measure of how deeply the issue is felt on Capitol Hill came at a House Armed Services Committee hearing, where Deputy Defense Secretary Paul D. Wolfowitz was appearing on a different matter. Rep. Gene Taylor (D-Miss.) said that he voted to support the war only after speaking to Wolfowitz, but that now he needed to know if the intelligence about the threat from Iraq’s weapons was wrong.

“A person is only as good as his word,” Taylor said. “This nation is only as good as its word. And if that’s the reason why we did it — and I voted for it — then we need some clarifications here.”

Michael Kinsley in Slate:

Why are we even bothering to keep looking for those weapons of mass destruction in Iraq? At this point, what difference does it make whether we find them or not? Trying to find them serves two ostensible purposes: One is to prevent them from being used, and the other is to settle the argument about whether they exist. But neither purpose really applies any longer.

As we are belatedly noticing, other nations are closer to having a usable nuclear weapon than Iraq. The claim was that nuclear and other weapons were especially dangerous in the hands of a malevolent madman like Saddam Hussein. Now Saddam is gone. Iraq is not quite yet the gentle, loving democracy promised by Bush administration propaganda. But its government, or lack of one, is hardly the rogue nuclear power we must fear the most.

As for settling the argument about WMD as a justification for the war, that argument is already settled. It’s obvious that the Bush administration had no good evidence to back up its dire warnings. And even if months of desperate searching ultimately turn up a thing or two, this will hardly vindicate the administration’s claim to have known it all along. The administration itself in effect now agrees that actually finding the weapons doesn’t matter. It asserts that the war can be justified on humanitarian grounds alone, and that Saddam may have destroyed those weapons on his way out the door. (Exactly what we wanted him to do, by the way, now repositioned as a dirty trick.) These are not the sorts of things you say if you know those weapons exist. And if it doesn’t matter that they don’t seem to exist, it cannot logically matter if they do.

In case you don’t recall just how clear and specific George W. Bush was with regard to the intelligence he claimed to have, here are some selections from the prologue to John Dean’s excellent article. All of these are by President Bush:

“Right now, Iraq is expanding and improving facilities that were used for the production of biological weapons.”

-United Nations Address, Sept. 12, 2002

“Iraq has stockpiled biological and chemical weapons, and is rebuilding the facilities used to make more of those weapons.”

“We have sources that tell us that Saddam Hussein recently authorized Iraqi field commanders to use chemical weapons — the very weapons the dictator tells us he does not have.”

-Radio Address, Oct. 5, 2002

“The Iraqi regime… possesses and produces chemical and biological weapons. It is seeking nuclear weapons.”

“We know that the regime has produced thousands of tons of chemical agents, including mustard gas, sarin nerve gas, VX nerve gas.”

“We’ve also discovered through intelligence that Iraq has a growing fleet of manned and unmanned aerial vehicles that could be used to disperse chemical or biological weapons across broad areas. We’re concerned that Iraq is exploring ways of using these UAVS for missions targeting the United States.”

“The evidence indicates that Iraq is reconstituting its nuclear weapons program. Saddam Hussein has held numerous meetings with Iraqi nuclear scientists, a group he calls his “nuclear mujahideen” — his nuclear holy warriors. Satellite photographs reveal that Iraq is rebuilding facilities at sites that have been part of its nuclear program in the past. Iraq has attempted to purchase high-strength aluminum tubes and other equipment needed for gas centrifuges, which are used to enrich uranium for nuclear weapons.”

-Cincinnati, Ohio Speech, Oct. 7, 2002

“Our intelligence officials estimate that Saddam Hussein had the materials to produce as much as 500 tons of sarin, mustard and VX nerve agent.”

-State of the Union Address, Jan. 28, 2003

“Intelligence gathered by this and other governments leaves no doubt that the Iraq regime continues to possess and conceal some of the most lethal weapons ever devised.”

-Address to the Nation, March 17, 2003

Does anybody remember that the Republicans swept the mid-term elections by exploiting the war issue–specifically the WMD issue? It was URGENT that we get a resolution in Congress before November, the White House and the Republicans claimed, because Saddam had tons of WMD ready to use. Just look at how bold and confident those statements of Sept. 12, Oct. 5 and Oct. 7 are. They aren’t general justifications for action–they’re a declaration of extreme urgency.

Now, as it “emerges” that Bush manipulated intelligence to make it appear that the situation was far more dire than it really was, this scandal is looking a lot like Watergate–another case in which a sitting President abused intelligence agencies to achieve an advantage in an election.

At some point, I think it will be hard for all but the most die-hard of conservative ideologues to deny that the timing of the push for war is suspicious. The assumption back then was that if the President has a sudden sense of urgency, he must know something we don’t. He wouldn’t just emerge from an August pow-wow and start the drumbeat for war, politicizing the issue by demanding a Congressional resolution before the mid-term elections. If he said it just couldn’t wait, well, he must know something we don’t. It must be extremely urgent.

His father, after all, deliberately waited to ask for a Congressional resolution on Gulf War 1, so as not to politicize the issue during the 1990 mid-term elections–and that situation was urgent. Saddam had invaded Kuwait in August. Still, Bush Sr. waited.

So, what did W. know that made things so urgent this time around that he just had to politicize a national security issue by insisting on a Congressional vote just before a mid-term election?

It’s a question that deserves an answer, and so far there isn’t one.

I highly recommend that entire New Republic story. It lays out in detail exactly how the intelligence was abused, how the intelligence community was appalled (and still is), and why this is an extremely dangerous direction for a free country to take.

Allowing a President the power to declare his own reality–to take a set of facts, keep them secret, and misrepresent them to the public to serve his own agenda–is a major step away from freedom. It’s not a left or right issue, just like Watergate really wasn’t, and Iran-Contra really wasn’t. It’s about how much power we give our President. And the power to trick us into a war on false pretenses is too much power.

Brian Flemming
(blog)

(UPDATE: Around the Blogosphere on this issue: Daily Kos, CalPundit, Matthew Yglesias. Not many right-wing bloggers to link to on the issue. They prefer not to talk about it. I suppose because it is impossible to defend the proposition, “George W. Bush didn’t lie in the run-up to the war on Iraq.” Better to hope the whole matter just goes away. But Roger L. Simon offers a standard defense, which I’ll paraphrase as, “It doesn’t matter that George W. Bush lied because Saddam Hussein tortured people.” While that last part is true, I don’t see how it follows from the first part.)

UPDATE 2:

The New York Times says Bush didn’t “lie,” he “exaggerated,” but seems to excuse the deception because Bush needed to do it to get the country to go to war:

When presidents are trying to make fundamental changes in national policy as Mr. Bush is, said Donald F. Kettl, a political scientist at the University of Wisconsin, “they’ve got to find a way that’s powerful and persuasive and politically attractive and tap into what the public can grab.”

Look at what the president said about weapons of mass destruction in two prime-time television speeches–one on Oct. 7, his first big address on Iraq, and the other on March 17, when he declared that Saddam Hussein had to leave Iraq in 48 hours or face an attack.

The October speech was devoted largely to the threat of banned weapons. Iraq, Mr. Bush said, had “a massive stockpile of biological weapons” and “thousands of tons of chemical agents” and was “reconstituting its nuclear weapons program.” The president asked, “If we know Saddam Hussein has dangerous weapons today–and we do–does it make any sense for the world to wait to confront him as he grows even stronger and develops even more dangerous weapons?”

In the speech in March, on the eve of war, Mr. Bush declared, “Intelligence gathered by this and other governments leaves no doubt that the Iraq regime continues to possess and conceal some of the most lethal weapons ever devised.”

UPDATE 3

Oliver Willis points to this FAIR media advisory:

Sunday morning talk shows like ABC‘s This Week or Fox News Sunday often make news for days afterward. Since prominent government officials dominate the guest lists of the programs, it is not unusual for the Monday editions of major newspapers to report on interviews done by the Sunday chat shows.

But the June 15 edition of NBC‘s Meet the Press was unusual for the buzz that it didn’t generate. Former General Wesley Clark told anchor Tim Russert that Bush administration officials had engaged in a campaign to implicate Saddam Hussein in the September 11 attacks– starting that very day. Clark said that he’d been called on September 11 and urged to link Baghdad to the terror attacks, but declined to do so because of a lack of evidence.

Here is a transcript of the exchange:




CLARK: “There was a concerted effort during the fall of 2001, starting immediately after 9/11, to pin 9/11 and the terrorism problem on Saddam Hussein.”

RUSSERT: “By who? Who did that?”

CLARK: “Well, it came from the White House, it came from people around the White House. It came from all over. I got a call on 9/11. I was on CNN, and I got a call at my home saying, ‘You got to say this is connected. This is state-sponsored terrorism. This has to be connected to Saddam Hussein.’ I said, ‘But–I’m willing to say it, but what’s your evidence?’ And I never got any evidence.”



Clark’s assertion corroborates a little-noted CBS Evening News story that aired on September 4, 2002. As correspondent David Martin reported: “Barely five hours after American Airlines Flight 77 plowed into the Pentagon, the secretary of defense was telling his aides to start thinking about striking Iraq, even though there was no evidence linking Saddam Hussein to the attacks.” According to CBS, a Pentagon aide’s notes from that day quote Rumsfeld asking for the “best info fast” to “judge whether good enough to hit SH at the same time, not only UBL.” (The initials SH and UBL stand for Saddam Hussein and Osama bin Laden.) The notes then quote Rumsfeld as demanding, ominously, that the administration’s response “go massive…sweep it all up, things related and not.”

Despite its implications, Martin’s report was greeted largely with silence when it aired. Now, nine months later, media are covering damaging revelations about the Bush administration’s intelligence on Iraq, yet still seem strangely reluctant to pursue stories suggesting that the flawed intelligence– and therefore the war– may have been a result of deliberate deception, rather than incompetence. The public deserves a fuller accounting of this story.

UPDATE 4

Matthew Yglesias at Tech Central Station:

…as conservatives more than anyone ought to realize, one can’t evaluate the merits of a government program by simply looking at whether or not it has accomplished anything good. Rather, one needs to consider whether or not the initiative in question accomplished more good than the available alternatives.

Consider a town where ten houses simultaneously catch fire and the local authorities only have the resources to put out one blaze. Seven of the houses, fortunately, are unoccupied, but one contains a single person trapped inside, while a second house contains a likewise trapped family and a third house has two cats inside. Then the fire marshal arrives on the scene brandishing a stack of evidence purporting to show that hidden behind the walls of the cat house is a secret day care center and dozens of small children will burn alive if the fire isn’t put out. The trucks come, the house is saved while the other nine burn, and then the firefighters come inside only to discover that there was no daycare center after all, just the cats. All of a sudden the sudden the town is in an uproar – the fire marshal got the facts all wrong. Then the marshal turns to his critics, points at the saved cats and asks “would it really have been better if I’d just let these cats die?”

Well, yes and no. We’re glad, of course, that the cats are alive, but the marshal is ignoring the dead people whose lives he could have saved if he hadn’t been acting on bogus information about the day care center (why would he have lied about this? who knows – maybe the cats were stuck in the house because of his father’s carelessness and he felt guilty about it).

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About Brian Flemming

  • http://www.unproductivity.com Tom Johnson

    Maybe you didn’t read the news?

  • mike

    This may be the long-awaited planting of phoney evidence by the U.S. The same Administration that lied about WMD in the first place, and sent young people to die in an imperialist war for oil, domestic politics, and Likkud hegenomy, is perfectly capable of a dirty trick like this. I’m surprised they haven’t done it already, since they knew all along they were just making the WMD stuff up.

    Either that, or this new “find” is Saddam’s secret brothel. He had quite a taste for the Whip, I hear.

  • http://www.slumdance.com/blogs/brian_flemming/ Brian Flemming

    Tom,

    I see you found Entry #357 on the List of Media Stories About “Found” WMD.

    Numbers 1-356 of these false stories have helped form this impression.

    Which is remarkably similar to this earlier impression.

    I never said GWB wasn’t GOOD at deception. He and his Administration are quite good at it.

    Even if troops do find traces of WMD or documents indicating they existed at one point, Bush has already been proven a liar–he and his Administration stated the WMD were in huge quantities, in certain known locations, and ready to use at a moment’s notice. They weren’t, and we have no indication that Bush actually had good information indicating they were–in fact, angry, high-level intelligence sources claim he didn’t have any such information.

    But, of course, idealogues can hardly be expected to remember what the White House actually said.

  • Sparkey

    Not many right-wing bloggers to link to on the issue. They prefer not to talk about it. I suppose because it is impossible to defend the proposition, “George W. Bush didn’t lie in the run-up to the war on Iraq.” Better to hope the whole matter just goes away.

    Either you’re an incompetent boob, or a bold faced mother-f**king liar yourself.

    The only blind ideologues here are those who peddle the “lie” myth as truth. These snake-oil peddlers choose not to address the fact that everyone agreed with the basic premise of Saddam’s WMD. The disagreement was over containment, not WMD. To peddle the idea that Bush & Blair lied you have to address why, if Bush lied, so did France, Russia, Germany, China, Blix, Clinton, Gore, Daschle, Kerry, Albright, Gephardt, Kennedy, ad nauseum.

    See here, here, and here for a list of the pertinent quotes.

    You also have to address the facts and argument I point to here; however, not one of the idotarians you quote address the fundamentals of two points: if Bush was lying, why did all those Democrats go along with it, and two, why did those who opposed our invasion also agree with the basic proposition that Saddam had WMD.

    Josh Marshall is nothing more than and idiot who has no credible, pre-invasion evidence, that Saddam didn’t possess WMD. Everyone who had direct knowledge of the subject agreed that Saddam possessed WMD, only those who wish to make political points by passing the Goebbelsesque “big lie” that Bush and Blair lied to start a war make that claim. The French Russian, German, and Chinese Governments who opposed the US led invasion are surprisingly mute on that, eh?

    Instapundit is correct, you are “Difficult to take Seriously“. Sad that your hatred is so base that you’d lower yourselves to such a degree. Pitiful, actually.

    Since you seem incapable of doing a simple google search here’s some more WMD linkage: A Tempest In The Media’s Teapot, Around and Around and Around…, More on the Wolfowitz and WMD…, More WMD Stuff To Link To, Linkage to Iraqi WMD and Stuff, Blair and Bush Aren’t That Stupid, and Credible Deterrence. Those are just MY posts on the subject that I placed on Stryker’s website where I link to several other bloggers and articles.

    Oh, yeah, there is also this story that relates to reason #3 that Bush outlined as a reason for Invasion.

  • mike

    Sparkey, where’s the plug?

    Here’s Jacob G. Hornberger of the Future of Freedom Foundation, a website for antiwar conservatives and libertarians, on the moral hypocricy of your position:
    http://www.fff.org/comment/com0305l.asp

    “First the U.S. gives weapons of mass destruction to Saddam [in the 1980s], knowing that he will employ them against his enemies, including the Iranian people.

    Then the Americans enforce their cruel and brutal sanctions against Iraq with the goal of squeezing the Iraqi people into violently ousting Saddam Hussein from power.

    Then they encourage the Iraqi people to rise up by force of arms against their own government [in 1991] under a false and deceptive promise of help from the president of the United States, knowing full well what Saddam will do to the rebels if their rebellion fails.

    Then they stand aside and watch in shock and awe as Saddam?s forces massacre the rebels and place their bodies in mass graves.

    And years later, when the primary justification for invading Iraq (?disarming Saddam?) fizzles out, U.S. officials use those mass graves as an ex post facto justification for their invasion ? an invasion that resulted in the deaths and injuries of thousands of more Iraqis.

    If that?s not a morally bankrupt foreign policy, I don?t know what is.”

  • http://www.slumdance.com/blogs/brian_flemming/ Brian Flemming

    Sparkey,

    I did look for righties on the specific issue I talk about in this post. But all I found were pundits who instantly switched the issue to something more comfortable for them. As you did.

    The issue can be summed up in one word: urgency. Bush didn’t just say Saddam probably had WMD. He said the matter was so urgent that a) He had to get a vote from Congress just before the 2002 mid-term election, and, later, b) It was impossible to wait “weeks” for the U.N. inspectors to finish their work, per their request, because of the looming threat.

    Back then, Bush looked to all the world as if he was afraid the inspectors would actually succeed at their job. So far, the facts seem to support this impression. Nothing has turned up to suggest Bush actually possessed believable information about an urgent threat to the United States–something I know many war supporters, especially on-the-fence war supporters, thought was the case at the time. Here on Blogcritics, more than one pro-warrior made arguments along the lines of “We don’t know what the President knows.”

    Now, I fully expect not to hear any right-wing pundits to attempt to support the following propositions:

    1) President Bush was right to insist that going to war was so urgent, because of a looming WMD threat, that it required a vote from Congress just before the mid-term election.

    2) President Bush was right to insist that going to war was so urgent, because of a looming WMD threat, that the inspectors could not be given the “weeks” they said they needed to finish their work.

    Forbidden right-wing blogger words:

    mid-term election
    urgency
    inspectors

    My guess is that many of those who were gung-ho for the war secretly feel that it’s okay if Bush fibbed a little, because the war was a good idea, and if a few chicken-hearted Americans had to be tricked into it, well, it all evens out to the positive.

    Is that your view?

    Mike,

    Thanks to the link to that article. Very interesting to see a right-ish position that is principled and acknowledges facts.

  • http://www.slumdance.com/blogs/brian_flemming/ Brian Flemming

    Washington Post chimes in:

    Bush, in his speech in Cincinnati on Oct. 7, made his case that Iraq had ties with al Qaeda, by mentioning several items such as high-level contacts that “go back a decade.” He said “we’ve learned” that Iraq trained al Qaeda members “in bomb-making and poisons and deadly gases.” Although the president offered essentially circumstantial evidence, his remarks contained none of the caveats about the reliability of this information as contained in the national intelligence document, sources said.

    The presidential address crystallized the assertion that had been made by senior administration officials for months that the combination of Iraq’s chemical and biological weapons and a terrorist organization, such as al Qaeda, committed to attacking the United States posed a grave and imminent threat. Within four days, the House and Senate overwhelmingly endorsed a resolution granting the president authority to go to war.

  • http://www.shortstrangetrip.org Joe

    Brian-
    As always, an entertaining read. Would you care to address the “lies” of every other political figure (Dems, UN, et al.) that Sparkey posted? And, please, before you label me as an ideologue, and make me read Noam Chomsky, I’m not asking as some sort of debate point, I really would be interested in hearing your opinion.

  • http://www.slumdance.com/blogs/brian_flemming/ Brian Flemming

    Joe,

    I haven’t referred to Noam Chomsky anywhere in this thread. I have referred to the New York Times, the Washington Post, the New Republic (which, btw, was for the war), Slate, the Hill and TomPaine.com.

    As far as legislators going along with the Bush Administration take on the WMD threat, those legislators do not have their own intelligence agencies, as Bush does. They depended on what they were told–which is to say, they depended on what Bush allowed to filter down to them.

    Washington Post:

    On Oct. 4, three days before the president’s speech, at the urging of members of Congress, the CIA released its declassified excerpts from the intelligence report as a “white paper” on Iraq’s weapons programs and al Qaeda links. The members wanted a public document to which they could refer during floor debates on the Iraq war resolution.

    The white paper did contain passages that hinted at the intelligence community’s lack of certitude about Iraq’s weapons programs and al Qaeda ties, but it omitted some qualifiers contained in the classified version. It also did not include qualifiers made at the Oct. 2 hearing by an unidentified senior intelligence official who, during his testimony, challenged some of the administration’s public statements on Iraq.

    “Senator Graham felt that they declassified only things that supported their position and left classified what did not support that policy,” said Bob Filippone, Graham’s deputy chief of staff. Graham, now a candidate for the Democratic presidential nomination, opposed the war resolution.

    When the white paper appeared, Graham and Sen. Carl M. Levin (D-Mich.), an intelligence panel member and at that time chairman of the Armed Services Committee, asked to have additional portions of the intelligence estimate as well as portions of the testimony at the Oct. 2 hearing made public.

    On the day of Bush’s speech, Tenet sent a letter to Graham with some of the additional information. The letter drew attention because it seemed to contradict Bush’s statements that Hussein would give weapons to al Qaeda.

    Tenet released a statement on Oct. 8 that said, “There is no inconsistency between our view of Saddam’s growing threat and the view as expressed by the president in his speech.” He went on to say, however, that the chance that the Iraqi leader would turn weapons over to al Qaeda was “low, in part because it would constitute an admission that he possesses” weapons of mass destruction.

    On Oct. 9, the CIA sent a letter to Graham and Levin informing them that no additional portions of the intelligence report would be made public.

    No question, these legislators are accountable for what decisions they made with the information they had at the time. However, a key element in that information was the credibility of Bush and other executive-branch leaders and bureaucrats. They said, “Trust us.” Many legislators, including Democrats, did.

    The questions now are, Should they have trusted Bush? Did he and his Administration deliver a reasonable interpretation of the secret information they had?

    The answer seems to be “no.” It wasn’t the job of a Senator to determine that the “aluminum tubes” (two more forbidden right-wing blogger words) were a crock. It wasn’t the job of a Congressperson to determine that the scary Niger story was based on a forgery.

    They didn’t know. The White House most likely did. Congress was tricked just like you and I were tricked.

  • http://www.shortstrangetrip.org Joe

    Brian-
    The Chomsky remark was based upon a previous thread a few months back.

    I don’t know that your assessment of Bush owning the intelligence agencies is completely accurate. I believe that the Congressional intelligence committees as well as armed forces and foreign relations hold some sway over the intelligence agencies as well. The reason I was asking you was because it just seems like you’re too willing to give everyone else a free pass.

    My personal opinion is that the invasion would have happened sooner or later anyway. Clinton would have done it himself if he could have gotten the political traction in ’98 (I seem to remember Cohen and Albright doing some sort of invasion roadshow that flopped). 911 created enough context to make the invasion politically feasible.

    Perhaps my opinions are tainted by a few years experience in the intelligence community. Could they have just been flat wrong? Well, somehow Pakistan and India both managed to hide nuclear test programs from them until they were both successful. Why should additional shortfalls on our part be so hard to swallow?

    Lastly, another NYT Article

  • http://www.slumdance.com/blogs/brian_flemming/ Brian Flemming

    Joe,

    Whether the invasion would have happened anyway is a much different question from what we should do about a President who lies to the American people in order to manipulate them into supporting that invasion.

    I agree–it’s not as if there weren’t other reasons to go in there. And there is no guarantee that there would have been no military action had Bush not ended the U.N. inspections.

    Nixon probably would have been elected in 1972 even if he and his operatives had not done what they did. But it STILL matters to our nation that he did what he did. He had to be held accountable whether his actions resulted in a much different course or not.

    This particular issue isn’t about the result–it’s about the lies our President told to get it. Even those who agree with the result should be concerned about the lies, because so much in our national security structure depends on Congress and the people being able to trust the President on these secret matters. Intelligence should never be manipulated like this to serve an agenda–intelligence information is the one thing we can’t really keep a check on, because it is secret. We have to trust. And that means our President cannot abuse that trust without being held accountable.

  • http://www.shortstrangetrip.org Joe

    So you don’t think Congress had any access to information that wasn’t previously vetted by the White House? And do you disagree with me that the intelligence could have just been flat out erroneous?

  • SparkeY

    Forbidden words in idotarian wordls is A) the US public at large doesn’t care about WMD…
    B) WMD is one of three reasons given for invasion
    c) why everyone lied with GWB if he is lying

    Hence, the truth is, you are the lyer because you refuse to even address the issues. IF GWB lied why did all those other Democrats and France et al sing the same song. Unless you can address that truth, then you are a snake-oil liar and worth nothing but contempt.

    Of course, if you lookedf at my posts you’d already see how morally bankrupt your position is. But the real truth is not of any concern to you is it? You want to believe what you want to believe because you can’t admit that you’re wrong.

    Pitiful, simply pitiful… I’m glad I’m going on vacation for two weeks…

    BTW: I remember the midterm elections, you lost…

  • http://w6daily.winn.com/ Phillip Winn

    “Whether Bush lied is a settled issue for all but the most hardened idealogues.” Gee, somebody should tell that to the NY Times.

  • http://www.slumdance.com/blogs/brian_flemming/ Brian Flemming

    Phillip,

    True, there is still that debate over the proper term for the lies. Deception? Exaggeration? Distortion? Fabrication?

    Fact is, any of those kinds of lies with regard to intelligence matters that lead us to war should make anyone concerned. That’s why “hardened idealogues” is an appropriate term for those who think these lies don’t matter (or who purposefully avoid the subject, thus implying that the lies don’t matter). These kinds of lies would matter deeply whether they were told by a Democrat or a Republican.

    Joe,

    So you don’t think Congress had any access to information that wasn’t previously vetted by the White House?

    Congress as a whole? I doubt it. Sensitive national security information is (properly) channeled through the appropriate committees, which often meet in closed session. Appearing before those committees are bureaucrats who serve the President.

    If the information given in this room is tainted politically, something very anti-democratic happens. In a democracy, we don’t want ANYTHING government-related to happen in secret. But if it must (and national security issues must), we need to trust that the President is not jiggering things to suit his agenda–because the secrecy means that he holds most of the cards, and if he wants to act less than honorably, he can.

    That’s why lies, exaggerations, distortions, deliberate misrepresentations, whatever are so important to punish. Intelligence is one area where politics is not supposed to enter the picture.

    And do you disagree with me that the intelligence could have just been flat out erroneous?

    It depends on where you locate the error. I disagree that it is likely that the White House was unaware that the Niger story was bogus. It’s pretty obvious that they used it because it helped, not because it stood up to rigorous examination. In the case of the aluminum tubes, the Administration simply chose not to hear interpretations it didn’t like.

    There is no doubt that the only reasonable conclusion to draw in March 2003 was that Saddam Hussein MIGHT have chemical or biological weapons. Nobody could be sure he didn’t.

    The question is…how dire is the situation? Is it so bad that it requires a swift invasion? Or is the more appropriate course an inspections process backed by force?

    Clearly, the situation would have to be dire to justify an immediate invasion while U.N. inspectors were asking for just “weeks” to finish their work. You’ve gotta be pretty sure that things are very dangerous (i.e., tons of evil shit about to rain down on the U.S. or our allies) to recommend a rush to war. So Bush said the evidence showed there was such a grave danger, to a high degree of certainty. But the evidence he cited showed no such thing, and he knew that.

    He lied.

  • mike

    I just notified them. It turns out, however, that the Times is treading lightly around the L word these days, as much of its staff has, er, truth issues of its own.

    Prowar apologists remind me of cult members. Before the war, they demonized anyone who doubted WMD claims. (Bill O’Reilly of Fox News practically made a fetish of it.) The evidence that Saddam had WMDs was so overwhelming, they said, that it made Iraq an imminent threat to U.S. security. Doubters like the now-vindicated Scott Ritter were often accused of treason.

    As soon as these claims were revealed as false, the prowars turned on a dime and now say, in unison, that WMDs were beside the point. No self doubt, no nuanced reflection, tempers their venom. Debating them is like debating pit bulls on crack.

    Maoists have better capacity for independent thought.

  • http://www.shortstrangetrip.org Joe

    Brian-
    Indeed information is channeled through committees, but, additionally, committee members also have access to reporting as necessary and make routine visits to agencies as a part of their oversight capacity. The people that appear before the committees would probably argue that they serve the country.

    When committees are briefed, it is not generally a one-way conversation, committee members are free to ask questions and request further information. Do you think that the committees gave a pass in this instance and didn’t press further?

    The function of intelligence is to provide decision-makers with information. I would imagine that given the previous situations with WMD’s in Pakistan and India most folks in the community were less likely to accept risk with regard Iraq. So perhaps the posture now is not based upon being sure that things are very dangerous but rather not giving the benefit of the doubt unless you are sure that there isn’t a risk, a subtle but significant difference. I see some parallels to your stated position with regards to the current administration.

    Mike-
    Once again, insightful and rational comments with great bearing upon the issues being discussed.

  • Eric Olsen

    There is no question this is an important issue. Regardless of other circumstances, it does matter if a leader of a democracy lies. While the lack of evidence of WMD is embarrassing and damaging at this point, I am still waiting for evidence that anyone did anything beyond looking at conflicting opinions and evidence and seeing what they wanted to see. This is not the same thing as “lying”: making assertions known to be untrue. Just as there is no clear “smoking gun” yet of WMD, neither is there a smoking gun of anyone in the administration “lying,” nor is there evidence that the Jessica Lynch rescue was anything but that. I have listened very carefully to clearly “objective” left-leaning NPR reporters on this, people in Iraq, and while the anchor tries to draw accusations out of them, not one has been willing to even imply the possibility that anything was orchestrated, falsified or that any misinformation – like that Lynch fought like GI Jane – came from the military or administration.

  • mike

    Left leaning NPR reporters????!!!!!! Can I have some of what you’re smoking?? Because I would love to live in a world where NPR or any other U.S. network leaned to the left.

    Next you’ll be saying that The New York Times is liberal. As if!

  • http://www.slumdance.com/blogs/brian_flemming/ Brian Flemming

    Eric,

    …I am still waiting for evidence that anyone did anything beyond looking at conflicting opinions and evidence and seeing what they wanted to see.

    This is okay with you? Doesn’t “seeing what they wanted to see” at some point become a form of deception?

    For example, I have little doubt that Bill Clinton really did draw a distinction between oral sex and “actual sex.” So, technically, he was just “seeing what he wanted to see” when he told the American people “I did not have sex with that woman.” I still call that a lie.

    The weight of the evidence indicates that the Bush Administration did more than look at 1 + 1 and see 3. They looked at 1 + 1 and saw 100. They knowingly relied on biased sources. The Pentagon set up a special unit just to deliver the intelligence conclusions the Administration wanted–because the CIA wasn’t giving them what they wanted. And those conclusions–that Saddam had massive stores of WMD ready to deploy and intended to use them–were clearly wrong. Coincidence?

    There may not be a smoking gun here, ever. Still, that doesn’t mean that our country went to war based on a solid, honest process that we should be proud of. There is enough evidence right now to conclude that at the very least intelligence was politicized–and that’s enough to be concerned about.

    Hypothetically, let’s say you don’t support the next war. Will it be okay if the leaders of our country distort intelligence and “see what they want to see” in order to justify it?

    Mike,

    True, a lot of the opposition to reality here from super-conservatives is cult-like. But, then, it’s always like that with this particular (small) group. I think a lot of others simply don’t want to believe that a) Their leaders would trick them into supporting a war, and b) They got tricked.

    Joe,

    If you read the Post article, you’ll see that legislators did struggle to get more information–and to get it out to the public–and were often stonewalled. And legislators are now saying that Wolfowitz gave them certain assurances, and they trusted him. Now they want to know why these assurances were given.

  • http://www.shortstrangetrip.org Joe

    Brian-
    Interesting that you picked up on the “seeing what they wanted to see” notion. I read most of your posts and that’s usually the impression I’m left with, you’ve taken an article(s) that parallels your view and use it to amplify your point. Not that there’s anything wrong with that, but then surprising that you would condemn others for doing the same thing. Would that make you a liar if the article is later proved to be wrong?

  • http://www.slumdance.com/blogs/brian_flemming/ Brian Flemming

    Joe,

    Major difference: While the articles I quote support my argument, I don’t have good reason to believe they are wrong.

    This is not the case with the Niger fiasco, the aluminum tubes misrepresentation and many other instances of supposed “self-deception” by the Bush Administration. For example, the Administration had good reason to doubt that the Niger story was real, yet it still insisted on trumpeting it in the State of the Union address. The Administration had no solid reason to believe in a link between al Qaeda and Saddam Hussein–it just WANTED there to be a link. So it stated unequivocally that there was one. That is, quite simply, not honest.

    A more sound analogy than the one you offer would be if I had no solid sources to back up my claims but instead sought out some biased, left-wing website with an agenda and hired that website to “interpret” the available information and offer me a “report” with made-to-order conclusions, which I then quoted here as if it were the product of independent, solid research and analysis.

    Yeah, if I did that, I’d be a liar.

  • http://www.shortstrangetrip.org Brian

    Brian-
    At the time they were presenting those examples did they have a reason to believe they were wrong? At its core most intelligence should be viewed with skepticism, it is generally more art than science and you never have the 100% solution. The analogy you offer is rather extreme. I don’t think, and I’d imagine that you don’t truly believe that Josh Marshall, TNR, and Michael Kinsley, et al., are unbiased and that their reporting is not made with their respective audiences in mind.

  • Thomas

    From January-March of 2003, conservatives often justified the war in Iraq by asserting that President Bush deserves the benefit of the doubt because he knows more than the rest of us. Now they are claiming that President Bush deserves to absolved of any wrongdoing because he wasn’t aware that much of the intelligence he was pushing was faulty. Well, which is it? Is President Bush all-knowing or is he ignorant? You can’t have it both ways.

  • Eric Olsen

    This is a false dichotomy: a president undoubtedly knows more than the rest of us about lots things he is privy to nd we aren’t, but that doesn’t mean the intelligence he is given can’t be wrong; and as has already been stated here, inteligence is open to interpretation, spin, opinion, and as with all such things, those involved will naturally will tend to see what they want to see.

  • http://www.slumdance.com/blogs/brian_flemming/ Brian Flemming

    There is an excellent article in Slate, by Timothy Noah (who annoyingly calls himself “Chatterbox”), that explores this “Was he ignorant or did he lie?” issue.

    Noah’s conclusion: Why can’t he be both ignorant and a liar?

    Is President Bush a liar? The New York Times‘ David Rosenbaum examined this question with a surfeit of post-Howell-Raines fair-mindedness in the June 22 “Week in Review” section. His bottom line: “[A] review of the president’s public statements found little that could lead to a conclusion that the president actually lied” in two particular instances. The first was when Bush claimed he knew Saddam Hussein to possess large quantities of nuclear and biological weapons. The second was when Bush claimed that his tax cut would provide tax relief for everyone who pays income taxes. In both instances, Chatterbox is baffled by Rosenbaum’s doubt.

    Let’s address Bush’s tax claim first. Its falsity is not in dispute. Chatterbox has written elsewhere that Bush lied when he said, “My jobs and growth plan would reduce tax rates for everyone who pays income tax.” (The Urban Institute-Brookings Institution Tax Policy Center found 8.1 million people who pay taxes but will receive no tax cuts.) Rosenbaum recognized that Bush’s statement was untrue but expressed doubt that Bush knew it to be untrue. Can a false statement be a lie if the speaker is unaware it is a lie?

    That leads us immediately to a second question, one that Rosenbaum dared not address: Why is the speaker unaware that his statement is a lie? In Bush’s case, the answer is painfully obvious. It’s because Bush is a functionally not-bright man. As Chatterbox has explained elsewhere, it’s impossible to tell—and, ultimately, of little interest—whether Bush lacks the necessary mental equipment, or whether he’s simply incurious. The end result is the same. Even Bush’s allies concede that Bush is strikingly ignorant. In the July Vanity Fair, Sam Tanenhaus quoted Richard Perle as saying that when he first met Bush, it was “clear” that “he didn’t know very much.” Perle went on to argue (with what he failed to recognize as condescension) that Bush is an eager pupil. But there isn’t much evidence to support even that.

    It’s often said that Bush has the virtue of self-awareness, that he knows what he doesn’t know. That’s probably true. But if it is true, then Bush really oughtn’t to go around making sweeping statements that he hasn’t made any effort to verify. When these statements turn out to be untrue, Bush’s feigned certainty alone justifies calling these statements lies. They may not be the sort of lies a clever person (say, Bill Clinton) would tell. Indeed, many left-of-center commentators (Paul Krugman and Eric Alterman come to mind) refuse to admit that Bush is dumb, presumably because they fear that would make it impossible to hold him accountable for terrible things that he and his administration do. (Many felt the same way about Reagan.) But there’s no reason Bush can’t be thought of as both stupid and a liar. As Slate‘s Michael Kinsley has noted, Bush’s lies are typically lies of laziness: “If telling the truth was less bother, [he’d] try that too.”

    Saying that Bush lacks much on the ball does not mean that he never lies the way clever people do. Surely, for instance, Bush is aware on some level that it has yet to be proved that Saddam Hussein had chemical and biological weapons stashed away prior to the war. In addressing this question, Rosenbaum let Bush off the hook by focusing on what he said before the war began, e.g., “Intelligence gathered by this and other governments leaves no doubt that the Iraq regime continues to possess and conceal some of the most lethal weapons ever devised.” Like Rosenbaum, Chatterbox is eager to cut Bush some slack on this, if only because Chatterbox, too, was convinced prior to the war that the presence of biological and chemical weapons had been proved. (Click here and here to read two columns Chatterbox now wishes he’d never written.) But Rosenbaum never considered what Bush said on Polish television after the war ended:

    We’ve found the weapons of mass destruction. You know, we found biological laboratories. You remember when Colin Powell stood up in front of the world and he said Iraq has got laboratories, mobile labs to build biological weapons. They’re illegal. They’re against the United Nations’ resolutions and we’ve so far discovered two. And we’ll find more weapons as time goes on.

    In fact, it has yet to be proved that the two mobile labs were used (or even designed to be used) to build biological weapons. It isn’t possible that Bush fails to grasp that. So, why did he say something so obviously untrue? Chatterbox posed the question to The Nation‘s David Corn, who has written extensively on the question of Bush’s veracity. In Corn’s view, the key to Bush’s lies isn’t necessarily that he doesn’t know any better, but that he doesn’t care. “He mischaracterizes situations to fit his pattern of thinking,” Corn explained. “Does he believe he’s lying? I don’t know.” But “he still should be held accountable, whether he made a mistake of this nature in good faith or in bad faith.” Amen.

  • http://www.shortstrangetrip.org Joe

    Brian-
    Other than firmly establishing how remarkably low your bar is set for the concept of journalistic excellence, your point is what? That you can find several other people on the internet that feel exactly the way you do?

    Curses! Once again, I’ve been tricked into thinking you had a serious point to make!

  • http://w6daily.winn.com/ Phillip Winn

    Joe – every time I see a post like this (meaning “another anti-Bush screed from Bryan Flemming” or maybe just “a post in which the very first statement is clearly a lie”), I hope nobody will respond. This time it took only ten hours, and the BAM! Hook, line, sinker, pole, fisherman, boots, etc. Ah well.

    I spent a little time looking into the initial Bush tax proposal, and I still can’t figure out where people keep coming with the idea that people who pay income taxes aren’t getting a cut. I saw the chart, but no explanation. As I concluded in my above-linked article, “Unless you’re a single person earning $10,800 or less, it’s better.”

    But I guess I’m a liar, too, because there’s this pretty chart with no explanataion, see?

  • http://www.slumdance.com/blogs/brian_flemming/ Brian Flemming

    Interesting column today by Bob Somerby in his Daily Howler.

    He gets into the tricky area of what “lying” means. As he shows, if the President’s defenders want to defend him, as Eric has, along the “he just saw what he wanted to see” lines, that pretty much gives the President carte blanche to deceive us however much he wants.

    The Howler:

    In fact, few major Dems have said that Bush “lied”—in part, because presidents rarely have to. Lying is rarely needed in public life; professional communicators can completely mislead an audience without making a single false statement. How do they do it? By “exaggeration” and “over-emphasis”—by putting certain facts out on the table, and keeping other facts hidden from view.
    more

    That pretty much sums it up. If this is okay, then lying is okay. It means the following scenario is okay:

    1) Fact: intelligence agencies agree that Saddam probably doesn’t have a nuclear weapons program and may not have a WMD program of any kind that is a threat–maybe, maybe not.

    2) The President finds this fact inconvenient. He knows “maybe” means inspections, while “certain danger” means support for an invasion.

    3) So the Pentagon orders a “special team” of intelligence analysts to be put together with the goal of finding interpretations that sound more scary than the current, nonpolitical consensus from intelligence agencies.

    4) This special team finds discredited evidence of an attempt by Saddam to buy nuclear weapons material, of an attempt by Saddam to purchase aluminum tubes (consensus from experts: the tubes were not used in a nuclear weapons program), and of a discredited rumor that an al Qaeda agent once met with the Iraqi government. All of these pieces of evidence were known to the CIA and other intelligence agencies–and all agree they are without merit, or at least highly questionable.

    5) Knowing the status of these pieces of “evidence,” the President cites them to the American people as if they are credible proof of a WMD danger in Iraq.

    If that’s okay, then lying is okay. You’re basically saying, it’s okay if the President lies, as long as he goes through a rigmarole on the way to telling the lie.

  • http://www.shortstrangetrip.org Joe

    Brian-
    An impressive demonstration of your fertile imagination or lack of understanding of how intelligence works. Which is it?

  • Thomas

    I don’t remember Republicans equivocating about the reality of military intelligence before the war. Back then, the pro-war folks exalted Bush Administration propaganda as if it were irrefutable proof. Now they twist and contort themselves to defend President Bush. Why not just hold him to account? I mean, he’s not a deity. (Technically, he’s just a civil servant.)

  • http://forum.objectivismonline.net/ Hillary Lied Too..

    “In the four years since the inspectors left, intelligence reports show that Saddam Hussein has worked to rebuild his chemical and biological weapons stock, his missile delivery capability, and his nuclear program. He has also given aid, comfort, and sanctuary to terrorists, including Al Qaeda members, though there is apparently no evidence of his involvement in the terrible events of September 11, 2001. It is clear, however, that if left unchecked, Saddam Hussein will continue to increase his capacity to wage biological and chemical warfare, and will keep trying to develop nuclear weapons. Should he succeed in that endeavor, he could alter the political and security landscape of the Middle East, which as we know all too well affects American security.” — Hillary Clinton, October 10, 2002