An almost uncannily balanced assessment of the “Bush lied” perspective in light of the apparent absence of WMD in Iraq, the Kay statements, etc., by Stuart Taylor in the National Journal:
- Democrats are in full cry about what Los Angeles Times columnist Robert Scheer calls President Bush’s “egregious deception in leading us to war on phony intelligence.” Sen. Edward Kennedy of Massachusetts asserted in October: “Before the war, week after week after week after week, we were told lie after lie after lie after lie.” Sen. John Kerry of Massachusetts, who voted to authorize the war, says, more cautiously, that Americans were “misled,” especially by Vice President Cheney.
Aside from the mounting evidence that Saddam Hussein had few, if any, weapons of mass destruction, the “Bush lied” boomlet has been fueled both by the president’s own obstinate refusal to acknowledge the massive intelligence failure that now sits in plain view and by his obtuse, at times outlandish, answers to legitimate questions. When Diane Sawyer of ABC News asked him on December 16 to justify prewar claims stating “as a hard fact that there were weapons of mass destruction, as opposed to the possibility that [Saddam] could move to acquire those weapons,” for example, Bush shot back: “So what’s the difference?” Fatuous arrogance: not a good way to regain lost trust.
Sometimes Bush is his own worst enemy, and his administration’s refusal to admit ambiguity or subjectivity into any of their decisions is merely fodder for those who seek to discredit his policies by discrediting his administration. This is a recipe for disaster – Bush must trust the judgment of the American people enough to be as honest as possible. We do not need to be led by the hand nor deceived into doing the right thing.
- Still, the charges that Bush, Cheney, and Secretary of State Colin Powell lied us into war are, at best, recklessly irresponsible hyperbole. While most of their WMD claims now appear way off base, none of the claims were without support in the intelligence agencies’ prewar assessments. And there is no evidence that Bush, Cheney, or Powell did not believe their own prewar assertions.
Democrats should remind themselves that Bush and Cheney were not the first to make such claims about Iraq. “The U.S. intelligence community’s belief toward the end of the Clinton administration [was] that Iraq had reconstituted its nuclear program and was close to acquiring nuclear weapons,” Kenneth M. Pollack, who served on President Clinton’s National Security Council, wrote in the January/February issue of The Atlantic Monthly. That was also the view of some European intelligence services, all of which also thought that Saddam probably had stockpiles of chemical and biological weapons.
It was Clinton who warned on February 17, 1998, that, unless restrained by force, Saddam “will conclude that the international community has lost its will. He will then conclude that he can go right on and do more to rebuild an arsenal of devastating destruction. And someday, some way, I guarantee you he’ll use the arsenal.”
….The record is littered with unduly confident and conclusive administration assertions about Iraqi WMD, as well as about Saddam’s much-touted but unproven ties to al Qaeda. Bush, Cheney, and Powell purported to be certain of “facts” about which the intelligence was far short of certain. They omitted the intelligence agencies’ caveats, cautions, and dissenting views. And they stretched the findings of Hans Blix and his U.N. inspectors, who now appear to have been far closer to the mark than the administration officials who portrayed them as patsies.
….Some 30 more-or-less overblown administration statements are catalogued in a 106-page January 8 report (PDF) by the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. Similarly overblown, in my view, is the authors’ own grave charge that (intelligence failures aside) Bush, Cheney, and Powell “systematically misrepresented the threat from Iraq’s WMD and ballistic missile programs.”
Some degree of selective disclosure and one-sided advocacy is to be expected — indeed, unavoidable — when any president uses enormously complex intelligence findings to rally support for a war. But this administration’s outward certitude amid undisclosed intelligence-community doubts was more selective, and thus more misleading, than it needed to be. By airbrushing out the uncertainties, Bush, Cheney, and Powell denied us the opportunity to reach fully informed judgments about a matter of incalculably grave consequence.
Would many supporters of the war have been opposed had Bush, Cheney, and Powell been more candid? Not in my case. In a post-9/11 world, Saddam’s defiant behavior and the risk of Iraq’s acquiring nuclear weapons would have provided a casus belli even had I known everything Bush knew. (I might well have had a different view, however, had I also known that Saddam’s WMD were mostly a mirage.)
I would not have had a different view had I known the WMDs did not exist, although I concede that others may reasonably differ. I think forcible regime change in Iraq was the right thing to do and ASAP was the right time to do it.
I am gratified that the administration is pursuing a multilateral approach to restructuring the “greater Middle East”, which should reduce some of the din caused by those who accuse it of unnecessarily alienating allies with the invasion. But the fact that the “allies” most vocally alienated – Russia, Germany, France – have been implicated in their own Iraqi scandal regarding the U.N oil for food program very much calls into question the principles of their “principled refusal” to support the invasion.
- How far Bush and Cheney have fallen short of reasonably full disclosure is a question on which the independent commission now being formed should provide timely guidance for voters. Whether Bush and Cheney were candid enough to be entrusted with another term is a question that voters must answer for themselves.
I agree – but for me, the importance of the war on terror and the administration’s commitment to it, SO FAR answers that question in the affirmative. I do not have the sense that Kerry shares the same sense of urgency nor commitment to carry the war forward.
I would appreciate a lot more candor from the administration, though: if you’re making a judgment call, tell us that’s what you’re doing. Trust us.