Tuesday, November 22, 2005

So Long As We Are Hunting for Liars in the Iraq Controversy…

Noting in Why We Went to War that it has "come to pass that an opposition's measure of a president's foreign policy was all or nothing, success or 'failure'", Daniel Henninger writes that
there is a larger danger in the Democratic strategy of attempting to make George Bush into the Wizard of Oz, a man whose every statement about threats to American security is fantasy and falsity. Pounding through the media that the prewar intelligence was a conscious lie may incline the American people to believe the whole Iraq enterprise is false, and worse, that the very notion of weapons of mass destruction is also doubtful. The psychology of the big lie can sometimes run out of control.
The way the Evans-Novak Political Report covers this is by saying that "Democrats continue to overdo it by adopting a posture of constant crisis. For four years, they have described almost every move and every policy of President Bush as a catastrophic life-ending act that is the worst thing ever to have been done by a President." You will have noticed that in both of the above cases, the domestic word Democrat(ic) and its grammatical derivatives could easily be replaced by the words Europe(an), France (French), German(y), etc. As for Norman Podhoretz, he takes this a step further, digging deep and asking flat out, Who Is Lying About Iraq? (I myself have written about the "lies" controversy in the past…)
Among the many distortions, misrepresentations and outright falsifications that have emerged from the debate over Iraq, one in particular stands out above all others. This is the charge that George W. Bush misled us into an immoral or unnecessary war in Iraq by telling a series of lies that have now been definitively exposed.

What makes this charge so special is the amazing success it has enjoyed in getting itself established as a self-evident truth even though it has been refuted and discredited over and over again by evidence and argument alike. … I want to take one more shot at exposing it for the lie that it itself really is. Although doing so will require going over ground that I and many others have covered before, I hope that revisiting this well-trodden terrain may also serve to refresh memories that have grown dim, to clarify thoughts that have grown confused, and to revive outrage that has grown commensurately dulled.

The main "lie" that George W. Bush is accused of telling us is that Saddam Hussein possessed an arsenal of weapons of mass destruction, or WMD as they have invariably come to be called. From this followed the subsidiary "lie" that Iraq under Saddam's regime posed a two-edged mortal threat. On the one hand, we were informed, there was a distinct (or even "imminent") possibility that Saddam himself would use these weapons against us or our allies; and on the other hand, there was the still more dangerous possibility that he would supply them to terrorists like those who had already attacked us on 9/11 and to whom he was linked.

…even stipulating--which I do only for the sake of argument--that no weapons of mass destruction existed in Iraq in the period leading up to the invasion, it defies all reason to think that Mr. Bush was lying when he asserted that they did. To lie means to say something one knows to be false. But it is as close to certainty as we can get that Mr. Bush believed in the truth of what he was saying about WMD in Iraq.

How indeed could it have been otherwise? George Tenet, his own CIA director, assured him that the case was "a slam dunk." This phrase would later become notorious, but in using it, Mr. Tenet had the backing of all 15 agencies involved in gathering intelligence for the United States. In the National Intelligence Estimate of 2002, where their collective views were summarized, one of the conclusions offered with "high confidence" was that "Iraq is continuing, and in some areas expanding its chemical, biological, nuclear, and missile programs contrary to UN resolutions."

The intelligence agencies of Britain, Germany, Russia, China, Israel and — yes — France all agreed with this judgment. And even Hans Blix — who headed the U.N. team of inspectors trying to determine whether Saddam had complied with the demands of the Security Council that he get rid of the weapons of mass destruction he was known to have had in the past--lent further credibility to the case in a report he issued only a few months before the invasion …

So, once again, did the British, the French and the Germans, all of whom signed on in advance to Secretary of State Colin Powell's reading of the satellite photos he presented to the U.N. in the period leading up to the invasion. Mr. Powell himself and his chief of staff, Lawrence Wilkerson, now feel that this speech was the low point of his tenure as secretary of state. But Mr. Wilkerson (in the process of a vicious attack on the president, the vice president, and the secretary of defense for getting us into Iraq) is forced to acknowledge that the Bush administration did not lack for company in interpreting the available evidence as it did:

I can't tell you why the French, the Germans, the Brits and us thought that most of the material, if not all of it, that we presented at the U.N. on 5 February 2003 was the truth. …
But the consensus on which Mr. Bush relied was not born in his own administration. In fact, it was first fully formed in the Clinton administration. Here is Bill Clinton himself, speaking in 1998:
If Saddam rejects peace and we have to use force, our purpose is clear. We want to seriously diminish the threat posed by Iraq's weapons-of-mass-destruction program.
Here is his Secretary of State Madeline Albright, also speaking in 1998:
Iraq is a long way from [the USA], but what happens there matters a great deal here. For the risk that the leaders of a rogue state will use nuclear, chemical, or biological weapons against us or our allies is the greatest security threat we face.
Here is Sandy Berger, Clinton's National Security Adviser, who chimed in at the same time with this flat-out assertion about Saddam:
He will use those weapons of mass destruction again, as he has ten times since 1983.
Nor did leading Democrats in Congress entertain any doubts on this score. …

This Democratic drumbeat continued and even intensified when Mr. Bush succeeded Mr. Clinton in 2001, and it featured many who would later pretend to have been deceived by the Bush White House. …

Liberal politicians like these were seconded by the mainstream media, in whose columns a very different tune would later be sung. For example, throughout the last two years of the Clinton administration, editorials in the New York Times repeatedly insisted that "without further outside intervention, Iraq should be able to rebuild weapons and missile plants within a year [and] future military attacks may be required to diminish the arsenal again."

The Times was also skeptical of negotiations, pointing out that it was "hard to negotiate with a tyrant who has no intention of honoring his commitments and who sees nuclear, chemical, and biological weapons as his country's salvation." …

All this should surely suffice to prove far beyond any even unreasonable doubt that Mr. Bush was telling what he believed to be the truth about Saddam's stockpile of WMD. It also disposes of the fallback charge that Mr. Bush lied by exaggerating or hyping the intelligence presented to him. Why on earth would he have done so when the intelligence itself was so compelling that it convinced everyone who had direct access to it, and when hardly anyone in the world believed that Saddam had, as he claimed, complied with the 16 resolutions of the Security Council demanding that he get rid of his weapons of mass destruction?

Another fallback charge is that Mr. Bush, operating mainly through Mr. Cheney, somehow forced the CIA into telling him what he wanted to hear. … The March 2005 report of the … bipartisan Robb-Silberman commission, which investigated intelligence failures on Iraq, reached the same conclusion, finding "no evidence of political pressure to influence the intelligence community's pre-war assessments of Iraq's weapons programs. . . . Analysts universally asserted that in no instance did political pressure cause them to skew or alter any of their analytical judgments."

Still, even many who believed that Saddam did possess WMD, and was ruthless enough to use them, accused Mr. Bush of telling a different sort of lie by characterizing the risk as "imminent." But this, too, is false: Mr. Bush consistently rejected imminence as a justification for war. Thus, in the State of the Union address he delivered only three months after 9/11, Mr. Bush declared that he would "not wait on events while dangers gather" and that he would "not stand by, as peril draws closer and closer." Then, in a speech at West Point six months later, he reiterated the same point: "If we wait for threats to materialize, we will have waited too long." And as if that were not clear enough, he went out of his way in his State of the Union address in 2003 (that is, three months before the invasion), to bring up the word "imminent" itself precisely in order to repudiate it:

Some have said we must not act until the threat is imminent. Since when have terrorists and tyrants announced their intentions, politely putting us on notice before they strike? If this threat is permitted to fully and suddenly emerge, all actions, all words, and all recriminations would come too late. Trusting in the sanity and restraint of Saddam Hussein is not a strategy, and it is not an option.
In the following sentence, I (webmaster Erik speaking again) would add follow "the Democrats" with "and the Europeans", but I guess the latter fall under what Podhoretz calls "all those who in their desperation to delegitimize the larger policy being tested in Iraq … have consistently used distortion, misrepresentation and selective perception to vilify as immoral a bold and noble enterprise":
… so long as we are hunting for liars in this area, let me suggest that we begin with the Democrats now proclaiming that they were duped, and that we then broaden out to all those who in their desperation to delegitimize the larger policy being tested in Iraq--the policy of making the Middle East safe for America by making it safe for democracy--have consistently used distortion, misrepresentation and selective perception to vilify as immoral a bold and noble enterprise and to brand as an ignominious defeat what is proving itself more and more every day to be a victory of American arms and a vindication of American ideals.

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