President Bush continues to insist that U.S. troops in Iraq should not know -- or do not want to know -- the truth about the war.
On Veterans Day, the president blasted -- and questioned the patriotism -- of those who challenge or criticize the administration for its apparent mistakes before and during the ongoing conflict that has now killed almost 2,100 U.S. troops and injured thousands more.
Instead of chastising and trying to shame critics, Bush should address their concerns and doubts directly.
On Friday, Bush delivered a speech in which he again said that patriotic Americans would not speak out against the war -- at least in ways that could get back to the troops.
"It is deeply irresponsible to rewrite the history of how that war began," Bush told a Veterans Day audience in Pennsylvania.
"These baseless attacks send the wrong signal to our troops and to an enemy that is questioning America's will."
The president's words ignore the growing proof that is causing more people to question how the United States was led into war.
Bush calls it rewriting history. We see it as setting the record straight.
On Friday and over the weekend, Bush continued to skirt questions about recently declassified records showing what the administration knew -- or should have known -- before it initiated war in Iraq in March 2003.
According to the documents, the administration had reliable information that Saddam Hussein was not making or storing biological, chemical or nuclear weapons, and was not training terrorists, including members of al-Qaida, in how to produce weapons of mass destruction.
Despite the information, Bush and others in the administration continued to tell the nation and world that Saddam's regime was manufacturing such weapons or trying to acquire materials needed to do so, such as yellowcake from Niger.
Therefore, Bush said, the United States had no option but to attack Iraq.
While Bush cannot necessarily be blamed for the faulty intelligence he received, most of which was provided by the CIA, the bad data certainly created conflicting information for the administration. The nation's primary reason for going to war should not be one report that is contradicted by another.
Bush still needs to answer for why certain information was considered more believable. Until he does, many people will continue to say the president chose intelligence that best served his purpose.
Bush should also stop playing the patriot card as a way to shift attention away from questions about why he, Vice President Cheney, then-Secretary of State Colin R. Powell, Secretary of Defense Donald H. Rumsfeld and others said Saddam had weapons of mass destruction even though the administration had information that refuted this.
There has never been a good explanation for why the existence of unconventional weapons in Iraq was presented as indisputable.
Now, a lot of Americans -- including many who do not oppose the war -- want to know if they were misled or if the administration committed an honest-but-grave mistake in its handling of war intelligence.
Bush refuses to explain, causing more Americans to doubt his honesty and integrity. This is presumably a major reason his approval ratings have plummeted to 36 percent in some of the latest polls -- the worst since he took office in 2001.
To reverse Americans' eroding confidence in him, Bush should provide direct answers to people's toughest questions
The president has had countless opportunities to help people understand why the nation attacked Iraq almost three years ago and still has some 150,000 troops there.
With more Americans than ever having doubts about the war and about Bush's reasons for invading, the president can no longer dismiss those asking questions as unpatriotic critics who care little about the troops.
Those who are challenging the president to explain the war and his handling of intelligence are neither unpatriotic nor uncaring. Nor are they "deeply irresponsible" or trying "to rewrite the history of how that war began."
They simply want to understand the seeming disparities between what they were told and what the administration knew before the war.
Asking tough questions of the commander in chief -- and expecting answers -- does not harm or undermine U.S. troops.
If anything, it helps get to a truth that every American -- especially soldiers and Marines in Iraq -- has a right to know.
© 2005 Kennebec Journal